I’m happy to say in my lifetime there has been an increase in the awareness of gender in story, and how both of them can play each other’s “traditional” roles as well as their own. There are still some kinks to be worked out that can only be solved in time with the generations. I, however, am optimistic there will be a time (maybe even in our lifetime) when strong, developed characters male or female can be looked on as just that without any agenda.
This goal can be achieved and has been more or less with the male cast because that’s been the “norm.” When we see/read a story with a male main character, we think nothing of it. Just another one to add to the list. Why, then, is it a thing that whenever there’s a female main character (or at least a strongly developed one in the cast), she HAS to be a symbol for feminism? Why can’t she just BE a character in her own right, one that’s been developed well and central to the story?
I know there will be some ruffled feathers when I talk about this because I may come across as anti-women or whatever, but I couldn’t be further from that. What I am is anti-inequality, which is (in some cases) what people don’t register when feminism takes too much pride in female leads. There are many out there who, when they hear the word feminist, think ‘oh, they’re for women only.’ Anybody who understands the movement will know this is not true. It may come across as unequal to some because they are so used to being on-top all the time. Therefore, when they hear feminists, or any minority group really, claim and cheer for a champion, they believe that character is used for some kind of agenda.
While it’s good and great to have such incredible characters like Hermione, Black Widow, and Rey to show audiences women can be fantastic as heroes not damsels, I wish they would not be part of someone’s agenda. I know I just mentioned how thinking of feminists as having an agenda was the wrong way to look at it, but it’s not NOT the wrong way to look at it. I understand some people will use these characters to aggressively push for the advancement of their cause. I write with the hypothesis that this may not be the best course. We should want women to continue to grow and flourish and explore their potential in fiction and in life with a seamless transition into equality. We can’t want feminism to even seem like it’s looking out for one gender exclusively, just like we will no longer tolerate how things are set up at present to look after one gender or ethnicity exclusively (a byproduct of the patriarchy). We must be better than that if we want those who don’t understand their privilege to accept change without even knowing it.
Regarding women in fiction, I use my times (hours even) spent discussing story with my friends (most of who were women) as a reference. So you can rest assure I’ve been told to want to develop an eye for female characters just as much as my males. And I have, not to make the women better, but because I want to show they can still be “girly” while being kick-ass. I recently read an article which discussed this very problem. Some writers think strong female characters have to exert masculine qualities (i.e. not have children, be unnecessarily ruthless, or hyper-sexual). This is just not so. Remember Molly Weasley? She battled and killed a Death Eater, Bellatrix Lestrange (a woman!), and was the textbook stereotypical female character: a house-wife with seven children and very fussy when it came to mothering those she cared about. Was she still kick-ass? HELL YEAH! Jo gave us this beloved character because she showed her passion for something she cared about.
When I write my female characters, I don’t just think how my readers can connect to them. I think how can they challenge the other characters into developing through the conflict. That’s something too the article talked about. Good characters HAVE to drive the plot, add intrigue, and experience yearning. This is the kind of process feminists and everyone should go about using to enact the change we want for the future. One that can show how people have more layers to them than what was set by the traditional standard. A male boxer can like to garden; a mother can be a world leader. So screw small presentist goals and be ambitious for something far greater in the future.