Strong female protagonists - in 1000 Words or Less
I saw the following conversation the other day, on the website everyone loves to hate…
Person 1: “What a beautiful little baby. What’s her name?”
Person 2: “Leia.”
Person 1: “Like, Princess Leia?”
Person 2: “No. Like General Leia.”
Everyone cheer. Person 1 got TOLD.
Listen loser…er, uhm…Person 2: If you’re going to make ridiculous PC comments, at least get the details right. It’s General Organa.
Princess Leia. General Organa. Simple, right?
(Shake my head in exasperation).
Too bad the only thing that mattered to Person 2 was an imaginary status ladder on which a General (for some unknown reason), ranked higher than royalty. She probably strained muscles patting herself on the back for a job well done without taking one second to consider how disrespectful she was being. Princess Leia was the strongest of female protagonists long before “strong female protagonist” became the worn-out cliché its become. Don’t dismiss Leia’s past—she was the most important person in the Rebel Alliance. Remember too, at nineteen she would not have been a believable General. She had to grow into the role. That means establishing credentials through age and experience, learning diplomacy and learning to lead. In writerly terms, it’s called a character arc.
I say “worn-out cliché” precisely because of comments like the FB conversation above. And, yes, I get it. For fuck’s sake, I get it. As long as there are more female protagonists, everything will be sunshine and bunnies.
But, blanket statements raise questions. I realize questioning what some people consider (right now), the eleventh commandment in this quick-to-condemn world, makes me an insensitive Neanderthal, but unlike the oh-so-judgmental, I prefer being a little more thoughtful, so I have to ask:
More than what?
The two most common answers are:
More roles than there are now, and more in relationship to the number of roles there are for men.
Okay, good. Two answers. But, since neither answer makes a strong case, riddle me this:
More roles than there are now…to what percentage? Exactly fifty-fifty, or could we get away with a ten percent margin? Fifteen?
Do bad roles count, or do they have to be good? I’m not being facetious. Because, if they have to be good roles, like Jyn Erso in Rouge One, or Catniss in The Hunger Games, then I’m on-board. I’ll watch programs like Killing Eve starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer all day long.
But, if it’s a simple mathematical thing, as in, a bigger percentage tomorrow compared to yesterday is a fist-pumping win (to hell with good story, interesting locations and engaging dialogue), well, I’ve seen that crap before. I don’t want to watch it again. Let’s hold off making more terrible movies and balance the scales another way:
Keep First Blood and scrub all the subsequent Rambo films as if they never existed.
Keep Rocky 1, but gong everything else with Rocky in the title.
Ditto for Die Hard.
Let’s keep Under Siege and nuke with extreme fucking prejudice everything else in which Steven Segal “starred.”
Keep The Matrix. Flush parts one and two.
Suddenly the percentages move toward even in a hurry and, in the process, we’ve gotten rid of several movies that were meant to generate money but arguably, weren’t meant to be good.
Let’s move on with less sarcasm.
Obviously, the need for strong female protagonists is reasonable and desirable. Too bad the noise surrounding the subject has become increasingly unreasonable and absurd. The problem is, when endless articles hammer away at the need for anything at all, the conversation loses impact. We’re so tired of hearing it, we no longer care. Worse, because everything relevant that can possibly be said about the subject has already been said, people start introducing counterproductive new twists on the story.
Recently, I read an article in which the writer asserted that even if the film has a strong female protagonist, if she was directed by a male director, she is being unduly objectified and therefore minimized.
Are you kidding?
Stick with me here…
A writer had to write that article. And, as a writer, she should know that when creating fiction, you put your protagonist in a dire situation and throw ever increasing sized rocks at him / her.
People + Conflict = Story.
That is the first rule, on the first page of every How to Write book ever written. However, the author of this article essentially ignores the rule by questioning the size and shape of the rocks. The example she uses is ludicrous.
The Bride in the movie, Kill Bill, is an ass kicking machine, the epitome of a strong protagonist, never mind male or female. However, apparently, despite being one the strongest of all protagonists, the rocks that send The Bride on her bloody search for revenge are wrong because they were thrown by a male director.
Remember First Blood? John Rambo was subjected to all kinds of inhuman tortures in Vietnam. Now he’s back in the USA and being tortured and humiliated once again, in the basement of the police station. We see it happen on the big screen. As a result, when Rambo escapes, he goes on a vengeful rampage.
Back in 1982, this was strong stuff. Certainly, by 2003 when Kill Bill was released, movies had become more graphic, so possibly we saw more of The Bride’s subjugation on screen, but that’s not the relevant part. The relevant part is this: both characters were tortured and humiliated, but according to the article, The Bride’s objectification is worse because she is a woman being directed by a man, therefore her role as a strong female protagonist is minimized.
I can’t wrap my head around the complete stupidity of this article. You might not like the rocks being thrown at the protagonist but asserting some are sharper or harder than others based on the director’s gender is preposterous. Arguments such as this don’t move the need for more strong female protagonists forward. They set it back because they are so patently foolish. Let’s stop the nonsense and focus on finding, creating and emphasizing roles such as Daisy Ridley’s in The Force Awakens, Sigourney Weaver’s in Aliens, or Jamie Lee Curtis’ in Halloween. If we do that, there’ll (thankfully) be no need for stupid FB conversations like the one above. The strong female protagonist will easily sell the role all on her own.
Part 2 on this subject will come soon. Or Eventually.
What has become incoherent babble to you, in this overly fragile age in which we live?