As of 12 February over 6.8 million people have watched a “debate” about gender politics between clinical psychologist (and YouTuber) Jordan B Peterson, and Cathy Newman, a Channel 4 news presenter. Jordan is a clinical psychologist in Canada who 4 years ago started putting his lectures on YouTube, whereas Channel 4 News is a mainstream broadcaster, known for having more “lefty” beliefs.Together, Cathy and Jordan cover the gender pay gap, Jordan’s recently released book, and the politics of campus protestors.
Yet this was no debate, and it does not deserve the views or the acclaim that it has been getting. It is an embarrassment.
First; Oxford Dictionary Online says a debate is:
So this formal structured discussion, featuring arguments from only one side, Jordan’s, and questions only from the other side, wouldn’t count. Not only this, but in the description itself the segment is described as a “fiery interview”, despite Cathy confusingly calling it a “spat” and a “joust” on twitter.
Just a little post to say I am currently writing again, and taking it more seriously this time around. I’m keeping track of the time I take, and working on posts regularly, and I’ve found a structure that I believe is going to help me get more interesting and relevant posts out more often.
I’d also like to take this chance to thank everyone who has helped with my blog this past year in 2017, it was my biggest year so far and even though we are still small, every view and comment and like is very meaningful to me and helps me to keep going, and to believe in the vision that this blog stands for, for interesting, topical and relatable content about social justice issues, from someone who has been there, done that, and still wants to keep going.
Hope everyone is having a great 2018 so far, and look forward to seeing what is coming in the other 11 months of the year!
Born Sexy Yesterday is a trope building on the born yesterday naïve character, normally found in sci-fi and almost inevitably the main character’s love interest. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it, which excellently presents and explores this concept:
One of the issues raised in the video is that this trope is rarely reversed; rarely does a naïve male creation become an object of desire based on his pathetic-ness or childlike-ness. This is what I wanted to explore more.
The Easy Answer?
The explanation the video is that it is a male power fantasy, of a generic everyman character becoming the most impressive and most wonderful man and subsequent love interest of the Born Sexy Yesterday woman character. The video goes on to look at the reverse, in which women find the naivete unhelpful and unappealing, and fall in love with the male character despite his childishness.
I think this is too simple, and there is more to it than that.
For one thing, there is multiple layers involved in any piece of media.
First, the story layer, where the characters live, and make their choices and have their own preferences. This is the in-world perspective.
Second, you have the viewing layer, people watching the show and making their judgements on it, and paying money to see it.
Third, you have the production team, the writers and directors and actors and camera people and the whole crew, who hold their own individual and group vision for the media and what story they want to tell.
To truly undress this trope and why it fails to work in reverse, you need to look at each individual layer. We’re gonna start with the character layer, because it is the simplest.
The characters are the simplest layer because they are fictional, even though they are the part people tend to focus on and argue about the most when talking about media; it’s easy to focus on the character’s and their motivations because they are what is right in front of you on the screen. But whilst it seems to matter whether Korben Dallas (by Bruce Willis) fancies Leeloo (by Milla Jovovich) because of her innocence or because of how it makes him look by comparison, it’s ultimately impossible to answer. Fictional characters can’t have a real or genuine motivation, except that which is created by the production team, which means you aren’t really analysing anyone unless you look directly at the production team. (incidentally this excellent video summarizes this more eloquently thna I ever could)
This is also what leads to the “empowered bikini battle woman” trope; if a character loves her metallic bikini armour, that’s fantastic and great and there’s nothing we can do to argue with that, or analyse it, or tell her it’s problematic, because she is fictional, as is her desire to be almost naked, so she’s not going to change her mind, because she is nothing more than her creator’s vision.
With that, we need to turn to the production team:
“Production team” is hugely oversimplifying the process of creating media, I know. There will be creatives and there will be market analysts and there will be producers and everything in-between in the creation of a blockbuster film, I know, but one thing everyone in this section has in common is being part of the process of creating the film, together, as a team.
