3 Mandatory Requirements for a Strong Female Character (According to Hollywood)
Yesterday was Mother’s Day. My mother is a strong woman, but due the physical distance between us, I ended up spending Mother’s Day hung over from the night before while cursing the name of Jägermeister and crying onto my toasted bagel with melted cheese slices. My day consisted of watching Boys Over Flowers (a cheesy Korean highschool romance drama adapted from a popular manga – I promise not to review it) and surfing through webcomics I enjoy.
I’ve always liked “Hark, a vagrant” by Kate Beaton, but because I am lazy I tend to forget when various webcomic creators update. Ever since the slowdown of my favourite webcomic, Perry Bible Fellowship, I pretty much gave up my weekly readings of comics in lieu of playing Pokemon and watching crap like Boys Over Flowers. But while casually perusing Kate Beaton’s archives, I came across two hilarious mini-collections of comics called “Strong Female Characters” (Strong Female Characters 1, Strong Female Characters 2). Feeling inspired by Kate’s cheeky, cynical view on what Hollywood considers a “strong female character” I decided to chip in with my own breakdown of different requirements that are apparently necessary to be a strong female character in Hollywood.
1. Walk, trip, fashion, baby.
From the movie version of Elektra to Kate Beckett from Castle, “strong women” are constantly being seen in high-heeled boots or spiky stilettos. Because, you know, the first thing I think when I walk out the door to take down a hulking villain is, “Hm, which pair of shoes will elongate my calves?”
To this day I really don’t get it. It seems like every female detective in every metropolitan city wears heels to work on a daily basis, despite having to run around, chase bad guys and generally be mobile. As a lover of shoes and accessories, I get it. Shoes are cute, fashionable and make you appear taller than the hobbit you feel like. Cool. But if I know for a fact there is a high probability than I’ll be doing anything that requires mobility, I always wear flats. Every person who has ever worn a pair of heels for an extended period of time knows that even if you have the most comfortable pair, running around for 8+ hours in a pair of heels is literally impossible. I’m convinced that your feet would simply fall off your ankles and you’d be stuck trying to chase after a villain with bloody stumps, crying and screaming until you simply die of blood loss and become an “In Remembrance Of…” byline at the end of the movie of your life, starring Michelle Williams (or Robin Williams, if you identify as a dude).
I guess you could make an argument for superheroes because well… they are super, therefore, uh. Are special? If they have telekinetic power their center of gravity is always aligned properly? Question mark? I still don’t think it’s practical, and super women tend to be more practical (unless their name is Harley Quinn) and would realize that heels, no matter the size, make “click click click” noises walking down a hall or “clump clump clump” if they are a chunkier heeled boot.
And I don’t know about you, but if I was Batgirl I wouldn’t want to be running down a dark alley after a foe and having to worry whether or not my heel was going to twist.
I love multidimensional female characters and I actually really like when an a-typical badass has weak spots and will crack for certain people. But what I hate is when a perceived strong female character’s personality in a film or series is completely taken over by her being emotional over a boyfriend, or a child, or the fact that her heel snapped while she was running away from a giant ent.
Jessica Alba’s Sue Storm was a train wreck of epic proportions in the first Fantastic Four film adaptation. The Invisible Woman’s powers were unstable because they were “affected by her emotions” and the only relevant storyline she had was that Victor Von Doom wanted to marry her. Okay, this was how Sue was in 1961 during her appearance as First Female Superhero Ever in the Marvel Universe, when she was still just Invisible Girl. Sue, as Invisible Woman, has made some progressive changes over the course of fifty-one years. Why did the studio, who released this film in 2005, revert Invisible Woman back to the passive aggressive Mary Sue she once was? The Ultimate version of Sue Storm is a badass. She single-handedly saves New York City from a tidal wave because she damn well can, she is an accomplished scientist who is smarter than Reed Richards himself and even proposes to Ben Grimm after dumping Reed (to which is she rewarded by being assaulted by a now-evil Reed Richards, thanks, Marvel). All of this at eighteen years old!
But, in the Fantastic Four movie franchise, Sue Storm was reduced to nothing more than wank bank material for teenagers and emotionally stunted creepy old dudes. Because, who needs an enriching woman when you have access to Jessica Alba’s tits and ass? Just make her a damsel in distress and send her on her way so all the male characters can save her.
And it’s not just that terrible franchise, look at this past year’s leading ladies of television: Elena from the Vampire Diaries‘ biggest emotional issue was whether she should date Stefan or Damon despite people all around her dying; Garcia on Criminal Minds could barely do her job at one point because she was worried about her relationship with her boyfriend; every single female character on Once Upon A Time‘s problems were either men or their kids; the female characters in The Big Bang Theory are only there to emotionally compliment the men; don’t even get me started on How I Met Your Mother.
I love romance and am a total sucker for it, trust me. But can we please move on as a society from turning an independent female character in the beginning of a film or series into a blubbering, boy-obsessed mess halfway through? Please? Bueller? Bueller? Even female characters who start off promising seem to fall into this well of relationship despair, yet male characters (paging Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds) seem to avoid this all together, getting cool storylines like their forced addiction to drugs or how they survived being assaulted as a child.
Frank Miller, I’m dedicating this part of the article to you. You single-handedly ruined Catwoman for me by changing her from the bored housewife Selina Kyle who would break into her abusive husband’s vault for sport to a broken down prostitute who just wants to get away from her pimp.
Yep. Selina Kyle took an interesting leap from high society, literally right down into sex trafficking. Why? Well, I’m going to assume it is because Frank Miller hates women and thinks all sex workers should die.
Christopher Nolan, DC Comics and Legendary Pictures thought to themselves while writing the upcoming film The Dark Knight Rises, “Hmmm, maybe we should reach a middle ground with Selina. Instead of a hooker, let’s make her a stripper and have her be abused. Now the character motivation to steal makes sense!”
Oh, joy. We wouldn’t be where we are today without Batman: Year One. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Batman: Year One, but I’m a little depressed that Selina Kyle has regressed into nothing but a beat down, hard-on-her-luck, unhappy sex worker in Hollywood. The stigma of the sex trade is already blown out of proportion in the media and having yet another female villain/heroine fall victim to the “poor little prostitute” archetype is depressing.
You know, Hollywood, women can be villains simply because they are evil. A female villain can cut a dude’s entrails out and spread them all over the land because she’s pissed, she can rob a bank because she feels like it, hell, she can do whatever she wants when she wants without necessarily having a history of sexual abuse. Seriously, this is getting old.
Another film where almost every female character is a prostitute: Sin City. Oh, wait, that was based off of Frank Miller’s Sin City. I don’t even need to continue writing for you, the reader, to understand where I am going with this.
What it comes down to is that all I want is some bad ass, sociopathological women who ravage innocents without having a reason. Or maybe they grew up middle class and bored, decided to kill their families and become super villains. Or they are heroes because of how strong they are (ie: Brienne from Game of Thrones) and how all they want is to be a knight/hero/Tuxedo Mask in drag, who knows. I am tired of Hollywood masquerading stereotypical women as “strong women”. I want some more variety, dammit.