Introducing: The Percy Award

Last year, when I saw Alison Bechdel talk, she introduced me to Stigler’s Law of Eponymy – “No rule is named after the person who came up with it.”

Stigler did not invent that law.

In the spirit of Stigler’s Law, allow me to introduce you to the system I’ve come up with to test how feminist a film is: The Percy Award. There’s only two criteria…

1) There is at least one woman with a plot that doesn’t revolve around: a man, femininity, beauty, or being a mother.

2) There are (roughly) at least as many female speaking roles as there are male speaking roles.

If a film accomplishes both of these, it gets The Percy Award. Let’s break it down:

1) There is at least one woman with a plot that doesn’t revolve around: a man, femininity, beauty, or being a mother.

Most of the time women are given same two roles, over and over again. They’re mothers or lovers – the virgin or the slut. They exist to dispense sex or nurturing, to be lusted after and fulfil societal expectations. They can always be described in relation to a male – “the love interest”, “the sister”, “the ex”.

Women in films exist to dispense sex or nurturing, to be lusted after and fulfil societal expectations. They can be described in relation to a male – “the love interest”, “the sister”, “the ex”.

And on the rare occasion that they do more than just prop up a male character’s plot, the fact that they don’t fit the typical feminine archetype will be their plot (think Merida in Brave).

To fulfil this criteria, the woman also needs to actually be given a storyline, which is pretty important*. We’re defining a “plot” here as “A story with a beginning, middle and end (in different scenes).”  Megan stealing the dogs in Bridesmaids isn’t a “plot”, but Annie dealing with the closure of her bakery is (and while it involves a man, it certainly doesn’t revolve around one).

* Note that I’m not saying “main characters” or “central storylines” – that would eliminate every film with a single male protagonist, and a film can still be feminist while having one protagonist who is male.

2) There are (roughly) at least as many female speaking roles as there are male speaking roles.

Our population is made up of (roughly) 50% men and 50% women. You would expect representation in film to be roughly the same, but in 2013 only 30% of speaking roles were female, and only 15% of protagonists. The further back you go, the worse it gets.

As a writer, whenever I need a character to deliver a throwaway line or piece of information, my first instinct is always for that role to be filled by a man. Shop-keeper, hotel clerk, doctor – unless a character needs to be female, they’ll be a man.

This ties into the first criteria as well. If a writer sits down and asks themself “Okay, let’s put a woman in – what would a female plot be about?” then they’ll repeatedly draw from the same well. Men can have any plot in the world; women need to have a woman plot.

Male as the default is a dangerous and unhealthy attitude. You’ll see it all the time – if a character doesn’t have to be female, then they won’t be.

Also note – we’re not counting the number of lines, just whether or not they have lines at all. This is for the same reason that “roughly” is specified. You should be able to work out whether a film is deserving of the award without having to sit down and rewatch it with a pen and paper.

You’ll find that the vast majority of the time, it will quickly become obvious whether a film is going to come close.

In Bridesmaids, for example, female roles include: Annie, Lillian, Helen, Megan, Rita, Becca, Annie’s mum, and Rebel Wilson. Male roles include: the policeman, Lillian’s father, Jon Hamm, Annie’s boss, the fitness instructor, and Matt Lucas.

There are probably a few more scattered around, but Bridesmaids? Totally deserves The Percy Award.

Finding worthy films is extremely difficult. That’s why it’s not a “test” – it’s not a pass/fail system, and it’s not something that a movie can accomplish with one throwaway line (I love the Bechdel Test for looking at trends, but I just don’t think it’s the best standard for evaluating individual films).

Getting a Percy Award is an accomplishment – if a film manages to give a woman something to do outside of base gender expectations and it shows a roughly-equal representation of both genders, then that’s (sadly) a genuinely rare feat.

So let’s celebrate it. What films can you think of that deserve The Percy Award?

Group Theory

everyone is wrong

Here’s the sad truth: every group, no matter how big or small or well-intentioned or yes, even hateful, is going to contain idiots. Not just idiots – truly awful human beings who want to bring everyone else down, whose identity is tied up with being a part of the group AND their membership making them better than everyone else.

If you judge the entire group by those people, you’re doing everyone a disservice and also opening your group(s) up to the same attitude*. There’s no easy solution to this – it’s really difficult to examine the group “as a whole” or even work out the group’s true core values, because they’re so often misrepresented by these angry, loud people.

*and yes, YOUR group also contains those hateful, ugly people. No exceptions.

Instead, try to find the best of the group, see where they’re coming from, and then decide whether or not it’s a point of view you can understand, even if it’s never going to be something you agree with. Again, this is not easy, but it’s the best and most fair (and frankly most interesting) way to do things, and it’ll leave you better equipped to fight evil, and with a greater understanding of the world.

