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Strong Characters · 9:38pm Jul 26th, 2019

We've covered Strong Female Characters before.  I recently developed a few more thoughts.

The other day, I remembered one of my favorite short stories of all time, a chapter from Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried entitled "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong."  TL;DR- white girl goes native, hard.  If you have a few minutes, I would encourage you to read it.

I couldn't resist rereading it, and in doing so I think I may have discovered something about myself and my writing that could answer a wider question.

I've written, and written about, strong female characters before.  I've written about my love of juxtaposition, too: for example, mild-mannered Cheerilee the schoolteacher being a badass vampire of justice.

We all want to see an underdog succeed.  We all want character growth where protagonists learn to be more badass, more honest, more noble, better all around people.  This is a reflection of ourselves, of course. We want to succeed.  We want to be better people.  Stories let us experience that by proxy.

For the purposes of my own writing and what we’ve seen in other media, I think this is most easily demonstrated with the action hero role.  (We want to be heroes.)  This is why I think strong female characters are a sought-after commodity.  Gender relations being what they are, a woman doing badass things in a man's world is still a novelty.  A woman growing into an action hero role is perceived to have a lot more growing to do in order to catch up with a man's baseline.

In "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," nobody batted an eye at the Green Berets.  But when a woman started making jewelry out of severed body parts, everyone lost their minds.

With our own needs and dreams of self-improvement, we want to see characters who embody that.  Using the example of action heroes, because women are perceived to need more potential development than a man to fit the role, we enjoy stories about strong women because they pack in the most growth.  I'm not sure if that's a fetish or a self-esteem issue on the part of the reader. I'm not sure if I really want to answer that, because I'm talking about myself.

It goes back to Neil Gaiman's quote in my original blog.  How do you write women so well?  Well, I consider women to be people.

Sigh.  Looks like I've got to start writing husbandos now to even out the score.

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Comments ( 3 )

Sigh. Looks like I've got to start writing husbandos now to even out the score.

I see no problem with this (except maybe finding enough male characters in the source material; it annoys me that Braeburn is fanoned as gay mostly because we have so few options for straight ships and y'all want to cut off a bunch?)

For me it's less about empowerment or "strength," and more about autonomy. When you write a female character, what's more important, power or agency? Because they're not the same thing. Power can be (and often is) its own prison. Captain Marvel is often ridiculed because of how powerful she is and how much autonomy she lacks. She doesn't feel like a person, which is an issue sometimes found in strong female characters. The phrase itself is a source of mockery, partly because of sexism, but also because I do think we have this idea that if a female character is physically powerful enough that she'll be fleshed out as a person, and that's a fallacy.

We need to stop this silly business of writing characters of different sexes as if they're worlds apart.

The thing I see is simply this: people—not the "Blue-Checked" screaming heads on Twitter/formerly of Tumblr, but the general population—love strong female characters. We also love strong male characters. We love strong characters. Period. We want to see strong, smart, capable, confident, and competent characters of both genders complimenting each other. A perfect example in modern cinema is the relationship between Hawkeye and Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe The two times they fought, in Avengers 1 and Captain America: Civil War, it was shown as two competent fighters at their best, matching each other blow-for-blow. They even reconfirmed their close friendship in Civil War, with this exchange:

*random punching and fighting*
Black Widow: "We're still friends, right?"
Hawkeye(with a smirk): "Depends how hard you hit me."
*resumption of random punching and fighting*

The problem of late in Hollywood, and to a certain extent TV, is that they go out of their way to show strong female characters instead of, or sometimes even in spite of, strong male characters. You see this in movies like Ocean's 8, and Ghostbusters(2016), and to a certain extent, Captain Marvel. When they try to showcase the strong female characters, which they are, they do so by stepping on the males. Every single time in Captain Marvel, when she's told she can't or shouldn't do something, it's always a male doing so. Also, it just so happens to always be a white male, but let's not bring race into this.

Due to my love of the original, Ghostbusters(2016) was the worst offender. Not only because most every guy in that movie is a simpering, stuttering , oafish jackass, but mainly for one big reason. And no, it's not how the main villain was a painfully transparent stand-in for die-hard fans of the original who were criticizing the movie as soon as it was announced. No, the big issue was Chris Hemsworth. He was obviously supposed to the the "male equivalent" of Janine Melnitz from the original. But he was portrayed, quite purposefully, as a bumbling, brain-dead moron "with a heart of gold." But! If you remember the original, Annie Potts was as far from stupid, simpering eye candy as you could get. She was strong, smart, street-wise, and took none of the team's shit. Okay, you could say she took it from Venkman when he talked about her finding employment as food service or a house cleaner. But she turned right around and gave us the line, "I've quit better jobs than this. 'Ghostbusters, what do ya want'?!" And yeah, she got bogged down a bit in the sequel with her, admittedly pointless, love subplot with Louis Tulley, but still.

To my mind, the movie which best portrayed gender roles in equality was Aliens. Think about it: If you gender-swapped all the characters—the Colonial Marines, Ellen Ripley, Newt, everyone—you would still come away with a movie where both genders were represented as equals. Oh, I'm sure 3rd-wave feminists would have shrieked about how Burke was "insulting to women," even though, even as a dude, he was a total wiener who was an insult to humanity—"I don't know who's worse: us or them. You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage."—but it still stands up. Personally, I would love a situation with a male version of Vasquez, a guy who is surrounded by such a group of badass women that he has to step up his game to be counted.

ANother perfect example of strong women who don't put down men was Wonder Woman. Hell, I remember this part of the movie when they're in the trench:

*machine guns blazing, bullets flying*
Steve Trevor: "Dianna, you can't go out there! That's No-Man's Land, because no man can enter it and live!"
Wonder Woman: "I am no man."
*Proceeds to absolutely wreck shit like a bawss*

At that point, even I, who am very wary of feminism, was on my fucking feet screaming, "Hell yeah! You go, girl!" Because I didn't feel like I was being talked down to, or even so far as put down. That was my feeling in Captain Marvel: I felt like I was being lectured. Well, okay, that may not be fair. I probably felt that way because I had read up on some of Brie Larson's more incendiary comments beforehand.

"I don't care what some 30-year-old white dude thinks about my movies!"
"Okay, mother fucker, I ain't paying to see your movies!"

The point I'm trying to make, and I hope I made clear in my most recent blog, is that I love me some strong female characters. And being a male, I naturally love to see strong male characters, as well. As previously stated, I love strong characters. The problem comes when you showcase the strong female characters by stepping on the males.

TL:DR, men and women both have the capacity for badassitude, and they should be shown kicking bad-guy ass in tandem.

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