Sammy (littlesammy) wrote,

The Great Fandom Myth about a lack of “strong female characters”

Hi. I'm Sammy. Some (few) of you may know me from back in the day when I dabbled in male/male fandoms and I was kinda hopelessly crushing on the Sentinel boys and Benton Fraser and RayK. It was a fun time... mostly. Because the male/male fandom is a wonderful and creative and supportive place, and they get a lot of shit done, as a fandom collective, for other fans, creatively. (Just look at the AO3, if you're shaking your head now and wonder what I'm talking about.)

Aside from that, though, it can be a brutal place as well... as soon as any character or actor is involved who doesn't have a dick. The major part of male/male fandom sports an astonishing tendency towards misogyny in its purest, spiteful, vindictive form. Female characters, often enough, are ignored in stories at best, at worst they're bashed, killed or written as traitorous backstabbers and jealous, aggressive bitches.

I saw a lot of that during my slash years in the respective fandoms. Back then I had a few discussions about it, but large chunks of it I ignored - partly because I, too, bought into the idiot statement you hear from a lot of slashers: "There just aren't any strong female characters around!"

And then my world flipped around on its axis, when I happened to fall for a certain Israeli badass and found in her what I apparently had been looking for a long long time. And while my love for Ziva David blossomed into the best thing that ever happened to me... I found that accidentally I had stumbled into one of those fandoms where the slash side and the het side clash brutally (even though the het side is mostly unaware of the whys they get attacked by random people for loving a girl character and shipping her with the guy the slash side wants to hog jealously for their male ship).

Here I was, head over heels in love with one of the strongest and most realistically flawed and broken characters I have ever met... and the same names I remembered from my old fandom days as good and supportive and creative people, I suddenly saw tossing pitchforks and yelling, "That bitch needs to be put down!"

And you know what, I'm royally tired of this shit. I don't buy into this idiot excuse myth anymore, the one that says "there are no strong female characters around to identify with, so I identify more with the guys". Because that disregards every single one of the incredible women out there. It disregards Aeryn Sun, Buffy Summers, Lisa Plenske, Ziva David, Ellen Ripley, Susan Ivanova, Hermione Granger, Olivia Benson, Cara Mason, Deanna Troi, Dana Scully, Jennifer Hart... and a gazillion others. And while some of them may be argued about and some may feel interesting to some and not to others, saying “not strong enough” about all of them is appalling.

It's a bullshit excuse. The only reason you don't see "any strong female characters"? Is because you refuse to look.

Strong doesn't mean she's able to shoot two weapons while somersaulting over the bad guy's goons. Strong doesn't mean bench-pressing cars. Strong doesn't mean dominant. Strong doesn't mean flawless. Strong doesn't mean hair so perfect it never gets rustled. Strong doesn't mean perfect looks.

None of these things make a character strong (and that goes for both male and female characters, coincidentally!) What does make them strong is flaws, and lacking, and not being perfect... but still striving to keep going. It's not the uncrackable shell that makes you strong. It's the cracks.

And so, to my great surprise, I found last night that while for some time I, too, had bought into the great fandom myth that there just aren't any good female characters around... there are. And they’re actually what I love to write. It wasn’t just Ziva David.

While I sat there and plotted my brains out and pummeled the outline of an epic fantasy trilogy into shape, I suddenly noticed that I actually have a hard time fitting any male characters into the plot. Out of the ten characters with the most "screen time" so far, three are male - and out of these, only one is the good guy. They're... just not that interesting.

I love all of my girls already, even though I'm still plotting and haven't actually written a single scene yet. Because they're all realistic female characters (and I do believe that's the word that should actually be used when people talk about "strong" characters) and they're all fascinating in their own way. I even love the assholes, like the one who purposely bred to ensure her daughter is gifted with the strongest possible line of magic needed - and then birthed a daughter who is completely deaf to it. I have the daughter who sets out to find her own tune at all cost and then ends up taking on the burden of outcast because that is what her world really needs. I have the bi girl who asks her lover's brother to father a child for them because he's as close to her sister's blood as possible, and then, while she's pregnant, her lover dies and never gets to see their child. I have the fat teenage goat herdess who got told her whole life that she's useless - except she isn't. And there's the little orphan girl that somehow manages the brightest, happiest laugh of them all, even though she cries for her mother's embrace every single night.

No strong female characters? Bullshit. One more time, please, just for emphasis: BULL.SHIT.

To every female who keeps repeating that bullshit mantra: you're spreading the lie to every fellow female out there that they won't find anything, so they shouldn't even bother looking. You are discounting every single character someone might see as "strong" or "inspirational". And you are telling girls that they should better look at the guys right away and write about them, because with them you can at least identify. They're “more believable”, and hey, by the way, het is just for teenagers anyway.

It's bullshit. YOU are actively spreading misogynist bullshit. And you are telling your own daughters to stop looking for strong girls to look up to, better be like the guys.

