Tag Archives: female characters

I loved your post about female combatants. I was just wondering if you could think of examples of great representations of female combatants in popular culture? Either in terms of realism or in terms of representation?

Before I dive into media, I’m going to list some real women with the reminder that they do exist and are worth looking at.

You don’t get any more real than reality.

Here’s some references to women in history, from a post made by Indiana Jen to Wikipedia, and we have the article, “Women Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley. Also this article talking about women in combat.

There are women combatants throughout history, and currently today, you can find them everywhere fairly easily. You just have to dig and not that hard. There are women who have been great at fighting, terrible at fight, middling, and just on the rolling spectrum. Every variety you want. You can find them.

Ronda Rousey is currently very popular in sports circles right now for good reason, however checking out the entirety of the women’s division of the UFC is a good idea because it’s fast access to looking at women who choose to participate in blood sport professionally. Gina Carano, Holly Holm, and others.

You can actually often find old videos of martial arts and other competitions from the Olympics, which have female divisions for most sports. These include fencing, archery, judo, taekwondo, etc. There’s information out there about them than you’ll get straight out of entertainment media, but it’s always worth looking to reality for comparisons with fiction.

Onward:

Alien: specifically the first one for a look at characters who were written from the perspective of being entirely gender neutral in that they were all originally intended to be male. If you’ve never looked at it purely to watch how Ellen Ripley is very different from many of the female characters in the general media, it’s always good to start there.

Aliens: Ellen Ripley returns and this time she’s written from a more traditional perspective as a mother bear. However, holding her in contrast to the hyper-masculine Vasquez is very interesting. Both are fascinating characters in their own right and the movie is a fun time if you can handle a little horror.

Terminator 2 (and Terminator): In Terminator, Sarah Connor is the quintessential horror movie heroine in need of rescue and the transition from that to her Terminator 2 persona happens in the last five minutes of the movie. However, it’s worth watching and looking at. Sarah Connor is an excellent example of a female combatant in 2 and fully ripped.

Farscape: All female characters on Farscape, not just as combatants but  in general. Aeryn Sun is the standout for female combatants and the Peacekeepers are interesting in that they are entirely gender neutral. She’s a good character to look at if you want one that’s been raised for war since birth and still trying to figure out the other particulars. Aeryn establishing her own identity outside her role as a Peacekeeper is a huge part of her arc.

Battlestar Galactica (The Remake): There are a bunch of really, really, really fantastic female characters to dig through on this show and the creators went specifically out of their way to play with concepts of gender with Starbuck. You want to see a very masculine, aggressive female character utilizing a lot of flaws that are traditionally masculine then watch Starbuck and compare her to the above. It has it’s flaws, but it’s on point most of the time.

Stargate SG-1: Samantha Carter, full stop.

24: Nina. Nina. Nina, Nina, Nina, and more Nina. Chloe. Also, Nina. Why Nina? Because Nina is awesome, because Nina is driven, because the answer to that question is spoileriffic. Because Nina is good at her job. Nina is a professional. Chloe is good too, for different and more conventional reasons.

Burn Notice: Fiona with the caveat that she’s not a professional and it’s important to remember that in context with the rest of the team. She’s IRA, a guerrilla fighter and she thinks predominately from that perspective. Still, the sequence where she tasers herself to get the guy is fun. She’s in the range of the very aggressive to the point of overly aggressive or hyper aggressive. She also gets off on violence, a lot.

X-Files: Scully. This may not be what everyone thinks of, but Scully is a federal agent and so she is a combatant. Unlike some other shows, X-Files did attempt to portray the federal agent part accurately. There are a few hiccups here and there, but overall it’s a good showing. Also, one of the earlier examples on television in the 90s of a woman getting to be the Spock and got her own trope out of it.

Elementary: Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. It takes her a while to get there, but it’s Lucy Liu. I mean, c’mon. Also, the Watson and Holmes friendship in that is great. You don’t get many platonic male and female friendships on television. Ever.

Babylon 5: Susan Ivanova for the military perspective, so willing to use violent solutions and is fatalistic. Delenn who walks the continuum from peaceful solutions but is willing to escalate into killing you and everyone who has ever met you, so the rare female character who prefers diplomacy but for whom violence is never off the table. Lyta Alexander and Talia Winters, the walking weapons like all telepaths and one of which is later commodified into a super weapon. The treatment of an incredibly powerful female character as an object by the other characters is intentional in the writing and it’s an interesting discussion on how people can be transformed into objects then discarded.

Salt: I can’t say this is a great movie, but Angelina Jolie plays a Russian undercover agent who is outed to the Federal government and must run for her life. The stunts are over the top, like in any action movie a real human being can’t do most of them. And her motive is very cliche for female characters. However, for attitude? Yeah. Jolie nails the ‘tude.

