Female Character Quotas: A Writer’s Perspective

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by KahunaDrake KahunaDrake 2 years, 3 months ago.

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  • #4377
    KahunaDrake
    KahunaDrake
    Participant

    While doing some research on fiction writing I stumbled upon this little article:

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121488/vida-women-count-2014-important-characters-bad-advice

    To my knowledge, VIDA is a women’s literary organization that seeks to promote gender equity and visibility for female writers. While this is swell and all, I do not see why they are supporting the arbitrary Bechdel Test* and urging writers to write more “important” female characters”.

    There is nothing wrong with more female characters in fiction but they have to be well-developed and interesting ones. I think most audiences care for a good plot with great characters that they can connect with, regardless of the sex of said characters. I would rather read 100 stories featuring fascinating and diverse male protagonists over one story featuring a bland, obligatory “strong” female character archetype for the sake of PC. I do not think writing female characters is any different from writing male characters: make them “human” i.e. relatable. Women have strengths, weaknesses, fears, desires, differing backgrounds/upbringing, etc. Guess what? They also eat, sleep, piss, shit, fuck, and die like the rest of humanity. Who knew, right?

    Also, I really do not need people telling me who or what to write about. Writing is an art form. It’s a personal and solitary experience fueled by my overactive imagination and it’s how I express myself. I am not adverse to constructive criticism (in fact, I seek it) but at the end of the day, I am going to write what I want to write. My stories feature a mix of male and female characters with males as the majority. Why? It’s just how I envisioned my characters, most of them turned out to be male. You can’t put a quota on creativity.

    I think the best way to support the next generation of literary classics is to support talented writing, regardless of the author’s gender. Measuring creative works based on what is considered “progressive” will stifle artistic expression, not cultivate it.

    *CCS put together a great podcast concerning this test: “Movie Ratings are Bullshit”. Check it out if you haven’t already.

    Rabid ecstasy, 1997

    #4387
    KahunaDrake
    KahunaDrake
    Participant

    Also, is it just me or are most strong/powerful female characters kind of sterile personality wise?

    Rabid ecstasy, 1997

    #4394
    AmariTenebra
    AmariTenebra
    Participant

    I’ve been writing for a couple years now (granted that isn’t a lot) and I’ve noticed when female characters are the lead role, we often end up with badly written characters such as Bella from Twilight. And if they don’t start that way, they end that way *cough Katniss *cough*. They are extremely bland, almost emotionless to a point; and I feel it’s because of how people see the notion of emotion in women in story telling as weak.

    Now, I’m not some crazy internet feminist, and I know that statement makes it sound that way. But when you think about it, it’s rare for any female character to have a deep, interesting personality, because the writer doesn’t want them to appear weak in the eyes of the reader. Katniss from Hunger Games is a personal favorite example of this.

    She started off as emotional in the first book, and went through the games with different reactions and a strong personality.

    And then as the books continued, in order to keep the character looking strong, the author just kind of let the personality fall apart and almost disappear in order for Katniss to stay this pillar of strength who just complained and cried the entire time (which seemed kind of contradictory to me).

    As a writer myself, I plan my characters personality and such first THEN get into gender and such later. I see whichever fits the role better in my mind and go from there.

    #4395
    Mr.K
    Mr.K
    Participant

    Also, is it just me or are most strong/powerful female characters kind of sterile personality wise?

    [/quote/]

    Like these ones?

    "The world is merciless and it's also very beautiful."

    #4396
    KahunaDrake
    KahunaDrake
    Participant

    Now, I’m not some crazy internet feminist, and I know that statement makes it sound that way. But when you think about it, it’s rare for any female character to have a deep, interesting personality, because the writer doesn’t want them to appear weak in the eyes of the reader. Katniss from Hunger Games is a personal favorite example of this.

    You don’t sound crazy, Tenebra. I think it is a fair observation. I think some writers try to put their female characters on a pedestal by making them strong and infallible but it doesn’t make for an interesting protagonist. Although I have not read the books, Katniss and the main character of Divergent seem to suffer from this (to be honest, they feel like they are the same character but Divergent was inspired by the Hunger Games so IDK). Well-rounded protagonists should have admirable and negative traits 🙂

    Like these ones?

