The Paradox of the Strong Female Character
Among all the social justices, the fight for gender equality is the one that speaks the loudest. With the rise of Feminists, who are not afraid to make a bold statement, they promote the narrative of strong women in books, films, TV shows, video games and comics, hoping young girls will have strong females as role models to show them that there is an alternate life outside of the traditional construct of womanhood.
Despite their good intentions, the trope of the “Strong Female Character” (SFC) has become more harmful than inspiring to female audiences. Even creating a rising tinge of annoyance and frustration to both men and women alike. As the film industry keeps pumping out movies that are “Woke,” audiences continue to cringe at Feminist Films. To answer the question of why people dislike SFC, this review will explore the history of the female character storytelling, and examine films, and books to understand what it means to be a SFC.
The Weak Woman of the Past
Ever since the creation of film, female characters have promoted the traditional and patriarchal view of gender. A small, frail, sexual object who were to be rescued, reflecting men’s dominance and strength. In his article “Wonder Woman: superheroine, not superhero” from the peer-reviewed Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, Peter Coogan talks about Angel Island, a story written by Or Inez Hayes Gillmore.
In the story, the sailors fell in love with winged women from an isolated island that they shipwrecked on. Not willing to lose their dominance over them, the sailors cut off their wings. This importance of masculine dominance began a disturbing trait that would enforce the gender norm and will appear in various films. This form of the female Character is famously known in the era of Silent and Black and White films. Back then, men were behind the camera and had female actresses acting seductivly or screaming in horror. Their role was the “lover.” As a side character, they could only react to whatever action their male counterpart did. Even if they did have another role other than the “lover” it it was often used as a joke. Female characters were never taken seriously, neither were the women who played them.
The Rise of the Feminist Film
Starting with La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet), directed by Germaine Dulac, the Feminist Film genre was born. Here were female characters who were no longer sidelined as the object of desire, but the hero of their own story. For Annette Kuhn, author of “The State of Film and Media Feminism,” a Feminist film is not just a film that promotes Feminist values (such as gender equality, female rights, and patriarchal defiance), but also one that creates a narrative set in a context that organically highlights Feminist issues, and explores how both genders view the film. Together with the narrative and a strong female lead, the Feminist Film’s goal is to appeal to the female audience, offering them a new option outside of traditional views.
The Creation & Paradox of the Strong Female Character
The creation of the SFC is a direct product copy of the Hero. This character stems from old legends and mythology. Famous heroes like Thor and Hercules are known for their physical prowess, becoming inspirational role models for young boys to prove their bravery and toughness. This fact Doctor L. Pike acknowledges in his peer-reviewed article, “Heracles: The Superman and Personal Relationships.” As it is already established in the media that to be weak, is to be feminine, to be emotional, and to be saved countless times by the male hero. It is only natural for the strong female lead to mirror masculine characteristics. Collaborated by six authors, Talking about Books: Strong Female Characters in Recent Children’s Literature outlines the criteria for a SFC. One of them included how much or little the female character departed from the patriarchal stereotypes of women.
Looking at the examples of Carol Danvers from Captain Marvel and Rey from the recent Star Wars trilogy, the SFC is stronger than her male counterpart in every way possible, and experiences no weakness whatsoever (Neal Curtis, Superheroes and Third Wave Feminism). Yet both are hated by the audience, and they are not the only ones. Other films containing SFCs received backlash from men and women alike for being “too political” and “feminist.” Yet Wonder Woman and Alita Battle Angel who feature a SFC are exceptions to the rule. However, it is argued that these characters are perceived as weak as they go against feminist ideals. (Kyle D. Killian, How Wonder Woman is, and is Not, a Feminist Superheroine Movie) However as Carina Chocano and the other writers argue, their weakness is what makes them human and relatable to the audience. This promoted film enthusiasts like Kimberly R, Moffitt to explain this paradox. In her peer-reviewed article, “Scripting the Way for the 21st-Century Disney Princess in The Princess and the Frog”, she gives prominence to how Disney blatantly “celebrated” their first black princess, when in reality she was a green frog for eighty percent of the movie.
The “Woke” Problem
What Moffit describes is “Wokeness,” it is a sloppy thing that all major film companies do when they incorporate social issues such as race and gender into their movies, without making the conscious effort. Because of that, it has received hate from the audience. The feminist thread in these “Woke films” come off forced as if the writers slapped them onto the narrative at the last minute. Some of these examples include Captain Marvel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ghost Busters (2016) Birds of Prey, Little Women, Charlie’s Angels. Aladin, Isn’t It Romantic? And the list goes on and on. These films are listed simply because either the audience hated the film because it was too forward with their feminist themes or they sunk the box office for the same reason, or both.
So the question is “Are these feminist films failing because the audience is misogynist?”
It would be naïve to say that a certain percent of the moviegoing population is a misogynist. However, that percent is tiny. The majority of men today are considerate towards women, or at least in the West. If one were to look at Birds of Prey for example, the feminists on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are blaming the men for the film’s poor performance at the box office. What they fail to realize is that it is the ones who produced the film that are at fault. They are the ones who promoted the film as a feminist film, they are the ones who wrote the story, and were the people who were so inconsiderate of the source material that they forced their protagonist into a story who was not a part of the Birds of Prey comic. Which is one of the reasons fans (men and women) hated the film and did not come out to see it, because the trailers told them that they needed to know.
In Courtney Lehmann’s journal Crouching Tiger, Hidden Agenda: How Shakespeare and the Renaissance Are Taking the Rage out of Feminism, he observes that Feminists are more interested in equal airtime than actually fighting for equal rights and comes to the conclusion that Feminism is dead. Returning to Kuhn’s definition of a feminist movie, the film should have a narrative that has a feminist context. From the design of their world, to the interwoven theme to the character’s experiences, all aspects of the story must showcase the issues that women experience in different parts of the world to spread awareness and to prove to the audience that Feminism is still an important issue to fight for.
Feminism at its roots is a movement with good intentions of spreading awareness of gender discrimination, fighting for equality and empowering women and girls. However, the films they promote do not reflect their platform, instead, they distort their message. It is the combination of greedy film companies not truly caring about these issues, and the Feminist’s unrealistic ideals that make the feminist part of any film shoehorned and forced. It is as if the writers. slapped feminism onto an existing narrative that has nothing to do with the issue. It is because of this glaring disconnect between the theme and the story that their heroines are left flat, overpowered, uninteresting, and more importantly less relatable to audiences.
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