“Stereotypes, they’re sensual, cultural weapons. That’s the way that we attack people. At an artistic level, stereotypes are terrible writing.”
I woke up to an elbow in my ribs only to find my friend pulling off my 3D glasses, checking whether I had fallen asleep halfway through the movie. Oops! I thought it would be safe to snooze behind the glasses through Batman’s action scenes. Or was it Spiderman? I can’t quite recall.
Apparently, geeks are known for their addiction to anything Marvel related, and of course, I stand out once again for not reciprocating to this affinity. This brings me to the main topic of my blog post: stereotypes are defined by man; you’re not born labeled, but unfortunately you will be judged and possibly ridiculed for not adhering to what is considered “common”. Why am I expected to genuinely enjoy Marvel movies just to prove I belong to the field of Science? Does my performance in my Ph.D. program have to be determined by my liking for Marvel films?
Why can’t we just watch Beauty and the Beast, instead? I used to love the movie while growing up. Belle was known for her staggering looks and superior intellect. She buried herself in books all day and did not care about how people viewed her. You got to admire her dedication in her strive toward knowledge. Not only was she bright, but she was also courageous enough to refuse Gaston’s marriage proposal despite his social class, seeing right through his arrogant and egotistical manners. She knew better than to fall for a vain man like him. Instead, she fell in love with a beast who took her as a hostage and well… ate like a pig. But Belle managed to fall in love with him, overlooking all his flaws. And through the magic of her love, she managed to transform him from the beast he was into a charming prince, and they lived happily ever after. Yup, Belle is definitely a great role model; she is what all young girls aspire to be when looking for love.
Looking back, I am amazed by how despite all the books Belle had read throughout the movie, none were able to pull her back into reality. What kind of spell was she under that made her think she was compatible with a beast? Clearly, she may have been suffering from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome that manipulated her into giving the Beast a chance at love. OK, my future kids are banned from watching Beauty and the Beast. And if they ask me whether I’ve watched it, I will do what every honorable parent has ever done: I will look them in the eye and shamelessly lie. Then, I will run to my husband to make sure that our lies are in sync and make him promise to never mention that I had once dragged him to watch Beauty and the Beast in 4D. Why 4D you ask? Well, if you are going to do something wrong, you might as well do it right.
It seems Disney took too long to notice the pattern in their portrayal of princesses — damsels in distress, longing for their knight in shining armor to come and rescue them. And the ones who didn’t find their Prince Charming, wholeheartedly believed that they could settle for a frog or beast, whom they could transform into their prince. After acknowledging critics’ feedback, Disney came up with a brilliant idea of introducing a fierce, impulsive, and loud princess named Merida. Throughout the movie, we see Merida emphasizing she don’t need no man in her life and she herself can be like any man. Honestly, I don’t blame her given how men in that movie were portrayed as being empty-headed. Now, if my future daughter doesn’t believe that marriage is meant for her, then that is her choice. I just don’t want her to think that marriage will only hold her back, nor do I want her to follow Merida’s path blindly just because she feels Merida knows best. And why is it that she must “need” a man in her life? She can be independent and still fall in love. Or is that too much for Merida to handle?
Now, correct me if I am wrong, Ladies, but isn’t trying to be like someone else an implicit acknowledgment of their superiority? What is so tainted about “femininity” that both men and women seem to run away from being associated with the word? I am not sure I want to teach my daughter to spend her life thinking men are more superior, which will lead her to shy away from her own traits. I refuse to have her perceive femininity as a vulnerability instead of a source of strength. Lastly, I don’t want her to grow up as one of those angry women who seem to think that life is nothing but a battlefield between men and women. Ladies, please save that anger for the cynical congressmen and unsupportive women who have failed us all.
In the meantime, I will wait for Disney to tell us the story of Princess Reasonable who is smart, passionate, and comfortable in her own skin. She lives in harmony with her partner who supports her and with whom she celebrates their differences. In that imaginary world, women can be as tomboyish or girlie as they want, as it doesn’t reflect how their brain functions. Moreover, women in that world don’t feel the need to apologize for their biological built nor do they need to hide their pregnancy during job interviews in fear of being discriminated against. In that world, women proudly hang family portraits in their office cubicles without the fear of being stereotyped. In that world, women create their own norms and support one another to be the best version of themselves as possible.
Unfortunately, we are far from that ideal world. A study conducted at the psychology department of the University of Washington suggested that the culture in STEM fields is highly masculine and pointed to the fact that the culture is associated with stereotypes that don’t resonate well with female students. I am now starting to believe that the study has lost its way and never made it to the halls of the Electrical Engineering building. As I try to enjoy my lunch in our department’s little kitchenette, I still find Marvel posters plastered all over the walls, reminding me daily that I do not belong. It is not the overflow of comic references that worries me, but the difficulty many face to accept a broader outlook when defining women in STEM.