    I saw the Ugly Truth but it was so forgettable I forgot what the plot was about or why it mattered. I never saw Bride Wars but the trailers were annoying that I never had the desire to do so. Some audiences may have liked these films but I am not really into most romance or chick flicks because they seem to follow a tired formula.

    Rabid ecstasy, 1997

    #4398
    CineMax
    CineMax
    Participant

    Now, I’m not some crazy internet feminist, and I know that statement makes it sound that way. But when you think about it, it’s rare for any female character to have a deep, interesting personality, because the writer doesn’t want them to appear weak in the eyes of the reader.

    I think it also has something to do with writers trying to create the perfect surrogate for the female audience to identify with.

    I have not watched Insurgent (nor do I have any desire, really), but let’s take a look at the two other franchises previously mentioned in this thread: Twilight and the Hunger Games.

    In the case of Bella, she has as much personality as a cinder block. (Perhaps even less.) She’s shy, awkward, a bit aloof — i.e., a perfect movie version of a teenager. We don’t know much about her internal world. Her fears, her ambitions, her views on the world. ‘Cos that would get in the way of the self-insertion fantasy. And what’s the fantasy? The fact that she has two immortal fantasy creatures (who incidentally look like GQ models, of course) fawning all over her. There’s some other story shit going on throughout the movies, of course. But the love triangle is easily the crux of the entire franchise.

    Same thing with the Hunger Games. Ideally, the series should be about a Battle Royale style contest where teenagers have to brutally kill one another. (There could be only one! That kinda stuff.) Yet somehow Katniss ends up being caught up in a love triangle — just like Bella! And again, I think all of this is done to better relate with the female demographic. IOW: Most female viewers may not imagine themselves becoming a leader of a resistance movement. However, they can imagine (and even want) some two hot studs fighting over their affection. Even if it’s in the middle of a civil war…

    This is something I’ve been thinking lately myself, you know: Despite all of the temper tantrums that feminists throw over the supposed lack of “strong, independent female characters” in pop-culture, perhaps the reality is that most women aren’t all that interested in characters like that?

    I mean, look at Fifty Shades of Grey or the aforementioned Twilight. Look at all the supposed abuse (both mental and physical) both heroines go through in those books. You’d think that women would be screaming bloody murder over being portrayed as weak and submissive. And yet, look at how popular both of those franchises are — and more importantly, WHO has made them so popular. I can assure you it weren’t the dudebros who were buying those books.

    Then again, the so-called “dudebros” liked Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) when she was Oracle and looked like this:

    http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/batman/images/e/e2/Oracle_1.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20100418193517

    But now DC is trying to attract more female readers to the title, and so now Batgirl has to look like this:

    http://i60.tinypic.com/2cs9dmp.jpg

    #4400
    AmariTenebra
    AmariTenebra
    Participant

    I think when having this conversation, it’s also important to bring up the fact that there is nothing inherently wrong with having a weak character. Of course when writing a good story for a video game, movie or book, your characters do NOT need to start off as perfect or even likable.

    The problems with most books written with female leads is that the girls end up being EXACTLY what they need to be when first introduced. For Bella, her mind wasn’t able to be read and she was fearless toward the vampires. With Katniss, she was strong enough to become the leader of a movement as big as the civil war her people faced. Tris from Divergent, she was a Divergent and strong enough to fight against the evil government.

    These characters do not grow at all. They may reject their role at first (such as Katniss or Tris) but the only “growth” they do is accepting their role and taking charge. No inner conflict is ever presented so these character look and feel like dolls that are simply doing what the reader would want them to do.

    This is something I’ve been thinking lately myself, you know: Despite all of the temper tantrums that feminists throw over the supposed lack of “strong, independent female characters” in pop-culture, perhaps the reality is that most women aren’t all that interested in characters like that?

    I believe CineMax is completely right. No one wants actual strong characters because they don’t fit the mold of what people (mainly feminists) want for women to fit.

