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Citizen Bacillus said on April 2nd, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I think this sums it up nicely.

http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=311

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nickyank said on April 2nd, 2012 at 6:47 pm

First off I disagree strongly about Batman being the only male subjected to victimisation – Spider-Man’s bullying was harsh, Luke Cage was imprisoned for basically the colour of his skin, Cyclops must be the poster child of victimisation, surely? Wolverine himself went through a lot (thanks to numerous retcons!). There are a lot less sexual victims in the male roles (not sure if there are any) but a lot of them suffered a lot.

And River Song – she’s a supporting character in Doctor Who, so yes, her character will be defined by her relationship with the Doctor, as will every other character on the show.

WIth regards to strong female characters, I probably just have my nostalgia head on, which was much less wise back in the 80s, but I can recall a host of strong female characters from back then, especially from Marvel. I’ll always put Storm as being the top of the comic list, as well as most of Claremont’s X-Women. But Wasp and Captain (Monica Rambeau) Marvel were also well written under Roger Stern on the Avengers.

Unfortunately, since then they’ve all suffered very badly – Storm became defined by a marriage to the Black Panther, Captain Marvel just drifted until her comedy role in Nextwave, and the poor Wasp, she ended up being defined by an abusive relationship and killed several times.

Of course, it wasn’t all good times back then, let’s not mention what happened to the Black Canary and Ms Marvel, but I like to think the good far outweighed the bad.

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taichara said on April 2nd, 2012 at 7:44 pm

I’d also like to toss the character of Element Lad into the ring for a candidate as victim-as-origin — I’d say he certainly trumps Batman by a similar yardstick, at the least.

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Just a couple of nitpicks.

First, I don’t think you should have used Cherry Darling for your example for 1), since you could probably make the argument that she’s a parody of exactly what you’re describing. Especially since Rodriguez was making an entire film based around old tropes, so of course he’d hit on that one.

Second, I don’t think you should have used Beatrix Kiddo as an example for 4) Kiddo was an assassin before she had her husband and child taken from her. She was already a strong individual, and she’s never really any more powerful after the massacre than before (excepting the Hattori Hanzo sword, of course). Besides not being a good example for 4), she was almost a textbook 2), giving up her warrior lifestyle the instant she got pregnant. You should have stuck her there.

Of course, whether or not any individual character fits where doesn’t change the fact that the overall point of the argument is correct. Which is why I called this nitpicking.

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As an addition, I wonder if you could fill the entire list using only Cynthia Rothrock characters.

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And of course, one of the key issues when it comes to the issue of “fake” strong female characters is that there simply aren’t enough. As more and more female characters are created in a diverse number of ways, many avoiding the characteristics here, these examples will seem less and less glaring.

That’s one thing people who defend poor female characterization don’t often seem to believe … that sexism is a trend.

I’m torn on the example of Ripley. On one hand, it is a Mama Grizzly stereotype (totally not on topic, but this is very similar to my deep, deep dislike of the “once your unwanted child is born, you will totally instantly be overcome with love and become a loving mom, as is your nature!” trope).

On the other, there’s also the good anti-stereotype that mothers aren’t just gentle nurturers (although I’d say a better example of maternal courage is, say, maybe Catelyn Stark, for one). Again, this is one that were there more examples to draw from, Ripley as one would not bug me to this extent.

I really can’t wait until we don’t need strong female characters anymore, and we can have just characters. Until then, though, bravo, sir.

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@nickyank – except, of course, as John points out, River’s initial attraction as a character was partly her mysterious past, with the hook being her romantic involvement in the Doctor’s life. Since then, the mystery has been wiped away – there is no part of her motivation or history which can stand on its own without the Doctor.

Compare her to, say, Romana – though Romana was an assistant, she was just as capable as the Doctor, and had her own life prior to meeting him that didn’t rely entirely on his existence, and went on with her own life without him; the Doctor was a person in her life for a time, rather than her being a person in his.

When we first met River, we knew so little about her that an entire TV miniseries could have charted her adventures. Now, that miniseries would have to be set in-between a whole bunch of DW episodes, there’d be no origin story, no love interest, and every episode the viewers would constantly be expecting the Doctor to come and save her and asking why he isn’t doing so. Not much fun.

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Travesty said on April 2nd, 2012 at 8:37 pm

“First, I don’t think you should have used Cherry Darling for your example for 1), since you could probably make the argument that she’s a parody of exactly what you’re describing. Especially since Rodriguez was making an entire film based around old tropes, so of course he’d hit on that one.”

I’m not willing to give him refuge in parody on this one. I remember listening to him in reviews about the character: it was pretty clear to me that he just thought this would be awesome.

But then, I regard Grindhouse as celluloid masturbation with no redeeming value. Take this as meaning what you will.

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“And River Song – she’s a supporting character in Doctor Who, so yes, her character will be defined by her relationship with the Doctor, as will every other character on the show.”

Except for Jackie, Mickey, and Rory. Off the top of my head. (The relationship with Rose being more important for the first two, and Amy for the latter. You could even make a good case that Rose was the main character of the first series, with the Doctor there as support.)

River Song didn’t need to be connected to the Doctor on every single major event in her life. Doing so makes the universe smaller.

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I have problems with this because it feels like you eliminate everything that said here a strong female character as opposed to a “strong female character” then she’s not allowed to need anyone or to care about anyone, she’s never allowed to be weak.

as for the sexuality things, I think a middle ground on on sexless or hypersexualized is weird in the types of stories you’re referencing. If sex isn’t that big a deal to you and you’re in a life or death situation then why should it matter at all.

