Props to Perry for sparking the conversation that itched enough at the back of my brain to make me blog on this.
I am seeing a lot of discussion on the interwebs about “strong female characters”. Particularly with regards to various writers who either do or do not live up to the rising expectations when it comes to females in gaming/writing/movies/tv/comics.
This is good. This is very, very good.
We SHOULD have discussions about this. It’s important that it matters to us that women are portrayed in a manner that empowers both boys/men and girls/women to treat their fellow humans as people.
For the purposes of this discussion, I am talking about the way that women are portrayed. The way that men are portrayed is its own barrel of problems but is out of scope.
One problem at a time, please.
The External Reading
(summaries provided to save time, but I still do recommend the source links)
Disney Princesses have come under harsh scrutiny of late, with rather a lot of snarky pokes at the way those heroines are portrayed, particularly with regards to needing men to rescue them or using their sexuality to succeed. Like this image, for example.
As a rebuttal, this tumblr posts argues that the situations and actions of the Disney princesses is not so simple as the quippy images like the one I linked above might have you believe.
And this poem that Perry sent me, which combined with the above two links in my mind to create the need for a blog post. The poem is from the point of view of a “strong female character” who lists out the things she must be (beautiful, but not too beautiful, strong but not without flaws, disabled, but not in a way that makes her look weak, good at all weapons, but still kindhearted and gentle…) and then cries that she wishes she weren’t alone, so she didn’t have to bear the burden of so many expectations.
You can also toss in some discussions on the My Little Pony “respectable show for girls” and the Lara Croft victimization if you so wish. Then there’s always Hermione and Rose Tyler versus Twilight. I don’t think we even need to talk about the Catwoman or … pretty much all of the other female comic book characters. And there’s the discussion about Sister’s Red and the subtle “she was asking for it” rape message that can be inferred.
Why It Matters
First, I think we should figure out why it matters.
It’s under discussion because women have been portrayed poorly for so long that they’ve become tropes. You’ve got the vamp, the tramp, the mother, the stepmother. You’ve got characters who have no sense of self outside of their need for a man and a family — women who are so weak they cannot protect themselves and need a man to do it for them. You’ve got the women who use their sexuality to mislead and lie, and the women who jealously and spitefully take down any who stand in their path.
It matters because our children are watching these shows and reading these books, and if they only ever see characters who love pink and frills and care about how beautiful they are, then that is what they believe women should be. This is limiting to the girls who might branch out and hurtful to the girls who have zero affinity for pink and frills and makeup.
It matters because our teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and what love is, and what their relationships with men should be. If all they see are men saving women and women subdued or bitchy, that is what they think life should be like.
In MY mind (as it’s my blog and thus my opinion gets to be on the front page) we need strong female characters to show girls and women their options. That being a woman is a multi-faceted and unique experience.
To build a sense of self-worth that has nothing to do with other people.
I’d love to know why YOU think it matters. Why it matters to you and what makes this issue something you care about.
Why We Still Have a Problem
To me, the poem most accurately details why we still have a problem. We’ve swung the pendulum the other way, and gone from weepy, useless heroines to badasses trying to be too many things at once.
I have as much in common with Teary McVictim as I do with Leather McSpikesAndStuff.
We need to split the load. It’s okay to dream of being a mommy and a princess and want a pink EasyBake Oven. It’s EQUALLY okay to want nerf guns and puppies and legos. It is ALSO equally okay to dream of being a mommy and want a puppy and to send your barbies off to war.
When you’ve only got one main female role, however, you’ve got to do a lot of scrambling to try and make as many people happy as possible.
Lord of the Rings
Incidentally, the ORIGINAL fantasy novels somehow seemed to avoid this.
Granted, they had the “women and children must be protected” stuff, but that’s societal. There weren’t a LOT of female characters, but the behavior of those women and the way that the men treated them rarely suffered from the issues we see today.
The first chapter of The Hobbit talks about Bilbo’s mother, a Took who provided the wealth used to build Bag End. Very few fans of the movies can forget the strength of Eowyn, who abhored a cage and killed the Witch King.
No End Date
There’s no end date on this problem, because you can never make everyone happy. The solution I find totally acceptable sticks in the craw of many other people, and vice versa.
We should never stop trying to improve, trying to do better.
The important part has already begun. People are critically looking at the entertainment they are being given and asking themselves if they think it’s doing a good job at anything other than mindless entertainment.
Writers, as producers of this content, I hope you’re paying attention and asking yourselves the same questions. What is acceptable to YOU?
No matter what you do, someone will accuse you of being sexist or upholding stereotypes. There’s no escape from it.
You need only write in a way that satisfies your own morality, and you can only do that by paying attention, not just to yourself, but to the way that other people are perceiving things.
You see, we grew up with these same tropes, these same images taught to us as being normal. As being not only okay, but celebrated.
We need to break free of what has always been done, and forge our own paths.
It’s up to us. We want to be writers, sure, but we also need to be aware of the responsibility that comes with creation. If I have a problem with the way female characters are portrayed, I can TALK about it all I want. In my heart, I know that it is what I DO about it that matters most.
I’m going to write female characters that I would want to know and spend time with and befriend. I’m going to write daughters and sisters and mothers and warriors and bookworms and bakers and horsewomen.
I’m going to write the role models that I think should be seen more in our entertainment.