Strong Female Characters

By Shamus
on Apr 12, 2007
Filed under:
Movies

kennycelican links back to this dusty old post and then adds some interesting thoughts on strong female characters.

This really is a problem*. Lots of movies have trouble coming up with a strong female character who isn’t just a short man with no personality. The example cited in the post was that of Abigail Whistler in the third Blade movie. She’s my favorite example of a hackneyed “strong female character” who emphasizes “strong” at the expense of “female” and “character”.

She’s a slender teenage girl who fights Vampires in hand-to-hand combat. Her character has no personality to speak of, and she never has anything clever or interesting to say. The lines with power and gravity go to Blade. The witty ones go to her teammate Hannibal. The intelligent ones… Well, I don’t remember any, but if there were they wouldn’t have come out of Abigail’s mouth. All she does is fight. That is, she does the job already being done by the lead character. She can’t upstage him, of course, so she must play the Robin to Blade’s Batman. This still has the effect of neutering his strength, since he’s a huge musclebound vampire and she’s a regular teenage human about 100lbs out of his weight class, yet she’s nearly as tough as he is. You can’t win with a setup like that. Make her too strong, and Blade becomes a joke. Make her too weak, and her character has the opposite of the intended effect – she becomes a sad wannabe who follows Blade around and imitates him as best she can. Either way the character is a liability to the story.

A character like her could work, but she would need to be endearing to the audience. She would need her own arc, (as much-more-interesting Hannibal had) but she can’t because she doesn’t have any depth. She just broods and fights, and Blade already occupies that character archetype. Give her something clever to say. Have her use wacky or devious gadgets instead of mixing it up toe-to-toe. Give her some other angle that makes her unique. Heck, anything, man. Just give her something more than “listens to official Blade soundtrack available at record stores everywhere on iPod while kicking Vampire Butt”. That’s not a personality. That’s something your scrawl in the margins while you’re coming up with her personality. (And then, maybe cross out later. If you’re smart.)

But there are great strong female characters out there. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

Full disclosure: I’ve only just recently read the first of these books, just to see what the fuss is about. Still, based on the movies Ms. Granger stands out as an excellent character. She’s never a helpless damsel just waiting to be rescued. She’s smart (probably smarter than Ron and Harry) and quick-witted. She stands on her own and never feels like a sidekick. I’ve never seen her used just to make Harry look good.

Kino from Kino’s Journey

Kino is a character who is quiet, thoughtful, and will kick your butt from here til Tuesday if she needs to. I’ve written about her before.

Ripley from Aliens

She is a little uneven as we go from one movie to another, a side-effect of the way the series has been passed around. Each iteration of Ripley is a little different than the one before, but she’s a woman facing one of moviedom’s most fearsome monsters without becoming a helpless screaming woman who needs a man to bail her out. She manages to show fear without seeming weak, and to show courage without breaking character.

Sarah Conner in Terminator

In the second movie she lost a good bit of her depth, but that was understandable given what she’d endured. I liked the take on Sarah in both movies, and thought they formed a great arc of a normal woman pushed to extraordinary lengths. She managed to preserve her motherly nature towards her son, while at the same time nearly losing herself in her quest to stop the machines.

Catwoman

Ha ha. Only kidding. No, the original Catwoman was weak to begin with, and by all reports the movie reduced her to a joke with no punchline. The same probably also applies to Elektra, Aeon Flux, and other similarly dressed female protagonists. Maybe I’m wrong and Elektra was a fount of insight and wisdom and a complex character that challenged the way women view themselves in heroic situations, but odds are low in my estimation. I’m sure you’ll enlighten me if I’m wrong.

(I was going to cite Trinity as another woman who was all spin kicks and no depth, but really everyone in the Matrix trillogy is like that, and it’s part of the style of the movie.)

There are other worthy examples, but “Strongwomen” vastly outnumber “Strong women” in movies and I think it’s a shame. Characters may have great physical prowess or none at all, but they should always be interesting and human. Otherwise it’s just an excuse to see a woman do backflips in leather pants**.

UPDATE: As Woerlan points out below – Yes, I’m talking about a shortage in sci-fi & fantasy, particularly in film.


* By “problem” I mean, “It annoys me”.

** This may not always be a bad thing.

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  1. Woerlan says:

    I take it that you mean the lack of strong women in action/fantasy/sci-fi films, given that drama films are chock-full of strong women characters (and relativistically weak men, come to think of it).

    The formula for an action female character seems to be to give her a sexy figure while overdosing on the testosterone supplements. Aggression by action being greater than personality. Sad, but I’d say most action fans are looking for exactly that.

  2. Purple Library Guy says:

    If by “relativistically weak men” you mean “men who have great difficulty approaching the speed of light”, then yes I’d have to say that’s fair enough. Non-SF is full of that kind of wimp.

  3. The Gneech says:

    Hey, no love for Princess Leia? She was awesome, particularly in Ep IV.

