Posted by: michellemuldoon | November 12, 2015

“Strong Female Characters”

Last night I posted the following image about strong women on my Facebook Page:

Strong Capable Women

I like what it has to say about women and our responsibility to provide young girls with positive role models, but I cringe a little because I’ve also come to loath the term, “Strong Female Characters”.

To say we must “be” something, but that we shouldn’t “show” it on television seems be a bit of a conundrum. Let me explain. In real life young girls have the opportunity to see and be mentored by adult women who exhibit a complex combination of strength, vulnerability, ambition, confidence, doubt… you get the message, we’re a complex species.  Strength is just one asset we need to teach our young women in order to survive a world that is as equally complex as ourselves.

Film, apparently, has an issue with that these days. “Strong female characters” has become a call to action in terms of gender equity, but the truth is, all we’re doing is exchanging one cookie cutter character for another; Madonna, whore, strong woman, what’s the difference? No, really, I’m asking, what’s the difference? They’re all one dimensional.

Think of it this way, do we ever talk about strong male characters, or on the flip side, sensitive male characters? No, we don’t.  Even in a drama, a male character never receives that kind of pigeon hole. I know where you’re going to go with this. Action films. Aren’t action films the genre where male characters are less multi-dimensional. True, but they are expected to be strong, brave, and capable. We don’t discuss it, because they just “are”. Why do we need to point it out when a woman exhibits those qualities in an action film?

We need to expect more from our female characters in film, and that means we need to expect more from the producers who green light specific projects. It’s not like the market hasn’t shown that multi-dimensional, complex female characters are box office attractions. We simply need the decision-makers to take notice.

And we need the rest of us to stop promoting a generalization that continues to put female characters in a small box containing a narrow definition of female representation.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see male and female characters in film treated the same way; strong, messy, complicated, loving, flawed, and inspiring.  It’s time. And it’s time to retire the term, “strong female character”.

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