As for that Hark a Vagrant thing with women being with less than impressive male protaganists. That’s because the male characters are written to suck

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even X-23 has an element of pointless victimization grafted into her origin, as she apparently spent some time as a prostitute with an abusive pimp.

Wait, what the fuck?

X-23s origin was pretty victim-y, but she came from a part of the Marvel mythos (the Weapon X program) whose entire schtick is victimizing people. WOLVERINE was victimized by them as part of his origin. So watching li’l X-23 be brutally tortured into an assassin was sort of okay; her origin was inherently exploitative, I thought.

But then they took her and made her a hooker with an abusive pimp? They thought THAT was an appropriate storyline for Girl Wolverine?

Christ. I had thought about maybe catching up on her. I can see I shouldn’t waste my time.

I’d say a better example of maternal courage is, say, maybe Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark was certainly courageous, but she also embodies a lot of really awful stereotypes about women. She makes lots of bad decisions based mainly on emotion, sticks with them past the point of rationality, believes strongly that a womens worth is defined largely by their looks and their ability to bear sons, and the cherry on top is that said bad decisions get thousands of people killed. I’m not sure you wanna hold that up as a role model.

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Origin WASN’T inherently exploitative, I meant to type.

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Mecha Velma said on April 2nd, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Better idea – fuck the feminists. If this is the new face of feminism, fuck it. fuck it long, hard and raw.

If this brand of feminism wants dry, boring female leads, let them watch hallmark movies where everyone is stale, has their own life and is completely uninteresting and drags the already uninteresting plot to a grinding halt every time they show up.

I’ll keep my fast-paced action comics fast paced thank you, and if that means that the majority of characters, females included, have some individuality sacrificed and their lives somewhat centered on the main protagonist – so be it.

I’ll also probably stick with the physically appealing weaponized allegories that abound in this medium because I’m not ashamed to produce testosterone and I like looking at attractive women.

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switchnode said on April 2nd, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Overthinking It has a classic article on “Strong Female Characters” vs “Strong Characters, Female”. Relevant.

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Mecha Velma said on April 2nd, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Shall we also consider series that are wildly popular with women like Twilight and Titanic where the “strong male leads” are hopelessly centered around the female leads.

So just maybe all this “strong female character” stuff is a load of bullshit.

Or shall we compare River Song to Tuxedo Mask?

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“Shall we also consider series that are wildly popular with women like Twilight and Titanic where the “strong male leads” are hopelessly centered around the female leads.”

No. Just because something else is crap in the opposite way does not mean that the original problem does not exist. And we can certainly consider that other problem at a different time, but right now we’re talking about something else.

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Your Mama said on April 2nd, 2012 at 11:54 pm

This post is an odd mixture of feminism and ass-covering critique of [straw-man] “feminism”. If you are championing strong female characters and lampooning stereotypes, well done! You are a feminist! Can you please own up to it instead of succombing to idiotic ideas of what (dumb, unsexed, don’t-know-what’s-best-for-their-own-good) “feminists” supposedly think?

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@Murc: Which is sort of why I said “example of maternal courage” rather than “wise, rational overall paradigm of virtue.”

Catelyn Stark is not the best person in Westeros, and she has things about her I don’t like, but she has also virtues that I can say she’s an example of at least one quality (“role model”, not my words, seems strong).

This isn’t measurable evidence, but she does a decent job of reminding me of a real person (which isn’t necessarily the same as “ordinary”), which is my personal barometer for a good female character.

“She makes lots of bad decisions based mainly on emotion, sticks with them past the point of rationality,”

So do a lot of men (and other women) in ASOIAF (which, for me, helps temper Catelyn as a stereotype).

“believes strongly that a womens worth is defined largely by their looks and their ability to bear sons,”

Well, can’t disagree that I disagree with her view. I will say that in my own experience, I’m starting to realize more and more people I meet and know have views I consider antithetical to my own and yet whose acquaintance I still consider valuable. Or that they’re not necessarily bad people.

Yes, to be honest, it’s a view I think very, very little of. But for the setting, I can take it as a necessary character flaw. Your mileage will definitely vary.

“and the cherry on top is that said bad decisions get thousands of people killed”

But who does the killing? Who chooses to kill?

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If this brand of feminism wants dry, boring female leads

So you think that women who aren’t victimized and aren’t defined by the men in their lives are dry and boring? You have serious issues.

Catelyn Stark was certainly courageous, but she also embodies a lot of really awful stereotypes about women

I always thought she was a perfect example of the ‘Wicked Stepmother’ trope due to her treatment of Jon Snow.

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This whole topic gives me a headache, because apparently the opposite of “Strong Female Character” is “‘Strong Female Character'”. This leads me to assume that “‘”‘Strong Female Characters'”‘” are incredibly rich, nuanced fictional women, but they’re really cryptic or sarcastic about it.

Terminology aside, I don’t think this is a distinction that can be made with a litmus test. You can’t sort everyone out with “A true SFC should always do X, but never do Y.” Usually, the rules are too broad anyway. The Bride’s character revolves around a male character, but she’s trying to kill him, which I think is a big difference from a character who fawns over a male love interest. And what’s the metric for sexualization? If a Strong Female Character has to be somewhere between sexless and hypersexualized, what does that mean?