    -The Gneech

  4. Alan De Smet says:

    Interesting you should mention Hermione after having just read the first book, as it’s the book she’s weakest in. I’ve been re-reading the first book and the scene with the troll in the bathroom definitely puts her in a “damsel in distress” situation where she is only saved by Harry and Ron.” (Amusingly, Harry helps, but Ron is the real hero.)

    That said, it is a bit of a fluke, and she’s a strong character throughout the rest of the series. She is far and away the smartest, most dedicated, and most skilled of the protagonists.

    In adventure games, there are a number of characters who are simultaneously strong and female, simultaneously while avoiding cheesecake depictions. Off the top of my head, you’ve got April Ryan from The Longest Journey, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, and Zoë Castillo from Dreamfall (the game sucked, but generally Zoë’s a strong character).

  5. kat says:

    I would point to any of the women in Farscape as good strong women, even if they’re all strong in different ways. They certainly all have personality.

    It was also the first SF show I watched with an even cast, as many central female characters as males (as opposed to the more usual, oh, one.) Probably not a coincidence, that.

  6. Myxx says:

    Not sure which genre this would fall into, but it seems that Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft may qualify as a strong female character. Sure, she’s got the sex appeal thing going, and the tough chick thing too. But to compliment those, she’s quick and smart, and able to pick herself up when she’s beaten, either physically or intellectually, and get back on her metaphorical horse.

    As a side note, this isn’t a commentary on the quality of the films, just a potential candidate for Strong Female Character in the action/fantasy/scifi realm.

  7. Corvus says:

    Firefly/Serenity’s Zoe, River, Kaylee and Inara are all excellent examples of strong women characters, I feel. None of those roles could easily have been changed into male parts as each are decidedly feminine in their own way, yet not bound by the conventions of femininity that the societies around them (and around us) dictate. Kaylee is an extraordinarily gifted mechanic, yet has a young girl’s bright and sunny outlook on life. River is graceful and lithe while being terribly lethal and a complete cipher. As a soldier, Zoe is the most “masculine” of the bunch but she is also the most natural sensuous and the only married female on the crew. Inara, well, the hooker with a heart of gold doesn’t quite describe it. As much as I like the character, I felt she was the shallowest female character on the ship.

    Still, all strong character which aren’t male replacements…

  8. Myxx says:

    And don’t forget Captain Janeway!

  9. Roy says:

    Lara Croft is… eh.
    There’s at least as much negative baggage there as there is positive, so I see her as a wash. She may be smart within the scope of the game, but there’s so much emphasis on “look how big her boobs are!” and she’s treated as such an obvious object that it’s hard for me to put her at the same level as Jade, or Carla.

    I think that part of the problem is one of trying too hard. One of the reasons that Ripley is so completely kick-ass in the Alien is because the fact that she’s a woman is a complete non-issue. If you’re writing a character specifically to be a strong woman, I think that it probably shows, and that’s why we end up with so many strongwomen.

  10. Randolpho says:

    What about Zoe from Serenity/Firefly? Strong, capable, somewhat stoic, yet also distinctly feminine.

  11. Andrew Cory says:

    Any female character that Joss wheadon has created. With the glaring problem that if they’re in more than 13 episodes, they either go insane or die…

  12. Steve Lytton/Deathblade_Penguin says:

    Okay i hated to pigeon hole myself here but what about Willow from Buffy (nb i’m going to avoid talking about the fact buffy is also a strong woman) but watching willow from episode 1, series 1 right through – she displays all the characteristics of being a woman, yet a strong woman.. Yes she screams when attacked (just as i would being attacked by a demon or vampire) and occasionaly she gets captured but she always helps out fights back and then eventually gets the whole witch thing just to make her mega…

  13. eloj says:

    An interesting transposition happens in “Blade: The Series” where Blade is a boring one-dimensional character you don’t care about (not what I’d call “strong”), whereas his sidekick “Krista Starr” is a much more interesting and yes, stronger character. It’s really “Krista: The Series” with blade as a recurring part.

    And BTW: Anything by Joss Whedon? Buffy, Faith, Willow, Anya, Zoe, River …

  14. Steve Lytton/Deathblade_Penguin says:

    and i hated to double post here but i forgot to make the pain that so often the writers can get it wrong when they try and create a strong woman.. (eg Yes Willow was great as a witch , and evil willow was better but bringing her sexuality into it was unnneccessary and detracted from her strong woman status)

    This is very evident for me in Stargate (one my favourite series)… Samantha Carter was obvious designed/written to be a strong woman character but in the end she was just “tech” support for the others.. They had the opposite affect in atlantis where Tayla was the strong fighting woman who then just becomes a nothing and is replaced/overshadow by Ronan later on…

    The trick is to write a string woman, still make her a woman but in her own right as compared to the male cast…

    So my vote goes to.. drum roll please.. Dana Scully…

    (have i acknowledge i am a sci-fi nerd yet… )

  15. I think one of the biggest problems writers run into with creating strong woman characters is the “comparison” issue.

