Girls Want to Save the Day Too – Part 1

In the comments of the last post regarding the Sherlock Holmes 2 movie, I got caught up in a discussion about the female roles in the movie and whether or not they were important or not.

I believed that, while Simza was cool, she wasn’t as important as she could have been. Though she was important, I thought she wasn’t important enough.

Though all the female characters in that movie were fleshed out and characterized very well (and thus we have come a LONG way from when women first appeared in action movies), I want more.

This conversation sparked inside me a rant that has been inside me for a long time. I could probably write ten posts about it. Here’s one with a second post on the way.

It has to do about the roles female characters play in most fantasy or scifi action movies.

In most of these films (not all, but most or at least the ones I noticed), female characters fall into the same type of supporting roles over and over again. Fleshed out or not fleshed out. Kick ass or not kick ass.

A lot of these characters I really loved anyways. But again. I want more. I want something else in addition to this.

Here are some of the main roles I noticed:

The Love Interest – the person or thing that needs to be saved or protected and basically the main personal motivation for the male protagonist’s  actions, other than to save the day.

Examples: Trinity from The Matrix, the girl from Transformers 2, M.J. from Spider-Man, Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Rescuer/Protector – the protector of someone they cherish: a child, a mentor/father, a lover/husband, usually male but not always.

Examples:  Arwen and Eowyn from LOTR (I know I said I love them and they are awesome, but again, their motivations were all because of a male figure in their lives), Trinity from The Matrix (yup, she’s both: Neo’s Love Interest and Neo’s protector. She’s there for his sake, either to be his motivation or his support), Simza from Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (she’s there for her brother).

The Selfish Bitch – usually a thief or criminal whose motivations are shallow and usually involving money. They are often coldhearted and /or unsympathetic to others.

Examples: Irene Adler (I’ll get more into her in the next post), Catwoman from the old Batman movies and cartoon show.

The Hateful Bitch – similar to the Selfish Bitch, but she has lost someone (a child, her whole family, a lover or husband, often a male but not always) and her actions are motivated  solely on making the person who hurt her, pay.  Or simply, they’ve been hurt or suffered trauma and now are cold hearted and unresponsive…until a man comes in and makes them whole again (*gags*) or not.

Examples: The girl from Underworld, the girl from 28 Days Later, Mystique from X-Men (and it hurts me to say this cause I LOVED her, but even if she was inspired by injustices to mutants, her main source of motivation was freaking Magneto and the second he turned on her, hurt her, she switched sides in order to hurt him), The Bride from Kill Bill.

The Stereotype – a character who has no fleshed out background, and is simply playing out a preset personality type.

Examples: The tomboy, fighter pilot girl from Avatar, Scarlet *I think that’s her name*from Iron Man, the girl from Ghost Rider (who also plays The Love Interest and The Girlfriend…god I hated her).

The Girlfriend – a character whose only source of motivation is to be with her man.

Examples: Bella from Twilight, Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean, every single princess in every single Disney Princess Movie (even if it doesn’t start out that way, it ends up that way, but then again they are romances so it doesn’t really count or really matter).

There are more, most likely, but these are the ones I noticed the most. That doesn’t mean these characters were poor (well, some of them were) or the movies sexist or boring. I loved most of these movies. I’d watch them again. Some are really fleshed out and they really work. It has less to do with the characters themselves and all to do with the importance of their roles.

There’s nothing really wrong with them other than it sometimes feels like that’s all there is.

However, there are female characters who break these roles.  Characters I enjoy a bit more because they are so RARE. For example:

Claudia from Interview of the Vampire

The scientist lady from Avatar

Lyra from The Golden Compass

Most of Hayao Miyazaki’s female characters (except maybe Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, and Kushana from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind…though only a little bit, because even though Kushana was hateful, she also loved the men under her charge and was motivated by that devotion as well as her own sense of pride. Miyazaki characters who especially broke the standard roles are San and Eboshi from Princess Mononoke, and Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind).

The biggest difference between the characters that play the roles mentioned above and those who break them is that those who break them aren’t SOLELY motivated by a man or anyone else for that matter.

And most importantly, their roles matter a WHOLE lot more because they act the same way a male main character would act.

What does this mean?

Their motivations expand. They don’t just act for themselves or for romantic longing or for family devotion or a mother’s instinct (and in fact has nothing to do with another character at all) and more for their personal values and beliefs.

What I mean is….

They are champions of their own world.

THEY want to save the day, or learn the truth, or make a difference, or solve a puzzle, or escape fate, or defeat evil, or etc. That’s their primary focus.

They don’t support or rely on a man who wishes to do these things, or revolve their every action around the main male character’s actions, but act on their own in order to affect the world around them or, in this case, the plot—the most important thing.

She’s a leader.