    You could have a character who deals with an addiction of some sort and feminists will scream that they’re only making female characters who look bad.
    You could have a character who would, realistically, have a mental break at one point from the stress of being in the position Katniss or Tris is in. Feminists would scream about how these female characters are weak and unable to handle responsibility.

    You’re just not able to win with these people.

    #4402
    KahunaDrake
    KahunaDrake
    Participant

    This is something I’ve been thinking lately myself, you know: Despite all of the temper tantrums that feminists throw over the supposed lack of “strong, independent female characters” in pop-culture, perhaps the reality is that most women aren’t all that interested in characters like that?
    I mean, look at Fifty Shades of Grey or the aforementioned Twilight. Look at all the supposed abuse (both mental and physical) both heroines go through in those books. You’d think that women would be screaming bloody murder over being portrayed as weak and submissive. And yet, look at how popular both of those franchises are — and more importantly, WHO has made them so popular. I can assure you it weren’t the dudebros who were buying those books.

    I feel the romance in Hunger Games is probably another way to keep audiences interested. Concerning Twilight and 50 Shades, fantasy is definitely a key word here and both franchises appeal to women in similar ways.

    Desire = Both Christian and Edward pursue Bella and Ana respectively. They are described as awkward and unremarkable but for some reason these extraordinary men lust after them. This seems to be the set up for most romance novels because it is successful. In sexual psychology, it is said that nothing arouses a woman more than being deemed highly desirable and therefore pursued (possibly by many equally desirable suitors). There also is an inverse power aspect to it as well. If Bella and Ana can both awaken these unbridled passions in their lovers, isn’t that a type of power/control as well?

    Ms. Fix-It = Christian and Edward are dark and brooding “bad boys”. Women have a thing for bad boys. One of the reasons is that some women they feel like they can “fix” these broken men, turn them into a more suitable mates, and they live happily ever after. I think this is a dangerous mindset because:
    1. You can’t change people for shit. To attempt to do so will end up with you wasting your time/resources and facing possible resentment issues from the other party.
    2. It keeps women (and men) stuck in abusive/unsuccessful relationships thinking they can reform their partner.

    Just my take on why some women would like 50 shades and Twilight. It’s not rational to others but it sells (and boy does it ever!). Feminists hate these books but I feel they have their hands tied because they were both written by women and the large majority of people who read these books are women.

    Just like we saw with Black Widow controversy, you just can’t win over some critics (feminist or otherwise). As a writer, I always find it nice when people are interested in my characters and urge me to write the next chapter. Big or small, every writer appreciates an audience. Critics give you perspective and ways to improve but one should always take criticism with a grain of salt. I believe it is more important to write your stories/characters the way you envisioned them than to constantly be on pins and needles trying to persuade those who may not like your voice in the first place. Artistic integrity is key.

    Rabid ecstasy, 1997

    #4405
    Mr.K
    Mr.K
    Participant

    You guys hit all the nails. These days, whenever a writer wants to write an interesting female lead, it is always met with bullshit negatives from critics to feminists but every time some other movie with stereotype female leads like Pitch Perfect or another Melissa McCarthy “look at me, I’m a fat woman who’s funny” movie, they ignore any kind of negative perception on these save drivel girly films and just praise it for being a “strong movie with strong women characters”, which is pure nonsense considering that Pitch Perfect, Bridesmaids and again, Melissa McCarthy’s unfunny comedies are not only not funny but rarely do anything new or interesting to the female leads and this mentality is STILL being defended by feminists while throwing backslash at other writers for writing interesting female leads? What kind of backwards logic is that? If these “feminists” want to see movie with female leads in it, guess what? We had a shit ton of those films for years. My best example is from one of my favorite books and film adaptation: Persepolis.