The Long Kiss Goodnight: These two are the Black Widow movies that you’ll never see, but Gina Davis plays a suburban housewife that discovers she’s a spy with memory loss.

Kill Bill: There are a lot of fantastic performances in this this and Volume 2, the fights aren’t realistic but they’re not supposed to be. Kill Bill is a great one when you’re looking for attitude.

R.E.D.: For Helen Mirren, she’s amazing. This is a much more classic example of the super spy in the genre.

Mad Max: Fury Road: Charlize Theron is great in this movie, but the other female characters are also excellent.

The Shield: All the actresses in the Shield deliver phenomenal performances, but all my love goes to CCH Pounder for being incredible. On the one hand, Detective Claudette Wyms is the stereotypical female Black cop on television. On the other, she’s incredibly well rounded, well acted, and very human.

Justice League: Unlimited: This one may seem weird compared to the others on the list, but it’s an excellent example of the more you have then the more diverse it becomes. Because it has so many superheroes, Justice League offers a wide variety of surprisingly well-written female characters complete with strengths and weaknesses. You want a low-key kick ass and take names approach that manages to transcend the silly/sexualized costumes by making its diverse cast of characters well rounded and human? Then watch Justice League. (It’s not just because CCH Pounder’s Amanda Waller is amazing.)

Queen and Country by Greg Rucka. Comics. Spies. Female spies that aren’t femme fatales, at all.

Live. Die. Repeat. (Otherwise known as Edge of Tomorrow): Mostly for Emily Blunt.

The Lord of the Rings: Eowyn. Because you can basically describe the Rohirrim as Fratboys and she’s one of them.

Strange Days: Angela Basset will take your teeth out through your nose. Like with Terminator 2, her character is one of the few examples you’ll see of women allowed to be buff. (TW: rape plot, though not her.)

Wing Chun starring Michelle Yeoh. You’re mostly watching this for the action, but there’s a lot of awesome martial arts to go around.

Get Smart (Original): This may seem a little out of left field, but Agent 99 from the 60s was actually a groundbreaking character on American television. This was long before the stereotype where women were automatically more skilled than men in spy fiction but not allowed to be the focus and she’s one of the first single, working women we have, and who is substantially more competent than her colleague, and who makes a great deal more sense given the gender roles of her timeframe. Anyway, if you’re looking for something a little lighter then give Barbara Feldon a shot.

Xena: Warrior Princess – Xena is one of the weird ones, because on the one hand she’s hypersexualized. On the other hand, Lucy Lawless fucking owns it. Honestly, I wouldn’t watch Xena if you’re looking for a female character that’s trying to be serious. I would watch Xena for reference if you’re looking to write a female character that’s just out to have a good time. Plus, when it came to LGBT representation, the showrunners were actively messing with Standards and Practices on what they could get away with. Remember, all that Xena/Gabrielle fanservice is trolling the network bigots.

Claymore – I don’t generally recommend a lot of anime or manga when specifically looking at female characters, mostly because like with any other piece of foreign media you’re taking a lot of the gender norms that come from that culture with it. If you aren’t familiar enough with the culture to really parse that out, then while it may be fun to watch it becomes more difficult to incorporate or you incorporate stuff you didn’t mean to. This is just as true if you’re not American and consuming American media, or not British and consuming British media, or any other kind of media.

That said, I’d read this manga. This is basically an almost entirely
female cast of characters that are taking on roles traditionally
masculine in the Shounen genre. It’s a whole bunch of complicated female
characters killing monsters without the hypersexualization or the jokes
that usually come with it. Basically, its kind  of like Berserk with
women. If you’re going to do anything with the “I was experimented on
and turned into a killing machine” then this is a must read.

Legend of the Seeker, Season 2 – Keeping in mind that the novels are fetishistic and the show isn’t that great, the Mord Sith Cara specifically in personality is one of the better examples I’ve seen on television of a female character who has been abused and then transformed into an abuser. Tabrett Bethell nails the mentality, the personality, and the expressions of a warrior with that specific outlook. Especially someone who was raised to combat in an unforgiving environment as a child. You’ll see a lot of characters out there like Kahlan, you won’t see as many that manage to nail the mentality behind a Cara. Also, Cara refuses to bend knee to Richard’s moral authority. She develops as a character, but she is always the one who decides the direction that development takes. She owns who she is and is proud of it, even when that makes other people uncomfortable.

Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce – If you’re not already reading Tamora Pierce, you probably should be. She writes some of the best female characters, especially for teens. So, just read the catalog. However, if you want to write a character who is a leader of men? Then, Kel is still the best and worth looking at. Pierce also does an excellent job digging into the sexual politics in a medieval setting, the lack of easy answers or solutions, and a lot of all around humanizing over finger pointing. Which is about 100,000x better than the vast majority of “teach them to fight” narratives.

