“You find Kate in philosophical mood today, Vol. 2.”
Yes, I said I did not feel the need to explain why Carolyn is a character that makes up for lot of things, because frankly speaking, I thought it was obvious. Except that when I did some further research, I totally felt the need to explain why.
I am aware that many people do not like Carolyn. I am not going to try to convince you otherwise, even though I will admit that I love her dearly. I just want to point out some basic facts about female characters and why Carolyn is a very interesting character to analyze. And doing that, I hope to show why it simply does not matter whether or not a fan likes her to establish John Finnemore as a writer who does not contradict feminism.
First of all, I enjoyed reading all the comments and thoughts, and I would like to say a big thank you. And then there was this one comment by sleeplessart: “I […] would like to add something to the John Finnemore part, because that one completely took me by surprise.”
Yes. This was exactly my reaction when I read about the topic for the first time. And then I remembered something that crossed my mind when I started listening to Abu Dhabi for the first time: “Sounds like there´s a great lack of female characters once again.” So why was I surprised, when I had actually thought something along this line myself?
As I have established in my previous rant, the small number of women in CP exists mostly because it exists in reality. Women in air travel? Stewardesses, sure. But pilots and ATCs? Yes, there are some. But not that many. And a woman in a Captain´s uniform is certainly not the picture that springs to mind when you hear the word “pilot”.
Sure, John Finnemore could have ignored the fact and write a comedy show about Carolyn, Dorothy, Martha and Martha. The fact that he choose not to do this, however, does not per se make him a misogynist. First of all, he did not go all Lawrence of Arabia. (Have you seen Lawrence of Arabia? Watch that film and don´t tell me you weren´t missing something 20 minutes into it, at the latest.) There ARE female characters. And with these female characters, quality is important.
But back to the basics. Traditionally, women have been (and often still are) judged by their value for society (i.e. men): Loyalty, beauty, childbirth, household. Women are not seen as important individuals, but as status symbols for men. Accordingly, history is full of damsels in distress and other frail ladies that need physical and mental rescue. Should a woman refuse to be obedient, well, there´s always the role of the baddie that needs casting. Universally speaking, what we see here is the typical behaviour of one group towards another group which it has classified as “the other”. This is where the “saint or sinner”-mentality comes from. “Otherness” is seen as a thread. To minimize the thread, “the other” is either classified as inferior: not as good, not as important, full of faults, therefore no harm can be done. Or “the other ” is raised and sanctified until it becomes a figure of such perfection that it cannot possibly be real. And therefore, again, cannot be seen as a thread. (Ever wondered why virginity was such an important trait for many women who wanted to have a high status? Saints; Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen? Well, that is the answer. Go figure.)
Of course, you are right when you point out that there ARE heroines even in Ancient Greece who fight and choose for themselves. But don´t forget, there is this thing about rules and exceptions. And furthermore, how often are these heroines brought back to the patriarchal system by dying or acting like it is convenient for the men around them. That not be feminism.
The point of all this waffling about things that are long since gone is that they are in fact not long since gone. Today, we have more heroines and strong women, sure. But there are still problems. Such as the problem that these female protagonists often just are a more developed version of the “saint” figure of ancient times. Which means: They have good character traits and are portrayed as the “good one”. But on the same time, they are denied the flaws and faults that are required to turn them into realistic people. These flaws are often connected with beauty, sexuality and other social norms. The ideal heroine, even today, is beautiful and sexy, but chaste.
Take Lara Croft for example. She is often seen as a female counterpart for James Bond or Indiana Jones. Yet, when they made Tomb Raider into a film, the conditions were as follows: No kisses, no sex, no alcohol, no tobacco. Even though her body was clearly modelled to fit all that male fantasies.
Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow in JJ. Abrams´ Alias has a similar problem with sexuality. She is shown as having a love life and usually is seen in rather sexy outfits. However, she never takes the final steps. Which would be absolutely fine and everything and I am the last to object, don´t get me wrong. The problem is that there ARE loads of women in the series who do have a rather eccentric love life - but all of them are clearly shown as the villains. Which gives the whole thing the bitter taste of demonizing female sexuality.
Of course, there is no need to be ugly, nymphomaniac and an alcoholic to be a feminist character. And if you like pink nail polish, this does not mean that you surrender to the patriarchal system. However, if you do not give the tiniest little bit of weakness to your character, you are not necessary acting in the favour of this female. You are actually denying her what would give her equality: The fact that no women is automatically better or worse than any man. Faults give humanity and therefore equality.
After this little tirade it might come as a surprise that I am a huge fan of both Tomb Raider as well as Alias. And I simply adore these two characters. And still stand by my opinion that I am a feminist, without seeing this as a contradiction to what I just wrote about these girls.
Because I am a firm believer in what I wrote last time: You should not bash people for doing things wrong when they are clearly doing things very right. A kick-ass heroine who knows what she wants and how she gets it is clearly much more appreciated than Zelda-who-needs-eternal-rescuing (And I love The Legend of Zelda, too, but because of different reasons, and that would lead to far.) So kudos for Lara and Sydney along with the friendly reminder that no woman will ever be that perfect or should even feel the need to be that perfect. Slow steps in the right direction are still steps in the right direction.