Coming back to Born Sexy Yesterday, there will be plenty of production reasons for the trope coming into being. One could be that the lead writer thinks it is cool, they want their main character to have an interesting love interest and also to have that reciprocated, and this sexy android programme is the perfect solution to that! It solves a problem of developing another character, because there’s inherently no real back-story, the lack of backstory becomes the character’s sole characteristic, and it is an interesting thing to see, you could argue, because fully grown but completely naïve characters don’t happen much in real life. (I say “much” because amnesia exists, but I doubt it’s usually as cute or adorkable as the Born Sexy Yesterday character is.)
Or perhaps it’s the marketing team’s idea, perhaps they’re onboard pushing this concept, because it’s been proven it works really well with the audience, it’s a popular proven plot mechanism, so knock yourself out with it! Maybe it’s the actors, they may have played this style before or they might find it interesting and moving and romantic, so they’re always happy to work on a story with this trope.
At this point it’s worth pointing out how male-dominated Hollywood is.
You can figure out for yourself how that might bias production towards representing male fantasies over female fantasies, or prioritising male characters development and characters over female ones, which leads to the same result. Looking back at the writer, if they are writing a story that is totally about a female character, are they really going to want to skimp on her backstory, or make her a blank slate? It would limit the direction of a character, at least at first.
But the elephant in the room and in the marketing figures is yet to be addressed. Let’s rectify that.
Finally, the audience.
The complicated mass of humanity that gets translated to a box-office grossing number and targeted demographics and genres by the production team, that gets to interpret the characters however they want and argue about it until the cows come home …*Harry+Hermione vs Hermione+Ron war flashbacks*…
These are the part of the puzzle that drives production companies and define what works and what doesn’t.
These are the part that decide whether Born Sexy Yesterday is an entrenched part of pop culture or a gross creepy romance in one piece of failed media; no matter how romantic or entertaining the writer thought it was when they wrote it.
And this is ultimately why “Born Sexy Yesterday” doesn’t work the other way around; it doesn’t “sell”, however you put it.
The Problem The Other Way Around
Born Sexy Yesterday as a phrase probably makes you feel uncomfortable, the related suggestion of paedophilia is obvious when the trope is pointed out. And as pointed out in the video, the depiction of a consenting relationship is debatable if “she” is really a 2 day old computer programme; unable to realise that undressing in public is generally inappropriate; can we really assume she is capable of informed consent?
Of course, we can’t. Because that’s decided by the writer, or the audience, as they watch it. The character has no true consent or obstacle to consent, because they are fictional, so it’s impossible to definitely answer this question, which is complicated enough to define with real-life human beings.
So what do the writer and the audience decide as they watch it?
Generally, that it’s okay. Films like “Big” and “Fifth Element” and “Tron” work, even with these plot lines, and the ratings and the sales and the reputation of these films speak for themselves about how audiences received them.
So why do audiences say it’s okay?
A variety of reasons spring to mind. Reasonable suspension of disbelief; it makes for a far better film if this is a consensual relationship with a quirky character, rather than a perverted abuse of a vulnerable child-like creature (or, in the case of Big, an actual 13-year-old child).
Or perhaps plot-based explanations, such as a drastically accelerated learning process in a computer-generated programme compared to human learning, making her an equal intellect and non-problematic romance option, hooray.
Or perhaps it’s about what you see, what looks good must *be* good, if the character is represented *by* an adult then they *are* an adult, so it’s all fine and good. (Consent education is poor enough in most parts of the public that this works in real life too; drunk people are nowhere near as competent as a sober adult, but they *are* an adult, so it’s all fine and good, according to some schools of thought.)
The Gender Problem
So, finally, why doesn’t Born Sexy Yesterday work in reverse?
An audience fed on a diet of male main characters and quirky female sidekicks/love interests, excluding chick flicks which are a whole genre of their own, are unsurprisingly accepting of male main characters who meet quirky naïve female sidekicks who are literally “born yesterday” into human society. Like the video mentions, Born Sexy Yesterday can be seen as an extension of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or the Exotic Savage character, just another in a line of male power fantasy tropes.
