Quick Hit: Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women

Everyone knows Hollywood isn’t so good at depicting women, especially in blockbuster films. This is why we have the Bechdel test. But while I’ve seen a lot of good articles on the subject, Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women not only makes some great points, but it makes some of them with hilariously snarky photos:

A Strong Female Character? Not so much.

It’s tempting to link more, but seriously, just go over there and look. Don’t miss the one with the queen. And if you’re as busy as I am lately, don’t feel guilty if you’re reading the article just for the pictures. ;)

10 thoughts on “Quick Hit: Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women

  1. A.Y. Siu

    It’d be great to see more strong female characters who don’t have to be scantily clad, thin, and conventionally beautiful.

    1. Terri

      I don’t particularly disagree, but just to be clear, that’s explicitly NOT what the linked article is saying. Basically, it says being hot is fine, but being “strong” (smart, physically adept, etc.) just so that the woman’s more of a catch for the guy in the end (e.g. to increase hotness) is not what we really need.

  2. Elizabeth

    Tangent: Thinkgeek has a “Self-Rescuing Princess” t-shirt. It seems appropriate here.

  3. Restructure!

    Thanks for this! The article is awesome, and the snarky (and hot) pictures are great in themselves.

    I think the major problem here is that women were clamoring for “strong female characters,” and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminists meant [Strong Female] Characters. The feminists meant [Strong Characters], Female.

    1. Restructure!

      HTML fail. That was supposed to be in a blockquote:

      I think the major problem here is that women were clamoring for “strong female characters,” and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminists meant [Strong Female] Characters. The feminists meant [Strong Characters], Female.

  4. Jay

    I think mlawski’s article is way off base – not about Transformers, but about the state of “strong female characters” in Hollywood in general. Yes – there are still film-makers who tie the damsel to the proverbial train tracks… in pointless popcorn flicks. (It makes you wonder if there was a train-shaped Decepticon designed for just such a scene)

    It’s easy to jump all over a summer fantasy movie for it’s lack of nuanced characters, but elsewhere, Hollywood has never been so progressive. There are more female directors churning out award-winning films; more roles for women featuring powerful, incredible characters; more independent production houses managed by women; more celebrated women scriptwriters; etc, etc – than ever before in the history of film.

    To take a short list of garbage films (some from the 1970s? Come on.) and rag on them for being chauvinist only proves that mlawski has terrible taste in movies. Arguably, they’re popular films, but that doesn’t make them good, nor does it imply the directors are particularly capable. You should instead be celebrating the tremendous inroads into the industry made in recent years by women in Hollywood.

    Just take a look at this year’s oscar nominations! Incredible recent films featuring female characters who are empowered, emotionally complex, and self-determining:

    The Hurt Locker – (by superstar director Kathryn Bigelow!)
    Julie and Julia
    The Last Station
    Up In The Air
    The Young Victoria
    Coco Before Chanel
    An Education
    The Blind Side

    Not to mention the successive victories from previous years – Monster, Monster’s Ball, Juno, etc, etc, etc…

    1. Terri

      I think the point is that the blockbusters and proponents thereof seem to think, “oh, well, there’s this chick, and she’s strong… so we’re totally helping!” and this article is basically saying “uh… no”

      The fact that there exist decent movies with real complex characters (as the author of the article notes as well) doesn’t mean that this misunderstanding isn’t harmful and potentially pervasive. I’ve seen it come up in other things too, like amazon recommending comics to me that turn out to be really terrible with little more than a “well, she’s (physically) strong and a girl” to connect it to the rest of my profile.

      Explaining that nuance with hilarity is actually a lot more effective than just another list of good examples, IMO. Although it is nice to have both, and it’s good to think, “hey, at least there is some progress,” too.

    2. takingitoutside

      I think Terri put it very well, but I thought I’d suggest Melissa Silverstein’s Women and Hollywood blog. She’s a film marketer who specializes in the female audience, and she often takes a hard-numbers approach. For example, her statistics page shows that in 2008 only 9% of film directors were women. On top of that, in another post she notes that in 2009 women made up only 7% of directors! That may be an improvement on 1960 (though I kind of doubt it), but it’s pathetic, any way you look at it. She has numbers for a number of other jobs – screenwriter, producer, et cetera – and for TV work as well, and they’re all bad. Nothing even approaches 50%. In fact, only one or two (low ranking) positions even hit 40%. Silverstein blogs a lot more stats on things like female-centric films up for awards that might surprise you. They certainly surprised me, and I was pretty cynical before I came across her blog.

      I have to admit, I thought Mlawski was rather positive about it all; she did call out a few bad movies, but she gave even more good examples, like Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as guidelines for future thought. I found the article very thought-provoking. And funny. Very funny.

  5. Perich

    Thanks for the love! Mlawski’s article is one of our most popular; it really seems to have struck a chord.

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