Monday, 30 September 2013

WHY KICK ASS FEMALE CHARACTERS DON'T REALLY KICK ASS AT ALL



Actress Natalie Portman poked a stick in a hornet's nest, albeit one that badly needed poking, when she took issue with Hollywood's idea of what makes a strong female character. "The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you're making a 'feminist'* story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That's not feminist, that's macho," she told Elle magazine (in an interview to promote her new Thor movie in which she plays... Oh, you know.) "A movie about a weak vulnerable woman can be feminist," she goes on, "if it shows a real person that we can empathise with."

This is one of my pet hates. Like the old virgin/whore chestnut, it seems that women in movies (and plenty of books too) are either murder victim or total badass; either a prettily arranged corpse or capable of taking out an entire gang in one spectacularly orchestrated martial arts move (nine times out of ten without mussing her mascara).

Because, for screenwriters, strong rarely seems to mean resilient or complex or multi-faceted or contradictory or, god forbid, real. They mean kick ass. Feisty. Probably capable of breaking some balls. But however "strong" they are, ultimately, those characters are still one-dimensional. (There are, of course, honourable exceptions - Merida from Brave, before she got a Disney makeover; Buffy, of course.)

Anyway, I was going to do a whole rant about how making female characters 'strong' was stereotyping them just as much as making them love interests (and have you noticed how many times the strong female character STILL ends up being the love interest...? I digress.) And then I remembered this absolutely brilliant blog Sophia McDougall wrote back in August. ("Nowadays the princesses all know kung fu, but they're still princesses.") Why I Hate Strong Female Characters is reproduced here by the New Statesman. You should read that instead because there's nothing I can say that McDougall hasn't already said better.

*I assume that feminist is being used here  as shorthand for a film where the female character isn't either a corpse, a soon-to-be corpse or the love interest.

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