"Q: Why do you write strong female characters?
A princess with power
A: Because you're still asking me that question." – Joss Whedon
Merida. Katniss. Snow White (at least, in her latest incarnation). What do these three characters have in common? They're beautiful, brazen, bold and have graced the silver screen in the last three months.
The movie gods have recently released a dearth of films starring strong, independent female characters—characters that are often dubbed "feminist" by modern standards. I'm going to admit that I'm hyper attuned to these sorts of movies (I attend a women's college, what else do you expect?), but even my friends who aren't educated in a wash of feminism have noticed the trend.
Honestly, this is a welcome change from the last few years where it seems that every little girl wanted to be Bella Swan: the depressed, emotionless cardboard cutout who fell for a sparkly undead stalker that was (debatably) a pedophile (and before you ask, yes I read the book and watched the movies; my opinion stands). And while I have no problem with girls watching, and even absorbing the culture of valiant princes sweeping them off their feet, it's a nice change to see girls fighting for themselves. And, you know, not falling for undead creeps. But before this column becomes a dissertation on the problems with TWILIGHT, I'd like to turn the conversation towards the commonalities in our aforementioned leading ladies, and talk about
why they just might be changing the tide of female portrayal for the better.
See? Even as a wee lass she was a bundle of feminist adorability
1) They're all fighters
This point should be self-explanatory. Both Merida and Katniss are expert marksmen with the bow and arrow, and Kristen Stewart's Snow White dons armor for her final assault. Each of the girls is willing to grit her teeth and survive, plain and simple. They don't wait on another character to rescue them (with the exception of Snow White's apple debacle, but let's face it: you can't have Snow White without the ubiquitous kiss). They show skill and grace in their chosen arts—often out doing their male counterparts with their weapon of choice—and miraculously enough, these skills are never used to seduce or charm a male character.
2) They're all leaders
I wish I could emphasize this more. Merida is a budding princess, and while she is dissatisfied with the prospect of arranged marriage and defies the traditions and conventions of the kingdom, she still has her rallying point as the future leader of her people. While the men in the world of BRAVE seem largely conceited and brutish as a whole, Merida still manages to maintain control of a group. Due to her natural leadership qualities, Katniss ends up unwittingly sparking a revolution that could change the fate of countless individuals in Panem. And Snow White takes it upon herself to destroy the evil queen before taking the throne herself.
3) None of them are
Katniss Everdeen: Aka, every little girl's Halloween costume this year
This is kind of an odd one to put on the list, I'll admit—and in no way am I correlating beauty and strength. But I still think it warrants mentioning that Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, and the character Merida are, all in all, average-looking girls. They are pretty, yes, but they aren't freakishly proportioned, or conventional blond bombshells. Kristen Stewart's look has been both criticized and praised as being unconventional, Jennifer Lawrence's external appeal stems from her girl-next-door appearance, and Merida has a crazy cloud of red ringlets and not a smudge of makeup in sight. It's nice to see girls in movies who seem, for lack of a better word, normal. And this feeds into my next point...
4) They all have a self-defined personality
Merida bucks convention and follows her natural passions for archery and nature. Katniss's mother is a distant creature who hardly says two words to her, and hardly provides a solid female role model. Snow White was locked in a freaking tower, and didn't really have a chance to be influenced by anyone else. All three girls survive, thrive, and develop without bouncing themselves off a male counterpart (and Merida isn't even given a male counterpart). I'm not suggesting that romantic relationships in film or elsewhere are inherently negative, but it's nice to see girls who live for themselves first, and (maybe) figure out love later down the
Such a brooding group
5) None of them sacrifice their femininity
This is a big one for me. Merida, Katniss, and Snow White do not become masculine in their quest. They don't cut their hair and dress up like men—they don't change their clothes or objectify themselves. They dress like they want to dress and look like they want to look and that's it. If they'd wanted to cut their hair, cool beans. If they'd wanted to wear Daisy Duke's or a ball gown or whatever else, they did. Appearance was of little, if no, importance. Sure, Snow White was supposedly the fairest in the land, but she did not rely on her external beauty to win a kingdom. It was her personality and leadership traits that earned her the throne. Merida doesn't give a crap about her looks, but she still maintains a feminine grace and abject determination that comes to define her character. And Katniss, though dolled up by the capitol and turned into some strange goddess by the people of Panem, really just wants to survive, and she does this with sacrifice, pain, and raw drive.
While there have been other notable strong females in film (Black Widow from THE AVENGERS rings a bell), these three character seem to resonate strongly with younger viewers who are going to be heavily influenced by filmic portrayals. Hopefully with THE HUNGER GAMES and BRAVE raking in such high profits, the rest of the movie industry will take a cue and keep creating movies that feature strong women.
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Jul 5, 2012 6:05 PM
I've been attracted to Warrior Women, especially in cheesy action films. The Asylum has made a cottage industry of making unknown actresses the Alpha Female in their movies, and they're a hoot to watch.
Welcome to the Bullpen!
Jul 7, 2012 9:33 AM
|Hi, J.P., welcome to the writer's gang of misfits. Loved your column and yes we need more of the younger women supporting the strong women in film. Strong does not equate to unfeminine as you pointed out. Isn't it great to see something more than the fragile damsel in distress types of films? I'm not keen on competing with the likes of ROCKY, but showing women decisive and standing up for themselves is heartwarming at best. Good suff, J.P.!|
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Eclectic and eccentric opinions of a mere mortal beguiled and bewildered by by the magic of film. Geeky, intellectual commentary from a film maven obsessed with independent, art house, offbeat, and just plain awesome movies.
|J. P. Wickwire|
Student by day and author by night, J. P. Wickwire pretends she is a revolutionary penning poetry, fiction, comic books, and commentary for the discerning opinion connoisseur. She has erected a blogpire from boredom and launched a professional career reviewing science-fiction and fantasy literature for outlets recognized around the globe, including Tangent Online, The New York Journal of Books Online, and Bull Spec magazine. She is excited to (finally) be able to share her filmic love with the world as well. |
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