Clarice Starling and the Female Character: An Essay
It always amazes me how intensely high, and sometimes unreasonable everyone’s expectations for Clarice Starling is in the NBC Hannibal fandom is. And beyond everyone’s own personal agendas for what they want to get out of the show I can’t help but feel indignant that out of any characters Clarice is probably the most scrutinized–and she’s not even in the show (yet?)! Sometimes I even feel they are coming from people who didn’t even read or see the original source material from which Hannibal was inspired.
A part of me can’t help but feel that a good part of these criticisms come from the fact that Clarice Starling is in fact, a woman. Now, before everyone gets their hackles raised I just use Clarice as an example, but this is honestly what I’ve seen in just ANY fandom in general. We as a culture are extremely critical of any female characters compared to the males. We demand an endless list of qualities from them from the color of their skin and sexual orientation all the way down to what they had for breakfast 10 years ago.
The demands are often contradictory too:
She has to be strong and independent! OH! But her take no crap attitude is too bitchy, right.
She needs to look good! Oh, but caring too much about her appearance means she must be shallow.
I could go on, but then I’d never get done.
And all of these don’t just apply to Clarice–I see a lot of scrutiny over Alana Bloom or Abigail Hobbs as well.
I can’t remember the last time that much expectation was put on a character like Hannibal or Will Graham– OR ANY MAN on the show for instance. A male character can be absolutely irredeemable and yet we don’t question or put them under as much fire as we do women. What is it about the presence of women in the media–and more importantly in fandom, that makes us so uncomfortable? Is it because she is, in Harris’s own conception and intent for her character, an equal to Hannibal (who is male)? Is it because people are scared that she will take away from the dynamic of Will and Hannibal? And by possible extension on some more immature reflex–that she will interfere with someone’s preferred ship? Or is it that we in general have a hard time accepting women because on some baser instinct that she is competition for the men that we want (even fictional men) and we are afraid of “taking away” what we feel we own? (<–Believe it or not, I got my fair share of this answer from ppl on why they hate a female character).
What about the things that we find unacceptable in women are things that we value in men? Like love?
A woman who is in love and goes to great lengths for it can be seen as obsessive, clingy, weak, and dependent. But a man who shows these same qualities often get romanticized for it. They are considered sensitive, passionate and vulnerable.
As much as we preach about wanting to be equal and have strong women and accepting of all of these things I find that often enough fandoms perpetuate a lot of the very same discrimination that they themselves want to fight against and often creating more prejudices that are mislead as some sort of internet justice.
What must they be in order for us to leave them to be wholey accepted?
Whatever the reason is I find it hard to deny that this scrutiny of women and Clarice Starling in this case exists. We are so obsessed with how we want a character to the point that we forget what the original character is to begin with.
And Clarice Starling is A GREAT GREAT CHARACTER.
When she made her debut she broke a lot of conventions. A heroine for a main character–of a crime thriller no less! She was a female FBI agent in a predominantly male occupation–and is constantly reminded at every opportunity. From her dainty height to the leering and condescending looks of the men around her. She didn’t have a boyfriend or a direct love interest! She can take care of herself, trying to measure up to the men around her but she is not a tomboy and distinctly feminine. Clarice constantly struggles against the scrutiny and misogyny of the people around her but what’s great about her is that that all falls away and she overcomes all of those things because of her desire to save another woman from another form of male abuse. That includes learning how to use her vulnerability to her advantage and facing monstrosities like Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill.
Maybe all of those things aren’t as impressive now in our more modern world, but that doesn’t change what Starling represents. There’s a reason why she’s constantly listed as a great female character over the years. She’s a role model to women, and she was even inspiration to real life female officers and Agents to get into the field of behavioral science in a time where there were nearly none who were practicing! Everything that makes her relatable is timeless.
And yet… to the fans… she’s still not good enough. Can’t she be human? And an imperfect one? By her very nature she’s actually not flashy or attention demanding at all. She’s just trying to survive and live by what she believes in. It is these very qualities that makes a lasting impression on Hannibal Lecter and more importantly, to us as the audience. Even if it’s hard to swallow to some it should not be ignored that she impacts and becomes important to Lecter. She earns his admiration and respect. And Clarice Starling DESERVES respect.
And the sad thing is that most of this scrutiny for Clarice and female characters in general come from female fans! Like… are we seriously cannibalizing ourselves???
Whether you’ve actually seen Silence of the Lambs or read the original Thomas Harris books, or have simply seen the TV series ONLY, I GET IT. I get that we want to protect the things we love, and the characters we love. Same too on this side! There are people who love Clarice Starling and ask for the same consideration for the characters that we love.
And TRUTHFULLY as others have stated, I DON’T CARE how Clarice looks, what her sexual orientation will be or ethnicity or any of that stuff. As long as her CHARACTER and what she STANDS FOR stays in tact I am for whatever they choose to go with. Honestly the only thing I’d have a real problem with is if they turn her into a man, because to do so would be to completely disregard the author and the feminist representation and intent of the original source material and a huge spit in the face.
I’m sure everyone has their reasons for wanting Clarice to be a certain way and I have every respect for them. Because all of it has a grain of truth and value. But in the end, Clarice is her OWN person. She is not an empty shell we should fill with our own mary sues. And we should also trust the writers and creators on the TV show to do what’s best for the STORY. It’s already so different and sits in it’s own universe. Anything can happen. But we should not try to dictate to them how to make the show nor condemn them when they do not do it the way we want. Because ultimately, THEY know the characters. Our own agendas should not damage or hurt what all of the characters and story NEEDS to be. And we need to acknowledge that EVERYONE in the fandom WANTS DIFFERENT THINGS and no matter what they decide to do with the show they cannot please everyone.
And the last thing we should want is for the creators to start writing for fandom. Speaking from experience, people say they want things, but a lot of times they don’t know what they want. Sometimes they get exactly what they are asking for only to realize it ruined a great show/series. *COUGH*korra*COUGH*
In conclusion, agree or not with me, please just know that this is my very long two cents on a matter that I feel has always been the elephant in the room.