I just read a really thought provoking article in the New Statesman: “I Hate Strong Female Characters.” The author’s main point seems to be that we don’t need the same 2-dimensional token female characters to be given the ability to kick ass. And I think she’s right. Although, she mostly talked about Shakespeare and Comic Books. And I’m not sure that’s where I’d go if I was looking to see if women are being treated evenly in literature.
But I think that men are more likely in literature at large to be treated as 3-dimensional human beings. I think that’s true even in advertising. We’re very good as a society at giving women their certain stories and then conforming them to that.
There is a laundry detergent commercial right now that drives me nuts because the woman is a “strong female”, obviously a workaholic, but then also still a sex-object for her man. It’s all part of the new story of female empowerment. And I have a writer friend, Rebecca Maizel, who rants about the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”–that girl who exists just to be insane and to inspire some nerdy guy–who I now see everywhere I look.
But, as I’ve said before, a woman’s journey to fullness and realness might just be different than a man’s and might take more time. And perhaps we just need to honor that. But that being said, I think that we need to provide narratives in which the girls and women are real and 3-dimensional. We need girls to see that there are a million different ways to be a woman. And we need to stock up on stories in our libraries and bookstores that portray girls and women who are real in a million different shades.
So here is my list of really kick-ass girls/women and not just girls who kick-ass.
- Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For that matter, also Willow Rosenberg, Faith, and Anya (though she drives me nuts).
- Add also every female from every tv project that Joss Whedon has ever done. Especially Firefly. So that is: Kaylee, Zoe, River Tam, and Anara. Joss Whedon writes females like Buffy, Faith, Zoe, and River Tam who literally do kick some asses. But they are always real and 3-dimensional and then he also writes other female characters like Anara who are gorgeous and seductive and completely “womanly” who are also real and amazing. I think that Joss Whedon just really loves women.
- Marilla Cuthbert, Rachel Lynde, and Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.
- Olive Kitteridge
- Grandma Dowdel from Richard Peck’s A Long Way From Chicago
- Gilly Hopkins from Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins
- Ramona Quimby
- Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials
- Morgan Le Fey from The Mysts of Avalon
- Harriet from Harriet the Spy
- Lady Macbeth from Macbeth
- Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing (Which Joss Whedon also just made a brilliant version of, incidentally.)
- Lenah Beudonte from Rebecca Maizel’s Infinite Days and Stolen Nights
- Briony from Franny Billingsley’s Chime
- Kit Tyler from The Witch of Blackbird Pond
- Hollis Woods from Pictures of Hollis Woods
- Hermione Granger
- Idgy Threadgoode from Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
And now that I’m looking over this list, a few things are occurring to me. First off, many of these characters are not considered to be likable by most people. There are several definitely “unlikable protagonists” in there. Which leads me to think that girls and women with fully developed personalities are not considered “nice girls” or “good girls” in our society.
The other thing that is occurring to me is that most of these characters fit into one of two catergories. Either they are young and kind of bratty or they are old. And the young bratty ones like Gilly Hopkins were mostly abused/abandoned/neglected/negated. This makes me wonder if the females most likely to have fully-developed personalities in our society are either older women or girls who have been screwed over? Or perhaps just that those are acceptable narratives for us? Food for thought.
Anywho, I would love to hear your favorite female characters!