Characters are supposed to be created organically, without the sort of second-guessing or overanalyzing that leads to design-by-committee. That was the moral of Poochie. Cherry Darling wasn’t supposed to inspire a new generation of young women, she was supposed to shoot zombies with her gun-leg. Could she be more than a sideshow attraction in a zombie movie? Absolutely, but I past a point it’s not up to Robert Rodriguez to tweak and nudge her into having precisely the right interactions with men.

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Ree from Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell is my perfect example of a strong female protagonist. Any time that she’s in distress, it’s not as a damsel, it’s as a character in trouble. And at the same time she’s capable, caring, and proactive.

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I’m very much torn on the Ripley example. I mean, yeah, is definitely is an example of the trope/stereotype you’re talking about. But on the other hand, Ripley’s a compelling, complicated enough character for that moment to have earned the power we see in it. Even beyond the fact that, “Get away from her, you BITCH” is one of the greatest I’m-ready-to-fight lines in movie history.

You mention Vasquez, but we also see plenty of moments where Ripley also strives to be the equal of the men around her.
-Unasked, she seeks out extra responsibilities from the Marines, even though she’s only on the mission as an advisor, basically (the scene that establishes she can drive the power loader).
-She seeks out training on using the Marines’ weapons from Hicks, and pushes the issue past his reluctance about it.
-She defies military orders and successfully pilots a vehicle she clearly isn’t trained to drive in order to save the remaining Marines when their op goes bad.
-She recognizes external dangers in a planned military operation that the military didn’t see – the reactor core – that could have easily killed everyone.

The entire film she either demonstrates or learns new types of knowledge, whether martial, technological, or industrial. That’s strong, not “strong.”

In addition, as to the Newt issue: the director’s cut, which is basically the official version now, even on television, establishes that Ripley’s daughter has died while Ripley spent decades in hypersleep. So her transferring her loss onto an orphaned girl, one presumably around the same age her own daughter was when she left her, strikes me as psychologically accurate. Ripley’s fighting harder partly out of her guilt at missing her daughter’s entire life, and desperation to not endure the same kind of loss again. I honestly think it goes beyond general assumptions of maternal protectiveness. There’s a psychological reality to what Ripley’s feeling and doing in the movie that justifies the Get Away From Her scene.

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Pantsless Pete said on April 3rd, 2012 at 3:57 am

IT’s okay if I don’t like River Song for the same reason I don’t like Captain Jack? Because they came off as someones awesome fan fic character?

That said, th ‘strong female character’ bit is why I have an issue with a lot of nerd ‘feminism’ or ‘Whedonism’ or whatever it. Because a lot of it (femshep femshep femshep) comes across as fetishisation of particular female archetypes dressed up as feminism.

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[Catelyn Stark] makes lots of bad decisions based mainly on emotion, sticks with them past the point of rationality, believes strongly that a womens worth is defined largely by their looks and their ability to bear sons, and the cherry on top is that said bad decisions get thousands of people killed.

I think that Stark, as a character, should be judged by the standards of the society she occupies. She is a High Lady of the realm, a player of the game of thrones. For her, the dynastic policy is everything. And in dynastic policy, a daughter who cannot fulfil her role as a bride and mother is worthless. (There is no office of “high septa” as an alternative political career path for bad-looking daughters.) That is simply how the things roll: a woman can become a key player in the realm, but as a prerequisite, she first needs to marry a high lord and bear a couple of sons.

On the other hand, Stark is a bad player of the Game: first, she is accustomed to the peaceful, slow political gamesmanship of the era of king Robert. Second, she is too emotional. After raising her son as a king of the north, she should have decided on a defensive strategy. North could not have been conquered by Southern kingdoms, if properly defended, but she was too weak to attack the Lannisters. Starks should have bidden their time, waiting beyond the Neck until the Baratheons and Lannisters had meted it out.

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I’m not sure if any of you guys actually read the Song of Ice and Fire books, when you’re mentioning things that Catelyn did.

She tried to get Robb to sue for peace, it didn’t work and he died. She tried to tell him not to send Theon to Balon, and he ended up sacking Winterfell and (as far as they knew) killing his brothers and her children. It’s clear that Tywin kept fighting in battles despite Jaime being in captivity so it was obvious that Jaime was of no value to them, and knowing that they had no Stark hostages was immensely in their favour. If she could have secured an alliance with Renly and Stannis (Who were too busy dick-measuring to get anywhere), they would have won handily.

All of the decisions she makes on where to go and what to do are rational, and end up being correct. She’s also correct about a woman’s worth, in Westeros, largely defined by her looks. That was the -entire point- of that Cersei chapter in Dance with Dragons. Did you read that chapter? And of course she’s interested in how women can bear children. Losing people to childbirth happens frequently, and as we’ve seen with Tywin and Tyrion, can cause lots of trouble within the family that loses someone.

I’m clearly missing some of her many, many bad decisions, please enlighten me as to her numerous mistakes.

Also: Abuse of Jon Snow? Snapping at him -once- while her son was lying in a coma? That’s really what you’re going to go on?

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Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation as the perfect “strong female character” perhaps?

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To ease the terminology woes, how about we differentiate between “Strong Female Characters” and “Realistic Female Characters?”

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It’s clear that Tywin kept fighting in battles despite Jaime being in captivity so it was obvious that Jaime was of no value to them

That’s not how it works in Westeros. Someone having a valuable hostage doesn’t mean you just roll over for them. A lot of northern minor Houses (Manderly chief among them) had valuable hostages taken by the Lannisters. They didn’t show throat, and it didn’t mean they weren’t valued.