By now, you should have discovered one of MY faults (and strengths): I like to get a lot of things clear before I finally approach the main point.
Which I will talk about now.
Well, let´s just start with the obvious. I think nobody can deny that Carolyn is a strong woman. She runs her own airline and succeeded over a decade even though it is clear from the beginning that the circumstances are disastrous. She does everything that is necessary to keep her business running - how many mortgages are there on her house? And then she looks after a son that certainly is not easy to look after.
Bonus points of course for choosing a very underrepresented age group. Sixtysomething is not an age you meet often in shows that do not have a main focus on life at sixtysomething, if you get what I mean. Also, the younger boyfriend/man she knows is certainly a nice touch, too.
So, Carolyn is certainly not worse than other heroines when it comes to being a BAMF.
But there is more to her. Because Carolyn has doubts. And these doubts evolve very often around the fact that she is a women over sixty. This is a clear reflection of society. Because by being both female and old you are outside the norm in two ways. Double trouble, so to say. When you are a woman of a certain age, you are in constant risk of being looked down upon. The character of Carolyn shows very well why stereotypes are harmful. She IS capable to do what she has to do, and she does it very well, indeed. Yet, instead of seeing what she truly is, she is forced to defend her position day after day, and this takes more energy than most people realise. Even if MJN would fall, Carolyn would still be more than a little old lady. But because society does not allow this without repeated proof, Carolyn herself is burdened with this fear of becoming obsolete. And it is fascinating to see how social ideas can have impact on the mind of the strongest of people - the ones like Carolyn.
Ok, Carolyn has talent and a tragic background, but you still don´t like her and you think she is overreacting. That is ok. As long as you are aware of certain things:
Carolyn is often hated and criticised because of her behaviour towards Martin - who she seems to bully - and Arthur - who she seems to ridicule quite often.
On the outside, Carolyn is not a very warm character. But there is no reason in the whole world why she should be. Women do not have to be nice and soft and understanding and forgiving. Why should they? Because society expects them to be? That is no reason at all. I find it amusing that so many people criticize Carolyn for teasing Martin and so few criticize Douglas for doing the exact same thing. I love all of the characters dearly, but here I have to defend Carolyn and not her pilots. Martin does not get paid, but he accepted the job. I feel for him, but he is not Carolyn´s prisoner and he knew what awaited him when he signed the contract. And while Carolyn´s teasing is really bad sometimes, Douglas is not the slightest bit better in this regard - so why blame the woman? Because she is a woman? And women are not to be an obstacle for men?
And the thing with Arthur. Well, this might come as a surprise, but the day Arthur was born was not the day Carolyn lost every right on a life of her own. It was not the day when she had to change herself and become the motherly type. I am not talking of neglecting a child. When you have a child, you are responsible for it. But your sole purpose in life is not to give yourself up for your children and become a mother and nothing else - except, of course, you want to. Arthur is great but not the easiest of persons to be around all day, and if patience runs thin there, it is understandable. Also, there is not a single clue that Arthur was ever mistreated by Carolyn or that she does not love him. She clearly cares for him. Very much so. It is just not the typical “Oh god, don´t you touch my baby, take me instead” attitude that so many male authors like. And in the end, Arthur, too, seems absolutely ok with his mum.
Yes, I think when you listen to Cabin Pressure, you notice that Carolyn does care, and does care quite a lot - albeit not in the traditional way one is used to. She might not bake you some cake and invite you over for dinner. But that does not make her horrible. It just makes her human.
Still don´t like her? As I said, I am not going to try to convince you. And I am actually glad. Because there is no such thing as a character everybody likes. Some are more popular than others, but still, you won´t find a single character in the history of narration everybody likes. Because people are different. And some people like things others loathe. In film and literature, there is of a certain degree of power left for the author. To a certain extent, you can control the reactions of your audience. But you can never make everybody fall in love with your creation.
But the important aspect here: People can hate a character because you did not give them likeable character traits. Or they can hate a character because he or she is just not their cup of tea. So the best thing an author can do is create a protagonist with a good balance of good and bad characteristics and then wait what happens.
Projecting this on Carolyn, we have the following situation: a set of very bad character traits. A set of very good character traits. With basic needs that are grounded in reality. Sometimes she does good things, sometimes she does bad things. She is not a saint. At all. But she certainly is no sinner. Or in other words, she is just a human being. Who you can like, but don´t have to like. Because a woman´s duty in society is not to be likeable.
And that is all it needs to make a character compatible with feminism.
Some final thoughts:
Would I have had to write all this down if the owner of MJN had been a man with these characteristics?
And do you realise that the steward, Arthur, is male? Even though it is traditionally seen as a typical job for women? How would the situation look like if we indeed had a Martha? Would there be an uproar from all the feminists because of the fact that Arthur/Martha is not the brightest?
Well, yes, I think there would be differences. Which is sad. But this is a problem because of the stereotypes in society. Not because of the writing of John Finnemore.
Now I want to write about how Top! or Bottom!Sherlock in fanfiction porn shows how inconsistent society´s clichés about women are. God, what have I gotten myself into?