Friday, January 27, 2012

The Strong Female Character

Inspired by a recent conversation I began to look for pictures to put together a semi-"shrine" in my workout area to make a space that reflects the devotional act to which my workouts are sometimes intended. I began looking for pictures of women that I consider strong, but that I can personally identify with. This lead me on a search for strong female characters in movies and television. After going through a simple Google search I was able to find some great pictures that I'll be adding to my wall once I can get them printed out. Of course, this same search also brought up a bevy of articles that caught my attention. One in particular is ‘Tough, Cold, Terse, Taciturn and Prone to Not Saying Goodbye When They Hang Up the Phone’.

The author might be shocked to know that there are indeed women just like the author so vaguely describes in her "cliché" definition; women who know how to fight, carry guns, are professional soldiers or warrior types and yet, are still most definitely women. Last I checked, the only thing that one needed to biologically be a woman was a vagina and a lack of a Y chromosome. I understand the author's issue is with the phrase "strong female characters" and the implication that said characters are basically vapid "monomaniacal gloomy ninjas with commitment issues." Now that could be a decent argument if the next example of such a character wasn't Natalie Portman in "No Strings Attached." Last I checked she wasn't an action hero to which the sentence prior focuses on and there is a wide leap from characters who are predominantly physically inclined to kick ass and a skinny commitmentphobic love interest in a dramady.

Drawing specific attention to the aforementioned "cliché" the author is basically stating that the term "strong female character" addresses these characters as having the "gendered behavior taken out" and yet misses that the "masculine" traits to which she points to are just as ingrained in many females as they are in males. Society dictated what is "manly" and what is "girly," not nature. And apparently she hasn't read the story about the tough female cop that single-handedly took down a gunman that killed 12 people? Or read about the grandmother who refused to be a victim and had no qualms about shooting the man breaking into her house? Or been on the other end of a phone call for help where a mother of four stares down a gang of five teens threatening two other young boys that came to her for help because she is the mom in the complex you don't mess with (this would be personal experience). These types of women are most definitely real and their actions are most definitely the characteristics of a strong woman.

The author seems to think that the actions of these "monomaniacal ninjas" from the movies aren't relatable or even real examples of women. I say they are a direct reflection of real women and the actions that they take every day. The author may not be comfortable with that fact and think these characters would be more interesting if they embraced their "girlishness." I say that this is art finally imitating an example of women too long overlooked. Women have had to be "ladies" for far too long and those who weren't became the "antagonist" or "bitch" of the story. It's about damn time they were the main characters and heroes!

In the immortal words of one of the strongest female characters on TV today, "Nothing gets in the way of me taking care of my family, especially my conscience." Gemma Teller, Sons of Anarchy


  1. And to clarify - I know the author is addressing more just the "ass kicking" stereotype. I'm addressing that as the main focus of this blog as the author seems to think that these earlier cliches have lead to the acceptance of women with "masculine" traits. The examples the author actually lists by name I would hardly consider "strong women" and I don't think there is any real connection between them.

  2. *sigh* If it's not someone claiming ass kicking women are too masculine, it's someone else claiming that ass kicking women only ever kick ass for stereotypical feminine concerns (children, for no male led action movies have men fighting to defend their children or wives). The real issue, in my eyes, is that we don't have enough female action leads to offer enough diversity for these people to just shut up about it. Or to satisfy me, either so, it would be a win-win if we could just convince Hollywood to give us more! Just sayin'

  3. I can name a few movies off the top of my head in reference to rescuing ones kids or getting revenge for harm done to ones kids (Schwarzenegger & Segal playing leads) so definitely true. I also made sure not to just put examples of "family" protection, but you gotta admit - family drives many things.

    While honor is part of becoming a warrior, a part of the honor in doing so is in protecting one's family and tribe. That is what drives it in the first place. Whether in defense of one's family or tribe or in the betterment thereof - these ideals are what bring honor to the task.

  4. Nice post. I went and read the original article and agree that she was way off on her definition of "strong female characters". First, I think the real strength in any character, male or female, ass-kicking or not, comes from overcoming their internal battles, more than the external ones. A warrior needs to control themselves before they can control the battle.

    Second, how is the idea of the woman warrior any worse than the previous image of damsel in distress? Personally, I liked it when we finally had women like Sigourney Weaver or Julie Strain who played heroines that didn't have to wait around for the hero to come save them. I think that was a great lesson for women and girls in the real world -you can stand up for yourself.

    Granted, like most things Hollywood, they tend to fall into cliches. But that doesn't mean they can't be done well. I've seen plenty of male warriors that were just cardboard cut-out characters. That doesn't make it a worthless character. It just means you have some lazy people using the archetype.

    As a writer with a warrior background, I think there's a lot better ways to portray warriors, regardless of gender, than how they're often seen in movies and TV. I'd say books are usually better at it than either TV or movies, but still there's room for improvement.