Friday, October 17, 2008

More stereotypical characters, please!

How many times have you heard or read these phrase: "<Random strong female character> is a good character because she's strong without giving up her femininity." or maybe, "It's good that <random female character> isn't just a male character in a woman's body, because that is boring and stereotypical."

I can't seem to come up with any links to this kind of thing right now, but I keep hearing this kind of talk, over and over again - especially when I'm discussing something like Buffy with male friends. I just have one question: When has this ever been done? When have we seen a 'male character in a female body', and where can I find it?

Alien? Terminator? Ripley/Sarah Conner are cast in a mother role.

Alice or Jill in the Resident Evil series? Maybe. Some of Elizabeth Moon's characters? I suppose.

I'm sure that there are more examples, but I think that we can agree - such characters are very, very rare.

Now, I love the complex, wonderful characters that are created when strong female characters are 'done right' i.e., not stereotypes. I wouldn't have Buffy, or Ripley, or Xena, or Elizabeth Bennett, or whomever written any other way. Writers should strive to create complex, well-rounded characters of all genders. Sometimes, however, it just doesn't happen. And sometimes, I'm just not up to digesting a complex, realistic character - I just want something simple. And stereotypes, ideals, are important to out cultural mythmaking...

But, where are these stereotypes? It seems like even the toughest female action-oriented characters resort to seduction on a regular basis. (c.f. Max from Dark Angel, Xena) And those that don't are still supposed to be sympathetic to family members, spouses/boyfriends, starving orphans, etc, to a degree unheard of by their male counterparts. We wouldn't want them seeming any less female, now would we? And if they are less female, they're invarabily evil.

So here's what I want:

I want a female western hero, Lone Ranger style. The kind that comes into town on a big white horse, defeats the bad guys, and rides of into the sunset. No weird former relationships, no serious love intrest, no noticeable weaknesses.

I want a female James Bond clone. Not an Alias-type female spy, but the whole masculine-fantasy Bond. Suave, perfect gentleperson, yet an amazing detective and fighter, who has an astonishing sense of luck, inept sidekicks, and who gets all the girls without trying, but who remains cooly detached throughout. For even more bonus points, make her straight and give her feminine, 'woman in a man's body', male love interests.

(Side note: why is it that male characters often have love interests that are weak and girly, but female characters always dispise and reject weak male love interests, only accepting those that are close to their quality?)

I want a female buddy comedy. Baby Mama doesn't count. It couldn't have been made with male characters.

I want a romance movie with the roles reversed. Completely. Enough said.

I could go on and on.

We probably won't ever get any of these things. There's been such a rejection of cliched characters of any gender, that nobody's going to try anything this different, but I can wish! Still...

The male ideal stereotype, the 'White Knight' if you will, is still pervasive in the culture. Even if modern fictional characters tend to be less idealistic, less heroic, the ideal is still there, and the modern characters still approximate it, even if they remain human. By refusing to create female characters who embody the masculine stereotype, even the strongest women will invarabily be compared, not to that stereotype, but to the existing feminine stereotype. This tendancy leads to a rejection of certain roles for women and men in real life. By denying this stereotype, we essentially deny half of human expression for half the human race.

And let's not even start on feminine male characters...

(Crossposted from Constant Thoughts)

4 comments:

Erin Hoagland said...

I want a female western hero, Lone Ranger style. The kind that comes into town on a big white horse, defeats the bad guys, and rides of into the sunset. No weird former relationships, no serious love intrest, no noticeable weaknesses.

Would Sharon Stone's character from 1995's The Quick and the Dead qualify?

Brianna J said...

No, not really.

Her presentation in the first part of te film is fairly reasonable, but her emotional reactions throughout the film is definitely feminine. The other character's reactions to her are suited to her 'masculine female' persona, they would not be suited to a male character.

And the dinner scene throws anything else left off by quite a bit, I think.

At least, that's my take on The Quick and the Dead. It's a good movie, though!

duckbunny said...

Oh, I have such fun playing these kinds of characters at LARP! Last night my character: talked about sex a lot, some of it with a new (armed, female) friend she'd just made and some just to make her friend/father figure twitch; shouted at an entire bar full of adventurers; discussed the possiblity of resurrecting her dead god with the embodied spirit of the city, and singlehandedly planned and organised a zombie-hunting expedition.
There are a lot of female larpers who cater to established gender roles in their characters. Quite possibly they enjoy flirting and dresses and working from beind the scenes and dislike getting muddy, in which case more power to them, because fun is the whole point. But I'd rather play a "stereotypical man in a woman's body", because that phrase actually means "real person in a female body", and I'd rather kill zombies myself than wait anxiously for my one true love to return from battle.

floetcist said...

The amount of times Xena uses seduction is very rare to the point I wouldn't even recognize it as a character trait.

"When have we seen a ‘male character in a female body’, and where can I find it?"

I'd say Xena fits that description.

"(Side note: why is it that male characters often have love interests that are weak and girly, but female characters always dispise and reject weak male love interests, only accepting those that are close to their quality?)"

Ever heard of Lois Lane? ;)