And above all, strive to never be that person. Identifying a certain way might make you feel good, but it doesn’t automatically mean that everyone who doesn’t agree with you is evil, and treating the world as simplistic and black-and-white just makes you look like an idiot.

(Now here’s a game for you – try to guess which group inspired this post! I would put money on no one being able to work this out, because though it may seem to obviously be about x or y, this philosophy genuinely does apply to EVERY group and identity I’ve ever, ever encountered.)

Why you should identify as a feminist: Deleted scenes

Here’s a section I wrote for my last post but couldn’t actually fit in anywhere:

Another way of thinking about “why do feminists spend so much time on women’s issues”:

Imagine you need to paint a wall black. There are a few navy-blue splotches around, but the vast majority of the wall is a bright, blinding white. Where do you start painting? And once you’ve started, where do you spend the majority of your time?

Women, in literally every country in the world, have a measurably worse life than men do, in almost every aspect of their existence. That’s not to say men have a perfect life or suffer injustice – off the top of my head, I know that they’re encouraged to talk about their feelings less (resulting in a higher suicide rate), they go to jail more and have a worse time when they’re there, and they are less likely to get custody of their kids.

Women, meanwhile, are more likely to be raped (and to be blamed for it when they are), they earn ~70 cents for every dollar a man earns, they are held to an extremely strict beauty standard (and suffer direct consequences when they don’t adhere to it), they make up something like 17% of speaking characters in films and 30% (or less) of lead roles, they make up such a tiny percentage of political roles in the world, they’re sold into sex slavery around the world in ridiculous numbers (80% of the 600-800 thousand people trafficked around the world each year are women), they’re hassled on the street unless they have a man present…I could go on, but I hope we can agree that I don’t need to.

Women’s rights and women’s issues are the white part of the wall. Men’s issues are the navy-blue splotches. We need to start with the overwhelming issues facing women, and we need to spend the vast, vast majority of our time there.

Why you should identify as a feminist

I run a Facebook group dedicated to discussing feminism, the aptly-titled “Let’s Talk Feminism“. About a month back, I posted this mini-essay on identifying as a feminist, and someone asked me to repost it publicly. So here you go!

The question is basically “Why should you identify as a feminist?”, or to break it down slightly further, “Why put yourself in the same group as people who you think are awful, even if you technically fit the definition/share some of the same core ideals?”

(at least, that’s the question I’ll be answering: if you have a similar/related question you want me to answer, leave a comment and I’ll try to get to it.)

This is a conversation I actually have a lot. I totally get it, too: when some people hear hear “feminist”, they think “bra-burning, man-hating, all-sex-is-rape nutcases.” And yes, that kind of feminist absolutely does exist.

There are three main comparisons I like to use. Two are personal and unlikely to cause offense, and the other is more general and has the potential to make people very angry. I’m going to use all of them.

Comparison #1: 

I, personally, hate being referred to as a “nerd”. When I hear nerd, I think “socially awkward, proud-of-being-into-obscure-things (for the sake of being into obscure things), misogynist recluse.”

That’s not what the word means.

I play board games that 99% of board gamers haven’t even heard of. I make card and board games as a hobby. I’ve spent 8 years working on a fantasy universe, just for the fun of it. I make my living working online. I am a reasonably big name in the community hub of a digital trading card game.

It’s basically impossible to ignore the fact that I’m a nerd.

And so, for the record, I totally GET it. I understand why you hate that you can’t be passionate about certain topics without being landed with a label that you don’t like.
But the fact is, sometimes you’re a thing (even if you don’t want to be) and it’s fruitless to fight it. Not only fruitless, but – in my opinion – actively unhelpful. (And by now, you should all know how much I hate unhelpfulness. :P)

Comparison #2:

I want to get married, some day.

I’m a polyamorous (more-than-one-love-at-once person) feminist, who’s completely aware of the awful history of marriage.

When I think marriage though, I don’t think “Has origins in women being property”. I think “public declaration of love and commitment.” And so I want to get married, because I want to show the world how awesome marriage can be. I want to show that marriage might have awful connotations to some people, but that isn’t what it has to be – you can take the concept, and work on shaping it into something really cool.

“But why take a pre-existing word and try to change public opinion? Why not just make up a new word, like Soulbinding or Civil Union or something?”

Because, frankly, it’s not going to catch on. I can say “Hey I’m going to get soulbound to my girlfriend” and I have to explain it in full every time, but honestly no one else is ever going to use the word.

Instead, why not say “I’m going to get married” and if people look at me strangely, explain how I’m using the word?

This is an argument I see a LOT in terms of feminism. “It has ‘female’ in the title*! People who I don’t like are using the word! I’m going to call myself an egalitarian/humanist/equalist/genderist/oh my god there’s so many.”
*more on this later.