Dark Disciple series by Margaret Weis – This is a sequel series to the War of Souls, but the evolution of Mina as a character is worth paying attention to. On top of that Weis’ books tend to have pretty good fight scenes.

At the end of the day, the real trick to writing female characters
though is to create well-rounded individuals who are a reflection or
informed by the world they live in. One of the biggest problems with female characters in fiction is often that they’re written to represent the way an author thinks women should be, rather than who they are. And no, sadly being a woman doesn’t automatically make you immune. Good female characters are characters, they’re well-rounded individuals who belong in the world they live in and whose lives are a reflection of their setting.

We are all the sum total of our experiences. If your characters experiences are not informing who they are, then you might have a problem.

-Michi

August Advice – Your Characters Don’t Have To Be Likeable

August Advice – Your Characters Don’t Have To Be Likeable

What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative. And besides heroines, I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains. I want not to be asked, when I try to sell a book about two girls, two boys and a genderless robot, if we couldn’t change one of those girls to a boy.

Sophia McDougall, “I hate Strong Female Characters” (via charlottefairchild)

I recommend reading the whole article in the link.  It’s long but good, and also points out the annoying trope of Hollywood thinking that as long as the female character gets a token “can beat people up” scene, then it’s totally fine that otherwise they still are filling very typical fictional roles women are pigeon-holed into, and usually are still just a love interest or plot device.

Also, to the above quote, this is about having that diversity in a single story, or even having many of those traits in 1 character, and not just plucking a few examples out of all of fiction and go “see, in this story, the woman was shy and quiet, and in this story, the woman beat somebody up, and this story the woman was mean.  There!  Diversity!”  It’s about overall trends, it’s about not just having one or two women in a cast, it’s about how women are situated in the story, it’s about whether the women are protagonists or plot devices, it’s about all sorts of ways that women are marginalized, pigeon-holed, etc in fiction, and not simply just about one thing.  There’s no easy fix where you go “see in my story, the woman warrior wears a shirt and she doesn’t get raped!”  The problem is there are so many issues with the way women, and every other marginalized group, are portrayed in fiction (and even more so with the intersectional problems with characters who are part of several of those groups), and only so much that people can talk about in one go, so usually people are only able to address one or two issues at any time, and it leads to the idea that as long as you fix (or superficially) fix that element, then it’s all good, and it’s more than that.

From the standpoint of this blog, sometimes there comes the misconception that as long as a story has fully armored women, or has battle-ready posed women, then that’s something that’s necessarily a good story about women, or necessarily a good depiction, and it’s more than that.  It’s a step forward, definitely, and I absolutely think it’s good for people to keep the visual portrayal of women in their minds when creating fiction and not just doing one thing over and over because it’s just how we’re so used to seeing women depicted visually.  But it can’t stop at that.  How many women there are in the story matters.  Whether or not she’s portrayed as being “exceptional” for her gender, and therefore all other women in the fictional world are still flat stereotypes matters.  What happens to her in the story, how she’s situated, presented, talked about matters.  Whether she’s the protagonist, or if despite her armor, she gets kidnapped by the villain to anger the male hero matters.  It’s about more than simply avoiding one single way women are portrayed, and then dusting off our hands and patting ourselves on the back for fixing how women are portrayed in fiction.  It’s about examining the way we see women in our society, and being aware of how that affects the way we depict and situate them in our writing, often without realizing it.

Escher Girls, The Bechdel Test, Bikini Armor, etc, are all catchy terms, and great things to keep in mind when writing fiction with women in it, but it’s not as simple as just “not doing this one thing”.  These phrases and ideas are meant to highlight specific issues about the way women are written and drawn in fiction and to open up a discussion about the larger picture of how women are portrayed.  The Bechdel Test is meant to point out how few women have roles and how even fewer of them have stories of their own that don’t revolve around men.  Escher Girls is about showing the prevalence of female characters being contorted or dressed in ways that maximize titillation over function. They are symptoms, not the cause, and addressing just one of them once doesn’t fix the underlying issue.  Change comes by challenging ourselves to not just settle at “my princess punches people before being captured” or “the male hero’s love interest talks to her female friend about dogs at one point”, but to be willing to examine the overall way we’re depicting women in our fiction, how many there are, and how they’re situated.  Centaur women, battle bikinis, and the boobs and butt pose are the beginning of the discussion, not the end.

escher-girls

(via moniquill)

Red Flags for Female Characters

Red Flags for Female Characters

So, I think the question of what makes a strong female character often goes misinterpreted, and instead we get these two dimensional super women who maybe have one quality that’s played up a lot like, you know, a Catwoman type, or she, like, plays her sexuality up a lot, and it’s seen as power. But they’re not strong characters who happen to be female, they’re completely flat, and they’re basically cardboard characters. The problem with this is that then people expect women to be that easy to understand, and women are mad at themselves for not being that simple. When in actuality, women are complicated. Women are multi-faceted. Not because women are crazy, but because people are crazy, and women happen to be people.