She’s also correct about a woman’s worth, in Westeros, largely defined by her looks

Yes, it is, and Catelyn has internalized that and is OKAY with it. Brienne hates the societal constraints she operates under and fights them tooth and nail; Catelyn embraces them and thinks they’re justified. Catelyn doesn’t think that women being valued only for their looks, their dowry, and their ability to sire sons is an unfortunate fact of life that has to be gotten around; she is in fact okay with it.

Those aren’t attractive viewpoints to have. Yes, they’re setting-accurate. The setting treats women shittily! Yes, that’s accurate for a medieval society, but I thought we were talking about women and their characterization in this thread, and its not like Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t have female characters who have much more attractive traits than Catelyn from that standpoint, including her youngest daughter.

I’m clearly missing some of her many, many bad decisions, please enlighten me as to her numerous mistakes.

Well, lets see. Kidnapping Tyrion was illegal, unjustified, and started a war. And she did it on the spur of the moment in a pique of rage and grief, and stuck with it, and most of her regret was centered not on the fact that she fucked up (which she barely considers) but that her sister let him escape.

Letting Jaime Lannister go was also idiotic. Let’s suppose it has eventual good consequences (so far the only one of those it has had is that, maybe, Brienne will manage to redeem him fully somehow.) He’s an immensely high-value hostage. He’s the sort of guy who, once you’re beaten in the field and have to sue for peace, you can trade for deeply favorable terms.

And the decision to loose Jaime was made out of an emotional need to get Sansa and Arya back, and she somehow, delusionally, thought the Lannisters would HONOR the deal that Tyrion put on the table ages ago under vastly different circumstances.

Then there’s her irrational hatred of Jon Snow. I don’t think she was abusive to him, the way I’ve seen other people (not here so much, but other places) describe her like she’s the stepmother in Snow White. But she regarded him as a terrifying threat who needs to be driven away and a boot kept on his neck, simply because of the circumstances of his birth. When Ned is going away to be Hand, she demands that Jon be driven forth from his home and his siblings; she won’t have him in Winterfell if she’s in charge, period. She literally begrudges him his room and board!

Then there’s her saying he’s unqualified to be heir. From Robb’s perspective, Rickon and Bran are dead. Arya is probably dead. Sansa has been wed to a Lannister, so she needs to be disinherited. He has no sons and no prospect of sons, and even if he had, shit happens. Ned Stark had THREE spare heirs a year ago and now there’s only Robb. Jon is the only living son of Ned Stark, a man Robb has known since birth and who is familiar with the north, has the regard if not the respect of the northern lords, and was raised in Winterfell.

Catelyn thinks this is a SHITTY IDEA for, as near as I can tell, no good goddamn reason at all. She actually tries to get Robb to make people from the VALE who are between four and five generations removed from having ‘Stark’ in their names as his heirs. This actively endangers the north, and she does it for no other reason than that she hates bastards and is still pissed off that Ned fucked around on her.

All of those are bad decisions, they’re all made irrationally and fueled by emotion. Those aren’t traits that make me inclined to view a woman as either strong, or competent. She’s certainly REALISTIC to the setting, but again, I’m not sure that’s germane.

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When I think of strong female characters (or just strong characters period), I think the Major from Ghost In The Shell (specifically Stand Alone Complex, as she gets barely any characterization in the Oshii movies). Intelligent, capable (the best in her field, really), philosophical, has an active sex life that isn’t played for titillation and is handled tastefully (and is bisexual, to boot), has a relationship with her (male) best friend who has maybe-maybe not unrequited feelings for her that’s a book where so many fictional relationships are a sentence, whose vulnerability upon going up against a man from he past actually reveals new things and sides to her we’ve never seen and doesn’t detract from her character at all, etc etc.

God, GITS:SAC is so fucking good. If you haven’t seen it, you should; even if you don’t like anime, if you appreciate good science fiction and great television, you owe it to yourself to watch. Plus it lacks many of the quirks.problems/what-have you that are usually evident or associated with anime in general.

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Madame Hardy said on April 3rd, 2012 at 10:53 am

Everything Murc said. On the one hand, every single Stark is TDTL (time and Martin seem to be solving this problem), and on the other Catelyn is TDTL in ways that are shown to be caused by her gender, causing her to make emotional decisions. We get two Horrible Examples of women as rulers, Cersei and Lysa Arryn, and in both cases they are brought down by their sexuality and their motherhood. (Cf. Walden Frey, who is obsessed with sexuality and fatherhood and uses it as a source of political strength.)

I’d like to back up MightyGodKing’s numbered points above. One can’t refute them by saying “Well, character X has quality 2, but she’s strong anyway.” You can refute them by saying “Here are characters Z, Q, and Theta who have none of qualities 1-5, and yet they have featured roles in SF/comics media.”

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@Your Mama: Could you please point to some examples? Because that certainly wasn’t my intent, and if there are things I said that read like a critique of “feminists”, I’d like to discuss it more so I can explain my intent more clearly. Certainly, I think there are things that self-professed feminists say that I find sexist (slut shaming, for example, is alive and well in the statements of a lot of supposed feminists) but if anyone came away from that thinking that I dislike feminism, then I would beg the chance to discuss the issue further so I can make my points more clearly. :)

@Joel: The Ripley example is one of the primary reasons that I put in the disclaimer at the end about not throwing away any character who appears on this list. Ripley is a feminist character, despite the fact that Cameron felt more comfortable describing her feminism in terms of a maternal attachment to Newt. Nonetheless, I would tell future writers to avoid “Mama Grizzly” stereotypes, because they’re problematic even when written well.