    It’s virtually impossible to make women that compare to men physically without serious suspension of disbelief, and since women don’t have any glaring advantage over men mentally, it always ends up with a drifting into either the suspension of disbelief mode, or the “tech support” mode.

    My two favorite examples of this are River Tam and Sam Carter. River beating Jayne in a fight is possibly the most stretched my disbelief has ever been (and Wash even comments on it, in own way). Sam Carter had the same problem where she couldn’t be smarter than the guys (especially Daniel Jackson) or a better fighter (SG-1 is actually decent with the combat abilities of most characters), so she ended up in a supporting role almost every time.

  16. AJ says:

    Ack! Did someone seriously mention Janeway?! I would not describe her as strong, just foolhardy and ignorant. She would tout morality and the “prime directive” one day and ditch it the next. She would tell the command staff her idea, ask for suggestions, and then explain why they’re all wrong and she’s going with her idea anyway, regardless of whether or not it made the most sense of the bunch. Star Trek’s are terrible from a story perspective anyway (DS9 aside as it had continuity of a sort) but she made Voyager the worst thing they’ve ever created.

    Ok, sorry…just had to get that off my chest.

    Another strong female character set is in Babylon 5. Both Ivanova and Delenn were well written and very strong characters. While Ivanova could be called “masculine” she was a military figure and that’s to be expected, but she never lacked the ability to be feminine to me.

  17. Adam says:

    I was going to mention Zoe, before three other people beat me to it. Pretty much any of the women in the main cast of Battlestar Galactica, particularly Laura Roslyn, also qualify, IMO.

  18. Deoxy says:

    “It’s virtually impossible to make women that compare to men physically without serious suspension of disbelief, and since women don’t have any glaring advantage over men mentally, it always ends up with a drifting into either the suspension of disbelief mode, or the “tech support” mode.”

    QFT. The problem is that people are worried about the genders of their characters. Create a character, and the gender will generally take care of itself.

    That means that, the vast majority of the time, really good physical fighting types will be male… to which everyone says, “Duh.” Sorry, just the facts.

    In fact, that means that most action hero types (even gun-bunnies) will be male. Again, that’s OK. The comments about Abigail Whistler capture the problem pretty well, actually – overcoming the problem (without resorting to cliche) is HARD… because it’s HARD in real life.

    Combat favors men. HEAVILY. Back when people didn’t worry about making the gender count match, we got plenty of cliched characters, and now that we do worry about it w get… even MORE cliched characters. Yay.

    Comments about Firefly prove that yes, it can be done, and I LOVE that show, but each character is THEIR OWN CHARACTER, not some formula to fit the gender count. Note also that the only female character to hold a candle to Jayne in a fight is River, who happens to be… wait for it… psychic AND scientifically modified, two cliches at once, though very well done. I think Ripley is really the best example so far, though Sarah Conner isn’t too bad (the fem-speech in the second one really hurt her character pretty badly, I think, which is a shame).

  19. Deoxy says:

    “Another strong female character set is in Babylon 5. Both Ivanova and Delenn were well written and very strong characters. While Ivanova could be called “masculine” she was a military figure and that’s to be expected, but she never lacked the ability to be feminine to me.”

    Ooh, another good one. Besides being military, Ivanova was also Russian. (“I’ve spent my life fighting the expanding Russian frontier; now I AM the expanding Russian frontier!” ROFL.) The contract issue that kept her out of the fifth season was a real shame.

    The psychic (whose name now escapes me – the one who lived with the Vorlons) was also fairly well done, I thought, for a secondary character.

  20. Dev Null says:

    Firefly is the obvious counter-example, as several people have pointed out, as well as Buffy. Even when Joss does the “kick-arse schoolgirl” thing, which always seems to require giving them mutant powers of some sort to be strong, the characters aren’t just 2D cardboard cutouts – they get personality and history and lives. Zoe is the perfect example though. Shes no mutant, shes just very good at her job, which is winning battles. Sensual when its appropriate and obviously madly in love with her husband, but not some teenagers wet dream sex machine, like the leather-clad vixens mentioned elsewhere. She does get used as a straight-line machine occasionally, but playing next to the wisecracking Mal another jokester would be… a joke.

    I also liked James Cameron’s Max in Dark Angel. They did overplay the sexy leatherbabe card a bit imo – not that Alba in leather is a bad thing, mind you – but she ends up with a bit of depth of character as well.

    I love the Stargate series, but Sam Carter is a walking Deus ex Machina device, wrapped in a cliche for “genius scientist”. Maybe 3-4 times in the show does she get to be human, much-the-less a woman.

