Strong Female Characters strike back – or – in defense of depthlessness
The New York Times had an article by Carina Chocano bashing the rise of the Strong Female Character in movies. My first reaction was to roll my eyes, largely because these are the first sentences:
Every time I hear someone use the term “strong female character,” I want to punch them. The problem is, I hit like a girl.
I also hit like a girl, because I’m, you know, a girl. But when I hit you? You know it.
Chocano is tired of Girls Who Kick Ass. She wants Girls Who Discuss Their Feelings. Girls Who Cry. Girls Who Are Girly. And I’ve got no problem with that. I’ve watched that BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice more times than I can count. (Although Elizabeth Bennett was a comedy-of-manners ass-kicker in her own right.)
What bugs me is she seems to think that women who kick ass can’t have depth because they’re kicking ass. That’s not the case. Most of these ass-kicking women of recent vintage don’t have depth because NOBODY in ass-kicking movies have depth. How much inner life did Vin Diesel or The Rock exhibit in Fast 5? Did Green Lantern plumb the depths of Hal Jordan’s soul? Hell no — they kicked ass! Sometimes (say, in Fast 5), depthless ass-kicking is just fine. Sometimes (*cough* Green Lantern *cough*) it sucks. But I don’t see that as much of a feminist issue. I see that as a “Sweet Flying Spaghetti Monster, won’t someone teach these people to write?” issue.
I agree with Chocano that Strong Female Characters in good movies should be more than emotionless cyphers. I agree that I loved Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids in part because she was a fuck-up, not despite being a fuck-up. (Also, she’s funny as hell.) And you all know how sick I am of thinking you can slap a chick in spandex and give her a gun and claim to be a feminist. Call me when the men are scantily clad the the women are wearing parkas, ok?
But that’s in good movies. In popcorn movies? Screw it, I’m fine if everyone has the depth of a saltine so long as the fights are good and the action moves. Yes, I prefer my female ass-kickers to be like Ripley from Aliens, not like Selene from Underworld. But do I watch Underworld? Hell yeah, it’s hysterical! Things go boom. It makes no sense. Bill Nighy gnaws on scenery like he’s teething. I laughed my ass off.
When people do try to add depth to their “strong female characters,” you get crap like David E. Kelley’s abortive Wonder Woman pilot. I’m not saying that Wonder Woman can’t have a broken heart. I’m just saying that if you can’t imagine Superman in his PJs at a sleepover singing along to Katy Perry while eating ice cream, we damn well shouldn’t have to see Wonder Woman doing that, either.