“Naturally my stories are about women — I’m a woman. I don’t know what the term is for men who write mostly about men.”
Recently there’s been a firestorm about “strong women characters.” We need more of them, everyone shouts. But I disagree.
Wait, don’t leave yet. I believe we need more female characters, and definitely more female protagonists. People may decry the Bechdel Test, but wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where we didn’t need it? The Bechdel Test is flawed, but it proves a point. Women are more than just the damsel-in-distress. But we’re also more than the warrior princess.
And this is why we don’t need more “strong women.” Because inevitably someone takes this to mean we need more female characters who can shoot big guns, who know karate, who work for the FBI, or who are obsessed with their jobs. These women are strong, but they’re not always compelling. What we need are more COMPLEX female characters. We need more women characters that are defined not by how well they keep up with the guys, but how well they are characterized. Though this is not what is meant when we say “strong women,” but somehow it’s what it turned into.
I love a female protagonist who can kick ass. I’ve written several of them. But soon this character becomes another cliché in a long line of female character clichés somewhere between Manic Pixie Dream Girl and Adorkable Smart Girl.
Let’s strive for complex. Let’s strive for compelling. Let’s strive for surprise. Let’s strive for a character that isn’t defined by the fact she’s a woman. F-k it, let’s just write good characters.
I recently had a writer (full disclosure, he was male) who had written a sexy physicist character who did nothing except have sex with the protagonist and get captured by the bad guy. I told him she needed more characterization, perhaps she could even use her knowledge of physics at some point? But he felt that it would take up too much space in the script to flesh her out more. My response? Would A-list actresses be chomping at the bit to play this character? No way. Not even remotely close. She was a plot device, nothing more, and who wants to play a plot device? Ultimately, that convinced him to change her into something more. Thank goodness.
Remember, no A-list actress when asked to look back on her career and pick a favorite character ever said, “The one with the great ass.”