Today I had one of those thoughts that's kind of stating the obvious so there's little need to write it down, but it was in response to many people implying it wasn't true so I'm writing it down. It has to do with female characters.

A few months ago, for instance, I came across a thing showing a sort of "evolution" of Disney princesses. How in the early days we had passive girls who waited for their prince like Cinderella and Snow White. Then we had the girls who were proactive but still had stories that still ended with her getting a man like Belle and Ariel, and then we got the girls who were in it for themselves like Mulan and Tiana (who some complain has to get a job when the white girls get to be queens). What strikes me about that is that yes, you can always point out trends in Disney movies, but there's an implication here of the girls improving towards some ideal.

Evolution often gets spoken about that way too, and it's just as wrong there. Like people often think of evolution in terms of nature perfecting something when that's not how it works. It's just branching out into many species that are all workable in their niche. Like people often show charts of earlier versions of horses leading up to the horses we love that are so streamlined and awesome. When really, there used to be many different types of horses across the entire world, and now there's only one. It's a fine type, of course, but the evolutionary tree is not in healthy shape when it's narrowed to one twig. You want to have a lot of different types all doing their thing.

So what does that have to do with Disney princesses or female characters? I feel like they get talked about the same way, as if female characters are competing to be the one representative. Once we find one better than the last she replaces her in this constant search for the character who "gets it right." And I feel like this is something that's more intense when it comes to female character than it is with other minority characters, even though they're facing similar challenges and do get similar criticisms.

Belle isn't a stage of development leading up to Mulan, she's just a different girl in a different story who has qualities a lot of girls can still relate to and still has lessons to teach. Recently I also saw something lr complaining about Katniss Everdeen and asking when we would get a *good* female heroine (maybe one who was also "strong") which Katniss apparently wasn't in the poster's eyes. I can't talk about that series too well because I'm at this point halfway throught the second book but I really found myself questioning what this person wanted. I mean, some of the criticisms I just didn't agree with. Like one person to me seemed to feel that while Katniss started out strong her strength was undermined by Collins giving her a character arc where she grew and learned. (One person seemed to feel she was always being compared unfavorably to Peeta by other characters and the text but so far I just don't see that at all. And it's even sort of ironic since THG very much uses the modern trope of giving the girl qualities that were historically given to the boy/man and vice versa.)

Anyway, it seems to me that Katniss is a strong character in that she's got a clear personality driven by clear motivations and temperment. She seems like the believable product of her experiences and natural personality, and so far she hasn't done anything that seemed OOC based on what I know of her to serve the plot or whatever. I can't think of any major decisions she's made that weren't her own. Maybe it was unfair, but I did wind up feeling like Katniss was being compared to some ideal where she would always fall short because no character can be everything. You have to pick the limits of the character and the story you're writing (seriously--the themes and ideas of the story are going to inform the characters) and stick to it. It's not that I don't think it's sometimes a good idea to look at trends or limitations that are given to girl characters as a group, but that's different than judging one character.

The reward comes not from finally getting the girl we can all like, but in having a myriad of girls to choose from that encompass tons of different characteristics and flaws. It's just sometimes it feels like when people talk about girl characters instead of looking at them and saying "I love her, I like her, she's okay, she's boring, she's funny, hate her, she bugs me..." it's more saying, "Not her. Not her. Not her. Not her." Of course sometimes you'll get a "Her!" but when you frame it that way there will naturally be other people who say, "Her? WTF? Not her!"

From: [identity profile] mahoni.livejournal.com


The reward comes not from finally getting the girl we can all like, but in having a myriad of girls to choose from that encompass tons of different characteristics and flaws. It's just sometimes it feels like when people talk about girl characters instead of looking at them and saying "I love her, I like her, she's okay, she's boring, she's funny, hate her, she bugs me..." it's more saying, "Not her. Not her. Not her. Not her."

YES.

From: [identity profile] latxcvi.livejournal.com


The reward comes not from finally getting the girl we can all like, but in having a myriad of girls to choose from that encompass tons of different characteristics and flaws.

I was nodding emphatically throughout the whole post, but this sentence just knocked my socks off. Fandom would, in general I think, be so much happier all around if more people could embrace this. Because it's true. It is more rewarding recognizing that there are all sorts of different ways to be a great female character.
ext_6866: (Hanging on a branch)

From: [identity profile] sistermagpie.livejournal.com


Thanks! Even sometimes it's a case of a person having a certain role in a story and they can't also have another role. So you have to judge them on how well they play the role they're in.

From: [identity profile] ava-jamison.livejournal.com


I wonder what's up with the idea that it's got to be a girl we can all like. I mean, the big idea with a protagonist is that it ought to be someone with whom the reader can identify in some way. But it almost seems like the female protagonists are sometimes expected to please every reader (or be a cautionary tale but that may just be that I've been reading East of Eden at the moment) while a male protagonist might get more range of behavior and interesting flaws and it still works. Case in point, imo, Wonder Woman. She's supposed to represent every woman and as a result seems to not have any personality at all to me.

ext_6866: (Totem)

From: [identity profile] sistermagpie.livejournal.com


Oh god, yes. Poor Wonder Woman sometimes seems like the most obvious example. In theory she's great, but she doesn't seem to have a personality to me even when people who love her try to explain it to me or I read her. Or, you know, she does have a personality but it's not engaging.

From: [identity profile] elizabethtess.livejournal.com


I found you through some Avatar-related business (specifically your post about Mai's character arc) and I just wanted to say how much I love this.

Specifically your quote: "The reward comes not from finally getting the girl we can all like, but in having a myriad of girls to choose from that encompass tons of different characteristics and flaws."

Because oh my god. I've been trying to come to grips with that for literally years. Everyone is always bitching about 'Oh the only good female character is one who can kill thirty ninjas at one time and if she wears a dress she's obviously the worse for it!' And it's just like... no.

Women come in all different forms and abilities and personalities. A woman who would rather keep her opinions to herself is NOT weaker than a woman who bitches out everyone she disagrees with. A woman who stands by her family is NOT weaker than a woman who leaves them in the lurch to save the world. A woman who falls in love is NOT weaker than a woman who scorns love and everyone who agrees with it. To claim that the ONLY strong woman is one who is an unattainable paragon of abrasive and violent perfection is harmful to the girls who need proper female role models.

Also, regarding how everyone comparing Katniss unfavorably to Peeta in the books: I had been bothered by that, too. Then I realized that everyone is compared unfavorably to Peeta. Not just Katniss, but everyone who survived the Hunger Games and was willing to murder other human beings for their own survival. Where Katniss is strong in her body and will, Peeta is strong in his morals. So... yeah. My two cents, let me give you them.
ext_6866: (Two for joy of talking)

From: [identity profile] sistermagpie.livejournal.com


Thanks for commenting! And totally sympathize with exactly what you're talking about. I remember even being a kid and thinking well, I'm not the girlie girl who's always shown as the villain or being really annoying, but I'm not the tomboy because I hate sports so...am I good or not?

I was amazed that recently I saw a reference to a character in A Song of Ice and Fire who described as weak because she was mostly motivated by her children and not only did I think that was really unfair since children are important, but as part of focusing on her children she was involved in all sorts of political machinations.

Also I so agree about Peeta being compared to everyone that way! And a lot of the time it's clearly a person projecting their own self-hatred or guilt onto him. Those who survive the games by killing are going to relate to him very differently as a person who managed to get through intact. He gives them hope so they want to protect him.
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