Projecting Rules

August 25, 2010 — 7 Comments

One thing I’ve noticed that happens on feminist blogs is that they have a peculiar way of phrasing their questions. A common one I’ve seen (or been asked) is that they’ll ask “how is this empowering?” or “is this subversive?” Of course, this is to demand adherence to a standard which no one ever agreed to meet. In other words, to continually set yourself up for disappointment and frustration.

Consider the logic in applying the “Bechdel Test” to Christopher Nolan movies, or to any movie for that matter. The fact that it’s often also called the “Bechdel Rule” is illustrative. Essentially, this is to assert an arbitrary benchmark, apply it retroactively and then angrily wonder why it wasn’t respected. Such behavior is voting on reality.

This is different than disliking something or having an intellectual issue with some practice or form of art or whatever. One is to disagree, or perhaps better yet, propose an alternative. The other is an entitlement that will always leave you perturbed and upset because you’re expecting to see your personal views reflected back by the world around you. The difference between the two is the difference between asking “Why” or “How come?” and “Why are you doing this TO ME?”

There’s no reason to live like that (unless your goal is to gin-up pageviews). It’s miserable and exhausting. And when we look at most of the sources of frustration or disappointment in our lives, there’s a good chance that this kind of attitude is behind it. Each time you can get rid of it, you feel a little bit better.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

7 responses to Projecting Rules

  1. I’m a happy, successful female entrepreneur, but I don’t really write any feminist content for my blog, so I don’t think I’ve ever tried looking at my posts and asking myself if they’re empowering to women, or have a submissive tone. I think I might find the whole process a lot less fun if I did. I don’t think it’s just feminist blogs that are guilty of this though, in any arena, feminism, veganism, etc, there is a spectrum of personalities with different approaches to getting their point across. I love reading Maria Diaz’s blog; she’s a vegan, but she has fun with it on her blog. It’s entertaining and keeps me tuned in to the cause, and that’s a whole lot more empowering than raging at non-vegans.

  2. “this is to demand adherence to a standard which no one ever agreed to meet”

    So basically you’re saying that equality is a standard that no one has agreed to. You’re saying sexism is objective and women should just shut up about it because to expect to be treated with respect is entitlement and only setting us up for disappointment.

    The fact that you can write this incredibly condescending post scolding feminists for entitlement without seeing your own vast sense of entitlement would be shocking if it wasn’t so common. People who don’t fit into the category of “straight white man” don’t have the option to just lie back and “cede control” of something they had little to no control over to begin with.

    How nice for you to live in a world with that option. Maybe you should read a little bit about why this post is so, so misguided:

    http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2008/04/feminism-101-sexism-is-matter-of.html

  3. If you can point out where I mentioned sexism, that’d be awesome. While you’re at it, try pointing at the third paragraph where I differentiated between disagreeing with something and working to change it and simply assuming that the world will meet your standards. Maybe Christopher Nolan’s movies do have weak female characters, maybe that sucks and maybe he should stop. But the Bechdel rule is just a made up concept, why on earth would you expect that his movies – or any movie for that matter – to pass it?

  4. The Bechdel Rule (which, as you pointed out, was originally conceived as a test) is rarely treated as an actual “rule” that films have to follow. Rather, it is meant to be a concrete illustration of the pervasiveness of sexism in American society and, specifically, in American film, as well an example of the concept of ‘male gaze’ in cinema. The thinking is that one should be angry with films that do not pass this test because they are perpetuating a culture of patriarchy that is so omnipresent as to be effectively invisible. In essence, the Bechdel Test is trying to draw attention to the ways in which the world is not equal so that people may move to improve that world, instead of being some unwritten rule that feminists just expect movies to follow.

    I’m not going to really argue with the general point of your posting- that people often fail to realize that their perspective is just that- since it is rather true. However, you used a poor example that was likely to be inflammatory to a number of your readers, thereby weakening the rhetorical effect of your argument.

    • No, see that’s the point. You shouldn’t be angry at films, really, ever. Particularly if in order to do so you have to project participation in an imaginary conspiracy.

      If you want a rule to apply to Nolan movies, try Occam’s Razor. There is limited space, limited time and the version you ultimately saw is the movie that worked best given those constraints.

  5. Ryan,

    A lot of people really like and respect your opinions. I think you’re brilliant. But you also seem to have an ego the size of the moon, regardless of intention. The internet is all about freedom, but if your goal is really to help people, you need to swallow your pride. You have a right to your opinion, and women have a right to feel safe and accepted in the world. I imagine you could relate to this sentiment.

    I am hoping that two-odd years later after countless new interactions with thoughtful people, your journey has taken you to understand feminism better. If so, please update this post. James Gunn does a great apology if you’re stuck for ideas.

    Keep striving,
    -NOJ

  6. You have some valid points, i’d never really thought of it that way but i suppose the bechdel test is quite arbitrary. You could apply the same logic to “are there any female villains who aren’t sexy” , which is almost always going to be a no, but no one sets those expectations because no one is constantly suggesting it. Theres also the point someone else made previously that theres simply more men in the film industry and men are just more inclined to write stories that capture their perspectives and experiences. And that isn’t so much a symptom of the patriarchy but personal choices. A few days ago i attended a free event at a gallery that had maybe 10% women, i met people from marvel, blur studios, treyarch, all the people that are making these kinds of content. Its not like women didn’t have access to these events, they simply chose not to join, so if 90% of games and television lack their voice, isn’t that just the consequences of not being present when it counts?

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