  21. Feylamia says:

    Steve Lytton/Deathblade_Penguin said:
    eg Yes Willow was great as a witch , and evil willow was better but bringing her sexuality into it was unnneccessary and detracted from her strong woman status)

    Do strong women have to be frigid and partnerless? :-P Or is it just the whole gay factor that puts you off? ;)

  22. Rebecca says:

    Personally – as a girl – I would prefer it if writers didn’t try to insert the “girlfriend” or “wife” character into an action-oriented movie, just to have a female character around. “300” was a good example of what not to do – cut back to the home front and show some asinine subplot to involve a woman, somehow, into the movie. “The Fugitive,” I think, does a good job – Helen Kimble, as the protagonist’s murdered wife, is an essential character, and none of the other female roles are relegated to being support for a male part.

    I don’t think this is a fault of male writers, as a lot of female writers suffer from the same problem. I think there is some tendency for characters to all be of the same sex, unless they are romantically intended for each other.

    Not that Ripley from Aliens was scripted to be a male character. She was just played by a female. At least that’s what I’ve always heard.

  23. ngthagg says:

    I think the best example of Zoe as a strong female character is when she has to choose between Wash and Mal.

    Robert Jordan did a good job in the Wheel of Time books in creating societies where women had a naturally dominant role, due to the fact that strength is not correlated with physical size.

    I’m working my way through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and Susannah has a strong role in that series.

    ngthagg

  24. Thad says:

    > (”I’ve spent my life fighting the expanding Russian frontier; now I AM the expanding Russian frontier!”)

    “But with very nice borders!” was the reply most people missed as they were laughing so hard at the previous line.

    Yeah, there is the old story that in Alien, they wrote Ripley as male and (can’t remember) as female, then decided to swap the genders.

    And, did you know, that in the original writing, Harry was female? JK’s editor made her change the lead into a male.

  25. Rebecca says:

    And, did you know, that in the original writing, Harry was female? JK’s editor made her change the lead into a male.

    Nope! Harry was always male, though JKR briefly considered writing about Harriet. JKR’s editor did make her put her initials instead of her first name on the front cover, for fear that boys wouldn’t buy a book written by a woman; maybe that is what you were thinking about.

  26. melchar says:

    It’s kind of hard to find strong females, I agree. I can think of Evie from the 1st ‘Mummy’ movie – who was very female but still quite competant – and played off brilliantly to her brother Jonathan [IMO the best character ‘thief’ I’ve seen in a movie for quite a while].

    Opinions of the others suggested = Ripley, yay!
    Leia [1st & 2nd movie = okay; 3rd = vomit-worthy]
    Lara Croft 2nd movie = pretty darned nice.
    Ivonova is god, DeLenn was way too unpunished for her maniplulations, Leeta deserved her psi powers because of the abuse she suffered.

    But then there’s anime. ^_^ Lena Inverse from Slayers is excellent [strong, vain, greedy, a bit insecure – just wonderful];
    Sakura from ‘Card Captor Sakura – Japanese version, not the awful remix is an excellent example of the ‘Magical girl’ category – -without- giving her annoying flaws that otherwise plague the genre;
    Kaori from the ‘City Hunter’ series holds her own against Ryo Saeba and his -erm- problems [to use the rpg game ‘Champion’ terms, she’s a 50 pt skilled and he’s a 300 pt hero] but she still stacks up well – and is a believable female.

  27. thexplodingnome says:

    “Do strong women have to be frigid and partnerless? :-P Or is it just the whole gay factor that puts you off? ;)”

    The shame with Willow’s sexuality was that it was really forced, or at least it seemed so to me. It was as if the writers decided that they needed a homosexual character, maybe to make the cast more rounded or pull in viewers for a bit of lesbian fan-service, and some jerk had the brilliant idea of shoving Willow’s character into that niche. I guess that would have worked if Willow hadn’t had a love-life before this, but she was pretty convincing in her attraction to Zander (sp?) and other guys in earlier seasons. If they wanted a lesbian, they should have created a new character.

    On a sidenote, one of the show’s downfalls was how sex-oriented it became during later seasons. Sometimes it helped the plot, but mostly, it was a distraction, and it was a definite blow to many female characters–instead of focusing on Buffy’s, Willow’s, etc. individual personalities, you began to see them in terms of who they were sleeping with.

  28. Matt` says:

    ““300″ was a good example of what not to do – cut back to the home front and show some asinine subplot to involve a woman, somehow, into the movie.”

    The wife was a bit part at best, but the sub-plot did serve the purpose of exposing the corrupt traitor guy and getting the people back home to support the king and send the 10 thousand soldiers mentioned at the end.

  29. Thad says:

    Does Wonder Woman (who had a TV series so can be considered) as a Strong Female Character? (With expectionally good teeth!) (And I do mean the Lynda Carter version, not the JLA animation.)

  30. Bard says:

    So… going to keep reading Harry Potter? Only 99 days left before the ending spoilers flood the Internet and ruin your fun, after all.

    McGonagall is a first-rate strong female character, by the by.