@Mike Smith: See point above. This isn’t a litmus test, it’s a list of things to think about. One of the biggest challenges to a male writer writing a female character isn’t misogyny, it’s an unthinking acceptance of sexist tropes simply because we’ve been exposed to them so long that they feel “natural”. Challenging those stereotypes is a good way to write better.

As for “If a Strong Female Character has to be somewhere between sexless and hypersexualized, what does that mean?”…look at Amy Pond. She has a high sex drive, she is (arguably, mildly, within the boundaries of acceptable family television) kinky, and she has had a career that could be described (again, within the bounds of acceptable family television) as a sex worker. Yet at no point is this made out to be something she should be ashamed of or apologize for, she is an active character who makes her own decisions (for the most part…if you’re going to bring up “The Girl Who Waited” or “The God Complex”, first go back and read my complaints about those episodes) and her sexuality is not exploited. She is a character who likes sex, but not a sex object. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

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Also: Abuse of Jon Snow? Snapping at him -once- while her son was lying in a coma? That’s really what you’re going to go on?

Did you actually read those books? Snow was explicit that she treated him like dirt his entire life. This was not a one-time thing, and even if it were, saying “I wish you were dead” is a pretty harsh thing for your mother-figure to say to you when you’re sixteen (or really at any age).

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Numbers 1 and 5, and to a lesser extent 4, articulate some of the major problems I have with the Hunger Games series. For 1), Catniss is often depicted as a figurehead for other people. And yes, it’s a plot point and she resents it, but everything she does to act against it violates a different number here. 4) happens through a constant stream of martyrdom and self-sacrifice. And 5)–she spend the entire trilogy trapped in a love triangle where she is apparently incapable of making a choice between two boys, and the ultimate resolution of triangle just reinforces 4.

This was probably absolutely incoherent to those who haven’t read the book (and maybe them as well), but I feel better for getting it off my chest.

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Mecha Velma said on April 3rd, 2012 at 12:04 pm

So you think that women who aren’t victimized and aren’t defined by the men in their lives are dry and boring? You have serious issues.

No, I think female characters who are exempt from being victimized merely because they’re female and aren’t defined by the protagonists in the stories they’re in are dry, boring and useless.

Get it straight, crank.

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Christian said on April 3rd, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Interesting thing with Ripley is that I don’t think the “Mama Bear” moment is quite as stereotyped as it is referenced here. While there is certainly an element of protecting Newt, there is also an element of Ripley having lost *everything* to these monsters once, has now watched it happen again, and that she will be good god damned before she watches them kill someone else.

I’d think at least 30% of that scene isn’t about protecting Newt, it’s about Ripley having had enough, and being ready to rip that bitch apart with her own ‘hands’, so to speak.

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From some of these comments, I’m not sure everyone’s clear on what John was trying to do with the quotes around “strong female character.” Correct me if I’m wrong, John, but when you put quotes around it, you were separating what feminists called a strong female character from what bogus marketing called a “strong female character.”

It’s sort of like the origins of the term “politically correct.” “Politically correct” was actually coined to refer to politicians paying lip service to diversity and cultural sensitivity, without actually believing those are good things. MGK talked about this a while back, I think. This was apparently lost on the people it applied to, because they started using it themselves and now any attempt to be actually correct regarding race or gender policy is now labeled merely politically correct.

“Strong female character” has gone through sort of a reverse process. We asked for strong female characters because that’s what we wanted: Female characters with agency. What’s been given to us instead is an empty label that’s more useful for doing what “politically correct” was intended to: Mark a disingenuous attempt to pacify a legitimate complaint, made by someone who does not understand what that complaint actually is.

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Christian said on April 3rd, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Better idea – fuck the feminists. If this is the new face of feminism, fuck it. fuck it long, hard and raw.

Hrm.

So, you’re against having interesting, active, non-male centered, strong female characters? You say you’re a comic fan, and that’s awesome… but why do you want more characters that are shallow / one-dimensional / uninteresting?

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@Mecha Velma

Your statement seems to make little sense, given the numerous counterexamples cited, and of course there’s the larger problem of how women are not allowed to be the protagonists of their own stories.

General:

A lot of these points are valid and there are a lot of faux-strong female characters out there. One common point seems to be that some creators saw the idea of a strong-ish woman and thought “hey, I’d like to bone that, that woman with a gun and a doctoral degree is even sexier than a helpless damsel” and then proceed to write in some scenes where said character gets to kick some minor ass only to lose their agency immediately when the male lead needs to look tougher. In that sense, the SFC is just an updated damsel with the trappings of more modern female attractiveness.

The most immediate example of this to me is Avatar, where after everyone not boning Jake Sully has died to add gravitas to his story, he manages to save his blue lover from the knife-mech to redeem his honor as the complete alpha male and put a check in the ‘rescued her’ box.

Ripley, as one poster explained above, has pretty good reason for going mama-grizzly on the Queen, and she does so in a very, very unfeminine weapon in the form of the loading machine. Paired with Vasquez, Aliens actually has two very interesting female characters with different lives and manages to be non-stop audience terrorism in the realm of ‘fast-paced action’.

Yes, it is stereotypical for a woman to be defined by a motherhood-type relationship (as is the Bride) but as that is a real human relationship, it depends the execution. The real complaint is of the ‘trend’ rather than ‘all examples are problematic’.

