In praise of weak female characters

I am going to quote Mlawski’s “Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women” at length. Because once in a while there comes a topic so solid that even I, even in these latter days of the Law, cannot relegate it to the ephemerality of Twitter.

  • “It was very clear that [the 2007 Transformers movie] was made for a very specific audience: young white nerdy men who wish they could bone models after watching them sexily fight robots so sweat cascades down their luscious tanned bodies.”
  • “This Super Strong Female Character is almost like a Mary Sue, except instead of being perfect in every way because she’s a stand-in for the author, she’s perfect in every way so the male audience will want to bang her and so the female audience won’t be able to say, ‘Tsk tsk, what a weak female character!’ It’s a win-win situation.”
  • “Good characters, male or female, have goals, and they have flaws. Any character without flaws will be a cardboard cutout. Perhaps a sexy cardboard cutout, but two-dimensional nonetheless. And no, ‘Always goes for douchebags instead of the Nice Guy’ is not a real flaw. Men think women have that flaw, but most women avoid ‘Nice Guys’ because they just aren’t that nice. So that doesn’t count.”
  • “And, by the way, it’s OK if these women are hot. The characters I just mentioned above… are all quite attractive. But they also DO get beat up and they DO look like they could kick your ass. Except for Zhang Yiyi, who’s like thirty pounds. But she at least looks graceful enough that she could fly and kick your ass with a sword, and she looks angry and batshit crazy enough that she’d do it twice.”

And now that I am done quoting it, you are going to read the whole thing.

9 thoughts on “In praise of weak female characters

  1. Based on your quotes, I object to the title of the article. It seems the problem isn’t strong female characters per se, it’s strong flawless female characters who are designed to be the perfect male fantasy, with the strength of the character just being a fig leaf intended to deflect criticism.

    Maybe the problem is so pervasive that it’s fair to conflate this specific kind of strong female character with strong female characters in general; I don’t watch enough movies, particularly movies designed to be interesting to straight teenage and twentysomething men, to tell. But the title seems to me to be conflating a set with a subset.

  2. And, by the way, it’s OK if these women are hot.

    See, as I said on twitter, for me it’s not OK? It’s not okay that all of these women are hot, because the message is “it doesn’t matter if you learn karate and astrophysics and can shoot the eye out of a squirrel at 100 yards, because if you’re not hot you’re not sexy, and if you’re not sexy you don’t matter.”

    So the two things go together, because the message continues to be: the only point of being a woman is to get banged by the lead male. Period.

  3. I would like to see more action-adventure movies with realistic-looking actors in them, but is it really fair to ask that of the “summer blockbuster”? And even if it is, is that really the same argument? Hotness — as long as it includes the likes of Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Yeoh, and we’re not just talking starlets here — is not a double standard.

    As for what hotness means, how it’s read, whether it means something different for male and female actors, whether male and female hotness mean something different to male and female viewers, male gaze, etc., there’s clearly something there, but I’m not convinced it’s hotness that’s the problem and not shitty storytelling.

  4. I’m not sure it’s actually relevant, even to the question of how men relate to hot guys in movies, but since I just spent five minutes clicking through screencaps from “Black Hawk Down” trying to find a picture of Josh Hartnett with his shirt off, I would like to adduce today’s Doonesbury. That would be yours truly with the milkshake.

  5. Actually, Mlawski did make the argument that it is a double standard, specifically with the whole “incredibly dorky guy gets Stunningly Hot Strong Chick” thing exemplified by Transformers.

    And I would argue that it’s the combination of the two–the Hot-Only rule for women plus the lack of actual characterization–that so depresses me. It’s the combination that makes it clear that the only legit goal for a female character is to be, er, bang-able.

  6. And re: various guys with their shirts off: it’s not that hot stars exist that gets me? It’s that ONLY hot female stars are allowed to exist.

  7. This is the guy who she’s calling a “schlubby everydude,” so she’s either off-target or she’s talking about the way his character’s written rather than what he looks like.

    I’m not talking about what’s been passing for “romantic comedy” the last few years — what’s going on there is completely obscene, and offensive not just for the obvious reasons. And I’m not talking about Hollywood as a whole, which I know has damn few roles for women who aren’t either ripped or anorexic or who still have the noses and breasts they were born with, and not enough roles even for women who fit the template once they get much over thirty. I just think the summer action blockbuster, as a genre, is as dependent on unrealistically fit people with unrealistically symmetrical features as it is on unrealistically dramatic gun battles, unrealistically large explosions and unrealistically skillful car chases, and asking it to do without one makes about as much sense as asking it to do without the others.

    And in that context, I don’t think the creation of a character like Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor is trivial, just because the woman playing her is built like a soccer star.

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