We’ve Forgotten the Strong Female Character
I feel like this post needs to start with a very very long frustrated sigh, but you can’t really do that in text …
Oh, I know!
There, that’s better.
So, why am I sighing? Because today I read an article titled “The strong female character is dead. All hail the complicated woman.” It was a piece from the Washington Post, in response to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s acceptance speech at this year’s Golden Globes:
“What I see, actually, are women who are sometimes powerful and sometimes not, sometimes sexy, sometimes not, sometimes honorable, sometimes not. And what I think is new is the wealth of roles for actual women in television and in film.”
I have no problem with this notion. What I take issue with is the Washington Post’s article, which says in no uncertain terms, that we should ditch the moniker of the “strong female character” because it has become misrepresented, misinterpreted, and maligned. Alyssa Rosenberg, who wrote the article, doesn’t think we should stop writing strong female characters, just that we should stop using the term “strong” to define them. Rosenberg seems to think that the word “strong” implies paragon, a do no wrong perfect woman, or a woman who can kick ass and take names, regardless of whether or not her characterization is strong.
But here’s the thing: complicated women are exactly what is meant by the phrase “strong female character.” The “strength” implied by the term is in her complexity, her relatability, her compassion, her perseverance, her faults, her struggles, her triumphs, and her failures. It’s those moments in a character where they show you your best self, and your worst, and it’s any time you argued with your friends over which character from your favorite TV show you were, or said to yourself “I wish this person was my best friend.”
Women are no strangers to misrepresented phrasing. We’ve spent the better part of the last few years arguing against finding a new word for “feminist” because, to us, it is not the word that is the problem. The problem, as we see it, is in the misinterpretations of the few, that can hurt the cause of the many. But we don’t back down. We call ourselves feminists because that is what we are. We aren’t “equalists” or whatever other “feminist alternative” is in these days. We can’t abandon the word just because we, as Abigail Rine put it, “have a brand problem.”
If someone hijacks your brand, you hijack it right the hell back. Got a problem with people shoving a 2 dimensional paragon of virtue in your face and calling it a “great female character”? Don’t like that people think that a woman’s ability to kick ass and take names means they’ve created a strong female role model? Tell them. Better yet, demand they do better. Even better than that, write one yourself. As singer Annie Lennox put it in an interview with the Huffington Post, feminism “is a loaded word. But actually, I think the word is a great word, and there isn’t an alternative. And we must go back and actually reevaluate it and give it its full sense of value.” The same, to me, goes for the “strong female character.”
Rosenberg does make a number of great points, highlighting examples of strong women in this year’s film and television. Unfortunately, this has also been a terrible year for women in Hollywood. The most feminist character we had on the big screen this year was also a sociopath, and while women on television fare a bit better, we were still astonished by how well written a character like “Agent Carter” turned out to be.
So here is to the complicated woman, and all the strong female characters she embodies.