  31. Myxx says:

    Gah. The comment about Wheel of Time women just kills me. It’s not that the women are necessarily strong, it’s just that the men are neutered to make the women appear stronger. One of my favorite fantasy novel series, true, but the male/female relationship in that world is enough to put me off.

  32. Griffin says:

    Hermione Granger was the first one I thought of too. Although she can come off as stuck-up and abrasive, especially earlier in the series, that’s not her “strength” (which would be one of the pitfalls that Kennycelican identifies). She’s strong in that she’s devoted to her friends and works like crazy to make the most of her abilities.

    Several of the characters from the Nanoha anime (first two seasons, jury’s out on the new one) are good ones. Nanoha is strong in a unique little-girl way. Fate in the first series has to overcome some amazing adversity (avoiding spoilers here).

  33. Where have all the cowboys gone? says:

    I thought of Zoe, too, but as an example of the “strongwoman” type. But she sure does have the strength of character, too. I note that a previous post lists Kaylee and River, but because of their “masculine” qualities (mechanic and butt-kicker). Strength of character for a woman does not mean “engages in stereotypically male-type behavior. Inara, who I suppose is supposed to be the epitome of feminine charm (personally, I don’t think she’s one-tenth as appealing as Kaylee, in looks or personality), also has a lot of inner strength. She handles Mal and customers who try to take advantage. Higgins (the magistrate in “Jaynestown”) comes to mind.

    In non-action shows, particularly comedy, find me a strong man. Show me a husband who doesn’t have to be controlled by his wife so he doesn’t screw everything up. Tim Taylor? Ray Romano? Homer Simpson? Brad Garrett (what’s his name in his new show?)? America cries out for strong men with good moral stock to look up to! The closest I can remember was Cliff Huxtable on the Cosby Show. He was a great father, but was completely subordinate to Claire.

    Okay. Have I offended all the feminists out there?

    Meh.

  34. Myxx says:

    Oh, and AJ, my Janeway comment wasn’t serious. :)

  35. Browncoat says:

    Hermoine works, but I have to disagree with Alan (Post 4 above) in that she is not “far and away the smartest, most dedicated, and most skilled of the protagonists” anymore. She certainly started that way, but Harry has learned much and she did not ask him to teach the DA without cause.

  36. MissusJ says:

    Ok, someone mentioned Janeway, but I think they may have had the wrong Trek. Even Torres strikes me as having a whiny center. No, it was DS9 that had a few strong females- Kira comes to mind first and she was a very obvious “tough female”. Jadzia Dax was rather strong too, and Terry Farrell was tall and buff enough that it wasn’t that hard to believe her against Worf.

    From video games, I feel I have to mention Celes Chere from Final Fantasy VI- able to kick butt with sword or spell and a military leader to boot. (Disclaimer: my daughter is named for her as well…)

    I think I could second the Dana Scully nomination too.

  37. Bard says:

    Geez – how did I manage to miss Celes? FFVI is second only to Harry Potter in my fandom life (I don’t imagine you’ve played it, Shamus, but as I still haven’t shelled out for a PS2, I can’t compare it to X).

    Oh well, I’ll toss in Beatrix to compensate.

  38. Mordaedil says:

    Trinity was quite capable both mentally and physically though. She had nearly the same powers Neo had, yet he was that “world’s” super-man, and still got whipped by Trinity (as in bending to her will, not him dragging her everywhere. Maybe Neo was the bitch in that relationship though.)

    Another interesting character I know, is Lina Inverse from the anime/manga/book Slayers. She’s very well defined and strong in her ways. She don’t count though, being outside hollywood :P

  39. Rustybadger says:

    C’mon folks – what about Buttercup? Now there was a woman who’d kick ass and take names without losing any of her sensuality or “womanliness”!

    I gotta mention Fifth Element as well – and no, it’s not Leeloo; it’s Korben’s mother! Okay, we never actually see her, but she was a pretty strong influence, no? JK…

  40. AdamB says:

    What about Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop? She struck me as particularly feminine (maybe because of how she was dressed :P). She wasn’t subordinate to anyone and was a good character.

  41. ngthagg says:

    “The comment about Wheel of Time women just kills me. It’s not that the women are necessarily strong, it’s just that the men are neutered to make the women appear stronger.”

    This is kind of what I was talking about, but I wouldn’t have said neutered. I think handicapped is a better word. Both men and women can channel, but men who channel go mad. I’m not saying that all the women that Jordan writes about are strong women. What I’m saying is that the default is for women to be in positions of power.

    This means that women tend to be in roles of power, influence, and leadership, rather than men. Of course, this doesn’t mean they live up to those roles, any more than the traditional male dominance means that men live up such roles (see the comedies listed above with competent attractive women married to schlumpy screw-up husbands).