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Also: the Resident Evil movies are an odd combination of ‘completely terrible movies’ and yet with surprisingly strong female characters who are not victimized any more than their male counterparts in a post-apocalyptic setting, and not hypersexualized. And they seem to make quite a lot of money, given how many there are.

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“This isn’t a litmus test

Isn’t it? “I thought I might present some of what I think are tangible, clearly-defined differences [emphasis mine] between actual strong female characters, and those just called ‘strong female characters’. Here are some of the characteristics of the ‘strong female’, as opposed to the actual strong female: [List of 5 clearly defined differences]”

Granted, you kind of backed off of that towards the end of your post, but if you were having second thoughts you should have gone back and edited your opening paragraph.

I’m trying to disagree with you, but I’m not sure you’ve settled on your premise yet. You’re talking about challenging stereotypes, but then you put forth a list of five characteristics, declaring that characters tend to embody them, or their opposites. That just sounds like more stereotyping to me.

I don’t think you’re completely off-base here. Stan Lee always said that he deliberately looked at tropes and flaws in other superhero characters when he created his own. But it was an intuitive process. He was just trying to make a comic that he himself would want to read, assuming that his readers would share his tastes. He didn’t go down an objective checklist of Things to Avoid.

This is why there’s such a broad spectrum of characters in the first place. The people who created them operated on their own judgment, rather than bowing to public opinion or fan pressure. Sometimes the public is right, but it’s the creator’s responsibility to put the pencil down and call it good, even if it doesn’t quite live up to everyone’s expectations.

“As for ‘If a Strong Female Character has to be somewhere between sexless and hypersexualized, what does that mean?’…look at Amy Pond.”

First of all, Dr. Who sucks. Second of all, it was a rhetorical question. My point is There’s no unit of sexualization by which to guage whether a character is absolutely sexless, or too sexualized to be taken seriously. For example, there’s probably someone out there who thinks Amy Pond is a total prude who dresses too conservatively. On the flip side there’s likely someone else out there who thinks she’s nothing more than arm candy, a sidekick created to satisfy a tradition rather than an innovative role. I certainly wouldn’t use her as a model for creating a female character, because I hate Dr. Who, no matter how comfortable she is with sex. So there’s no absolute definition there.

(for the most part…if you’re going to bring up “The Girl Who Waited” or “The God Complex”, first go back and read my complaints about those episodes)

HAHAHAHA-no.

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Alison Bechdel solved this problem long ago; follow her advice & you’ll almost never go wrong: “Don’t watch / read a story unless there’s a scene in it where two women talk about something other than a man.”

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@buzz – the Bechdel test only works because no one (or at least no one of whom I’m aware) tries to pass it for the sake of political correctness. It’d be very, very easy to add “Bechdel test pass” to “strong female character” as something that needs quotes.

@Mike Smith – This isn’t a litmus test for “is this a truly strong female character?” – this is a litmus test for “is this likely to be a strong female character?”. In other words, you could theoretically have a truly strong female character who fails the test on every point, but that would be the exception. If the character passes on every point, you probably don’t need to think about it any more.

And I think John has a great example with Amy Pond. Whether or not her character sucks, whether or not Doctor Who sucks, she is a character who is definitely not sexless nor as sexual as, say, Catwoman. The question isn’t “how sexy is sexy enough?” but “is there anything between the extremes?” There can be. Amy Pond would be an example. And if you can’t think of any better examples from what you consider to be better stories, that speaks poorly about the representation of women in general.

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Easiest way to pass the Bechdel test — two bikini models named Pussy and Wankbait who talk about how heroic the female lead is. And how hard math is. And how tough it is to fit SO MUCH breast into SUCH a tiny swimsuit.

Hooray! Feminism: Solved!

http://www.raphkoster.com/2005/11/15/blue-world/

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It is to a strong degree how it tends to work in Westeros – the Starks were concerned with pressing their assault too much because they knew of the danger that Sansa was in, while Tywin didn’t care enough about Jaime to send any terms himself. Without sending terms, it’s not like the Starks WOULDN’T kill Jaime if they started to lose, just like how Cersei said that she’d kill Sansa if King’s Landing was going to fall. Jaime wasn’t enough to make the Lannisters give up and go home, but he was enough to get back the hostages.

Okay, I’m looking through it, and I can’t really find where Catelyn thinks that women being valued for their looks, ability to give birth, and dowry is justified at all. In fact, it’s quite obvious she struggles with her place in society because nobody will give her the time of day or listen to her (largely correct) advice and strategies in terms of the war, which would have saved Robb’s life.

She arrested Tyrion, it was justified (She was working with the evidence available to her, and if you start to complain about her trusting Littlefinger, welcome to the club, he’s been on the small council for ages, and Tywin and Mace Tyrell both trusted him). Instead of wreaking vigilante justice, she took him to trial, at which she expressed doubt about the fairness of the trial, and then when he was cleared by combat, didn’t object to him leaving.

Cat didn’t start the war, Robb started it when he called his banners. Or Cersei started it when she arrested Ned. Or Ned started it when he confronted Cersei. Maybe Jaime started it for attacking Ned in the street. No, wait, Bran started it by climbing the tower and then getting pushed off! Stupid boy! You killed all those people! But wait, Littlefinger started it when he convinced Lysa Tully to kill Jon Arryn, making Robert go North to Winterfell, which is where Bran climbed the tower. Nonono, that’s not right, clearly it was Hoster Tully’s fault for marrying Lysa off to him in the first place! But no, no, you’re right, it totally makes sense to simplify the entire complicated history of Westeros into Cat’s Fault For Arresting Tyrion.

