I Clean, Therefore I Am


Imagine the scene: A bunch of media executives coming up with some generic new film, advert or poster. Their task is to portray real life and real people, in order to appeal to as many people as possible. This would make sense right? Seeing as the world is full of real people, it may be an idea to portray this once in a while.

The male executives are striding round the room quite heroically of course, saving women left and right, using the energy they would do crying and feeling things to lift cars and rating every object in the room on hotness. The female execs are running around after them on high heels, because putting up with foot pain is somehow a replacement for genuine heroics, cleaning the windows, kissing the men in the bathroom due to their dandruff free hair and generally taking up all the space with their beauty products. Kind of an absurd image isnt it? Then some silly intern stands up and says ‘hey guys, so instead of what we think women should be doing, why don’t we just base our characters on real women?’  Male and female execs alike scratch their heads, ‘r-eee-aal, w-ooo-maaan? This must be a new fangled term right? It must be another language.’

The media would have us believe that we women go around, bottle of Dettol in hand, baby in the other, having our girlfriends over when the men are at work, talking about how much we love the fact that our new yoghurt only contains 3 calories and also helps fight the nasty things in our stomachs, which we can’t name but we do sit up all night worrying about.  After all, we simply can’t handle big burgers, crisps thicker than 1mm or big bars of chocolate, our delicate little teeth would fall out at the very sight! Our favourite sports are shopping, cleaning, nagging and rearranging our beauty products in the bathroom to further annoy our men. Our lives have been leading up to the point of being able to show off our new washing machines to our mums: “20 grand in Uni fees, a qualified microbiologist, and look how well my new Samsung washing machine washes my labcoat! Aren’t you proud of me?” When we look out onto the streets, we see quirky but overall non-threatening women, seductresses and women scheming to make their love interest display their emotions in the make-up aisles clutching their heads and screaming “this foundation doesn’t match my skin tone”. Dominatrices, warrior women and gossip girls are in a perpetual state of walking backwards with their bums sticking out whilst peering over their shoulders in a cheeky fashion. Female politicians are screaming down the phone ‘the tax cut issue can wait, I’m having an emergency, my necklace is not on trend!’

Looking for a real woman with some significance in the media is like trying to physically see those pesky little good bacteria in a pot of yoghurt. Women are either portrayed as one dimensional and as dull as their obsession with underwear which hides their love-handles, or if they do have some depth, they are relegated to a supporting character or even more bizarrely, as a main character who exists purely to enhance the story of the males. In films, women have some sort of forcefield keeping them away from other women and if they do happen to meet, they talk almost exclusively about the men in their lives.

Promotional poster for ‘Catching Fire’, with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, the main character

Which is why it is so refreshing to see films such as ‘Catching Fire’, which has recently been released. Whatever you think of the films, they have done a great deal in forwarding the idea of real women.  Finally, a female main character, whose life involves, but doesn’t revolve around men, is dominating our screens. A woman who is brave and in some ways strong but most importantly flawed and in other ways weak. Kind of like a real person is.  This is exactly the kind of woman who needs to take up a space in our consciousness from now on, as she reminds us that to be a strong woman does not mean being perfect and unable to cry or break down for fear than others will suddenly remember that we are of the weak female species. It helps as well that the actress who plays her, Jennifer Lawrence, is also a pretty awesome woman. What makes her, and her character truly awe-inspiring are the fact that on top of being courageous, being a heroine, saving others and literally being the provider for her family, she does what she does with fear, with doubts and at times she needs the help of others. This, I present to you, is a genuine real life human female.

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish film of ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

With films like this and others, such as ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, featuring imperfect heroines, becoming a part of our mainstream and taking up a space in our discussions and conscious thought, we may actually stand a chance of one day knowing what a real woman is. After all, they are everywhere.  There are incredible, unique women all around and it’s about time that they get some representation, that we stop trying to fit them into tired old stereotypes, stop giving them some kind of quirk in order to make them ‘interesting’, stop only making use of their sex appeal or focusing on their appearance. It’s about flippin’ time we stop setting the bar too high for a women to be considered influential, needing her to rid herself of any ‘feminine’ qualities or ‘weakness.’ Last of all, I hope that the fire created by Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence and all other real women spreads until the stereotypes and expectations are nothing but ash.

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Discussion4 Comments

    • avatar

      I would say that psychopath is inaccurate. Lisbeth Salander is a woman potentially suffering from Asperger’s who is dealing with the abuse she has suffered in her life. She has one night stands, she dislikes rapists and she generally just wants to get on with her own life without being interrupted. I wouldn’t say condone everything she does, but she is an example of how a woman can be strong in some ways and yet weak, flawed and make mistakes in other ways, going against the idea that the heroine of the story, to get any attention at all, has to rely simply on her sex appeal or have an endless supply of strength and some kind of ‘quirk’.
      At for Katniss, no she is not technically a ‘real woman’ but she is a refreshing change from all the one dimensional female characters often portrayed in films.

      • avatar

        He has a point though; characters like Sarah Lund from the original Danish ‘The Killing’ represent real, strong, vulnerable women much more effectively and truthfully than characters like Lisbeth Salander (who is basically a slightly more fleshed out, European version of Lady Vengeance).
        And Katniss is as good a character or role model as say, Harry Potter. As you point out, this is a step forward for representation of female protagonists but still pretty one dimensional and in need of development. They are both basically shell characters for the reader to manifest within.
        They are certainly improvements but should we really be lording them as revolutionary?

        Also, the picture you chose for the article belittles your point by ‘ironically’ pointing out that representation of women in the media HAS clearly advanced (since this early C20th poster was made) which demonstrates that you are deconstructing a ‘straw man’, when you get so caught up in your self-righteous (superfluous) first two paragraphs before you actually engage the article’s primary topic.

        At points, you are dead on the mark in your critiques of culture and that I sincerely applaud but at other times you’re just ranting misandry and calling things sexist when they have perfectly fair explanations behind them.

        PS Jennifer Lawrence isn’t that great. You give her mad props because she’s beautiful and slightly less skinny than some of the actresses in Hollywood as if she’s the size of Gabourey Sidibe.

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