    Incidentally, I think there are some strong women in the Wheel of Time books. The best ones are those that changed over time, like Egwene.

    ngthagg

  42. Daughter, Servant and Mistress of the Empire Series by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Werts
    Main lead is (Lady) Mara Acoma who starts the series as an untested, untried nobody (18yo second child, and female in a traditional “japanese” fantasy setting.) and ends the series as power broker to two worlds.

  43. Steve Lytton/Deathblade_Penguin says:

    Theexplodinggnome says :- The shame with Willow’s sexuality was that it was really forced, or at least it seemed so to me. It was as if the writers decided that they needed a homosexual character, maybe to make the cast more rounded or pull in viewers for a bit of lesbian fan-service, and some jerk had the brilliant idea of shoving Willow’s character into that niche. I guess that would have worked if Willow hadn’t had a love-life before this, but she was pretty convincing in her attraction to Zander (sp?) and other guys in earlier seasons. If they wanted a lesbian, they should have created a new character.

    On a sidenote, one of the show’s downfalls was how sex-oriented it became during later seasons. Sometimes it helped the plot, but mostly, it was a distraction, and it was a definite blow to many female characters–instead of focusing on Buffy’s, Willow’s, etc. individual personalities, you began to see them in terms of who they were sleeping with.

    *****
    This is exactly what i was hinting to when i initially mentioned willow… I really felt that Josh W. lost the plot when he went down that path.. it just wasn’t needed.

    and for the “Wheel of Time” references… RJ’s females in that series are highly annoying and completely stereotypical. Don’t get me wrong I love the series and re-read the books when the new one comes out, but the woman are nearly all about ‘beating the men’ and being smarter and in control and being right… his male-female relationships need a lot of work in my opinion…

    Go Dana Scully….

  44. MissusJ says:

    Thank you Melboure, I’ll be checking those out at the library! :)

  45. Joseph says:

    Seriously? Buffy is a strong female character? Buffy is a parody of a strong female character. She is the archetype of the “Strongwoman” that is described here. She can beat up anything that moves, but she is completely crushed by her own emotions with a frequency which can only be explained by some sort of hormonal imbalance of the sort which in reality seems to be distributed more or less evenly across genders, but in fiction is only seen among women and gay or effeminate men. (So much so that a masculine character in a sitcom who has an emotional outburst 9 times out of 10 then immediately follows with some other stereotypically feminine action, such as a comment on fashion. Sometimes it’s intended as a conscious sarcastic defense, other times the character is supposed to be unaware that he or she is falling into the effeminate mode, but it’s quite clear to the audience.)

    Love the show. Hate the character.

    Wish that I could feel that Willow is a strong woman character. I certainly like her, and I don’t see any similarly obvious signs of her as being a symbol of literary sexism, but I’m not sure. I’m very skeptical of anyone (especially Joss Whedon) who claims that Joss Whedon is some sort of great feminist. Seems to me he’s a hit-or-miss writer who has learned the trick for using attractive women who kick ass to sell his stories, and conscious enough of the superficial forms of feminism to play that up…

    Anyway, Feminism opposes sexism, not “masculinism”. Whedon, and many of the ‘neo-feminists’ and ‘post-feminists’ seem to think that Feminism is about (the minority view) that all men suck, that men have oppressed women, that women are inerently morally superior, that if women ran the world there would be no war, no disease, no famine…

    As said… A strong Woman shouldn’t be a shorter, curvier male character. Nor should the only things which make her not just a shorter curvier male character be weaknesses. River (another favorite character of mine) only HAS to be female because she kicks too much ass for a male in a Whedon property. Buffy could be male, except that the system is rigged so that a slayer must be female, and of course, no male would be as constantly crippled by their social life and insecurities as she is.

    As a person (male) who is crippled by insecurities and emotional shifts, from time to time, I recognize one thing that seems out of fashion to suggest these days: What best counters insecurity, hesitation, lack of self-confidence or self-esteem is success, capability, demonstrated power. To be as Physically (Spiritually, and even mentally) capable as Buffy, and still to be so emotionally weak suggests to me the type of disease that psychopharmacology is getting so damned good at dealing with in recent decades. But the implication of the Whedon universe is that that emotional weakness is feminine, it’s the ‘other side of her strength’.

    I’m cutting this here for length, and time.

  46. hf says:

    I just assumed Willow was bisexual. She seemed to like Dracula. (The last season suggested otherwise, but they’d basically used a Jack Chick plot the previous year and tried too hard to fix the part they noticed — never mind that now.)

    The post reminded me of this. Note that I’ve never heard of anyone absolutely refusing to see any movies that fail the test, just pointing out that when Aleister Crowley looks like a feminist, it’s probably a bad sign. Possibly it would improve the situation you mention if movie-makers remembered that women are people with lives of their own.

  47. DaveJ says:

    The show Angel had two strong women I think.

    Winifred “Fred” Burkle and Cordelia Chase. Really they don’t fight like the Undead Superman Angel or the English Dude Trained from Childhood to Kill Demons or the Black DTCKD (who also grew up on the streets!) they can’t be expected to. Still they are brave ladies that do everything they can and all that rubbish.

