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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