“Why is it scientifically impossible for a man to put himself in a woman’s shoes, even for one second?”
–Jane in Masters of Sex
Buffy Summers. Enid Coleslaw. Frances Halladay. Claire Fisher. Serena Pemberton. April Ludgate.
Question: What do all of these ladies have in common? (Besides the fact that I’ve written posts about all of them.)
Answer: They were all created by men.
Lana Winters, the de facto protagonist of American Horror Story: Asylum, is another member of this club. She is the only character to survive the entire season in Asylum (quite a feat in the AHS franchise) and is, without question, the strongest female character to appear on the Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk production, not to mention the rest of television. Here’s the rundown on the horrors Lana overcomes in a mere 13 episodes:
- She’s a lesbian in the early sixties, which is tantamount to being crazy. So she is held against her will at the Briarcliff asylum to be treated for her homosexual predilections
- Her lover (along with many others) is killed by a psycho dubbed “Bloody Face”
- This same person captures Lana, keeps her hostage, rapes her and gets her pregnant in the process
- Lana kills Bloody Face in the most epic scene of the series
- Lana cannot bear to have an abortion, but also cannot bear to keep the child, so she puts him up for adoption
- Said child develops an abandonment/mother complex and grows up to be Bloody Face II and makes it his personal mission to kill Lana
- She is forced to choose between giving her son the one thing he wants and letting another maniac live; Bloody Face II is killed at the same hands as his father
So there are several ways to process this information:
- Murphy and Falchuk created one of the most badass women ever!
- Murphy and Falchuk maybe have a mother complex of their own and are a little too interested in depicting a woman going through psychological and physical torture
- This is just another example of how men control everything. Lana might be “strong,” but her very existence is still at the hands of two dudes. Women can’t even tell their own stories about rape, abortion, childbearing, sexuality and defying gender roles
- We’re in a society that is questioning the very distinction of gender more and more. Does it even matter that two men created Lana? At the end of the day, we’re all just people
- What, men can’t write about women? You’re being a sexist! Michelle Ashford is telling the story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson and no one is questioning whether she is doing the male sex justice. You call yourself a feminist?!
- Rachel’s really into bullets today
As much as I consider myself to be a bullshit detector and somebody who is just right all of the time, I’ve got to say that I don’t know what the correct reaction is. I think all of those points are valid; I think that they’re all broad generalizations. I will say that I think it is an issue that there so few female directors and television showrunners. No matter how well-meaning or feminist male artists are, their version of women will always be skewed, if not completely inaccurate. I guess more than anything else I think that women need to be consulted in these cases, if only for research purposes. But I also respect men who make it their goal to present three-dimensional female characters with their own agency and perspective. Those are the kind of men I’d like to hang out with. But I’d probably be working for them, not with them.
I’m not really shedding any helpful light on this, am I? I guess that’s the point.
Let’s turn to Roxane Gay–author of Bad Feminist; Outlander fan; my personal nominee for Time Person of the Year–sees this issue as starkly black and white (in contrast to my gray bulleted list). As Gay argues in “Beyond the Measure of Men,” if Lana’s story was a female creation, it would be taken less seriously solely because it came from a woman’s brain. As Gay explains, “Narratives about certain experiences are somehow legitimized when mediated through a man’s perspective. Consider the work of John Updike and Richard Yates. Most of their fiction is grounded in domestic themes that, in the hands of a woman, would render the work ‘women’s fiction.’…These books are allowed to be more than what they are by virtue of the writer’s gender, while similar books by women are forced to be less than what they are…”
To sum it up neatly: “When did men become the measure?…Excellence should be the measure”
As Gay sees it, the reason Lana’s story is told by men is because they are the only people our society deems fit to tell anyone’s story. I’m inclined to agree with Gay that this is why the Buffys, Enids, Aprils and Lanas are products of the male imagination. But I don’t know if it necessarily lessens any of those characters or what they try to accomplish. I suppose this particular post asks more questions than it answers, but that could be alright. I think it is better to think about these matters and discuss them than to never give them a second glance. What I can tell you definitively is that Lana Winters is one of the best female television characters in recent history and is definitely the best character (of any gender) in AHS‘s universe. That means something, no matter who created her.
(Images #1 courtesy of tumblr.com; #2 courtesy of americanhorrorstory.wikia.com; #3 courtesy of fanpop.com; #4 courtesy of weheartit.com; #5 courtesy of artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)