    Mentioned here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Angel_characters if anyone actaully gives a crap.

  48. Bagpuss says:

    “One of the reasons that Ripley is so completely kick-ass in the Alien is because the fact that she’s a woman is a complete non-issue.”

    I don’t think that’s true, only a woman would worry about rescuing the cat. Although in Aliens her mothering side is made far more obvious with the introduction of Newt.

  49. Shamus says:

    More importantly, the final scene where she fights the alien in her underwear would have been just ruined if her character was a man.

  50. Zerotime says:

    Eliza, from Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle series. Attractive, devestatingly intelligent, and able to flatten economies with the twitch of a pen.

  51. Thorsten says:

    Battlestar Galactica has a lot of strong women. That is, the new series.

    Starbuck is a strong woman as well as Lieutenant Sharon. They are both women in military, but not supersoldiers. Although Starbuck has the role of butt-kicking loudmouth who goes poorly with authority. Still both are characters with multiple dimansions.

    President Roslin is a very strong female. And not only a strong female, but also a strong leader. She’s also not your typical strong woman. She is middle-aged and she has a cancer. So she is not a woman in her physical and sexual prime like most other strong female characters in the business. Despite that she is the leader and she carries the responsibilities of that position while also using the power it gives. And she is always working for the greater good for her people. So she is equal to men while still also being sort of mother character.

  52. Marc says:

    Ooh, I’ll second (and third and fourth) Eliza.

    Plus, she’s a pro in the sack. I don’t think the smallpox scars could put me off.

  53. Stranger says:

    Strong female characters huh?

    Lucrezia Noin.
    . . . what?

    On Star Trek female supporting cast, you really should go to DS9 for good “strong women” rather than Voyager. They tend to fit less inside a defined niche of behavior, much like 90% of DS9’s main and supporting cast. Frankly, that was the best show for character development in Star Trek, as my humble opinion.

    If you go to Star Wars, you may have to duck into the Expanded Universe to find a decent “strong woman” character, in Mara Jade. I’m mostly meaning the Timothy Zahn trilogy, mind you. Leia is good, but nearly everyone wants to throw her time as Jabba’s “new slave girl” up as an argument. I think the scene was done just for the reason of it WAS an indignity to put someone who was like Leia into that position. Of course, in the EU she’s more of the same.

    Stargate SG-1 . . . Carter is the scientific brains of the group. She’s a woman, she’s definitely a strong personality, but that gets overshadowed by people looking to her to solve issues or explain something working. I never really had a problem with it, as sometimes you can see Carter making a face at that role; she didn’t like it as much. Sure, she’s a strong female type, but that’s not what you think of first when you see her active.

    I’m not touching Wheel of Time. The series disappointed me in so many ways it’s not that funny anymore. Firefly is it’s own thing . . . it barely got in motion, but was an amusing viewing for as long as it was. I’ve never felt Buffy was worth my time, because every time it was described to me it started somewhere with the words: “a parody of . . .” and that doesn’t interest me as well. I’ve not had the chance to watch Battlestar Galactica (the new one), or Babylon 5 (I was usually working night shift while it was on, my parents would choose to record DS9 instead).

    Anime has a lot of strong women types on both sides of that. That’s not that hard to expect, as there’s A LOT of anime! If you asked me to name a female character I thought was a “strong character” right off the top of my head you’d probably get “Motoko Kusanagi”; on the virtue that’s the last anime I have watched lately where someone rather came close to the role.

  54. I actually think that the new BSG approaches parody with its strong women. With the exception of Laura Roslin (and even her to some degree with Bill Adama), they’re sexual objects for men that somehow have “ass-kickery” added to them. Number 6 and Sharon at least have a minor reason to be super-strong (although if they’re that strong with those frames, how come doctors couldn’t tell that they were Cylon?), but Starbuck lost all credibility for me as a character when she beat Hotdog in a boxing match. He only had 40 pounds, and four inches of reach minimum. I can see how he’d lose to her. She became a parody of “strong woman” at that moment, and I lost all sympathy for her character.

  55. “Seriously? Buffy is a strong female character? Buffy is a parody of a strong female character. She is the archetype of the “Strongwoman” that is described here. She can beat up anything that moves, but she is completely crushed by her own emotions with a frequency which can only be explained by some sort of hormonal imbalance…”

    I tend to give Buffy a bit of a pass on that front because her life has been amped up compared to ours. In all seriousness, she shouldn’t have been less emotional… she should have been nearly permanently crushed by the second season. If she’s anything, she’s unreasonably emotionally strong.

    But that’s OK, because that wouldn’t be any fun to watch.

  56. Lynn S says:

    — “I would prefer it if writers didn’t try to insert the “girlfriend” or “wife” character into an action-oriented movie, just to have a female character around.” —

    Me too, when it’s JUST to have a female character around. I especially HATE when the hero’s wife or girlfriend is the stereotypical whiney, bitchy ball-and-chain type who’s does nothing but demand that her hero husband settle down and be a couch potato like other husbands.

