When people talk about female characters, they don’t ever talk about Animorphs.
I want to hear more about Rachel and Cassie, about Aldrea, about Eva and Edriss 562, about Toby, about Loren, about all the women. About Rachel’s mom, who attacked a grizzly bear with her bare hands to save her daughter.
I want the people looking for well-written female characters to talk more about how they were real, about how they were flawed and individual and beautiful and strong and weak and brilliant and stupid and courageous and cowardly. About how they grew and changed and lived and died. About their sacrifices, the people they loved, the people they saved, the people they ruined.
I want more people to know them, to know about them, to refer to them the way they refer to the better-known members of the unfortunately tiny pantheon of characters that offer us real representation.
Can we just PLEASE talk more about the women in Animorphs?
While this discussion about “the lack of ~well-written/feminist female characters in media justifying fandom’s lack of interest in them” is going on, I think I’ll use the opportunity to talk about the potential of fannish activity/interaction and the way fandom’s very nature blows that half-baked red herring out of the water.
Yes, the prevalence of misogyny and sexism in the media is a real problem. Yes, many female characters are done a disservice by their creators, who sexualize, objectify, fridge, marginalize, and otherwise fail to develop them with the same consideration they invest in their male counterparts. Critiquing these issues is vital in raising awareness among fans that these are problems that must be addressed and rectified, but do not think stopping there is all you can do. If you want woman-positive media (or queer-positive, diverse, inclusive, respectful media in general), it behooves you to seek out, consume, and promote those works where they already exist. Works by women/non-male creators, or works that are written by men but are woman-positive and anti-sexist. Raising consciousness about these works can have a profound effect on future media that will get funded, produced, created, and so on, and will otherwise help support creators that are writing the kind of media we want to see so they can continue creating more media like it.
Does this mean that you absolutely cannot like or appreciate problematic works, or works with male-dominated casts? Absolutely not—and here’s where the very nature of fandom comes into play.
At its core, fandom involves reappropriating entire source materials, settings, themes, characters, and relationships to create art, fiction, meta, and foster discourse and interaction between fans. And that’s reflected everywhere you look on this website: the prevalence of m/m and other queer ships in art and fic, the way long meta analyzing a single glance or instance of body language in a five second scene receives hundreds if not thousands of notes—
…so when the majority of fannish content concerns itself with male characters and their relationships with other men and a good amount of it is created and/or appreciated by the same fans who use a female character’s ~lack of complexity to justify their lack of interest, you can begin to discern how that claim is hypocritical. Taking canon into your own hands and doing whatever you want with it is the very foundation of fandom…so why can’t we put the same effort we invest in analyzing the way male character A’s two-second, background glance at male character B reveals his agonizing feelings for him in our consideration of female characters and their relationships?
If you complain about “poorly written female characters who lack complexity,” then try to read complexity into them. Look harder. Give them the same consideration you give your favorite male characters. Think about why you don’t care for them, and how your feelings would change if they were a male character. It’s not enough to criticize female characters for not being “complex enough,” whatever that means, and put the onus and blame for your lack of interest on their creators while you continue to celebrate, appreciate, and produce content about the same creators’ male characters. It’s certainly not enough to reblog a few of those gifsets of female characters who fit the “woman-positive” quote of the month; that’s literally appreciation-through-template. If the kind of female character you want to read about does not exist in the canon, focus your fannish efforts into fostering rich, woman-positive fanon. Discard your reductive checklists of “what makes a ~good, ~~strong female character.” Look at the character how she is, and build from there. By all means, keep critiquing creators who fall short or don’t make an effort. Call out their mistreatment of their female characters, but separate their failures from the female characters themselves. Take those female characters, and show them the consideration they deserve through your fic, art, meta, RP-ing, or however it is you participate in fandom: look for woman-positive fanworks and comment on them, reblog them, recommend them to your friends, etc. There is always something you can do, no matter what kind of fan you are.
At its best, fandom can uplift. Using the creator’s failures with respect to their female characters as an excuse to dismiss them is nowhere near a valid defense from a fan who wants woman-positive media when the power to create, seek out, and foster that kind of media is at your fingertips, whether on this site or from creators. Be an active consumer, have higher standards, and extend female characters the consideration you criticize their creators for failing to invest in them.
A few more considerations:
Criticizing creators for their failures with their female characters, then focusing all your attention on male characters yourselves through fandom creates a vicious cycle wherein we bring the problems we call out in media into fandom, creating a male-dominated, female-critical/negative space where we can create a space that celebrates women and combats misogyny and sexism with more than just criticism instead.
