mysticalchild_isis: (xena rawr)
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At my book club last night, we got off topic a bit (as we so often do), and one of the librarians who works in a high school was mentioning that she's been reading The Odyssey with a class. She was rather disturbed to find that all the girls disliked Penelope, and thought that she was useless, weak, and did nothing.

This led to a discussion about how it's unfortunate that a lot of girls only see Strong Female CharactersTM as having their own agency, and how very problematic that is.

Don't get me wrong; I love BAMFy women who kick ass (Buffy and Xena being two of my favorites), especially if the actress playing them is even halfway decent at martial arts. I savor a well-executed roundhouse kick like a glass of fine wine. However, too often, Xenafication stands in for actual character development... and makes it so that people like the girls mentioned above think that the only defining characteristic of a strong woman is her ability to kick ass. With a corollary of the fact that many people then think that if a woman is bad-ass, she must be strong, and don't see the problems (and sexism) that so often pop up in these types of characters.

I'm reminded of the version of Irene Adler that popped up in this season of Sherlock. I found her extremely problematic for a number of reasons. But because she was smart, beautiful, and had a certain amount of power (largely sexual) and control, the underlying issues were slightly masked. I'm not trying to dictate which characters one should or should not like, or identify with. We like who we like, and we see characters in different ways. But when there is a widespread epidemic of characters who on the surface seem strong, but underneath are teeming with poisonous ideas (you know, like "oh look, this woman's backstory is rape and torture porn, but since she is a BAMF, it is totally fine that her only character development is rape-as-backstory"), I feel like it is an issue that needs to be addressed and discussed.

Especially because characters who might not be able to swing a sword or shoot a gun are no longer seen as "strong", no matter how well-rounded they are or how much agency they have.

Date: 2012-03-17 10:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gadgetorious.livejournal.com
You know it's funny I usually DON'T like the kickass females as much, not because they're not "strong female characters" but because I really prefer characters that are intelligent and well developed as PEOPLE and I don't relate to the tank characters of either gender. My favorite female character from Sherlock wasn't Irene, it was Molly, and I've seen people argue that she's weak for liking Sherlock when he treats her awfully, etc. but she's more real to me than Irene was. In any case, Moffat is hardly the example to draw from if you're looking for well written female characters.

My biggest problem with most complaints of "not a strong female character" is that people think it means that female characters can't be flawed, instead of it being OKAY for them to be imperfect, like it's okay for the male characters to be. Being flawed and complex and interesting makes male characters attractive but female characters just... flawed.

I saw a post on Tumblr with a ton of reblogged complaints about how everyone should boycott Disney's Brave because even though the character was smart and resourceful she was still a princess and it went on and on. I actually got so pissed off I had to unfollow the blog to stop myself from answering it. I hate that there's this idea that in order for female characters to be better/stronger/whatever, they have to become more like men. You know who watches Disney movies like that? Little girls. You know what little girls like? Princesses. I know mine does, and it certainly hasn't been because of any conditioning on my part, she doesn't even own a Barbie. I hate that there's this polarization between "only girls can like frilly things" and "boys should be able to like frilly things but girls shouldn't because it's a harmful gender stereotype." AND I DON'T EVEN LIKE FRILLY THINGS.

Anyway, in short, yes. I agree with this post. A lot. And will stop talking now, for which you're welcome.

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