    I liked Jamie Lee Curtis’ character in “True Lies” – an example of a good hero’s wife.

  57. MissusJ says:

    I second the “True Lies” wife- Helen Tasker, though I had to look up the name on imdb. Lucrezia Noin and Motoko Kusanagi get seconded too.

    I also forgot a character in DS9, and it was the mention of Laura Roslin that reminded me of… Kai Winn. Sure, we were supposed to love to hate her, but she was still strong and politically powerful. (Kai Opaka was strong too, but she was only there such a short time!)

  58. Bard says:

    …Good lord. Have the movies taken so much root that none of us thought to suggest Eowyn until I did two minutes ago?

  59. Feylamia says:

    thexplodingnome said:
    The shame with Willow’s sexuality was that it was really forced, or at least it seemed so to me. It was as if the writers decided that they needed a homosexual character, maybe to make the cast more rounded or pull in viewers for a bit of lesbian fan-service, and some jerk had the brilliant idea of shoving Willow’s character into that niche. I guess that would have worked if Willow hadn’t had a love-life before this, but she was pretty convincing in her attraction to Zander (sp?) and other guys in earlier seasons.

    I think it was wrong to make her identify as homosexual, as she was clearly bisexual. If you rewatch earlier seasons of Buffy, you’ll find hints at her attraction to girls. Especially where Vamp Willow is concerned, who is very much with the bi. :D

    I quote:

    Willow: It’s horrible! That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil and… skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay.
    Buffy: Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
    Angel: Well, actually… (gets a look from Buffy) That’s a good point.

  60. Clyde says:

    Polgara from the David Eddings “Belgariad” and “Malloreon” series. ‘Nuff said.

  61. Stranger says:

    Eowyn was a nice character, but she also for me didn’t fit the bill as well. We didn’t see her an awful lot in the books AS Eowyn . . . maybe it was just me but she fell into the category of “want to be strong women” who wound up being good characters but not so good to follow the “strong independent female” role.

    It likely is indeed just me

  62. Laithoron says:

    I prefer to look at this from the standpoint of storytelling (which includes, books, movies and videogames). With that said…

    Alis Landale from the original Phantasy Star video game (Sega Master System) always struck me as a strong character. I was just 10 when I first played the game and the idea of a female protagonist was something I’d never seen taken very seriously before. It stuck with me as I grew up and I’ve always appreciated symmetry and balance between the genders in tales since.

    Something else that strikes me is that I’ve always disliked it when storytellers or “femininists” feel that the best way to make powerful females is to basically immitate men. That always struck me as assinine as making a man weak by making him effeminate. It’s poor writing and (I think) it shows a lack of respect/regard for the positive that both genders have to compliment the weaknesses of the other.

    Fast-forward about 10 years and I find myself in college. Tomb Raider is out but I take one look at the box and (while I appreciate a busty girl just like any other guy) I figure that the game must lack depth and the lead character is no doubt a joke – a cheap ploy to get horny guys to buy the game. To my surprise, my girlfriend at the time and one of her best friends were all raving about what a cool game they’d found and how I needed to check it out: Tomb Raider! Once I got into it and saw how Lara Croft conducted herself, it was clear to me that the game’s creator had reconciled fire and water, sexual femininity and strength and depth of character. I have no complaints with regard to how Angelina Jolie handles that role and IMO, those who dismiss her as a strong, deep female character are making the same initial mistake I did and are judging a book by its cover.

    (Aside: A lot of the “generation Y” women I know from ren faires and conventions seem to regard Lara Croft with a great deal of respect and see her as an example of an ideal to which they can aspire. More than a few of them study various forms of martial arts, are very much involved in wilderness (in some cases “extreme”) sports and are more than capable of holding an intelligent conversation while fully aware of and comfortable with their own sexuality.)

    Along similar lines, one of my favorite superheroes is Princess Diana of Themiscyra, aka Wonder Woman. The very idea behind her character is one of a female ambassador to the world of men who not only fights for truth and justice but also exemplifies the positive archetypal feminine traits such as compassion. Again, I have no problems with even the current animated Justice League [Unlimited] reprise of her character and appreciate the grown-up humor and sexual tension in that show. There’s quite a few strong women in there all with very different personalities from the hardassed Hawkgirl to the sultry claw-Your-back-to-ribbons-during-sex Vixen. Once again, it’s necessary to see thru (or in some cases get past) how the characters are drawn but then that goes for almost anything in this world.

  63. Ishmael says:

    I agree SO VERY MUCH. Thank you for posting this.

  64. Whoa.

    Thanks for the link, Shamus!

    Since I really am trying to sort this out to improve my own female characters, all the discussion and viewpoints really help.

    Thanks again!

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