In an ideal world… yes, there would be such a clear distinction.
However, in the real world, lines blur and sexism is complicated.
Some people will actually say, ‘I hate this character because they’re a bitch and actually I hate most female characters.’ Then it’s pretty clear what’s going on there. And of course it’s better to criticise a female character in a less dismissive and more character-specific way.
But often people criticise female characters in a way that sounds more or less reasonable, and it’s just the sheer extent of criticism heaped on them and not on guys that lets you know Something Is Up.
‘She’s imperfect in these various unacceptable ways so she’s an insult to feminism.’/’She’s too perfect so she’s a bad character.’/’She’s an example of all the stuff that’s wrong with the media’s portrayal of female characters (and you see they have a point because it’s not like the media’s portrayal of female characters is all-awesome all the time… and yet wow, it’s a dismissal seen a lot…).’/’She’s such a cream puff (which actually, I’ve never seen applied to a dude, so… a lot of our language is gendered!).’/’She’s such a Mary Sue.’/’I just have higher standards for women, so…’
There’s just Piles of This Around, so I feel like we all need to think twice before adding to the pile. (Not never ever do it. Just think.)
As I said in the last Feminism! tumblrpost, I am not here to tell anyone what to do: you don’t have to be okay with me, you have to be okay with you.
However, a possibly good rule of thumb, on top of asking ‘would I feel this way about the character if they were a boy’ and ‘why do I feel this strong urge to criticise this female character, is something going on here?’ is this… if you really really feel this criticism of a certain female character HAS to be made, why not go looking for that particular criticism of that female character?
I bet you’ll find it.
Pause on top of Ladyhate Bridge, and look down. Lots of people jumped off already. Maybe you’ll feel like taking a walk instead, along new paths.
"She’s too perfect so she sucks" is the one that irritates me. (Mostly because it gets lobbed at River in Doctor Who and, like, if you’re going to accept the premise of an omniscient alien protagonist? That criticism gets kind of gendered.)
Basically I really like SRB’s books. And I love her critique of sexism in modern literature.