Friday, 28 October 2011

Interesting Is Better Than Strong

So it's almost time for NaNoWriMo again and I've been hanging out some on the forums, enjoying the atmosphere, occasionally posting, you get the picture. Somehow I ended up thinking about the calls for more 'strong women' in fiction, not sure how, they weren't explicitly made in any of the threads I was reading, I guess my brain got there by some kind of sideways route from something else. The following is a general kind of rambling collection of my thoughts on the matter (Oh and they're here not on the NaNo forum purely because this blog needs some love... how many months since I last bothered to write a post? Bad me... or sucky depression, take your pick.)

My first question is what exactly is meant by a 'strong woman' anyway? Unfortunately the definition that springs to mind for me is the tough, independent action girl, I'm thinking of characters like Zoe out of Firefly. I say unfortunately because those characters frequently bore the crap out of me. I mean Zoe isn't a bad character, she has depth and character development and all those things, but she's an example of that particular archetype done well and she still doesn't interest me as much as Inara, Kaylee or River.

I admit that this is purely a matter of personal preference (and incidentally not gender based : tough, independent action boys tend to bore me as well. Colby Granger from Numb3rs gets a free pass for being inexplicably awesome, but he's an exception), but I also have issues with the idea that such a woman is necessarily a good role model, especially when 'tough' is taken to mean 'has no emotions, or at any rate doesn't express them', 'independent' means 'never needs or accepts help, especially from a man' and an 'action girl' is one who thinks with her fists. Actually it may be the role model aspect that bugs me the most, because a character who is all those things (for preference without the 'especially from a man' clause) but they are recognized as being flaws (or at least are capable of being flaws when the situation calls for a different approach) may be very interesting indeed, (the extremely awesome Sabina Kane springs to mind).

Of course a large part of the problem is probably with my definition, there are plenty of other ways to be strong, emotionally, mentally, etc but I think what really bothers me is the assumption that weak characters are inherently bad or (if female) sexist (do I need to point out that not thinking that weak characters are sexist if they're male is in itself sexist? apparently I'm going to anyway). Regular readers (which I'm pretty sure I don't actually have - apart from my boyfriend, who has to sleep on the sofa if he doesn't read my blog), may recall that I loved the movie Black Swan (post may be found here) the main character of which, although strong in some respects (ballet requires physical strength, and she certainly has a bucket-load of resolve) is defined in the story by her weakness, that is to say that she's going steadily insane. She is still, in my opinion at least, a great character (a lousy role model, I grant you, but a great character). The thing is that if the film wasn't about Nina, if her story was just something in the background of somebody else's tale Nina could easily be a bad case of stuffed in the fridge, but because it's her story, because the bad things that happen to her are treated with maturity she's a really compelling and interesting character.

I think that's about everything I wanted to say, sorry if it was incoherent, and also sorry for the ridiculous number of parenthetical comments, but it's late and I'm tired and I want to hit the publish button right about now, so I'm going to stop there and hope that at least some of my point got across, if it didn't, the short version is basically 'stop asking for strong female characters and ask for interesting ones instead'.