Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Today's musings - Television and the attack of the "strong female" tropes

“So, why do you write these strong female characters?
Because you’re still asking me that question." ~ Joss Whedon

The first of the new shows are out on the networks, and so far, I’m underwhelmed. I wanted to like them, I really did, but I have yet to many shows that actually have  a decently written leading woman. Now I will admit I don’t have a whole lot of time to watch television, so I might have missed one (or two or four.)  But the trend is disturbing. That quote from Joss Whedon is from eight years ago. Eight years, and the networks are still struggling to figure it out after some writers showed how it should be done.

I don’t expect every woman to be Xena, Warrior Princess crossed with Martha Stewart, taking down bad guys and saving the day while baking cookies for the homeless. I do want to see smart, funny, capable women portrayed, and yet…there are few to be found. Instead I keep finding women either relegated to the role of “I shall stand right here and look pretty, hands fluttering and bosom heaving until the hero rescues me,” or “I swear like a trucker and have a heart of ice, nothing can touch my soul. See how tough I am as I stitch wounds and don’t flinch at the sight of blood or death. I am woman, hear me roar.”

Criminal Minds and Walking Dead are examples of shows that try to give their characters depth. They’re not walking stereotypes. Both the men and women have their weaknesses, strengths, fears and foibles. Not one of them is perfect. Does it always work? Of course not. But it works often enough that I’ve become attached to the characters and invested in their stories. There aren’t many shows I’m actually invested in right now. My down time is limited, and I won’t waste it on entertainment that doesn’t engage me.

Not every woman portrayed on television needs to be Black Widow or Buffy. They don’t need to be corporate lawyers or any job title with the words “high powered’ in front of it. What the do need to be, is smart enough to get through a typical day in the real world without requiring assistance or outright rescue.

Real female federal agents don’t need mentors to help them every step of the way. Female scientists can be brainy and approachable at the same time without tearing holes in the fabric of space/time. And someone please explain to the network studios that just because a woman can curse a blue streak, it doesn’t mean she’s tough. I have friends who are as gentle as lambs, and they both have vocabularies caustic enough to peel paint.

If you have a show you love, tell me in the comments and I’ll give it a watch. Or share your most hated stereotype or trope when it comes to how the “fairer sex” is portrayed on TV and the movies.