I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately, especially after the flack Melissa Benoist caused for using a line from the show to make an equivalence suggesting that losing her boyfriend (Mon-El), felt to Kara like losing her entire world. It was, of course, the type of hyperbole people in love sometimes use, because a person isn’t – and should never be – your entire world, we all understand that, but her words were taken very literally and she was crucified for them.
And – you know, a part of me understood. People were going on and on about the importance of realizing that a romantic relationship can’t and shouldn’t be your everything, and I wholeheartedly agree with that, even if I recognize we’re all guilty of getting super romantic and making grandiose statements that don’t necessarily adhere to reality sometimes, only to try to express to depths of our love.
That is, literally, the whole point of romantic poetry. There’s a whole genre about these types of grand declarations.
So, you wonder, if I understand that, why am I writing about it? Well, thing is – a few days after the Melissa Benoist “incident,” a trailer for Outlander Season 3 came out. On it, Sam Heughan’s Jamie asks how he’s supposed to go on after losing the person who’s his entire world – a reference to Claire, his wife.
Once again, it’s hyperbole, the type of romantic statement that is all about expressing love in ways that sometimes aren’t even meant to adhere to reality. It’s also not exactly factual – spoiler alert: Claire went on with her life, and so did Jamie. But, this is a show based on romance, and writers were just trying to hype that feeling and, of course, get people excited for Season 3. I understand that.
However, in what I now recognize was naïve, I expected the same people who’d been up in arms about Melissa to scream about this too, to present the same perfectly valid explanations about how and why your entire world should never be reduced to a person.
Instead, there was silence. And, when there wasn’t silence, there was something worse.
For people, Jamie thinking of Claire as his entire world was, well, romantic. Meanwhile, Kara cannot possibly think of Mon-El the same way, because that just makes her a bad feminist, a bad example for little girls everywhere and quite possibly, a whore, for reasons I will never understand, but that have a lot to do with the main topic of this piece.
Why do you think the most common insult for a woman you disagree with is to call her a slut? Why are the standards we hold women – real and fictional – so much higher than the standards we use for men?
Easy. Because we don’t see them as equals.
But, you’ll try to argue now, this is not about seeing them as equals, this is about expecting better of female characters, this is about Kara Zor-El, who’s supposed to be an example to little girls all over the world suggesting that a woman needs a man to be complete, that you can’t be happy by yourself, that love is the only thing that will make you whole.
To which I say: Bullshit. (And, once again, HYPERBOLE)
But let’s focus on the bullshit.
Expecting the people you look up to – whether they are real or fictional – to be better, is not a bad thing. Neither is asking actors and writers to be better, to be smarter, and to send better messages. Kara is, after all, a role model, and there’s a lot of baggage that goes with that, a lot of expectations, unfair or not.
Using a different parameter to measure males and females, though? That’s making everything worse.
And if you were one of the people making a big deal about Melissa’s comments, but celebrating Jamie’s declaration as the height of romance, then you are part of the problem.
It speaks to a deeper issue – one of expecting women to be these paragons of virtue while forgiving men for their misdeeds because they’re just men, and what else can we expect? It speaks to raised expectations for females that are somehow translated to a requirement for equality.
Equality is not a conditional thing. Either we’re equal, in the good things, and in the bad things, or we’re not. Either we start expecting the same from our male and female role models, or we just stop pretending that what we’re after is true equality.
We cannot truly be equal if for us to be considered equal I have to dress a certain way, behave a certain way, say certain things and speak only at certain times.
That’s not equality. That’s subjugation, whether you want to admit it or not.
So, I’m not here to tell you how to take Melissa’s comment. I recognize the exaggeration involved in making a statement like that, but if you want to call her out on it, so be it. As long as you turn right back around and call out the Outlander writing team for having Jamie Fraser say the same thing.
Because if not, then you’re just showing that you hold women to a different standard, and there’s a very fine line between having different rules for women and equality just being a myth.
In fact, I’d even postulate that there is no line. That is the world we live in. And we all have to be on the same side if we’re going to change it.