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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Melrose Place" Feminism, Not A Blessing In Disguise

Image source: Movie news/review site Collider

As a younger person I used to watch the original Melrose Place series on TV (not the CW version which I sneer at...wasn't everything better in the "good old days" :-)?

It was an ensemble cast but the central character was really "Amanda Woodward" (Heather Locklear). Amanda was one of the first female characters on TV to boldly assert her right to be ruthless - not for any larger goal, but purely because "I want it." To that end she had these characteristics:

  • Used her intelligence to manipulate people rather than solve problems
  • Used her good looks to charm and flirt to get her way
  • Preyed on the morality of other people as she broke the rules to get what she wanted
The counterpart to Amanda's character was "Alison Parker" (Courtney Thorne-Smith) who was the polar opposite. Alison was smart, but not manipulative; pretty, but didn't "work it"; and above all moral and kind.

Amanda and Alison battled it out at work and in the apartment complex, each trying to win "Billy Campbell's" heart. But it was never about them in particular. The larger question was whether good will triumph over evil, even if evil is smarter and more ruthless.

The feminist question was whether Amanda should be given a special pass for her ruthlessness because women are historically disadvantaged, or on the other side, judged more harshly because women are somehow supposed to be "better than that."

The reason Melrose Place was brilliant is that the question was never answered. Instead we got only more questions, and saw more scenarios where these dynamics of good and evil, and so-called power feminism versus plain-Jane non-feminism, played out.

In real life, acting like an "Amanda" - i.e. immoral, and somehow weaving that into a "feminist" narrative - hurts oneself and other women as well. People can tell who the Machiavellian game-players are, and when they're women the negative reaction is exaggerated.

Meaning more discrimination against women by men.

Meaning more distrust of women by other women.

When the oppressed group uses the tools of the oppressor, it's disheartening. When they use their own own tools of survival during bleaker times as a way of achieving domination, it's downright scary.

Women can do a lot better than aspire to be an Amanda. We're smart, and capable, and we've earned it. Let's encourage ourselves and our daughters to achieve something based on what we objectively contribute as people - rather than how well we work a system where subtle but powerful sexism (and ageism, and more) still remain.