Friday, September 13, 2013

Strong Female Characters

Last month, my friends all talked about a feminist article entitled "I hate Strong Female Characters".

The title is a mite confusing, as "strong" refers to physical strength and not how well-developed a character is (which is what "strong character" means in writing circles).  Sophia McDougall's main point is that movies today like to highlight the physical strength of female characters, in a misguided notion of feminism.

For example, let's look at the last three Disney heroines.  Princess Merida in Brave was always advertised with her bow and arrow, looking like a dangerous hero even though she did little fighting in the movie. Sergeant Calhoun in Wreck-It Ralph was a woman with a tough attitude who shoots and punches (and kisses) first, asking questions later.  Rapunzel in Tangled was the most competent fighter in the entire movie, with her frying pan that she used to keep Flynn Rider in line.  There's certainly a pattern with females asserting themselves physically.

The author deplores this tendency, for several reasons.  One, it's a double standard; if a male character asserted himself physically, (say Flynn knocked Rapunzel unconscious when they first met) he would be seen as abusive.  Two, it puts female characters at the automatic disadvantage of having something to prove.  Three, it's bad to define a female character with a traditionally masculine trait.  Four, it's a double standard because all male characters are naturally assumed to be strong.  Five, the strong female character is usually surrounded by an all-male cast, which only perpeutates the problem.

I'm pretty sure I missed a couple of reasons. She had a lot to say, mostly about movies I've never seen.


My (male) friend who recommended the article said that this problem has been caused, by abandoning traditional gender roles.  When women are awkwardly placed into traditional male roles, it can result in humongous misfires, like the strong female characters mentioned in the article.  My friend sometimes complains about the disasters which arise from the reverse situation: men who have been awkwardly placed into traditional female roles.

I feel like our modern world is still adjusting to changing gender roles.  It's like people have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, and they're still not entirely sure where to stand.


Kuhna said...

I sorta agree with the article (I didn't read it, I'm just going off what you posted) but ... I'm not sure if your friend is saying it's bad to abandon the traditional gender roles or not. Because ... it's not.

Three, it's bad to define a female character with a traditionally masculine trait

That I don't agree with. It's not at all bad to have physically strong female characters; but you're right, if they fall into double-standard zones then ... the way it's executed could be changed.

Anonymous said...

Irrelevant, but

GameOverTown said...

That has got to be the most relevant comment ever ,ade on this blog.

Stephanie Braddock said...

I strongly agree with Kuhna, although I'm admittedly a bit confused as to what your opinion is. Do you agree with your friend, or the article? They're saying very different things.

I hate how the only strong women in movies or, really, any type of media are only physically strong. That's okay sometimes, but I wish they'd give me a heroine of average physical capabilities and a strong-will. Strong-willed women are hard to find in media, because most women (no matter what their physical strength is) are easily manipulated and weak-minded. As the most stubborn and naturally distrustful person I know... I find this offensive, because it gives men the idea that girls can be brainwashed and are meant to be submissive. It's taught from an early age, subliminally, and it's acted upon. And they say there's no need for women's suffrage... But that's another topic.

But your friend's comment about reverting to old gender roles? As a girl, I'm rather appalled. I mean, I know he's not asking to go all the way back to when a high school education for girls was a course in being a housewife (I looked up the final exam for that, by the way, I failed miserably), but I could never be a trophy wife, the kind that sits home and cooks and gives a husband two-and-a-half kids. That's the traditional gender role. I don't want it, and beyond that, I'd be an awful housewife. I want an established career and an important future and I won't slow down for kids or a husband or a big house. I want to do something that will change people's lives, and traditional gender roles dont allow that. So, that's my roundabout explanation of why I'm offended.

I feel as if I really skirted around the actual topic of this post, but that needed to be said, because traditional gender roles are stupid. I mean, take Zelda for example. Twilight Princess is the only one in which she breaks the woman role a little, with the noble sacrifice and the arrows and whatnot. But in the others, since Zelda's a girl she is incapable of even attempting to plan an escape, and waits for Link to save her. It's little things like video games that create this false impression of women and their abilities. And it's unfair.

Kuhna said...

(still haven't read the article. way too tl;dr for me)

I wouldn't even call Rapunzel particularly strong, or skilled with her frying pan. But while we're talking about Rapunzel apparently being 'masculine' (even though the very first song that's 6 minutes into the film says she cooks, bakes, sews, cleans, etc, and her most prominent trait is her love of art and painting), let's talk about the Snuggly Duckling thugs:

Toll would like to quit and be a florist
Gunter does interior design
Urf is into mime
Attila's cupcakes are sublime
Bruiser knits
Killer sews
Ven does little puppet shows
And Vladimir collects ceramic unicorns

What do you or your friend think of these characters?

It's okay for women to be masculine, feminine, or degrees of both.

It's okay for men to be masculine, feminine, or degrees of both.

Kuhna said...

And let's look at Rapunzel whacking Flynn with her frying pan:

Obviously, as you said, it would definitely not fly well if it were Flynn hitting Rapunzel.

But should we be thinking, if we're going for equality here (which *spoiler* we are), that this scene should never have happened either way, or that this scene should be considered funny either way?