Monday, December 5, 2011

[Strong Characters], Female...NOT [Strong Female] Characters

Discussing the virtual nonexistence of strong female characters in movies inspired me to look into the reason why these types of roles are unpopular in mainstream culture. However, I came across the article "Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women" (written by Shana Mlawski), which opened my eyes to some opinions of these“strong females”.

Mlawski's argument was primarily inspired by the movie Transformer (2007), most specifically a quote by the leading female, played by Megan Fox:

"'Both of the female characters in the movie were very strong characters. Rachel [Taylor]'s character is very intelligent. I thought that they were representing women very well."

Although the article first was astounded that Megan Fox considered herself playing a strong female role when she was obviously being flaunted as a sexual object, but an argument against strong female characters later in the article uses Megan Fox’s character as an example for why the media should revert to females being portrayed as damsels in distress.

“Damsel in Distress was kind of a terrible character, but at least she did end up with the hot hero at the end…More often now, [the Strong Female Characters] would be saved by the Schlubby Everydude.”

Although Mlawski’s argument was mostly based on hilariously exaggerated opinion, there was some validity in what she was saying. I wouldn't go as far to agree that "strong female characters are bad", I do think Mlawski's reasoning does ring true in some aspects.

“Women were clamoring for ‘strong female characters’, and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminist meant [Strong Female] Characters. The feminists meant [Strong Characters], Female.”

Roles in movies are often put in context of gender. Like we said in class, we typecast roles in life to certain genders: leaving the emotions and compassion to the women and the strength and handiness to men. Even when these stereotypes are defied, we always bring it back to gender. Mlawski emphasized this to reflect on the subsequent flaws and overall bad name that this has given the name of strong female leads. That is why, in her own quirky way, this article is arguing in favor of “weak female characters…not ‘weak’ meaning ‘Damsel in Distress.’ ‘Weak’ meaning ‘flawed’. A main reason why these strong female leads rarely survive in Hollywood is because how blatantly unrealistic they are…they are literally physical, mental, and emotional perfect used to tantalize a male audience.

"There would usually be a scene (or three) where the "Strong Female Character" would be trapped by the villain and put into sexy clothing, I guess as a punishment of some sort. And even when she was being strong, she was always doing it in the sexiest way possible...all in all, the 'strength' of her character was just to make her a better prize for the hero at the end--and for the horny male audience throughout."

Not that I'm saying this is the only reason for the recurring failures in strong female leads, but perhaps if the female character's intentions reverted from pleasing the male audience in this way, there would be more opportunity to explore the possibility of making these characters more complex and realistic.

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