She’s a hero. (And not the type in skin tight leather and six inch heels. Girls only wear that sort of thing to get the attention of guys or feel sexy/attractive…to guys. That kind of getup is uncomfortable, painful and demeaning).

She’s a detective.

She’s a problem solver.

She’s a doctor.

She is an independent thinker.

In the next post, I’ll take characters from popular movies and explain exactly why I believe they fall into redundant, less-important-than-they-could-be roles or break out of them and have stronger roles because of it, and what true gender equality in action genre films really looks like.

What do you think about  female roles in sci-fi/fantasy/action/adventure/genre/youknowhatimean stories?

Agree or do you think I’m being too much of a nitpick? Please, let me know in the comments.


5 thoughts on “Girls Want to Save the Day Too – Part 1

Add yours

  1. Definitely agree.

    Fascinating topic to bring up. One I’ve thought a lot about in the process of writing my current novel. I hate to see female characters put into limited roles just because they’re female. Hell, I hate that in general most women have to do a hell of a lot more than men just to prove themselves on the same level, and even then its not the same. Might not be this way with all men but until the day i stop hearing “i’m a man, you’re a girl” in response to a reason i shouldn’t know something when i do and the guy should know more…

    1. I’ve never been told I didn’t know something because I was a girl. I’d want to kill the guy who would ever say that to me seriously. That’s so…remarkably stupid.

      I think about it a lot for my stories too, because I want to do the opposite of what is always done. I want to create women with powerful roles, where they stand on their own and have their own desires and dreams, and fight for them, not for anyone or anything else.

      But it’s tricky! Because the set roles do work too and can be great and sometimes I find myself doing the very thing I’m protesting about.

      It’s kind of embarrassing.

  2. Playing Devil’s advocate here… 😉

    Well, not really. Everything you said is basically spot-on…though I dress up in leather just for the sake of looking sexy. If you’re gonna save the world, you’ve gotta do it in style. 😉

    The thing is, all of these character types that you named — except for perhaps the love interest and girlfriend — can be and have been played ad nauseum by males. Also, you forgot “the Protected” to go along with “the Protector.” Basically, the damsel in distress, the significant other that needs saving, the kid with cancer, etc. These are all valid roles that can be done in an interesting way, if the writers are careful not to fall into cliches. Unfortunately, that doesn’t often happen.

    I will also take issue with how you picked on certain aspects of romances/romantic comedies, when those are wildly different from action movies and have their own category/set of types etc. Love interest/Girlfriend I agreed with as they pertained to action movies, not romances…

    but going back to an earlier thought, I think women can be strong and interesting and highly influential to the plot even when stuck in these familiar roles. They can start in one role and break out, or continue to be strong/influential within that role. For example, I will bring up Game of Thrones (like I always do! lol) which has many compelling women. Catelyn Stark, as much as I dislike her, is one of them. She fits neatly into the role of devoted, loving (though highly opinionated) wife and protective mother…yet she’s an amazingly strong woman who manages to assert her strength, personality, will, and influence over the story despite of — or perhaps because of — her “role.” I like GoT because, though it’s about a very feudally structured society, it has that idea that strong women can be genuinely powerful even w/in their assigned roles.

    1. The Love Interest is also the Protected/Damsel in Distress. And yes, boys also play these roles. I was gonna mention that in POTC, Will was a Protector and Girlfriend, and Watson a Protector. In fact, there are other roles you see them play a whole lot that girls don’t that get tiring too if not done carefully (The Mentor, The Boy, The Chosen One, etc).

      BUT, Sherlock Holmes and Jack Sparrow don’t fall into any preset role. Their roles are all their own. What I mean is, there are alot – a WHOLE lot- more males playing these unique, legendary roles than girls. This is pretty much my main point.

      The roles I mentioned CAN work out great (which I said earlier), but they are still limited.

      I tried to stick with scifi/fantasy action films, and stay clear of pure romance or romantic comedies, especially since either these roles are usually (the good ones) done uniquely or are necessary, and they usually play other really good roles for females that I really love. That’s why when I mentioned the disney films, I added that it works for that type of movie.

      But most if not all of this I meant towards the fantasy/scifi action genre, not romance (I know I mentioned Twilight, and while that IS technically a romance, there are fantasy elements AND action elements, and for that I consider it valid lol).

      I gotta check out GoT one of these days. It’s just…I started reading the book and I just can’t do it. I can’t put myself through that, where the POV character gets killed off. It’ll drive me insane emotionally lol So can’t say until I see it.

    2. Rereading my post, I see the misunderstanding with my comment on romances. I wasn’t clear. Sorry about that.

      I didn’t mean that romances don’t matter (I love romances). What I meant is that everything I was saying didn’t matter to those types of movies. It doesn’t matter if they played the girlfriend or love interest roles because those roles are important for those stories. What I was saying didn’t apply to them. That’s what I was trying to say.

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