    For those who never heard of Persepolis, it’s based on a collection of memoirs that Marjane Satrapi wrote about her life in Iran and combined it all into 2 graphic novels then later turned into an animated film with Satrapi co-writing and co-directing the film. It’s about the life of Marjane Satrapi, who was born in Tehran and lived with her family during the days of the Shah with the people crying out for the Shah to be removed and when the Shah does get removed, the people celebrate but it was short lived when the inevitable happened: The Islamic Revolution began. With the fundamentalists and religious extremists of Iran took over, life became hell for the people with women being less respected and forced to wear fully clothed robes including a veil because according to the fundamentalists, it attracts sexual desires from men and men will go crazy if women go out with revealing clothing (basically, excuses that the public will eat up) and forbid any form of entertainment including CDs, posters, cards and anything West related or else, you will be killed in prison. With Marjane, she manages to avoid a lot of these problems including an incident with “The Guardians of the Revolution” almost taking Marjane to their quarters to punish Marjane for not properly being dressed but when things go worse in Iran, her life takes a different turn and thus, her journey into adulthood in Austria begins. I will not spoil the whole film but I love the book and the movie because it allows us to explore a different side of women from other countries and how they deal with these laws that forbid them from being themselves while also exploring themes like forgiveness, religions, politics and to always remember who we are and where we come from despite of the terrible things we’ve done in our history. Thanks to this movie, Marjane Satrapi now has a career as a filmmaker and so far, she is doing great on films like most recently with the film The Voices that stars Ryan Reynolds.

    If that doesn’t satisfy feminists then clearly, they have no idea on how to make female characters interesting. Hell, they probably never watched Chasing Amy:

    "The world is merciless and it's also very beautiful."

    #4407
    AmariTenebra
    AmariTenebra
    Participant

    Another thing to remember when most people write female characters they confuse character development with beating the ever living crap out of the character. the Newest Tomb Raider is a great example of this. Lara Croft does nothing but get the shit kicked out of her in every other scene she’s in.

    And people will say this makes her strong when in reality, she’s not really doing anything but almost getting raped or killed. The Alien Isolation game did this as well.

    #4410
    Mr.K
    Mr.K
    Participant

    Another thing to remember when most people write female characters they confuse character development with beating the ever living crap out of the character. the Newest Tomb Raider is a great example of this. Lara Croft does nothing but get the shit kicked out of her in every other scene she’s in.

    And people will say this makes her strong when in reality, she’s not really doing anything but almost getting raped or killed. The Alien Isolation game did this as well.

    Alien Isolation, at least, had a reason why she’s getting hunted or killed by the xeno (because the AI is smart as a pack of wolves). Tomb Raider… Yeah, after playing the game, I didn’t see the appeal of the new Lara. She does some cool things but she comes off as Nathan Drake but as a woman without the charm of Drake and yes, she spends most of her time running around the island and get killed by too much shit going on and spending time with idiots that rather bitch like little girls instead of, i don’t know, survive a dangerous ancient island. Let’s hope that Rise fixes these story issues (I doubt it though, this is the “obey the feminists army or you will be punished” era)

    "The world is merciless and it's also very beautiful."

    #4484
    ne0 henry
    ne0 henry
    Participant

    Another thing to remember when most people write female characters they confuse character development with beating the ever living crap out of the character. the Newest Tomb Raider is a great example of this. Lara Croft does nothing but get the shit kicked out of her in every other scene she’s in.

    I remembered Zero Punctuation talking about this in his review on Tomb Raider, so here’s my two cents on this.

    If there is one art that is hard to master, it is the art of subtlety. I define subtlety as indirectly telling the audience (can be a gamer, reader, anyone that is interacting with the work) what is happening to the character. This definition can be expanded to indirectly showing character development, too. Subtlety is a higher level than using the techniques and styles to make a “strong protagonist” or “a character that is bloody so hard you can see their face come out” because these two ideas, compared to subtlety, use direct communication between the media and the audience.

    Subtlety uses symbolism and/or juxtaposition to send the indirect message. Of course, this is how I try to make my work subtle, so take my words with skepticism.

    In one part of my work, I have a “strong female leader” that is outwardly strong. She tackles problems with chivalry and honor. However, my protagonist, in one scene, sees her walking down a hall. She struggles, but keeps one hand on a wall near her to keep her standing. I try to convey her weakness, or her attempt to hide her weakness, through subtlety (I was inspired to write this part after watching Ikiru when the main protagonist tried to walk down the hall).

