An Open Letter to the Pinheads Who Think Writing Strong Female Characters Is Hard
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty sick of being bombarded with what seems to be some sort of mass reversion to ridiculous women stereotypes. In the past week, I’ve had the urge to throttle a man right through the pages of a magazine, and to rip down the rack labels at a local Barnes and Noble. “Women’s Interests,” my ass (knitting, sewing, cooking and style, according to the selected display). As the mother of equally obsessed girl and boy Star Wars aficionados, it’s upsetting to see those film related toys (among others) constantly separated out in stores and directed at the male population. And as someone who watches all kinds of television and films, I’m tired of hearing writers say things like Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter recently did (on his casting coup, Patricia Arquette): (She’s) “one of those rare talents who can play a woman every bit as tough as the men yet remain feminine and sexy.” (I’ll hold my tongue for the moment…and try to look good doing it.)
Also commenting this week on the hardships of creating and portraying womenfolk was Lino DeSalvo, head animator of Disney’s Frozen: “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ‘cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.”
Okay, now I can’t hold my tongue any longer…
Dear Male Writers Who Struggle Creating Strong Female Characters,
Oh how I feel for you, trying to imagine the ever elusive sexy/smart/tough chick and bring her to life! You are a warrior, not unlike the great hunters who risk life and limb tracking Yeti or even Nessie herself. We silly women and our emotions; how you must suffer as you work around our imperfections! How relieved you must feel when you’re free to create male characters; they make no expressions, they’re tough and sexy, and free to be as unattractive as they like.
*insert screeching car sound here*
Let’s get real. The only thing difficult about creating strong female characters is force-filtering them through the heads of feeble minded men who insist on perpetuating antiquated ideas of what a woman is—of who she can be. It is you who spoons your teenaged wet dreams to your fellow brethren; you who limits these half-dimensioned poster ladies, blaming your self-set boundaries on advertising demographics or network heads. Even writers known for trying to buck the trend get sucked into the stupidity (perhaps to entice the feeble minded network men). Take, for instance, the pilot episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Imagine my face after having invited my daughter to watch it with me, and cue the scene where Coulson gives fellow agent Ward a truth serum to gain the trust of female hacker Skye—Coulson leaves the room so she can ask Ward anything she likes. Instead of focusing on what intelligence she might gather through smart questions, Skye immediately began shoving her barely contained cleavage in Ward’s face, flitting around him in some sort of ridiculous *tantalizing* dance. I don’t know about you, but that scene immediately shut me (and my daughter) right down. (And this is hardly the first time Whedon’s gone full boob; see Dollhouse’s Echo, a strong undercover agent seemingly made almost entirely of breast and lip tissue). It is beyond frustrating trying to teach children they aren’t defined by gender when everything they see around them gives the opposite message; even more so when these powerful voices speak such foolish words which are in turn careened into the mainstream media and reverberated throughout the industry. Ladies, how can you be cute or beautiful or even average looking, and at the same time, have an actual working brain? Is it hard to think while you’re looking good? Remember, never try to use your intellect when breasts will do.
Listen up you crusty fuckmuffins, you hear that tap, tap, tapping at the door? Let us in. If it is all just too difficult for your tiny, struggling minds—too beyond your ability to comprehend that women have and are able to use their minds rather well, regardless and independent of the way they look, then maybe you should let more women into the dusty, taped-up pleather couched, stinky-ass, windowless craphole you call a writer’s room so we can twist up your peabrains with women characters as real and beautiful as all those we know in real life. I’m tired of waiting around for the men’s club to catch up to reality. As the Writer’s Guild notes in their 2013 staffing brief “It all begins with the writing;” but from 1999 to 2012, women television writing staff have only increased about 5 percentage points. “At this rate of increase, it would be another 42 years before women—roughly half of the U.S. population—reach proportionate representation in television staff employment.” Forty-two years? That’s unacceptable, especially considering the male writers are unwilling or unable to write the characters that truly represent us. Every day, I interact with smart, tough, expressive, warm, intuitive, glorious girls who imagine, inspire, educate, fight, run, jump and kick ass, refuse to quit, beat the odds, and push right back those who try to stand in their way—a couple of them are even my daughters. If you can’t write us, we will.