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  1. #1
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Default I hate Strong Female Characters

    I hate Strong Female Characters
    Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.
    BY SOPHIA MCDOUGALL
    15 AUGUST 2013
    NEW STATESMAN

    Excerpt:

    I hate Strong Female Characters.

    As someone spends a fair amount of time complaining on the internet that there aren’t enough female heroes out there, this may seem a strange and out of character thing to say.

    And of course, I love all sorts of female characters who exhibit great resilience and courage. I love it when Angel asks Buffy what’s left when he takes away her weapons and her friends and she grabs his sword between her palms and says “Me”. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I love Zhang Ziyi’s Jen sneering “He is my defeated foe” when asked if she’s related to Chow Yun-Fat's Li Mu Bai. I love Jane Eyre declaring “I care for myself” despite the world’s protracted assault on her self-esteem. My despair that the film industry believes the world is more ready for a film featuring a superhero who is a raccoon than it is for a film led by a superhero who is a woman is long and loud.

    But the phrase “Strong Female Character” has always set my teeth on edge, and so have many of the characters who have so plainly been written to fit the bill.

    I remember watching Shrek with my mother.

    “The Princess knew kung-fu! That was nice,” I said. And yet I had a vague sense of unease, a sense that I was saying it because it was what I was supposed to say.

    She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”

    No one ever asks if a male character is “strong”. Nor if he’s “feisty,” or “kick-ass” come to that.

    The obvious thing to say here is that this is because he’s assumed to be “strong” by default. Part of the patronising promise of the Strong Female Character is that she’s anomalous. “Don’t worry!” that puff piece or interview is saying when it boasts the hero’s love interest is an SFC. “Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong! See, she roundhouses people in the face.” Sometimes the phrase “not your typical damsel in distress” will be used, as if the writing of pop culture heroines had not moved on even slightly since Disney’s Snow White and as if a goodly percentage of SFCs did not end up, in fact, needing to be rescued.

    This is true, and yet it’s not all of the truth.

    Are our best-loved male heroes Strong Male Characters? Is, say, Sherlock Holmes strong? In one sense, yes, of course. He faces danger and death in order to pursue justice. On the other hand, his physical strength is often unreliable – strong enough to bend an iron poker when on form, he nevertheless frequently has to rely on Watson to clobber his assailants, at least once because he’s neglected himself into a condition where he can’t even try to fight back. His mental and emotional resources also fluctuate. An addict and a depressive, he claims even his crime-fighting is a form of self-medication. Viewed this way, his willingness to place himself in physical danger might not be “strength” at all – it might be another form of self-destructiveness. Or on the other hand, perhaps his vulnerabilities make him all the stronger, as he succeeds in surviving and flourishing in spite of threats located within as well without.

    Is Sherlock Holmes strong? It’s not just that the answer is “of course”, it’s that it’s the wrong question.

    What happens when one tries to fit other iconic male heroes into an imaginary “Strong Male Character” box? A few fit reasonably well, but many look cramped and bewildered in there. They’re not used to this kind of confinement, poor things. They’re used to being interesting across more than one axis and in more than two dimensions.

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  2. #2
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    As I was reading this I couldn't help thinking the article title should have been appended "or why more characters should be written like Ellen Ripley".

    In the original Alien screenplay (which I've read—it's awful) the writers, Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, included a list of characters at the beginning and made a small note at the bottom of the page.

    The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.

    The producers of the film decided to make the Ripley character female. (Thankfully they also rewrote most of the dialogue; the final script is written well enough that it doesn't have to have a list of characters at the beginning.)

    Ripley isn't 'sassy', 'feisty' or a "damsel in distress": she's a normal, rational human being. In fact if the other characters had listened to her they wouldn't have been in the trouble they were in in the first place.

    The second film, Aliens, is even better at characterizing Ripley as a well-rounded person. At the beginning of the film she's suffering from severe PTSD as a result of the events of the first film. Eventually she gets hooped into going back to the planet where they found the Alien in the first film, and things go awry as one might expect. On the way there she gives a room full of marines a briefing about her 'encounter' in the first film. She trips over her words, words trail off... It's clear that what happened to her was very disturbing and the marines fall silent except for the female private, Vasquez, who interrupts and jokes "I only need to know one thing: where they are," as she makes a mock gun with her fingers and fires it at imaginary aliens.

    Vasquez is one-dimensional character, a female character written to be over-the-top macho. So macho in fact that when we first see her one of the other (male) characters jokes "Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" To which she retorts, "No. Have YOU?"

    Ultimately when shit hits the fan and there are only a few humans left they immediately turn to Ripley for leadership. Ripley doesn't need to act like a 'bad-ass' (like Vasquez) to earn respect, she just commands it. She's smart and, though terrified, she doesn't panic and has the fortitude to persevere through the extreme circumstances she's put in.