Jon wanted to go to the Wall well before he knew about Ned leaving Winterfell. Learn to read. And of course she doesn’t like him! Why should she? She’s not related to him, and what’s more he looks like a Stark should look, and in a society where looks are important (For men, too, remember with Rhaegar and Tywin being popular because they were handsome or looked kingly?), having someone that’s of age and looks like a stark can undermine her own kids.

You also seem to dislike that she makes certain decisions based on emotion – I’m sure you feel the same way about Tywin and Jaime and Tyrion, who both harshly overract to things almost as soon as they happen, right? I mean, it’s not like you’ll scorn a woman for being emotional and stupid but the men who act that way is fine, right?

@Madame Hardy: Are you serious? You’re saying that they’re bad rulers because of their gender?

@Skemono: One of the main boons of Martin’s choice to use point of view chapters in the way he does is that people’s opinions are coloured by their circumstances. For example, Jon bears lots of resentment towards Cat because she’s the symbol of his bastardy, and what he can’t have because of his birth (Let’s ignore the fact that he’s raised in a great house and given almost equal treatment to his trueborn sons instead of being left out to die in the cold or fostered somewhere else, because CLEARLY those are non-issues). Also, Danaerys thinks that Ned Stark is a monster, Theon thought that he was waiting to kill him, Cersei thinks that Joffrey was a great king, and Davos thinks that Melisandre is practically Hitler.

But here’s the thing! None of those are really exactly true, because that’s how those particular characters perceive someone themselves.

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Sean D. Martin said on April 3rd, 2012 at 3:24 pm

By the way, it’s worth pointing out that the number of male heroes with the same element of victimization is exactly one: Batman. And he was a ten-year-old when it happened.

Frank Castle.

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Sean D. Martin said on April 3rd, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Lindsey:

One common point seems to be that some creators saw the idea of a strong-ish woman and thought “hey, I’d like to bone that, that woman with a gun and a doctoral degree is even sexier than a helpless damsel” and then proceed to write in some scenes where said character gets to kick some minor ass only to lose their agency immediately when the male lead needs to look tougher.

That brought to mind Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) in the original Matrix. Kicks ass in the opening sequence and then relegated to largely a supporting role in the rest of the movie.

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Jack Balfour said on April 3rd, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I’m surprised not to see Lady Shiva mentioned here. Followed by Zealot (of the WildCATs) and Forerunner, she exemplifies a particularly puerile Strong Female Character: the sexless, perpetually grim and disgruntled Honourable Warrior constantly threatening to kill people to satisfy her Warrior Honor.

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Christian said on April 3rd, 2012 at 4:09 pm

That brought to mind Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) in the original Matrix. Kicks ass in the opening sequence and then relegated to largely a supporting role in the rest of the movie.

But she saves Neo with her looooooooovvvvvvveeeeee.

(Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a bit).

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Christian said on April 3rd, 2012 at 4:24 pm

VBut no, no, you’re right, it totally makes sense to simplify the entire complicated history of Westeros into Cat’s Fault For Arresting Tyrion.

(On a side note there was a tiny piece if information in your comment that could be deemed spoilery depending on where people are in the books / tv series).

But onto other things:

There are many events that lead to the complete bumfuckery that was the War of the Five Kings, and there are buckets of blame to go around. But the kidnapping of Tyrion is a key event, and Cat does it when she knows that tensions between the Lannisters and Starks are high, and that all is not well in King’s Landing. She determines the best course of action at that point is to throw fire on gasoline.

Also… while trusting Littlefinger is fine, to a point, even if he’s 100% correct (which he was), all she knows is that Tyrion at some point owned the knife… just like Littlefinger did. She goes from ‘Tyrion once owned this knife’ to ‘Tyrion tried to kill my son!’. It’s a horrible decision, and it has nothing to do with emotion, or her gender… it has to do with her being married into the Stark family… because they’re all a bit stupid.

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there can only be so many heroes and villains in a particular story.

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@Skemono: http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/1042/

Hope that helps.

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One of the main boons of Martin’s choice to use point of view chapters in the way he does is that people’s opinions are coloured by their circumstances.

Yes, and? It’s true that for many of the characters you mention, their opinions and beliefs are contrary to the reality. But that’s not the case of Cateyln’s treatment and opinion of Jon. Her chapters make it just as clear as Jon’s that she holds him in disdain.

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I agree with the sentiments behind this post, but I strongly disagree with your assessment of Ripley.

You state that it’s more “acceptable” or “believable” for a woman to enact violence in defence of her family due to maternal instincts… yet isn’t this exactly the same for male characters? “It is automatically assumed, in fiction and in life, that a woman standing up for her family (her children, her husband) is going to use violence far more effectively and with less hesitation than a man would in the same situation” – I don’t buy that for a second. What man wouldn’t use violence far more effectively and with less hesitation when standing up for his family?

Take Commando. John Matrix has given up a life of violence to live off in the woods, and cannot be persuaded… until he learns that he took his daughter. How is that any different from what Ripley did, aside from the difference in genetic relationship between her and Newt? I can think of tons of other films where a male character who’s lose his child finds a surrogate son, and goes to hell and back to save him just like Ripley did.

I also profoundly disagree with the victimisation element in every way apart from sexual victimisation: isn’t the story of a weak, scrawny, ineffectual underdog who is determined to make something of himself despite dealing with adversity and a tragic upbringing extremely common? Hell, half of all superhero origin stories are about a little boy suffering a terrible loss or extreme hardship, and the Triumph of the Underdog story is one of the most frequent in all of Hollywood.

