An interesting blog was circulating the internet last week, from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/03/magazine/a-plague-of-strong-female-characters.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2.) The premise of the blog was that there just might be too many tough woman characters out there. Hmmm – the Feminist in me perked her head up and the Victorianist in me rolled her eyes.
More specifically, the blog talked about the lack of authenticity in Strong Female Characters, both performed and written. The blog author’s points are very good, but I think there needs to be more said on the subject. A Strong Female Character these days tends to be a butt kicking, chain smoking, perfect size 2, who can run a mile in 3 inch high heels and not twist her ankle. Look folks, I can’t walk 3 steps in those heels without doing myself a permanent injury. The point of this and the above mentioned blog is that it is difficult to relate to, and thus empathize with, someone who is by our standards so unlikable. Frankly, I don’t know anyone like that.
But I do recall, even as late as last night, thinking of how I would fictionally like to react to outrageous circumstances – and, minus the heels and cigarettes, I think I’d lean heavily towards the tough gal approach. What the NY Times blogger didn’t consider was that many women like myself have been victimized by the stereotype of being weaker. We’ve been told, “no, you can’t,” for no better reason than we have boobs and not a winky. Is it really so bad to encourage a new stereotype of strength and integrity?
My case in point: During my military career (all 4 years of it) I wanted to fly the big toys. And a chance came up for me to apply for the training. I mentioned this to a sweet little boy from Arkansas thinking he’d say “go for it.” He looked at me like I was engulfed in blue flame and had red glowing eyes. “Why should Uncle Sam spend a million dollars on you?” “Excuse me?” “Why spend all that money when you’re only going to go home and get pregnant? You ain’t gonna’ fly when you got kids and then they wasted money that should have been spent training real pilots.” Stunned, I sputtered out something about not having kids. Hey, I wasn’t even dating someone yet, so kids were several (if any) steps out there. His reply? “That ain’t natural.” Seems others felt the same way. Thus, I’m sitting here blogging about characters and Mr. Finely-Honed-Grammar is out there piloting an F-111. (Of course, I was later vindicated when I was playing paint-ball with a bunch of ex-military, male friends and they were all but beating each other up to get me on their team. I was a pretty hot paint-baller backin my day. Take that, Lieutenant Neanderthal!)
I was presumed to be weak because I’m a woman. I have stopped counting the times I’ve heard a fellow say, “you say ‘no’ now, but that’s only until I can convince you to say ‘yes.’” Or my other favorite, “getting a man and having kids fulfills a woman, it makes her complete.” Excuse me? I am whole and complete right now – no man, no kids. If you want in on my life, you get the fully loaded, pre-existing package.
The point is if you’ve been on the losing end of assumption and discrimination, you sort of don’t mind the surreal characters who act out your fantasy of being better, even better, best! In fact, you might go so far as to say there aren’t enough Strong Female Characters yet – especially as real women are still deemed the ‘weaker sex.’ We need a new stereotype! Bring on the tough gals who can do 40 things at once! Are they realistic? Maybe they don’t need to be. Strong Male Characters aren’t nor should they be. Seriously, how many times have you had to solve the Asteroid Collision problem while finding ancient wonders and battling giant robots? “You call that archeology?” You can’t even call that real life. We are all flawed; we are all weak and strong. But our heroes have to be more than us – they have to fulfill a promise we keep within ourselves – begging to be beyond amazing.
So, yeah, I write Strong Female Characters. I’m working on a character development for a gal who will be a Theoretical Physicist with good aim, a wicked sense of humor, and a knack for puzzle solving. I confess, she’ll probably have some human elements … if I have to … of vulnerability, fear of heights, and can’t stand the sight of raw meat. I don’t know. It’s still in the planning stages. But extraordinary situations call for heroes, and I don’t have a problem with that. And if a plethora of Strong Female Characters helps end the idiotic notion I’m weak due only to gender and gives me someone I can root for in the movies – kick butt, girlfriend!
3 thoughts on “Get back in the kitchen, woman! (Pt. 1)”
Thank you, x1000. I have lost track of the number of times when some condescending bumbler presumed that I must be stupid because I was female — and how sorry he was when I corrected him.
I think that so much depends on a balance of elements. Women who struggle against the stereotypes of their time inspire me, to be honest — whether in real life or the pages of fiction.
I think that is the challenge of any author who tries to be ‘realistic’ in their fiction when it comes to women in other times. Again, like your character from Eye of the Beholder, it is our female hero who is extraordinary and rises above the limitations inflicted on her.
I concur with you absolutely. Another point of view however is that of women who do have the honour and priviledge to have a family and raise children with a strong father figure who stick around, support and value her incredible sacrifice. We seem to devalue this more and more, sadly. And though the women who are empowered by this honour without feeling the brunt of guilt for not pursuing their career, are fewer and fewer.
Some cultures really value this and try to give this the honour they are due. Thinking of the Latter Day Saints at this moment, whose history is filled with strong incredible women. They are not second class citizens, but actually elevated to something beyond compare. The most important job in the world, shaping future generations.
I was very surprised to learn so much about the culture which the media has a very skewed view of. I was living in Salt Lake City for a few years, to be close to my partner who was stationed there. I was very worried and scared to be my true self, for fear of being judged. I was very wrong, btw.
anyhows, I digress… great article here and I do agree with your point of view. I just think there is room for all kinds of empowerment in this world. Sorry the military did not deem you fit to follow your passion. Huge mistake on their part, but I think they know that by now. Or I can hope so.
Oddly enough, I understand the economic bigger picture that the Lt Caveman was so outraged by. But in this day and age, plenty of men take off time when a child is born, and many men are now house husbands too and are dang well good at it..
There is room for all kinds in this world.
Keep writing the powerful women who succeed. Who kick ass and take names and forget nothing. And yet are incredible and forgiving, and keep finding the path to true love. Yes, call me a romantic. Oh well, shoot me with a paint ball….