This same audience, seeing it in reverse, would be expecting to see things from the male point of view, especially if you stick to the same genre, science fiction and fantasy. Seeing it from the Born Sexy Yesterday’s point of view, the consent issue becomes more obvious, and for most people, would taint the experience. If the Born Sexy Yesterday was the main character, it would only make it more obvious.
But none of the male fantasy tropes are exclusively or intrinsically male. People of all genders like all different kinds of people; dominant or submissive, stupid or smart, strong or delicate, although the media presents it as if these are intrinsically gendered preferences, they do not have to be (although, due to the magic of media influence, they do get disproportionately represented that way in reality too).
If media was truly gender equal, and reflected people of all gender’s desires for power and submissiveness equally, perhaps it would work in reverse. Unpacking sex and relationships as a power dynamic in which male must be strong and the female must be submissive would change the popularity of this trope; perhaps by making people more aware of the hugeness of the imbalance in gender representation, or by making people more sensitive to issues of power and consent in context of relationships between true equals.
Alternatively, perhaps there would be an outpouring of demand for story’s about strong sensitive women, who have lost their way, become grizzled and hardened by the gritty world of work they live in, who meet beautiful and delicate and semi-erotic man-children type-creatures, with long eyelashes and curious naivete about the big wide world, and open their hearts to loving and protecting them before the action sequence where the woman beats everyone up and is rewarded with awe and adoration from her sensitive creature-mate…
…Or maybe not. But it’s worth thinking about how we as the audience shape what is acceptable, and what becomes prominent in media, and it was fun to explore the gender constructs behind this interestingly gendered trope. Thanks for reading!
I’ve moved house, and have now had no wifi for three weeks. I’d like to be interesting, and write an insightful passage about how being unable to plug into tumblr and facebook constantly has enriched my life and helped me start reading again, but I only have two hours free wifi at this coffee shop, and frankly, YouTube is calling, so nothing serious going out today, just a little post to remind everyone that I do exist, and I do care about this blog.
Upcoming posts I’m planning right now in my head are:
Amber Heard And Jonny Depp; The (Misogynistic, Historically Relevant) World of Celebrity Break-Up And Divorce
Don’t Have Kids (And Then Be Mean To Them)
Diagnosing Myself vs Being Diagnosed; what’s the point of diagnosis, and is either system better?
Please don’t forget me, just because I’m now living in the 90’s (I’ve been watching a lot of Friends on DVD, and am re-reading Bridget Jones yet again), I haven’t forgetten about you, and I will be back with a flourish, soon…hopefully….please Sky, I need my internet, please. (Please.)
Note: This is talking about primarily assumed cis women’s bodies, however, I have used the language “women”, because it applies to other women too, as addressed in post. I have not yet covered how #freethenipple has intersected with other movements, especially that of the racialised angle.
Everywhere on the internet you see them, those insidious sidebar advertisements, the ones that make you feel mildly uncomfortable yet more than a little compelled to click them: The Boobtervisments. The Boobverts. The Boobbait.
Okay, so it’s not the smoothest portmanteau in the world, but you get the picture. Those endless clickbait articles, mainly featuring breasts, sometimes branching out into the land of butts or maybe even cameltoe and groin areas, always featuring women in “suggestive” positions, surely on the verge of revealing something earthshatteringly amazing, right?
Now, I’ve been a teenager. A “straight” female teenager who wasn’t really exposed to either porn nor relationships, but regardless, these adverts worked on me. I definitely clicked on more than a few suggestively captioned clickbaits because for some reason, I thought the nearly naked ladies there meant that there would be something exciting on the other end. Inevitably, the results were somewhat ….lacking. Anyone else remember the peak of the Reply Girl epidemic?
