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Why We Need More Female Characters (in Everything)

Why We Need More Female Characters (in Everything)

By October 9, 2014 Social 2 Comments
AGENT

Once upon a time (basically three weeks ago), little bunny Adrienne Tyler was at her “Sor Juana and Her World” class (which is basically history around Sor Juana’s life). Everything was going well; the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and everyone was paying attention to the class. The teacher began to explain the topics for some presentations the students had yet to make, and so she mentioned pirates. Most importantly, she mentioned female pirates, encouraging the students to make their presentations on those badass women.

Obviously, I’m the little bunny in this story, and this story doesn’t (yet) end happily because suddenly, the girl on the seat right in front of me exclaimed, “But there were only two female pirates, because only two were famous!”

Everything went dark. I suddenly couldn’t hear anything else, and with all the anger that started to well up within me, responded with the only thing I could muster: “Darling, PLEASE!” (in the most annoyed voice you can imagine)

This incident, which incited nothing from my fellow classmates, made me realize how wrong society’s mentality is. What this woman is telling us is basically that if you are a woman, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how talented, intelligent and skilled you are, all that means nothing if you aren’t famous. Oh, but she surely believes there were zillions of male pirates out there, despite the fact that she couldn’t name even one beyond already-fictional characters.

How sad is this? I know I’m not the only one who finds this incredibly depressing and unsettling, but what shocks me the most is that the comment came from a woman.

This same human, who I’m going to refer to from now on as “Columbia,” after the character of the same name from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, has been proving how little she knows about the world and how misogynist mentality is so deeply internalized within our culture. Sadder than a misogynist man is a misogynist woman.

I am positive Columbia is an “undercover” misogynist, one of those people who thinks a woman can not reach success or fame without a man.

“But how can a woman be an undercover misogynist?” you may ask. Pay close attention to the world around you, and you will be surprised at how many cases of undercover, internalized misogyny you find.

Slut shaming, name calling, harsh critique on “looks” and really, basically just not supporting each other are small but important examples of undercover misogyny between women. And it’s awful, because we see it everyday and we all (yes, I’m included) have done it at some point. Society, I’m telling you. It’s a powerful thing.

I put the blame of this mentality seeded in Columbia and many other women – not only here but in so many other societies, perpetuated by media. My main subject here, and everywhere, is the media, and as I’m no sociologist or psychologist I’m going to focus this rant on the importance of the media, too.

The media has three basic functions: to entertain, inform or educate, although most of the times it’s two or all three at once. This is where, in my opinion, the main flaw lies: the media has an incredible power of influence, and whether they do it unconsciously or by design, they are sending a message to the audience through their medium: the subject matter, their wording, the characters.

By giving us female characters that belong exclusively to the house, the damsels in distress that need a man to give meaning to their lives and reach success, they are quietly pushing the idea that “woman = weakness” in the minds of the audience.

My thesis will be about women in comics and their cinematic adaptations, and if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be able to share it with all of you when it’s ready. The point is: thanks to the methodology and investigation I’ve been doing on this subject, I’ve been able to realize how terribly women are portrayed in films, comics and TV.

Women in the media always seem to be the ones who are written to need to be saved; the ones that provoke temptation, or the caretakers. In both comic books and films, our female superheroes are always over-sexualised, and this is because both comics and films are aimed for and made by men – and people all around who believe this bullshit.

It’s 2014 and the world still has a hard time believing women can enjoy comic books and superhero films, too, and that we’d dare want representation. And no, we don’t like them because Chris Hemsworth appears shirtless from time to time or because the Hulk has abs. No. We actually enjoy the universe of superheroes which is why it would be extra incredible to see female superheroes that do not rely on their sex appeal and who kick some major ass for themselves.

A good example of what we do not need is Supergirl. Sure, she has her own back story and all, but on every adaptation she is always linked to her famous cousin, Superman. And that’s plain wrong. Supergirl doesn’t need Superman at all. She is SUPERGIRL! Why can’t she be standalone?

Laura Mulvey, British feminist film theorist, explains that “In film, women are typically the objects, rather than the possessors, of gaze because the control of the camera (and thus the gaze) comes from factors such as the assumption of heterosexual men as the default target audience for most film genres. Women are the bearer of meaning, not the maker of meaning.”

This circles back to society. Of course it does.

If people could open their minds a little bit and understand that not all women want to constantly watch chick flicks the same way not all men want to constantly watch war films, then the way both women and men are portrayed on films would be completely different.

I believe that if society understood that women can like superheroes and men can like romantic films, we would have more strong female characters and men would stop being portrayed as macho/misogynist folks.

This, in my humble opinion, applies in history too. Going back to the pirates comment, Columbia made me realize that if a woman is not famous, she won’t be remembered, even if she did incredible stuff or made a huge contribution to the world. The best example I can think of right now is Irena Sendler. Remember her? No? She saved around 2500 Jewish children during WWII and when she was caught by the Nazis, she was tortured, and still remained quiet about the children. Now, Columbia, please dare to look me in the eye and tell me she isn’t worth remembering or important just because she isn’t famous.

It bothers me that we have been taught that a woman’s value is measured on her beauty and fame instead of other, much more valuable qualities like intelligence, personality, skills, hard work, good heart.

I (and all of you, even if you don’t know it or don’t want to admit it) need more strong female characters who show the world that every woman is special and valuable, that you don’t have to be famous to be loved, that you don’t have to be semi-naked to gain recognition but at the same time, that we can be beautiful, intelligent and independent, all at once, by and for our own means. This reminds me of Donna Noble and Peggy Carter: those women reminded me that I am special no matter what, that I am important and relevant, and that I can be a super badass babe with the most amazing red lipstick.

I grew up in the 90s, and it wasn’t until now that I realized I never really had a female role model (I was too young to watch Buffy at that time!) until now, and you can bet I’m expanding my list of poignant, awesome women.

I not only demand more female characters and for women to be recognized for qualities beyond a pretty face, but I also demand that us women put an end to undercover misogyny. By ending this misogyny, I believe we will take a huge step toward the equality we are currently fighting for. I also demand society to open their minds and accept that women enjoy things like superheroes and men cry at movie theatres too. After all, we are all humans with feelings and deserve equal opportunities as well as the chance of having someone of the same sex to look up to.

I have faith that we will see better portrayals on both TV and films, of both men and women, and I hope that it’s soon.

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  • http://www.d20crit.com/ tristan

    I didn’t want to hijack the article with this, but I’m reminded of a fairly recent comment made by Emma Swan in Once Upon a Time as she escaped from a wrongful imprisonment while her Pirate was on his way to her for a dashing rescue:

    “The only one who saves me, is me.”

    Thankfully, canonically, my favorite pirate loves Emma for that and it didn’t become a misogynistic, damsel-can’t-do-anything-for-herself scene. He was totally turned on. As he should have been. There’s nothing wrong with damsels in distress, BUT portrayal of women is SO unbalanced. The scales are tipped the wrong way, and that’s not even TOUCHING WOC.

    • Adrienne Tyler

      I didn’t know about Emma (I confess I stopped watching when Jefferson was gone) but I do know she is a badass and this confirms it.
      Ooooooooh myyyy, WOC deserve their own rant, that’s a bigger issue right there :(