Wanted: Female Leads
‘Strong female characters’ … Remember when *every* producer, script lead, prodco, scheme, competition, agent and his/her dog wanted one of these? It wasn’t all that long ago.
Sadly, it became clear very quickly it was yet another reductive label. After all, what ‘strong female character’ invariably meant was …
- As long as she’s hot
- And she kicks ass (literally or metaphorically, preferably both)
- Whilst she wears very little clothes
- Especially whilst she makes out with the mediocre lead male as his ‘prize’ for his super-hard journey
- (Psssst – she’s super emotionally-literate and helps said male lead with his own emotions)
- Oh or maybe she’s a wife or girlfriend (WAG) who cries on the phone.
Awww. So strong. Erm NO!
Not ‘Strong’, SIDELINED
Those ‘strong female characters’ were not strong, but SIDELINED. It’s no accident most of those female characters I outline above were secondaries. They literally had less screen-time, so writers gave them fewer layers. But even some female protagonists became sidelined in their own stories, simply because their male secondaries were more complex than them.
We know better now. ‘Strong’ is just one of many elements a female character (in any role function) can be. Here are some …
But also …
They can be in any combo, in any role function. (Those listed above are just for starters, there’s plenty more where those came from!!).
Best of all, we are seeing more female characters in lead roles, protagonist AND antagonist as well as secondary. Because why the hell not? Audiences want COMPLEXITY, ie. NUANCE and LAYERS. Dependent on the genres and types of story we are engaging with, we are getting this. Writers have picked up the mantle and began writing more complex, nuanced chrs … who just so happen to be female.
‘Why do you write strong male characters?‘ Said No One EVER
Every time someone tries to call forth the BS notion of the ‘strong female character’, I always wonder why no one asks the same of writers’ MALE characters.
Oh that’s right – because there’s waaaaaaaay more variety to male characterisation as standard. Sure, many of them are broad strokes; lots are literally strong, which is obviously fine too. But those male characters are hardly ever defined by that strength. They are brave, clever, resourceful, witty or whatever else I just listed AS WELL. Male characters have histories and problems of their own.
You see, defining female characters by ONE single attribute … That was the problem!
Newsflash: It Ain’t 2009 Anymore
Thankfully, the kickass hotties and the Crying WAGs have more or less died out in 2019. These may include hot women who can indeed kick ass, but they are much MORE than that … Just as WAGs don’t have to be facilitators of male emotion.
Sure, we have ‘a long way to go’ as everyone likes to posit. We need to push for more representation for female characters who are not white, straight or able-bodied for sure. (As great as the progress has been for gender, it is no accident so much of the diversity has been for white women. It is the same-old, same-old on that score. BUT we gotta keep the faith and pushing forwards).
But if you are in the market for a complex female character, you are in MUCH better shape to find a great one overall than you were a decade ago.
Not ‘Strong’, COMPLEX
So, it’s time to call bullshit on ‘strong female characters’. As writers, we need to keep writing COMPLEX female characters. Not hiding behind those reductive labels, or writing BS ‘thinkpieces’ on what’s wrong with screenwriting today, or keep pretending it’s still 2009 and we are some kind of righteous angels. Instead it’s time to …
- Study characters’ role functions versus their motivations
- Forget about GENDER and concentrate instead on PERSONALITY
Get to work people.
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