Breaking the Trope

May 5, 2017

I have always been one to list towards strong female characters in movies and books. For me, these women fall into two main categories. First are average females who, over the course of the story, rise up to become powerful figures like Ripley in the Alien series and Sarah Connor in the Terminator series. At first, they appear rather helpless. However, by the end of Alien, Ripley clearly is ready to fight, and in Aliens, heavily armed and remarkably able, she not only successfully defends herself but also attacks and kills the Alien queen. Sarah, on the other hand, desperately needs a protector in Terminator. Nevertheless, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, we meet a woman who has trained herself mentally and physically in preparation for the war to come and thus is a force to be reckoned with.

 

The second group of women, like Laura Croft in the Tomb Raider movies, are strong characters from the beginning. Laura kicks off both movies with impressive action sequences. She is smart, strong, independent and obviously has sex appeal. The men in her movies are typically portrayed as inept sidekicks or competitive adversaries rather than hero rescuers.

 

Yet these types of women are not the norm in modern-day fantasy and sci-fi portrayals. As our culture demands more equality in all things, people have begun to take notice of this lack of female role models.  I have been listening to all sorts of grievances about how woman have primarily been portrayed as weak, helpless, sexualized characters. YouTuber Jonathan McIntosh has a wonderful video on what he terms the Born Sexy Yesterday trope. Using a multitude of cinematic examples, he discusses the origin of the weaker woman/strong man ideal in film and points out that many fantasy and sci-fi movies and series continue to downplay the power of the feminine today.

 

I will admit that I enjoy many of the movies referenced in the Born Sexy Yesterday video, yet I have always thought of them as a representing yesterday’s ideal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Sexism between genders is still written and acted.

 

Now, I am not saying there should never be another movie or book where a woman needs a white knight to rescue her. However, I would like to see a new wave of media with strong, smart, dynamic female characters along with an occasional male that needs a woman’s help. In reality, people as a whole have strengths and weaknesses. We do need others to aid us, but both genders can fill the role of proverbial hero in different scenarios.

 

I myself choose to write female characters that are both strong and smart. This does not mean they are perfect; they make mistakes. This does not mean they do not need help from others. Yet rather than wait for a white knight to assist her, this woman just might come to the rescue riding a dragon.

 

 

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