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I agree that victimization is pretty standard in hero origins (sexual victimization is a subset that is probably too prevalent among female characters, mind you)>

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Eidolonkami said on April 3rd, 2012 at 6:21 pm

What bothers me about summaries such as this is: it makes no mention of what a no-quote strong female character should be. I am a woman, I write about women instinctively. Frequently men don’t show up at all in my writing. To me, what makes a strong character is when you could replace every gender-specific article with its opposite and still have a story that makes sense. (Sex scenes occasionally excluded, if need be 😉 ) Overthinking “strong female characters” implicitly forgets that women are people and men are people, we all know many of both. Write characters like people you know; flawed, weak, but with hidden strengths and courage in unexpected situations. Sometimes a character is instinctively passive or submissive. This should not be the default, but if it exists it needs to be a designed part of the character. And it should be just as soon a man as a woman. I don’t know if this holds true across the board, but certainly the men I know are a lot less likely to be passive or submissive toward a woman than they may be to each other. “Girliness” is a quality specifically because it does exist. Women and men react differently to different situations, biologically. The key is, when a male character freaks out, he doesn’t need a woman to calm him down and get him back on track. The same thing should hold true about a female character. A woman should be able to freak out in a believable feminine way without inspiring rage and angst, but she needs to be the one to pull herself together.

Uh, this rant is a bit directionless. I guess all I’m saying is it’s really easy for even a woman writer to think the word “they” when thinking about women characters. We need to remember to use the word “we,” that should make it easier for us.

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Eidolonkami said on April 3rd, 2012 at 6:39 pm

@Pantsless Pete WHY YOUR COMMENT NO HAS LIKE BUTTON

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I’ll argue that Catelyn’s hatred for Jon was completely justified. His looks and Ned’s treatment of him make him, rightly or wrongly, a walking, breathing proof of her husband’s cheating on her, whom she is forced to interact with on a daily basis because her husband treats him with a level of privilege and regard second only to his trueborn children.

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Buffy is a strong female character. She does not just kick ass in combat but has the right instincts in many other situations where others are wrong. She has sex but is not extremely promiscuous. Her life does not revolve around any particular man, and she has strong female friendships, mainly with Willow but also with Tara. Buffy has been through a few things but is not shaped by being a victim.

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The Unstoppable Gravy Express said on April 4th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Male heroes with victimization origins… we’ve already got Batman & Punisher…

I’ve lost track of all the retconning done to Wolverine, but when I was reading X-Men his origin boiled down to “some evil people stuck metal on my bones against my will, and being vicimtized in this way has left me bitter and mean and vowing never to be a victim again! Er, bub!”

Also, Magneto (during times when he is a good guy) fits the bill pretty well…

And we all remember that issue where the Watcher was genitally mutilated at the age of seven, right? “Nobody was watching then, so now I watch over all!” You all remember that one, right? I keep bringing it up but nobody ever seems to know what I’m talking about…

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@The Unstoppable Gravy Express Uatu HAD GENITALIA ?!

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@Eidolonkami I wholeheartedly agree mademoiselle , you’re absolutely correct ! This hunt for the true Strong female can go way out of rail ! Women are nothing but males without a functioning SRY & Men are a mutation of women …. Now I’m scared…
Here , kisses from tunisia & you got yourself a present ! http://devilkais.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d4syabh

( How come no post ever talked about him ? That’sth Desthpicable !)

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Yvonmukluk said on April 5th, 2012 at 6:11 am

@Murc: Re:x-23: To be fair, they pretty much ignore the prostitution backstory. It wasn’t even established in her origin series written by the guy who created her, but in a miniseries by Joe Quesada, which unfortunately got published first. You can catch up on her and just skip over NYX (the Quesada-written series) without losing anything particularly important. Honestly, that aside she’s a very interesting character.

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Marionette said on April 5th, 2012 at 9:07 am

Going all the way back to the 1960’s, Emma Peel was sexy without being hypersexualised, physically stronger than her partner, with whom she never had a sexual relationship, was never victimised, and in no way the lesser half of the duo.

But though she sometimes passes the Bechdel test, it’s not a given, as most of the non-starring roles are more likely to be male than female.

Either way, it’s depressing to have to look at a fifty year old TV show to find one of the better examples of equality.

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The Unstoppable Gravy Express said on April 5th, 2012 at 9:07 am

@Saidi: well, not after age seven. :-(

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Pantsless Pete said on April 5th, 2012 at 8:40 pm

@Marionette

Emma Peel had constant shots referencing her physical attributes (Complete with puns), lost to John Steed each time they fought (It was John who actually did morst of the asskicking) and may have been boinking him, depending who you ask.

I’m fond of her but…yeah. She’s one of those character who peoples memories of may not actually match the show itself.

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[…] a refusal to think. In fact, the arguments are so tired that they can be completely destroyed with this article from John Seavey, and this comic from Kate […]

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[…] crop of strong female characters. You can find more debate about strong female characters at Mighty God King, Overthinking It and i09. I can’t help thinking that as with female sexual roles in fiction, […]

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vortex said on May 7th, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Hmm, you know, I’d say Cologne (Ranma 1/2) but all her machinations are to make her great-granddaughter happy, and that always involves Ranma Saotome…

Jackie Brown is another one, but I can’t remember her having much in the way of conversations with other women in the movie…

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