Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The (Female) Character Controversy: Stereotypes

So we're back and it's time once again for The Female Character Controversy! In this article I'm going to talk about the various stereo-type roles Female characters fall into and how writers can avoid or manipulate these stereo-types. I should start off by saying that not ALL stereo-types are bad. After all certain tropes exist for a reason, most tropes exist as an exaggerated reflection of reality and therefore are just re-affirming things we already know. Prime example, Men are physically stronger than women, that is a statement supported by fact, the trope however leads us to images like...

Damn Arnold...what happen to you?

Which is stating more BOLDLY the fact that men are physically stronger than women. So with that trope in mind, when you have a muscle bound man, 9/10 the Female character is going to be the damsel in distress, desparately needing the muscle bound man to save her again and again like Olive Oil in "Popeye".

This bitch stay in trouble...

Nothing wrong with The Damsel In Distress formula it's self, after all, it's based on the fact that women value security in a relationship more than anything and in all honesty, who wouldn't feel safe with a guy who could rip another guy's head off with their bare hands? However these tropes and stereotypes ONLY become a problem when The Female Character is made out to be a plot device and nothing more. Basically what I'm saying is instead of being a person they become an object that the hero must obtain. Objectification in a more or less subtle way...but I'm over analyzing it.

Let's jump into the stereo-types and break down each one and talk about how to fix it. But first of all I should note that this applies to ALL characters! I've always said that there are 2 kinds of characters, ACTIVE CHARACTERS & INACTIVE CHARACTERS! Active Characters are ALWAYS doing something to accomplish their task, no matter how small their task might be, if they're doing something to benefit the task, team or whatever then automatically they're a good character in my opinion. Inactive Characters, as I stated above are merely plot devices and sorta become objects instead of people...one of the reason why most people hate kids in movies is becomes they have no real way to be actively involved in what's going on and therefore are kinda useless. Anyways, back to the task at hand.

This is a standard trope and ultimately an unavoidable one, Girls will be Girlfriends, it happens in real life BUT that doesn't mean that the girlfriend character is automatically useless. How often have we seen this thing happen when the Male Hero is suddenly called up by Bad Guy and reveals that he has his girlfriend! All too often right? As I said before this isn't exactly a problem, but the problem comes from The Girlfriend becoming an object other than a person. So how do you maintain her humanity? First of all, let's figure out why she loses her humanity in the first place. Simple answer, what's her relation to the hero other than girlfriend? Ya know, the reason why I like Lois Lane as Clark's WIFE is becomes she ultimately keeps him grounded, not that Clark needs to be grounded, just saying Clark Kent has ALWAYS been raised as a humble man and wouldn't exactly date someone with superpowers like himself, because that wasn't how he was raised.

The Girlfriend can be essential in grounding the hero, providing him with introspection about not only himself but why he chooses to be what he is. After all what woman would date a guy who constantly throws himself in dangerous situations? Basically she'd have to have some kind of mindset to be able to deal with that kind of stress, and in possessing that kind of mindset can be making attempts to facilitate their own escape OR make things easier for when the hero finally arrives. Prime example, in the show "24" Teri and her daughter Kim are kidnapped  and held hostage, Teri Bauer maybe a housewife BUT her husband is a government agent Mr. Jack Bauer (F*ck Yeah!), and having a husband who constantly fights terrorists gives you a mindset to survive, and ultimately Teri Bauer makes numerous attempts to escape, they fail, but the fact isn't that she succeeds, it's that she TRIES! She's being ACTIVE!

Now that was strictly Damsel In Distress speaking, let's talk about the flip-side. Princess Leia! Princess Leia is a prime example of the reverse girlfriend trope. Princess Leia had just professed to Han Solo that she loves him and he gets frozen in carbonite, when Leia and the others manage to escape their captors, she makes one LAST mad dash to save the man she loves but alas...the Slave One has taken off. Does Princess Leia mourn and wait for someone else to get active? HELL NO! She gets active, goes into Jabba The Hutt's palace and saves Han Solo HERSELF and did I mention that she's a F*CKIN' PRINCESS?! Instead of being saved, she was the one doing the saving. She was a romantic interest that wasn't an object, she was a fully dimensional character and she was CONSTANTLY active! She fought on the ground, lead the troops, gave speeches, mouthed off to Darth Vader to his face and even made out with her brother...wait what?

What? You ain't down with incest?!

Long story short, there are 2 ways to address the girlfriend/wife trope BUT the important thing is that you have to establish either who she is BEFORE she became the girlfriend/wife or what it means TO BE the girlfriend/wife of that hero. Because trust me, saying she's his girlfriend is not enough. So how does Ugo handle this? In a current series I'm writing there's a character named Valierie, she is a high school student by day, a stripper by night, she lied about her age to get that job because she's saving up money to have her step-dad murdered...and her boyfriend doesn't know anything about that. Basically Valierie has her own life outside of her boyfriend and her boyfriend is just a part of that life he is NOT her life. In another story I've written, there's the character of Ami, now she's a background character but she is the main character's girlfriend, the main character in this series is a sociopath yakuza boss, his girlfriend has NO clue and she is a dedicated Christian, a good girl-next door type girl. Ami, ultimately represents EVERYTHING the main character is NOT, there's a stark contrast between good and evil represented in their relationship and the main character even realizes that he would like to be more like Ami, because she's NOTHING LIKE HIM.

Girlfriend characters doesn't always have to be handbags, they can be active, either in helping the hero or active in their own lives, but either way MAKE THEM IMPORTANT! Don't tell me she's important and leave it at that. That's how you end up with handbags.