Firstly, as I said, it’s not going to catch on. Really. Feminism has been around for a very long time, and – like it or not – it’s here to stay. Feminism is THE leading movement that works towards equality of the genders. It has been since it started, and it will be for a very long time. The word means “someone who believes there should be equality between the sexes.”

If you believe that it’s been “taken over” by horrible people, there’s exactly one way to fix that, and it’s not “use a different term”. You’ll end up a confusing array of words that no one understands, you’ll splinter the movement, and – perhaps most importantly – you’re never going to convince EVERY feminist to stop using the term.

If you want to “save” feminism from meaning “people who hate men”, you need to start using the term to describe yourself while being a decent, non-misandrist human being. You need to use the term proudly while being a good guy.

That’s it.

Declaring yourself a genderist instead is going to require you to explain what you mean by that, every single time it comes up. Why not instead call yourself a feminist, and explain what you mean by that only to people who don’t already know what feminism is/use it the way you’re using it?

There are feminist dickheads. There are a LOT of feminist dickheads. But the fact is, if we all started using “genderist” instead, there would almost-immediately be a lot of genderist dickheads. So what do we do then? Make up another term?

If you want to be a part of a movement without dickheads, you’re going to be searching for a while. If you want to be part of a movement where people don’t associate the term with dickheadery, call yourself a feminist and be a good guy.

I am a nerd. I am a social, well-dressed (most of the time), well-spoken, outgoing, feminist nerd.

And the more nerds like me there are, the less ashamed I’m going to be to use the term.

Comparison #3: (WARNING: Possibility of offense ahead!)

I know someone (and if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay with me using you as an example) who doesn’t identify as a Christian.

That’s fine. I don’t identify as a Christian either.

This friend, however, believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, who came down to Earth to save us from our sins. They believe that Jesus is the path to salvation, and that belief in Him is the only way to get into heaven.

They don’t like being called a “Christian”, however, because…you know. Some Christians are crazy.

I sincerely hope you can see how completely ridiculous that sounds. If you believe that there should be equality between the genders and you don’t call yourself a feminist, that is what you sound like. For real.


Other arguments I frequently see:

But feminism has ‘fem’ in the title! As in FEMALE!

Yes. So what?

“Female” has the word “MALE” in it! “Woman” has the word “MAN” in it! Do these words bother you? If you’re going to complain about gendered terms within words, at least make sure you’re consistent about it.

We’re not going to rewrite the English language, because it would simply never catch on. English is not a literal language, and (as a writer) I can honestly say that’s one of its most beautiful strengths.

Feminism started (and is still primarily focussed*) on women’s rights. That’s its origins, and that’s why it has the name it does.
*more on this later

The word “English” is now used in hundreds of countries. But its name has “ENG” in it, as in “ENGLAND”…because that’s the origin of the word. It would be a ridiculous amount of effort and almost completely pointless to change the word just for America and Australia and Canada and etc etc.

Similarly, we’re not going to change “feminism” just for men whose feelings are hurt because they’re not in the title.

But feminism focuses on women! I want to be involved in a movement that REALLY believes in equality, spending just as much time on men’s rights.

Here’s the thing: Feminism absolutely does deal with men’s issues.

Men are encouraged to bottle up their feelings, because talking about emotions is “girly” – that’s something feminism fights against.

Men are denied custody because taking care of children is seen as a woman’s job – that’s something that feminism fights against.

Men are killed in greater numbers than women, because they’re encouraged to be violent (often specifically against women) – you’d better believe that’s something that feminism fights against.

Men are more likely to go to prison, because women aren’t seen as capable of the same sort of criminal behaviour as men – believe it or not, that’s something that feminism fights against.

A lot of feminism is dedicated to the fight that women, just like men, are human. And EVERYONE comes out on top when that fight is won, men and women alike.

I’m not a feminist – I’m a humanist.

Why not be both?

Seriously. There’s nothing stopping you from taking on both labels. “I’m not a nerd, I’m a board game enthusiast.” No…I’m both. You can consider one a subset of the other if you like, but the fact is that both labels describe me.

Anyway! There are a bunch of other reasons you should identify as a feminist – to unite the brand, because of its long and (frankly beautiful) history, and to signal to other decent humans that you too are a decent human – but the above are my personal reasons I strongly argue that you should, as well as some rebuttals to common questions I hear.

The last time I had this conversation, a friend of mine said something that I’ve always loved quoting:

“Basically, the only problem with “Feminism” is that people don’t understand it. We will not need the word when everyone identifies as a feminist.”

If anyone has any questions, or disagrees with me, I’m keen to hear about it. Special thanks to Cherese Sonkkila for helping me draft this post.