This is a story about how and why Lois Lane’s role in the Superman mythology has been and is being systematically diminished. You see, once upon a time there was a female character called Lois Lane; Lois Lane was an unusual female character at that time because she was a rare example of a woman who not only worked within a male-dominated field but excelled at it, and an ‘intellectual’ field at that: journalism. Lois had to overcome barriers of sexism to prove to her male boss, her co-workers, and the audience that she was just as good and even better than her rival, Clark Kent (who, lest we forget, has superpowers, so it was not exactly a level playing field) — and she was: she was just as good a journalist as Superman himself.
Now, in the 1930s and the 1940s, the white men who were privileged by the patriarchy and derived their privilege from the systematic oppression of women were so privileged and had bought into their own lies about female competence so completely that they were, as a group, incapable of conceiving of the idea that women (as a group) could ever find any great success in working in (white) male-dominated careers like journalism — they could barely even conceive of the idea that significant numbers of women could want to. Thus Lois herself was a non-threat, as far as they were concerned: she was that woman who was “not like those other women”; she was allowed to exist and allowed to be awesome because her existence and her awesomeness was no threat to white male assumed superiority.
Later on, in the 1950s and the 1960s things began to change for women. The men who had felt so secure in their ivory tower were beginning to see cracks in the base of it: they were no longer so assured of their superiority or of the indifference of women to the idea of success and competence outside of traditionally female roles. It became more important to the security of the patriarchy as a power structure that characters like Lois were put in their place — in order to remind women in general of where their place was. “A woman could never be that competent, that smart, or that perceptive!” they said to themselves (having bought into their own mythology of feminine inferiority for so long), “Nor must women be allowed to think themselves competent, smart, or perceptive.”
This idea that no woman could be as awesome as 1930s Lois had been began to manifest culturally; men started selectively reading the character to bring her into line with the myth of who they thought she must be, which was someone “so blind she never even noticed that Clark Kent and Superman were one and the same!” In time, people became convinced that this was who Lois had always been; even women bought into the idea: Lois Lane was invented in the 1930s, therefore she must have been a misogynistic stereotype. We were encouraged to view rejection of Lois Lane as a feminist act (just as we were encouraged to reject our own femininity and womanhood as ‘unfeminist’).
Thus the idea that Lois was always incompetent, shrewish, and ‘blind’ — in short that Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane is a full and valid representation of who she is and has always been as a character — became a cultural meme which continues to inform the way she is written and commented upon today. Any piece of media which does not conform to this stereotype is thrown out as ‘uncharacteristic’ of Lois, regardless of the fact that when all is said and done a vanishingly small proportion of the portrayals of Lois over the years even approach the way she is characterised in popular culture.
Now, in 2011, we see a female character who was a role model to millions shunted off to the background and we’re told that this is where she has always belonged; we will be treated to a love triangle between Lois, Clark, and some third party which will underline Lois’s lack of perception — and we will be told that this is in line with her portrayal through the generations (regardless of the fact that Lois is the only one who actually did notice that Clark was Superman); we will see her marginalised and used to present one more iteration of the meme that “women don’t like nice guys” — and if we complain, no doubt we will be told that this has been done under the pretext of “feminism”, as if there were no feminist way to write Lois, and as if removing female characters from a given narrative (or diminishing their roles and essentialising them as love interests when they had previously filled a variety of different niches) could ever be a feminist act.
(posted by ghostsontv)