    It’s very hard to be subtle. To make an indirect reference about a character takes experience on writing the indirect reference down and uses a lot of time on making sure that the audience can recognize it. That’s why being loud, noisy, blunt, and dark is SO appealing; the audience can see it. I’m really curious about the statistics of the literature works (games, movies, novels, and etc.) that use subtlety as their source for their stories compared to other literature works that don’t.

    Maybe my literature theory is totally out of wrack because I have no experience in the liberal arts field. Thought this is what I observed and conjugated so far.

    #4616
    Mr.K
    Mr.K
    Participant

    Speaking about this topic, what do you guys think of Sucker Punch as a whole? I found this analysis (the only good one i could find) and i don’t know, I think he did hit the nails in some of the ideas that Zack wanted to portray in the film.

    "The world is merciless and it's also very beautiful."

    #4623
    KahunaDrake
    KahunaDrake
    Participant

    peaking about this topic, what do you guys think of Sucker Punch as a whole? I found this analysis (the only good one i could find) and i don’t know, I think he did hit the nails in some of the ideas that Zack wanted to portray in the film.

    Sucker Punch was a roller-coaster for me. There were some things that I liked and there were parts where I got confused with the narrative. However, by the end it all fell into place and I was able to see the connections. I think in literary format, this would probably be a stream-of-conciousness narrative (which is kind of a divisive narrative because others like the inner dialogue/emotional reactions and others don’t, which I think why critics didn’t care much for this film because it can be confusing).

    This was a solid analysis. I liked the fact that it acknowledged the dynamics of abuse and that people shouldn’t sit idly back waiting for change to happen for them. I did have to chuckle at the feminist themes. While I respect the analysis and whatever Snyder was trying to portray, there were some themes I found a little hypocritical (for lack of a better word).

    1960’s era = second wave feminism: While first wave feminism and the earlier part of second wave feminism had its benefits, by the time the 70’s rolled around feminism became very divisive for women. Motherhood was looked down upon (what happened to ladies’ choice of lifestyle?), there were conflicts between straight and lesbian women within the movement (a fight over which group was truly “liberated” from men; therefore a true feminist), and extremist man-hating/”men are worthless” narrative.
    Use of this chronological backdrop, to highlight the beginnings of female empowerment and romanticized notions of women standing together when in reality they were turning against each other, is somewhat ironic to me.

    Psychological domination over men/sexuality as a weapon: Within the context of the film, this is justified as the women are willing to do whatever they can to survive and escape. SweatPea does not wish to be objectified and wants more real expression (themes of the mind over the body/physical). However, I think in real life, both genders use sexuality as a means to an end. Men are capable of seducing women just as women are able to seduce men. Why? Because within everyone there is a sexual being and we can fall prey to these feelings. There is a reason why the tropes of the male ladykiller and the female siren have existed since ancient times. Also, this theme takes a somewhat dangerous turn into the victim becoming the abuser. Okay in this work of fiction but when applied to real life, well…just look at stories of abuse victims becoming the monsters they feared and despised.

    Rage against nerd culture: Well, considering the discussions on this site and GG, you can probably guess my opinion on the matter. I will say, despite adversity, everyone should have a right to their own interests/lifestyle. You might be judged and it can be easy to play the victim but don’t let that stop you. Stay true to yourself and you can never go wrong.
    “Never depend on the approval of small minds for your happiness.” – Hank the Cowdog

    As characters, I thought the women of Sucker Punch were highly relatable and I was rooting for them to escape from their misery. I think it was funny that critics view these characters as overly sexualized vixens conceived by an immature wet-dream but I saw them as sad and helpless people wishing for a better life and fighting back with what little means they had at their disposal.

    Again, I respect the analysis provided and whatever commentary Zach Snyder was trying to portray. I just gave my opinions on the feminist themes presented, based on research and personal experience. I hope I got my viewpoints across in an eloquent and fair manner.

    Rabid ecstasy, 1997

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