But isn’t this insulting? Isn’t this just proving all of these ideas about how we’re wired to find breasts attractive, and who gives a damn about the #freethenipple autonomous owners of said breasts? Nevermind that at the time I’m a *straight* teenage female, even I cannot resist the lure of the sexy sexy ladeez! It’s proof, once and for all, that women have been imbued with a strange power to control others, just through the power of existing in their biologically designated female bodies! Cue a barrage of completely one-sided studies in which so-called scientists completely ignore established theories of socialisation and conclude that yes, indeed, men are in fact, controlled by teh boobiez.
Well actually, maybe they aren’t, and maybe, ironically, the evil short-sighted feminists with their brazen support of completely outrageous situations like topless female humans which will clearly cause havoc on the street may be your best friends. Yes, you, the one sitting there scoffing about the inherent sexual nature of the human female breast and completely ignoring cultures in which toplessness peacefully exists in both all genders.
You see, I used to be like you. I used to be completely tantalised by the suggestion of a potentially nude female human adult, real or not real. The idea of toplessness in public scandalised and thrilled me, in a far more glamorous exciting way than a male flasher would be viewed. (more on that later, I promise).
When tumblr started filling my feed with the occassional topless and non sexualised woman, it would be a lie to say I was blindsided at the concept. They were still nekkid, it was still rude and shocking…right? They are still BOOBS, you can’t ignore that! Or can you?
After time, I’ve realised, I’m beginning to see breasts and female nipples in a completely new light. No, not the completely desexualised Marxist dystopian nonsense you fear and dread in equal measures, but in a completely natural human way that feels supicously like how we’re meant to see them. Like bits on a chest of a person. Like part of a person’s body, that can be attractive, or average, titillating, or not, depending on context, depending on how attractive you found the person who’s body they are on. Kinda, exactly like a male chest. It’s just a chest, shaped like that. It’s not a chest plus two melons, it’s not a chest plus two apples, it’s just a chest, all of it.
And I think that this is the solution. Many in the manosphere live in fear of the power of a woman’s naked or nearly naked frame. There’s article after article about it, joke cartoons (see above) and serious book covers, it’s a genuine fear. And it’s a fear that’s going to be incredibly difficult to fix the way that they are viewing it. Some people start to get the right message, but for completely the wrong reasons, whereas others, they completely miss the point so far they’ve gone backwards. See this reddit thread about how women in porn are really ugly because they are “just” naked and have less make up on. See, these people get to the point that nudity is just that, nudity, but conclude that this means women have even less to give than they assumed, plus no power over them, and therefore HA! WE WIN WOMEN! HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT!?….which kinda completely misses the point.
Women don’t have the power of magical bodies. We have the power of objectified bodies. Our bodies are the chosen symbol for sex. Yes, all of our bodies. The hint of nipple represents happiness, fulfilment, intimacy, and presents it as something that can be imitated by merely seeing a nude woman, and gained by actually being with one.
As any person who has ever had sex either as or with an adult human female can tell you, this simply isn’t true. Many in the manosphere refuse to believe this, such as Roosh, the redpillian turned pseudo philosopher, and take to simply chasing for the better and “better” girls to gain, hoping that this time, it’s going to make the difference. Inevitably, it doesn’t. They might find happiness with some women, but this is on a whole other level to “the naked lady equals happiness” suggested by mainstream media.
This simply lands a lot of responsibility on said women. To first, be the sexy woman worthy of being objectified and symbolising this elusive nirvana, and to secondly, guard this nirvana appropriately. This is where #freethenipple comes in with all those loud mouthing feminists to really screw things up. We throw things off kilter, we demand that we do the complete opposite of guarding these gateways. We demand that we expose women as much as possible, as much as they the individuals chose to, and without sexualising them. And admidst cries of “impossible” and “breasts are sexual organs”, the tide is beginning to turn, even if it’s just with the people using the hashtag. We’ll wait for you to catch up, honest.
If women as a whole refuse to play to role of gate-keeper, and continue to resolutely shatter the illusion that there is anything interesting or holy stuck up there in our crevices then maybe, just maybe, the wider public is going to begin to believe us that we’re just average living breathing human beings, and stop shoving pictures of underboob in front of us like it’s something groundbreaking.