And now please excuse me while I indulge in some background reading and dig into this awesome book I had in the mail today. There's strength to be written.

Tags: fandom, women in fiction, writing
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YES! Yes to all of this.

Or you run into things like in the Once Upon a Time fandom (which I can't remember if you watch or not). A lot gets tied up in ship wars for Once. I happen to ship Emma Swan and Killian Jones/Captain Hook (called Captain Swan). Emma is a strong female character. She went from being an orphan to being a woman with lots of people who love her, including her canon love interest of Killian. As she's accepted and grown into that love, some of her walls have come down, making her seem a bit softer and less prickly.

Because of that, many other people in the Once fandom, especially many from the non-canon ship of Emma and her son's adoptive mother (also her step-grandmother) Regina, say Emma is no longer a strong female character. Apparently her relationship with Killian makes her weak. This was definitely a thing that was said last season, when Emma was distraught at Killian's apparent death (she was rather inconsolable for awhile, but I'm still not sure how being upset at the death of a loved one makes a person weak). According to many in the fandom, Emma is weak in her love for Killian, and letting down her walls for him makes her even more weak.

This doesn't even get into the fact that many of the non-CS people claim the character of Killian supports and encourages rape culture, mostly based on some comments he made when he first appeared in the show (which were mostly swagger). This view of him also ignores canon evidence of him defending a woman from unwanted attention and then backing off from flirting as soon as he finds out she is married. This also ignores canon evidence of other characters (2 of whom are the two main other ship contenders for Emma in fandom) raping or toeing the line of raping characters. Regina created a curse that removed memories, then took a man's heart to control him. While he was under that curse and heartless, Regina was in a sexual relationship with him. Where is his consent? Emma got pregnant by Neal when she was 16 or 17. He was a good 5 to 10 years older. While the sex might have been consensual, in many states it would be statutory rape. Aside from that, Emma was an orphan who craved love and a family, which one could argue makes her consent a bit questionable. Another character magically impersonated a man's wife, had sex with him, and got pregnant. While the sex was consensual, it was only consensual WITH HIS WIFE. He never consented to have sex with the other woman, he never consented to impersonated sex with a woman pretending to be his wife.

Yet Killian Jones supports rape culture, and Emma's relationship with him makes her A WEAK FEMALE CHARACTER.

(Sorry for the bit of a rant. But what you were saying about strong female characters is something we talk about a fair bit in the Captain Swan shipping corner of the Once fandom over in Tumblr. We still haven't figured out how falling in love apparently makes a woman weak.)

There are A LOT of Strong Female Characters. They've been around for years. I think one reason it's so hard for a lot of people to recognize them is because they have a strong idea of what a SFC is, so they disregard any woman that doesn't fit that specific idea as weak. But that's the beauty of it. STRONG isn't a specific thing. It doesn't always look the same. It can be the woman who picked herself up after tragedy and went on, or it can be the woman who endured something for years before breaking. It can be the woman who was a victim but came out on the other side, or it can be the woman who never went through anything herself but helped her friend through something. It can be the woman who survived losing a loved one, or it can be the woman who was finally strong enough to let love in. It can even be the woman who lets a man do things for her, but is strong enough to say it doesn't entitled him to her. Even many of the "weak" woman and "damsels in distress" from old films are strong female characters.
I agree completely on all of this, and it actually brings up another pet peeve of mine - the imo idiot mantra of "You don't need a guy to complete you, you need to realize you can be perfectly happy on your own!"

While, yes, it's true that you should love yourself and not depend solely on others for that, the huge problem I have with this line is this:

If a grandma throws herself in front of the car for the child she loves, it's drama and tragedy and heroism and it's behavior that is applauded and romanticized.
If a woman sacrifices her life so her child can live, it's drama and tragedy and heroism and it's behavior that is applauded and romanticized.
If a woman sacrifices her life for her lesbian lover, it's drama and tragedy and heroism and it's behavior that is applauded and romanticized.

But if a woman even dares to think about quitting a job just to stay with the MAN she loves, let alone maybe sacrificing her life for his? Dude, no go. Then, suddenly, selfless, deep, soul-wrenching love is just an idiot act and she is worth so much more than this.

There is something deeply flawed with these standards.
Funny enough, this just popped up on my Tumblr dashboard and I'm pretty sure you'll get a kick out of it.
I agree.

And I have thought this for a very long time.

I like what George R. R. Martin said when asked how he could write such strong and realistic female characters.

He said "I write people."

I love love love what you have to say about this!
Late to the party (again), but I just wanted to add my hearty AMEN to this. Strong characters (male or female) aren't the ones who are perfect; they're the ones who mess up but keep on trying. Some of my favorites have been ones that have had me going, "Yup, been there, done that." And sometimes I've wanted to reach through the screen or pages and shake them because they're being stupid. Because I care. And I care because the author has made them real, human. Those are the kinds of characters I want to see. :)

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