I’m a nerd girl. Meaning, I read a lot. And I play video games (a lot). And I watch a lot of movies. And I’ve noticed female characters just not getting as well developed as male characters. A lot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot better than it was once. Just watching some of the original Star Trek makes me cringe a bit. But it’s still nowhere near perfect.
People (authors, movie producers, video game developers, etc.) seem to think that female characters only have two types: 1) blubbering, hysterical damsels in distress, and 2) hard-ass, badass, ass-kicking, beer-guzzling, casual-sex-having murder machines that never ever cry or even show emotion other than anger and may as well be stereotypical ’80s male action movie heroes in the bodies of sexed-up young women. Why not just put Stallone or Schwarzenegger in a sports bra? You’d get the same effect.
How about… no to both.
What’s wrong with a damsel in distress who uses ingenuity or something to outsmart her captors? Other than a perfect singing voice, PLEASE! We can’t all be Disney Princesses. Or maybe she’s really stubborn? Or something that indicates she is actually a human being and not just a doll that the guys seem obsessed with hoarding for some reason? I’d like to read a story about a kidnapped princess who annoys her captors into letting her go, or cusses them out of their own evil hideout.
The badass chick? Nothing wrong with that. To be honest, I prefer badass girls to the damsels in distress. They’re more fun to play with. No one likes being passive. But they have to be human, too. Everyone has emotions (yes, even men, much as they may like to deny it), and not having any doesn’t make you badass. It just makes you a bad character. Or a psychopath. But what’s wrong with a girl who doesn’t immediately beat up guys she meets just to prove she can? Or if that’s just her style, give her a reason for it. Maybe she just likes drinking and fighting. Maybe she thinks she’s got something to prove? There are a bunch of options.
I remember watching that newest Riddick movie. I don’t remember a lot of it, mostly because it’s pretty much exactly the same as the first movie with a new cast (except Vin Diesel, of course). The single girl in the main cast (except for the one sex slave character who gets killed like a minute after she shows up) is one of the tough badass characters who manages to fight off a rapist. Good for her.
Except… she has literally no characterization beyond “badass,” “great sniper,” “doesn’t like being ogled by men,” and “claims to be a lesbian even though she hits on Riddick.” Ok… What does that give us to work with? I’m not saying she has to be a teddy bear, or a motherly figure to her teammates. But just a bit more effort into her (like making her an actual lesbian, not interested in men at all…?) would have gone far.
Naturally, I don’t recall her reacting all that much to the monster-crisis of the movie. Being afraid or nervous would be un-badass, after all.
Meanwhile, I actually adored the sidekick Judge character from Dredd (the 2012 Karl Urban one). I don’t actually remember her name, shame on me. Did she even have one, besides “rookie”? But she’s a great fighter, badass, and has neat psychic powers. But a) she has characterization, and actual emotions and motivations, and b) her powers don’t automatically solve everything for her or make her supremely overpowered. They help out, and give her some extra ‘oomph,’ but she and Dredd still have to do the dirty work. That’s good characterization there. And the fact that she’s a woman is just the icing on the cake.
There’s nothing wrong with using bits and pieces from different stereotypes. They’re stereotypes for a reason. The problem comes in when the stereotype is the only characterization those characters get. The stuffy British professor. The wise Asian guy obsessed with honor. The magical Native American shaman. Not a good idea.
It’s all about balance, and treating characters with respect. Man, woman, black, white, Asian, a mix, human, alien… It doesn’t matter. They have to be good characters first, and affirmative plot points second. And I wish that were the case for all the books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched.