I’m of the opinion that we make more progress than we think, but not nearly as much as we should. There’s no doubt about it. Novels, TV shows, cartoons, comics and video games have come a long way with respect to female characters.
We’re all familiar with the time-tested tropes. For a long time, a female character could basically be cut and pasted from any James Bond movie. Either she’s a devious, femme-fatale or a pretty love interest meant to supplement the story of the male protagonist. If she’s promiscuous in any way, she’s probably going to die. If she’s innocent and pure, she’ll probably live and be the hero or the prize for the hero. While there’s a place for these kinds of stories, the times are changing.
In recent years, there is a renewed interest in strong female characters who don’t fit into these same tropes. I’ve mentioned a few, like Vanessa in the Deadpool movie. Other more prominent characters include Black Widow in “The Avengers,” Furiosa from “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.” These are all characters that take center stage, neither supplementing male protagonists nor becoming too similar to male protagonists. It’s a beautiful thing and an overdue change.
However, is our understanding of what makes up a strong female character really that refined? I’m of the opinion that pop culture in general is still stumbling around in the dark like a drunk monkey, trying to figure it out. It’s kind of important for me to acknowledge because I’m a writer. I’m trying to create strong female characters in my books. I admit it’s a work-in-progress, but how much progress have we actually made?
Once again, the fine folks at Cracked.com use a little dirty humor to point out some of the flaws in our current understanding in strong female characters. I don’t agree entirely with their assessment of certain aspects of pop culture, but some of their points are worth making and they’re points I need to consider for my own work. They focus specifically on movies, but I think it can apply to any medium right now.
So maybe we’re not as progressive as we think we are. The one quote in the article that stands out the most is this one:
It seems to come back to this idea that this is all a zero-sum game, that anyone asking for more female characters really hates males and wants to see them mocked and emasculated. “Oh, you say you want more strong female characters? How about if we just showed them shooting a dude right in the penis? Would that do it?”
This, I think, is the key to understanding the core of a strong female character. Their strength doesn’t come from overpowering men or being better than men. It comes from being able to operate on a level playing field with men. It’s not about one gender dominating the other. It’s about equality. There’s a time and place for dominant and submissive personalities. The success of “50 Shades of Grey” is proof of that. Those times and places, however, should be the exceptions rather than the norms.
It’s a challenge. That’s for sure. Everything worth doing is a challenge. It’s one I want to take on. I believe I did to some extent with “The Big Game.” Yes, it is a story that utilizes some BDSM elements. However, I do it in a way that allows both male and female characters to operate equally. It’s my next book that will present a far greater challenge.
This next book, which is still without a title, is structured around what I hope to be a strong female character. I don’t want that character to fall into some of the same traps that Cracked.com so eloquently laid out. I want her to be tough and strong without having to dominate over every male character. I won’t claim I’ll succeed in full, but I’d like to make a concerted effort. If I can find a publisher willing to take a chance as well, I’d like to see that effort pan out.