Monday, March 5, 2012

“I find it comic. […] It is run by men, after all.”

Today I heard a lecture about women’s history in America. The lecturer mentioned that a good ‘real’ feministic independent figure in popular culture is Buffy the vampire slayer. However, I don’t quite understand that, because if I remember correctly, then her counterpart was Angel. Sure, they weren’t in the same show in the beginning, but Angel was another one of Joss Whedon’s creations and in the end Buffy had to submit to him. She became a second place player in the show for quite a while. All the while the male character took the stage. I don’t quite see that any better than the lecturer’s counterexample about women who have power but have to answer to men, take Charlie’s Angels for instance.

This got me thinking about two things. Firstly, are there any ‘good’ feministic examples is popular culture, and secondly, how Joss Whedon has built up his shows. I’ll start with the latter, rather than the former.

It would seem that Whedonverse in general has strong female characters. Zoe and River in Firefly, Echo and Adelle in Dollhouse, to name a few. These characters have power, skills, and a will to use them. However each one of them has a male person who they rely on or from who they take their orders. Zoe and River take their orders from Malcolm Reynolds, the captain. Zoe relies on Wash, the husband, and River on Simon, the brother who saved her. Echo was a weaker character than Paul Ballard, the guy who was trying to find her and uncover the corporation. Adelle was used as a knight (a pawn would be too small a role, bishop and rook too great) by Boyd, the mastermind man behind it all. Not to mention Sierra, who became very dependent on Victor in the course of the short-lived series. And the shows were extremely popular with men and women alike, largely because of strong female characters. However, the strongest characters are always men. It would appear that those are the ideals nowadays. Strong but controlled.

Yet I do agree with the statement that it is nearly impossible to find a strong independent, yet realistic, female character. In a way, I’d consider Electra King as a strong character, but even she was forced to use her feminine wiles and she failed. Eventually she was simply shot. The female detective in Closer has practically no depth to her character. She is quite simply a ‘suit’. Fiona in Burn Notice does everything for the protagonist. Every woman in Bones had a man they had to rely on. To be fair, I’ll even include Bella, the typical teenage girl with a typical choice between zoophilia and necrophilia, has to, well, choose between two freaks of nature because she can’t handle life on her own. Katniss Everdeen relied firstly on Gale, then Haymitch, then Peeta, not to mention Lenny Kravitz. So quite frankly, I can’t think of a strong independent female character. Strong characters are easy to come by, but independence appears to be something out of science fiction, and it doesn’t even exist there!


  1. Sinking down to the cartoon-world, Disney probably has an example: Kim Possible, albeit surrounded by male help(sidekick, computer whiz, father), manages to be an independent I-can-do-anything main character. At least in my eyes, that is.

    Also, I count video games as today's popular culture. Along with gender-neutral games, where being female has minor tweaks(if any) to the game(e.g. the Fallout series), there are quite good independent females with predetermined characteristics as well. Dead Island has 4 equally deadly characters to choose from, 2 of which are ladies. Portal's protagonist and GLaDOS(I say she's a female robot!) fit in the criteria too, perhaps. Mirror's Edge's Faith, while fooled by the males in the story, displays a strong rebellious attitude and prevails in the end.

  2. Fallout reminds me of Mass Effect. However, in Fallout as in Mass Effect, the main character is originally depicted as a male (one doesn't often see the cartoonish vault dweller image as a girl). The default is still the male version, the female version is merely an alternative.
    I cannot say anything about Kim Possible or Dead Island or Mirror's Edge as I have never seen/played them. The main concern in here is quite frankly whether or not they have an actual personality. This is a shortcoming of several items of interest in today's popular culture.
    For example, pretty much all we know about GLaDOS is that she is funny and hates being a potato. The protagonist has absolutely no dialogue, no emotions, no reactions to any events as much as I can remember.

    This is why I'd rather not use video games as examples, it is extremely difficult to have a character with any depth to them.

    Now, I'm not saying a strong independent female character does not exist, I'm saying it is quite difficult to find one.

  3. Agent Scully in the first 4 seasons of "The X-files". Later on the plot went too boring anyways :P

    1. Borderline modern. I would like the comment if I could but I can't so I shan't.