That? - That’s what I actually got to wondering. I’ve been toiling with a rather oddball bit of fiction, and have chosen to use it as the test kitchen for future writing. This has meant an intense amount of research across multiple subjects. Well, research interspersed with Facebook, catchy indie rock, and liters of coffee, but you get the idea. I’m not trying to redefine a genre, or write my magnum opus. I’ve already done the scrambled eggs and bacon – I’d like to make a substantial brunch. I really can only define what it will be by what it won’t, and it won’t be anything within my comfort zone. Of this, I am pleased.
The query I have is how to make better characters. I have a hell of an adventure mapped out that, honestly, writes itself. The characters are good, well-defined, and pretty likeable… save their whole dynamic being more predictable than either a night playing a SquareEnix videogame, or a fraternity kegger ending with someone vomiting in a hall closet. Combined.
See, if a male character has to go through a series of trials and tribulations, he’s considered a very functional – albeit, normal - character. Why is it, then, that when this character is gender swapped and undergoes the same process, is she considered “strong”? Who has created these standards? Why do they exist? Shouldn’t she be substantial enough for just having played the role?
Why is Zoe Washburne considered stronger than Lara Croft? Why is Lisbeth Salander stronger than Veronica Mars? What makes Stephanie Plum stronger than Harry Dresden? He’s a wizard, for ball’s sake – a wizard!
These little wonders made me take the theory a step further down the road. See, the basic thought would be that women’s rights have been propelled so highly that they surpass men’s rights. That same basic thought proposes that this is a good thing. If you are thinking that, stop it. Seriously. That’s fucking stupid. There’s a very basic principal that exists in anthropology, mathematics, socioeconomics, politics, et-frickin-al, and it outlines that the current “normal” level of equilibrium is well below the ideal. In order to achieve full equilibrium, one controlled factor must be elevated and leveled. After this leveling, all controlling factors would create a new equilibrium. If you can’t tell by the way I’m detailing all of this, I have – in fact – forgotten its name; feel free to contribute.
In a more direct explanation, this would mean society agrees to propel one demographic lower while pushing another higher. It then reinforces this through regular indoctrination of every person introduced into that group. We already have an innate desire to hold a woman’s life in higher regard – it’s part of programming for preservation of the species. The modern way of thinking takes this notion of preservation, and tells you why men must do this: because they are inferior.
I don’t want a woman who is ‘better’ – I want a woman who is ‘as good as’. The problem is how to achieve this, while making her memorable. If I follow popular literature, she would have to be tragically saved by a beloved male in freezing cold water outside a boat sinking in the Atlantic, or survive a violent assault and reciprocate by tattooing “I am a sadistic pig and a rapist” on the assailant’s stomach. Both are examples of what we’ve accepted as a strong female lead. In the case of the former: American romanticism and the perpetuation of the disposable male. More on that in a bit.
On the latter, though – now THAT’s something to go on about. In a country filled with gross inequalities the likes of which we have not seen as largely here in America, she IS a strong lead. What intrigues me (bit of conjecture here) is that while women can rally behind Lisbeth Salander, this was a character created for men. By making this character a battle flag, the plight of women’s oppression in Sweden would have never reached the magnitude that it has since Stieg Larsson’s first printing. And not just the banner of females, but the hero of men alike. Those that can’t view her as a hero are just enough afraid of her to do whatever she asks.
Sometimes, fear is as effective a weapon as guns or knives.
The American expectation is to give a woman equal rights. I agree with this – I don’t feel one human should have authority - or be a limiting factor in any way – over their right to life, liberty, and the true pursuit of happiness.
Oh, and men are also taught that it’s always “women and children first”, don’t share your feelings, don’t cry, don’t hit a woman, they are the fairer sex so tread lightly around them, and ignore their petulant child because she can, at least, have them. If you get sick or are feeling depressed, tough it out, bottle it up, and you’ll be good. While we’re at it, we’re also going to carve up your genitals, but they’re not going to, so, deal with that one. We will also back this up by making you still look to be the stronger of two sexes so that you can support all of this, and be ready to give your life for them.
And, uh, one final note: you’re not going to get any recognition for the rest of your life, and, most of them are going to say you’re not doing enough. If you complain about it, other guys will thinking you’re either joking or pussy, and women will just think you’re an insufferable arsehole. Got that? – thanks! – have fun being male!
Look, I get it. Women can have babies, guys can’t. They also have a monthly cycle that has taught me the lesson of knowing when to shut the fuck up and chose my battles (praise be unto Aunt Irma). Fine. I support an international standard of giving them the week off of work during this. I wouldn’t want to go into work like that, man. But beyond that? – we are all human. Plain and simple. I don’t have any right to deny women their rights as human beings, they don’t have the right to cut off my dick while I sleep at night. It really is as easy as that.
Maybe it’s that these strong female characters remove men from their lives. Which, while they are awfully badass while doing this, strikes me as being even more sexist.
So the question still remains: what makes a female character strong? I believe equilibrium - finding ways that the character compliments a group and playing it out in spades. Hermione Granger was a stronger character because she was integral to that dynamic. Each character in that triad had their specialties, without which, the group would fail. Zoe Washburne (from Firefly, if you’re wondering) worked well with the crew of Serenity for this same reason.
Maybe even they’ll just be charitable enough to say “Thank you,” after I’ve held the doors open for them. I know my female characters would.