One thing that bombards certain authors and creators that have set benchmarks of the long-winded conversation known as the strong female character is the question of “how?” In a recent interview, author Neil Gaiman was asked how he writes such strong female characters and references Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His response was great…
Gaiman: I always feel like the wrong person to be asked when I get asked that question because people say, ‘Well how do you write such good female characters?’ And I go, ‘Well I write people.’ Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I? In the case of making the TARDIS a person, you make her the kind of person you’d like to meet.”
Alderman: This gives me nothing to help people with who cannot write good female characters, and they do exist.
Gaiman: I think the big thing to point out to people is, you know, possibly they should go and hang around with some women. And also, it’s worth pointing out that people, unfortunately, misunderstand the phrase ‘strong women.’ The glory of Buffy is it was filled with strong women. Only one of those strong women had supernatural strength and an awful lot of sharpened stakes. And people sort of go ‘Well yes, of course Buffy was a strong woman. She could kick her way through a door.’ And you go ‘No, well that’s not actually what makes her a strong woman! You’re missing the point.’”
Whedon is probably even more well known for his strong women leads, being the the man who made Buffy what she is today. When asked the very same question that was posed at Gaiman, his response is a little more agitated…
“I think that the romance, and the supernatural and the lure of the vampire, which is, you know, timeless, that all seemed to go over pretty well. The self-actualized female who was in charge of things didn’t land quite as solidly. I think people are un-used to it. I grew up with it, it just makes sense to me. You know, we write the things we either want to see or always have. Buffy was both, and I, too, have been somewhat disappointed. I mean, there’ve been great shows, great roles, but when you look at the shows somebody would lump in with Buffy the Vampire Slayer they’re, you know, very passive girls choosing between the cute boys. It feels almost like a backlash – we want to inoculate ourselves against this by giving you everything it had without the feminism. And, needless to say, slightly problematic for me.”
The heated discussion about the “strong female character” has been tossed around for a few years now, often being misunderstood as a female with supernatural and kick-ass abilities, or a female pinning over men who aren’t worth the time of day. Putting a woman in a lead role doesn’t automatically make her strong. The question now is, how did everyone misunderstand what Whedon was trying to do with Buffy?
Comics have been getting hit pretty hard recently with the recently coined concept of “Women in Refrigerators,” where women, whether strong or weak, are used as disposable plot devices to further the male’s story – sometimes women are muses, sometimes they are killed, and sometimes they are the reason a man is capable of performing death defying feats. But hardly ever – with exception to the heroines with their own self-named comic book series – is care given to their own personal story. Thus follows the need for the woman’s part in a story to be handled, not delicately, but intelligently.
Thoughts on this issue are welcome.