“You should date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.”

You’ve heard of this girl before, her name is Summer or Alaska or something else that sounds cutesy and different because she’s always trying to define herself as not being like ‘other girls’. The girl who reads doesn’t shop, watch sports, play video games or anything else that she deems to be beneath her. She buys books instead of clothes because who needs to be dressed, she is obviously lying if she says she understands Ulysses and doesn’t find a strange man sitting down beside her in a coffeeshop and buying her a drink even though she doesn’t want one to be predatory behavior. It’s okay to lie to or fail her because she confuses real life with fiction, wanting conflict right before the climax and then a sugar-coated happy ending.

She isn’t a girl at all. She’s an idealized portrait of the already idealized trope of the manic pixie dream girl who only exists to serve as a love interest and teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life’s many mysteries. Women do not exist to complete you or give your life meaning. It is not our job to get you to see the world with ‘renewed eyes’ and we certainly do not live just for you to project your half-baked obsessive fantasies on us and then call us foul names when we don’t fulfill them because excuse us if they’re your visions and not ours.

And the Girl who Reads is one of the more toxic incarnations of the MPDG because it tells girls that if we like clothes, boys, being around our friends , taking pride in our appearances or anything else that doesn’t seem ‘deep or intellectual’ that we’re catty and jealous. We’re constantly trying to tell ourselves that we’re not like the other girls as if there’s something wrong with them. We all want to seem special and different and quirky so that we’ll eventually find someone whose personality quirks align with ours and create a lasting love affair. The girls who are not like us are called horrible names and treated like they’re worthless as if what they choose to do with their life is our decision. And as girls we cannot help tearing each other down; we see another girl on the street and think ‘oh she’s prettier, skinnier, smarter, more popular, more athletic’.

With the Girl who Reads we measure a person’s worth based on how many John Green books are on their shelves or if they enjoy Bukowski. You do not have to be widely read or able to wax poetic about your favourite author for hours on end to be intelligent or interesting. But it is not the Girl who Reads who looks down on the girls who don’t and labels them as stupid, catty, vain, promiscuous or boring, it is the people who created the idea of her, they believe that because she is so deep and mysterious that her special snowflake syndrome will prevent judgments from being passed at her. Everybody wants to be different, everybody wants to be special but let me tell you something. You are exactly like those other girls; you all are made of the same atoms that make up the solar system but do not think that because you have nebulae in your bones that you are better than anyone else.

I am sick and tired of people romanticizing this belief that if you don’t read that you’re not worth being loved. There are countless people I know who don’t like reading and who are still worth being loved the same amount as the people who do. Tumblr users say that they want to live like the Girl who Reads and be suffocated by the amount of literature they own because clearly book hoarding is the best way to go. Great for you if you want to find someone who likes the same things as you to be in a relationship with, you should want that. But if being a hollowed out shell of a manic pixie dream girl is your ideal life then you need to think more about what it means. I refuse to be a blank canvas on which you draw out all your delusions of what life and love should feel like according to you. I do not exist to counterbalance you.

Stop looking for the Girl who Reads because you won’t find her. There are girls who read but they are not singularly formed archetypes constructed for your approval. Stop looking for someone who fits your 27 point idealized criteria of a person and find someone who’s real. Nobody ends a date by saying ‘wow I think you’re great and all but you’ve never read A Farewell to Arms so it’s not going to work out between us’. That’s just ridiculous. Date someone who makes you laugh so hard that you snort soda out of your nose and even when your shirt is soaked with carbonated bubbles they will still find you and your laugh cute when nobody else does. Date someone who understands when you’re upset with them that you are not just waiting for the plot to advance because the hero always fails at one point or another. Do not fail her, do not lie to her, because she won’t think ‘oh boy this is some conflict before the resolution’ she’ll just think you’re a jerk. Which you are. Date someone who you can love as a human and not as a fairytale. A Girl who Reads may be able to give you a world full of adventure and imagination but you know who could do that even better? A person who actually loves you .

And pardon if I’m more than a little irked by the fact that we can’t even love each other as humans anymore, pardon if I am a ‘raging feminist harpy’, pardon if I don’t want to be the dramatic backdrop to your trials and tribulations, pardon if I would rather people to see me as a person and not a walking, talking library . But I am 50 shades of done with the elitist belief that reading makes you worth more as a person and why is that? Because I am a girl who reads, I am a girl who writes but most importantly I am a girl.

written by charlesmacaulayy in response to ‘Date a Girl who Reads’ (via charlesmacaulayy)