Strong female characters (again) (#SFWApro)

In a June post on Deviant Dolls (hat tip to Magical Words), Steve Wetherell vents that he’s “bored of strong female characters.” As he sees it, “the Strong Female Character is a damned yawn fest and I’m sick of it” — just as much a stereotype as the Love Interest or the Mother. People talk about turning the cliche on its head by making the tough hero a woman, but that’s been done so often it’s now a cliche itself. There have been so many strong warrior women, they’re boring.

And a cliché that doesn’t make sense: if Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is so badass, why isn’t she the team leader? If Hermione is so much smarter and better at magic than Harry, why isn’t she the hero? More to the point, because these characters are so awesome, invincible and flawless, they’re boring, just like men would be.  What we need, Wetherell concludes, are more female protagonists like John McClane or Peter Quill, someone who sweats, gets beaten down, shows fear. Less awesome, more human. He ends wondering if Wonder Woman will prove the exception (cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, all rights to current holder).

First off, it’s certainly fair to argue Hermione could have been the hero. The Chosen One turning out to be the white male is an old complaint, and a valid one — as one critic put it, why is Neo better suited to be The One in The Matrix rather than Trinity or Morpheus? Hermione certainly qualifies to be the hero, but I’d disagree completely with Wetherell that she’s boring. As Sarah Gailey points out on Tor, Hermione has her own story. She’s not just competent, she’s an overachieving nerd obsessed with studying to the point of being comical — what school stories in my youth called “a swot.” While she fights alongside Harry she’s not just his support person/sidekick. And she’s hardly written as a flawless character: that she wants to liberate the house elves is presented as comical foolishness on her part (I don’t think it is, but that’s how it comes across).

And while I don’t doubt Wetherell would like more human male protagonists too, the fact is he’s written about female characters. This kind of argument always seems to be about female characters, and how they shouldn’t be too damn awesome.

I think having a variety of female characters is great. Tech nerds like Caitlin and Felicity on the CW shows. Cat Grant, Lena and Kara on Supergirl, none of whom I think are stereotypes. Bo on Lost Girl and Xena on Xena, both of whom have dark pasts that overshadow their present.The casts of Lumberjanes and Princeless. But I can’t see that Female Badass is such an overwhelmingly overused type it needs to be retired (and I doubt I will ever see as many calls for retiring Male Badass). And I don’t have a problem with Gamora being the straight man (so to speak) on the team.

If a Strong Female Character is boring, the problem’s the writing or acting, not that she’s strong. Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies is every bit as kick-ass, and not particularly vulnerable or flawed. Played by Michelle Yeoh, she’s awesome.

I agree it would be a shame if every female character were a tough, no-nonsense action hero. But I see no reason not to have them in the mix.

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Filed under Undead sexist cliches, Wonder Woman, Writing

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