All too often we end up with people who decide they want to create a "strong" female character and they end up writing them one of 3 ways:

#1: The Man Hater- This stereo-types involves a STRONG hatred of men to the point where she'll constantly put men down, vilify them and declare herself superior to them in every way possible, OR the writer will portray the men as being ultimately useless in order to increase the appeal of the female character. This woman is bitter, cold and often sees any woman involved with a man as useless. They're NOT lesbians, they just hate men. Their reasons for doing so vary, from latent father issues to mother issues to several other things, but ultimately at the core of it, a man is responsible and therefore ALL MEN MUST SUFFER!! Prime example: Superia...

This chick wanted to feminize ALL men and potentially sterilize all women to do it...yeah...

#2: The Machine- The Machine is an aemotional woman who simply functions like an all-out killing machine, she has no real emotions aside from frustration at not having enough clips or whatever. She has no real thoughts and is always portrayed as performing some standard Bad Ass cliche' like killing a bunch of people by herself, jumping off the roof of a building without thinking twice about it or carrying a really big gun. Prime example: Alice...

Still blaming you...

#3: The Business B*tch- She doesn't have time for a man, doesn't need a man, she has her job to focus on...oh yeah and deep down she REALLY wants a man...

And that's how Tyler Perry makes his money!

Now with those unfortunate stereo-types of what it means to be a "Strong" Woman, ladies are kinda up that creek with no name if they're looking for someone they can relate to.So how can we address these stereo-types? Ummm simple, TREAT WOMEN LIKE F*CKIN' PEOPLE! Yes it's true that some women do have traumatic experiences with men and that causes some initial mistrust but not to the extent of becoming Hitler. Yes, it's true that some women are tomboys but that doesn't mean they're aemotional killing machines! Yes, it's true that some women reject the idea of finding a husband, that doesn't mean they're in denial about it.

Ultimately these stereo-types enhances real life issues to the point of foolishness. ALL characters NEED to be well-rounded, unless they're a robot or something, then lack of emotion is expected. The Man Hater stereo-type shouldn't be written AT ALL, because it's PAINFULLY insulting to Men and Women. How is it insulting? Well it paints a picture that one group is superior than the other and therefore one group must conform to be like the other, and NO ONE in their right mind would suggest that Men should behave more like Women and Women should behave more like Men. And let's not get into a discussion about the behaviors of men and women, because we DO have different behaviors that are unique to our genders.

The Machine CAN be written but it needs to well balanced. The fact about 90% of action movies is that EVERY guy acknowledges they're completely ridiculous, and it is within the ridiculousness that we find enjoyment.

Serious business here!

I'm not saying that Women in Action Movies NEED to be different, I'm just saying that when people attempt to try to pass them off as strong female characters in film...you're making a BIG MISTAKE! Let's look at a GREAT strong female character example of THE MACHINE!


The Bride from "Kill Bill" is a COMPLETE BAD ASS! Now let's calculate the Bad Ass Meter and see how Beatrix Kiddo stacks up:
Killed A Room Full Of People By Herself? CHECK!
Can Kick Major Ass Without Much Effort? CHECK!
Skilled In Several Arts of Combat, including Weaponry? CHECK!
Yep, she is an absolute Machine, she can do ALL the things Alice can do, BUT WAIT, let's see if she meets the Character requirement.
Displays real emotions in situations? Yes, she cried when she realized she had lost her baby, when she was buried alive and expressed remorse for killing Bill, the man she previously loved. She even expressed fear for her child when the other assassin came to kill her. These emotions MAKE her a REAL and relate-able character and NOT a machine.

All too often when people wanna write "Bad Ass" female characters they turn them into Aemotional killing machines and while that maybe entertaining, there is NOTHING bad ass about lacking emotion. To prove my point SEVERAL MAJOR BAD ASS Characters have all expressed real emotions and were not seen as weak for doing so, examples:

Can survive Hell and Purgatory...still cries...

A Terrorist's worst nightmare...still cries...

So why are female "bad ass" character written differently? Because unfortunately a lot of people feed into the stereo-type that if women are shown crying they'll be seen as weak. Which couldn't be FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH! Examples:

One of the most bad ass women on television, escaped a parallel universe BY HERSELF and still cries...

Debra Morgan, probably cried more times than ANY character ever and still bad ass...

Female Characters crying ISN'T the problem, it's when their crying or emotions disable them from doing their job, and unfortunately a LOT of writers write women that way, where they suddenly become emotional and because of their emotions they fail at their jobs...bullsh*t. If you wanna make a Bad ass Female Character make her GOOD at what she does WITHOUT being aemotional or comparing herself to a man and deeming herself superior because she has a vagina...that's just stupid.

As far as The Business B*tch goes, this is easily remedied, A MAN ISN'T THE ANSWER TO ALL HER PROBLEMS in the same way a WOMAN ISN'T THE ANSWER TO ALL OF MEN'S PROBLEMS! As if a Man or a Woman can SOLVE EVERY problem. NO! For starters if your female character wants a boyfriend then just have her want one, why does she have to be in denial? Seriously there are SEVERAL movies about losers and geeks who are desperately seeking girlfriends and are VERY open about that fact, why do women have to be in denial about it? Because they don't want to be seen as weak for wanting someone? That's lame character reasoning and makes your character seem pretty self-important. The character I mentioned in a previous article, Sara, was not seeking a boyfriend and wasn't dating anyone. Not because she's a bitchy or undate-able or because she was in denial about wanting a boyfriend, she wasn't seeking a boyfriend because she didn't want nor need one at the moment. Simple as that. No convoluted reason, no denial, just wasn't on her agenda. Simple as that. Unfortunately some writers can't deal with the concept that "No means No" and therefore when Women say "No." to male suitors they really mean "Yes, but I'm afraid.". Ugh.

There are a few more stereotypes I need to cover but this article has gone on long enough. Let me know how I'm doing ladies!!

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