In an age where creators are more involved and in touch with fandom and social media than ever and they can see what fans love and focus their attentions on most, in many cases while they’re actively in the process of creating new content for their works…it is a very good idea to celebrate women in addition to offering critical feedback so that fan-conscious creators can 1) fix problematic writing going forward and 2) incorporate what we demonstrate we love and want to see more of into their work so that we, their fans, will be satisfied consumers.
There’s a valid argument out there about the different responsibilities older fans and younger fans have; rather, that younger fans must have woman-positive content handed to them early to combat and prevent misogyny from being internalized. To that I say: hand them that woman-positive content through fandom and fanon. This is especially necessary because a lot of younger fans flock to whatever is most accessible and most popular for their age group, i.e. through mainstream media or “mainstream fandom,” which are not the best sources of anti-misogynistic/anti-sexist/anti-racist/anti-homophobic/anti-transphobic content. Write positively about women in your fic, even and especially if it’s m/m fic; recommend woman-positive fic, art, and source materials; reblog meta about women, and especially meta that celebrates women. Don’t just call out problems surrounding fictional women, which is crucial, but give them alternative sources where they can find positive and diverse representation of women.
I think one of the things I loved the most about Saphira was the fact that she was the first dragon I’d read about that wasn’t just evil or angry.
The way she was described made her look beautiful, and glorious, and strong.
And she had such a loving nature. She was so determined to protect Eragon.
I fell in love with Saphira when I read the stories.
I still smile thinking about her.
I want a Saphira.
Day 1: A lead female character in a musical Day 2: A supporting female character in a musical Day 3: A female antagonist in a musical Day 4: A female ship/romantic relationship in a musical Day 5: A female platonic relationship in a musical Day 6: A mother/daughter or sister relationship in a musical Day 7: A female character in a children’s show Day 8: A female character in a drama show Day 9: A female character in a comedy show Day 10: A tragic female character in a musical Day 11: An underrated female character in a musical Day 12: A princess Day 13: A female character in a male-focused show Day 14: Your favourite theatre actress Day 15: Your all-time favourite female character in a musical
Endless List of Awesome Female Characters: Tess Durbeyfield
Mother, Daughter, Wife, Servant, Slave: A Pure Woman monstrously wronged.
This wonderful character from Thomas Hardy’s brilliant 1891 novel “Tess of the D'Urbervilles” is probably the most challenging for me in this entire series of mine. Having seen the 2008 BBC adaptation with the lovely Gemma Arterton, and having read the novel itself, it still pains me to think of Tess and her tragic life.
Here she is, a young, naïve and trustful girl, an obedient daughter, innocent to the cruel and heartlessly cold workings of the world – but soon men will teach her a lesson she shall never forget.
Repeatedly wronged and abused by men, she is the fallen woman par excellence who is blamed for her own fall.
As a symbol of the mistreatment of women by men, by society, by church, Tess is a character whose fate and troubles touch every reader, even today.
Though she is technically not a strong woman in the sense that this little series of mine might have expressed, she is nonetheless a great character, a woman stronger than the foundations of the earth to endure such evil, and truly influential for me.
Did you know there’s a prolific male fantasy author who has made several books in which the primary cast is mostly female characters?
Did you know that virtually every female character in his books are well-rounded people with a wide variety of personalities, body types, etc?
Did you know that some of the most badass characters in the series are women?
Did you know that even in the books with male main characters female characters are given respect and are rarely love interests?
Did you know that those that are love interests have their own lives outside of that, are more then matches for the main character, and in some cases it could be more considered that the main character is THEIR love interest?
Did you know that female warriors in this series wear sensible armour?
Did you know that the one character that ends up naked as a necessity treats it as a drawback and does her best to mitigate the issue without it ever turning into a sexual thing from a writing perspective, including, amazingly enough, the one time she had to fight another naked woman in mud?
Did you know there’s a feminist character who wields femininity as a strength, and not a weakness?
Did you know that the first serious, budgeted attempt to bring it to life in video was based on one of the books with a female protagonist?
Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the awesome show, ATOMIC BETTY?!!! Seriously though, how many cartoons do you know of that has a female as the protagonist, that is a super tough heroine, that kicks major ass and is not portrayed as some ditsy girl incapable of doing anything by herself, without the help of male assistance? Pretty hard to find right? Well fear not, there’s Atomic Betty! A heroine that is smart, tough, brave, and reliable. She breaks the mold and is one of the very few female protagonists that isn’t over-sexualized, obsessed with her appearance, or incapable of doing things without the help of her male counterparts. She cares more about saving her galaxy, than make-up, boys or other stereotypical female traits. Seriously though, why can’t more cartoons be like this?