Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lame Female Characters

Types of lame female characters:

---The damsel in distress - comes in a wide variety of disgusting flavors.

---The damsel in imminent danger (she doesn't need to be saved *yet* - but she is a target, and the story revolves around the men keeping her protected. Lite version of the Damsel in Distress.)

---The woman who "stays at home" while the men go off to have an adventure (fyi, this includes the ever popular woman who insists on going with the men, is told to stay back, goes anyway, gets in trouble, and then has to be saved by the men)

---The static female character who exists as a foil so the dynamic male character can grow, develop, and find himself.

---The woman who exists as a pawn and/or bargaining chip to be used by the men of the story.

---The woman who is talented and useful - but NEVER as talented or useful as the men of the story

---The woman who is the constant supplier of fan service for male readers/watchers

---The woman who's included in the story just so the story would have a woman

---The token female in an ensemble. Descriptions of the main characters are usually along the lines of "shy and bookish Dave, charismatic overachiever Jon, witty slacker Steve, and sexy Valerie" - because "sexy" is the only character trait that many writers care to ascribe to women

---The woman who's dead before the story starts and is an idealized memory that symbolizes the male character's previously happy life.

---The lead woman who blindly and unconditionally supports/follows the lead male and doesn't have any aspirations of her own.

---The woman who falls in love with the hero, but the villain wants to marry her. (Sometimes female characters become sucky not just through their own personalities, but through the situations that the writer decides to put them in. See also: damsel in distress)

---The hysterical girl who does nothing but shriek and throw fits

---The woman who is a "female version" of one of the male characters

---The "sweet and gentle" girl. (She's good with children and animals. That's usually the extent of her character development.)

---The one-dimensional nurse/healer/nurturer (similar to the above)

---The fragile woman who breaks easily (always crying on the man's shoulder, seeking reassurance, unable to support herself emotionally)

---The woman whose sexuality is her main weapon. (Any woman for whom sexuality is their main weapon clearly doesn't have any other worthwhile talents.)

---The sheltered woman who waits around for a man to show her a "new world," an adventure, true love, etc.

---The woman whom aaaaall the men in the story have a crush on. (Usually the hero gets her; after all, that's why he's the hero. It's all about trophies and bragging rights.)

---The woman who represents negative female personality stereotypes - catty, manipulative, PMS-y, sets "traps" for the men, etc. - rather than *real* character flaws that aren't so misogynistic

---The beautiful woman who belongs to a society that's under attack by the male lead, who then falls in love with the male lead and convinces him to spare her people. (It all boils down to the woman being at the mercy of the man, and the woman only has an impact on the man because she's sexually attractive.)

---The beautiful and/or popular woman who's out of the male lead's league - but he gets her anyway. (Because men are supposed to win the prize, and women are supposed to settle.)

---The super awesome chick who, through the course of the story, transforms into any of the above. To me, this is the worst of all!

General Comments:

---For the most part, female characters are infinitely cooler, more realistic, and more capable in children's/young adult stories than they are in stories with an adult audience. I think one reason for this is because the characters themselves are often underage, so the writer doesn't have the option of turning them into sex objects. Also, many of those stories are actually written for a female audience. In the end, it's nice that so many children's and young adult novels teach girls that they are talented and capable, before they grow up and Hollywood tells them that they're worthless unless they're sexually attractive.

---Too often, when writers want to tell a story about a universal human condition, they use a male lead. When they want to tell a story about a female/feminine condition, they use a female lead. I wish more writers would use female leads to tell stories with universal meaning.

---Along those lines, movies with female leads are often automatically labeled "chick flicks." It suggests that regardless of theme, too many men have no interest in hearing about a woman's point of view. (For example, I don't know why so many people call Erin Brockovich a chick flick. How is it a "girly" story?)

---The women I know and like in real life are universally cooler than any fictional female I can think of (because so many female characters are written badly and are not based on any form of reality)

---There is a difference between a "cool woman" and a "cool female character." Interesting characters are not necessarily people you'd like or admire (or want to sleep with!) in real life.

---It's a lot easier to find cool female characters here on the ground level (self-published works). Somewhere between here and Hollywood/Marvel/DC/other major publishers, the cool girls get weeded out.

---Just for the record, there's ALSO a lot of really crappy male characters out there. But I'll let the guys talk about which male characters do them a disservice.

---In my opinion, it's better to have no female characters than to have only crappy female characters.

SUPER RARE and awesome things I'd like to see more of:

---Female leads who are not "girlfriend material." Books, movies, and comics have a wide variety of male characters, but it seems like all leading ladies are required to be cute, sexy, sweet, or otherwise the kind of girl that the average guy would want to sleep with

---Female leads who actually provide a unique talent or point of view to an ensemble, other than just providing the token female point of view

---Female characters who are realistically flawed. (And I'm talking about flaws other than "dumb blond," "sex worker," or other stereotypical crap.)

---Female anti-heroes

---Dynamic female characters who grow and go through a mental/emotional journey that has nothing to do with romantic love

---A female lead who doesn't have a crush, fall in love, have a significant other, or have a guy who's crushing on her

---A female character who is presented as a human rather than a woman

---Female characters who are as unique and varied as the women I know and talk to in real life

---Adventure stories with female leads - or basically any depiction of a woman having an actual adventure (that doesn't involve becoming a damsel in distress or needing a man to *give* her an adventure)

---Lesbians who are neither (a) villains out to destroy men, nor (b) essentially straight girls who kiss other girls just to turn guys on. (FYI, "lesbian" isn't a personality trait in and of itself. Too many writers think it is.)

(originally posted on my art blog)