Thursday, February 26, 2015

Core Response: I didn't know stories had boobs - In search of a "feminine" story

Henry Jenkins' opens his essay "Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten," by recounting the ways journalists have dismissed Star Trek fans, or Trekkies, as overweight, social rejects. Academics have characterized them as adolescent, and many entertainment corporations claim they are thieves, engaging in copyright infringement and textual appropriation.

Jenkins, on the other hand, sees them as a diverse group of often marginalized people who are reluctant poachers of textual meaning. He focuses in particular on fans who enlarge the existing Star Trek franchise with their own writings, spin offs and story trees all based (however obliquely) on the original show. He argues that with their stories, these fans are prying open a space for their own cultural concerns.

Because so many of the authors of these fan fictions are female, Jenkins posits that women need to reclaim feminine interests from the margins of masculine texts. While the creators of Star Trek wanted to include women in more key roles in the show, network executives shut them down. Hence, much fan fiction centers around female characters who were marginalized in the show, but are more fully realized in the fan fiction, often holding positions of power and fulfilling their diverse sexual needs all while grappling with decisions about how to balance work and personal life.

It's a fascinating essay, and a great look at gender, media, fandom, and the way the entertainment industry has often left women behind, but I think it falls short when it characterizes some types of stories as "feminine" and others as "masculine." There's no denying that the majority of protagonists in film and TV are male, and that female characters often exist just to help that hero achieve his goal or realize his potential, but that's a function of casting, not story type. I reject the notion that the Hero's Journey, for example, is an intrinsically "masculine" story type, or that the ongoing serialized nature that was first popularized in soap operas is an intrinsically "feminine" story type.

Social and market forces help push content into soap operas that a certain type of woman in a certain time period would find more appealing than a certain type of man, but content is not form. There is nothing about the serialized form that is intrinsically feminine. If there were, only women would be watching Breaking Bad.

Small-scale studies like David Bleich's don't confirm an intrinsic difference between men and women, and they don't line up with our own experience that audiences respond to stories on a far more complicated pattern than gender. Instead of confining ourselves to the binary notions that certain story types are "feminine" or "masculine," let's take a page from the Vulcans and recognize the presence and power of stories and audiences of infinite diversity in infinite variations.

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