A few years ago, I was doing my AS-Level in Media Studies, and we were given a coursework assignment to make a two-minute film opening. We all split off into groups, and I ended up working with two other girls. Of course, studying Media made us all hyper-aware of the fact that a lot of women are given a somewhat bad name in films and television, so we were adamant about portraying a strong female character. With that in mind, we got to work planning and creating a storyboard, sure we would be able to represent a woman who didn’t adhere to the typical limiting conventions.
The first thing we did was discuss our protagonist. Naturally, it would have to be a woman. She would be strong-willed and independent, resourceful and brave. She would put her mission before her feelings because that’s what we thought would make her comparable to men in the media. We really wanted to make sure we were good feminists (the word didn’t have such a bad name a few years ago) and make the man the vulnerable character for a change. I mean, of course, men are allowed to show vulnerability. Toxic masculinity was stupid and destructive. Let’s create a man who isn’t portrayed as less manly simply because he shows us his feelings.
All was going wonderfully… until my teacher came up to us and, having listened to our great enthusiasm about this innovative and progressive female character, said:
“So you’re creating a femme fatale?”
Oh wow. Change of plans. It seems we did slip into a conventional role for women – just the complete opposite one. We’d added in a cliche without even meaning to… but we weren’t about to change it! I mean, all of that time lost – with all our other coursework? You have to be kidding! We wanted to create a positive female character, but not that much!
The moral of my little story is that it is very easy to fall into the trap of adding in cliches and turning any character into a stock character without realising. This is especially true of women, who have suffered from a long history of being given the shaft in media. There were, however, a few points that we’d failed to recognise when we were beating ourselves up about not realising what we’d done:
- Cliches aren’t always your enemy. You just need to know when and how to break them if you’re going to use them.
- Physical strength doesn’t mean strength of character. There are many different types of strength.
- We should have focused on creating a convincing and interesting character first, instead of simply reducing her to a feminist symbol.
Before you dismiss me as a crazy tumblr feminist and denounce me as a “man-hater”, please hear me out! People love to shout “sexist” or “bigot” whenever they’re met with criticism or alternate opinions in this day and age, but the truth is often far from that. Really, in the West, most guys are absolutely happy to treat women as their equals and give them the respect that they deserve. Likewise, most women act like they’re worthy of the respect they’re given. Women are largely paid the same (with an exception being, surprise surprise, the media industry) and legally, women get the same benefits as men. It’s the media as an institution which just doesn’t seem to keep up with the way our society actually already is. It is the biggest culprit of perpetuation gender gaps and often seems to just be stuck in a time when women were viewed as weak, helpless, sexualised objects. Save from the odd film that’s rare in the grand scheme of things, the media industry is just not as progressive as we are in our everyday lives.
Read moreBreaking the Glass Ceiling: Creating Positive Female Characters