    In a twisted way it's kind of sad that Ripley is held up as a feminist icon: she is so because there are so few others.
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  3. #3
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    I was never able to relate to characters of this type, but it wasn't about them being female. I felt a disconnect from fictional heroes in general.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Webslinger View Post
    I was never able to relate to characters of this type, but it wasn't about them being female. I felt a disconnect from fictional heroes in general.
    Is that not so because most fictional heroes are one-dimensional and not relatable?

    Take Superman for instance. (He's sort of fresh in my mind because of the movie that came out this summer; a movie I didn't see.) I don't relate to Superman, and I don't particularly like Superman stories. In fact I think Superman's a very boring character precisely because he doesn't have much of a personality. I can't relate to a superhuman alien who can do just about anything and is almost impossible to harm.

    (Superman stories tend to be a bore because of this. Inevitably somebody, i.e. Lux Luthor, gets his hands on some kryptonite. Otherwise Superman faces no peril whatsoever.)


    Unfortunately the proportion of female characters in movies and pop lit tends to be a fraction of the number of males, and the female characters that do appear tend to be (almost overwhelmingly) boring, one-dimensional characters.




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    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    There are some female characters that overstate the whole "strong" aspect of the character and seem inauthentic. They are really disturbing to me because it seems almost worse than just a wimpy woman in a story. These are usually female characters that just seem spoiled, pushy, and head-strong in a completely self-centered way.

    I like female characters that have other characteristics that just make them indadvertedly seem strong. I really like Scully from X-Files and Olivia Dunham from Fringe. My mind is too tired to think of anyone else right away, but there are others.
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  6. #6
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    I guess a lot writers only know how to do Action Girl: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ActionGirl

    Quote Originally Posted by fia View Post
    There are some female characters that overstate the whole "strong" aspect of the character and seem inauthentic. They are really disturbing to me because it seems almost worse than just a wimpy woman in a story. These are usually female characters that just seem spoiled, pushy, and head-strong in a completely self-centered way.

    I like female characters that have other characteristics that just make them indadvertedly seem strong. I really like Scully from X-Files and Olivia Dunham from Fringe. My mind is too tired to think of anyone else right away, but there are others.
    A few years ago I saw Winter's Bone when it was in theaters. I had no idea who Jennifer Lawrence was (she wasn't famous yet), but I was really impressed with her performance. She plays a pretty regular teenage girl thrust into a crappy situation. She does not do anything spectacularly heroic or flashy, she just deals with it through sheer determination.
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  7. #7
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SD45T-2 View Post
    A few years ago I saw Winter's Bone when it was in theaters. I had no idea who Jennifer Lawrence was (she wasn't famous yet), but I was really impressed with her performance. She plays a pretty regular teenage girl thrust into a crappy situation. She does not do anything spectacularly heroic or flashy, she just deals with it through sheer determination.
    Love that movie and the character.
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
    Fear of reality creates myopic morality
    So I guess it means there is trouble until the robins come
    (from Blue Velvet)

    I want to be just like my mother, even if she is bat-shit crazy.

  8. #8
    Administrator highlander's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SD45T-2 View Post
    A few years ago I saw Winter's Bone when it was in theaters. I had no idea who Jennifer Lawrence was (she wasn't famous yet), but I was really impressed with her performance. She plays a pretty regular teenage girl thrust into a crappy situation. She does not do anything spectacularly heroic or flashy, she just deals with it through sheer determination.
    I agree. She was great in that. In general, I really like strong female characters. Some examples would be Scarlett O'Hara, Erin Brockovich, Trinity from the Matrix, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Sarah Conner from Terminator,

    There are a few I don't like - I'm not crazy about Susan Saranden or Sigourney Weaver.

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    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Perhaps we need to start by writing stories and screenplays the old-fashioned way, with nearly everyone male. Then go character by character and flip a coin for male/female. Override it where you absolutely must, correct wording as needed, and be done.
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    Senior Member IndyGhost's Avatar
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    No. I understand this argument completely, and I agree with her.

    We aren't often considered strong for our inherent female qualities. So many women think they have to be like men in order to be regarded as strong. Instead we should be considered for our empathy, our minds, our hearts.

    I am by no means physically strong, nor callous in temperament. I do, however, consider myself to be a strong woman. I am strong willed. I take action. I open my heart up to others.
    I find it a bit ridiculous when I see female characters that are basically written as men. We do have feminine strengths. They are just of a different nature.

    I like the example of Scully from The X-files. She is definitely a strong female character. Juno is a wonderful modern day strong female character, as well. In Game of Thrones we get a few good strong female characters: Kalisi, Arya and Cersei. I would consider Sookie from True Blood to be a strong female character, as well.

    But the fact that we have to use the word "strong" is a bit unnerving. As though females are inherently weak. Simone De Beauvoir makes a similar argument that females are constantly measured to men in her book "The Second Sex." We don't say, "Now this is a strong male character." We are by default assuming females to be weak, and that these "strong women" are extraordinary considering the normal state of women.
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