It’s clear that women have box office power when it comes to block buster movies. Hetro/cis Female films such as Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter and even Titanic and Gone with the Wind have done phenomenally, and they’re all dramas starring female characters, some stronger than others. It’s also clear that Hollywood does want to make female centered films, but they just have trouble knowing how. They want to make a strong female lead while not emasculating the co-male lead. This problem can be seen in a lot of pro-women and I dare say feminist films, and TV shows. The shows I will mention star great leading ladies, but they come short at being “pro women” because they make a point of them being “pro women,” rather than just writing them as strong characters. Rather than just writing women as people, they write them as the token woman. For the sake of the post, I’m not going to go into the intersectionality of what the token woman stands for and contains.
The token woman is usually portrayed as “one of the guys,” because she’s usually the only girl. Of course, she has to prove her masculinity by being just as good as the guys in fighting, power, smarts etc. But of course, this is all a front because she’s really just waiting for one of the guys to break down her walls, and show her soft and vulnerable side. She’s just waiting for Mr. Right, the man she will divulge her secrets of a tormented past to. The character is no longer an individual, but a token woman, only there to fall in love with one of the male leads, and to show “diversity.”
All Hollywood needs to know about writing female characters are this. She can stand alone and her gender doesn’t have to be mentioned because it’s not important. She’s more than her gender, and can take on so many other character traits that make her a believable on screen person. Of course, being a woman does shape her sense of self, and how she sees the world. Being part of a marginalized group helps her recognize ways in which she’s not privileged or centralized. She can take notice of ways she’s underprivileged without having to say, “Women can do anything men can do, but we can do it in heels,” or “we need to kick these guys’ butts.” Instead, notice that female power will not come by emasculating men, but come when they acknowledge that men are also allies.
In the film Hunchback of Notre Dame, Esmeralda is just as strong as Phoebus and Quasimodo. Sure, she’s portrayed at first as a seductress, but later says that she doesn’t want to just dance for coins, but to be an artist. The only reason she does beg on the streets is because it pays the metaphorical bills. However, she stops short of being a strong female character – even though I personally do like her out of all the female Disney representations – by having to prove she’s a strong woman to Phoebus. She shouldn’t have to prove anything. Her gender shouldn’t matter if they’re equals. I know that this is just fourth wall pop culture feminism because we all know Phoebus is being a sexist jerk to later realize that he was wrong, but that doesn’t make it right.
This leads me to X-Men Evolution, though they do have their women quips “like you’re so ____ for a girl.” “Or you do _____ like a girl.” I don’t think they’re saying this to mock feminism, but rather remove the show from feminism. They have one episode where Cyclops is just a machismo jerk – which he never usually is – and makes a point to say that he’s lucky to always be there to protect Jean – who never needed protecting before. They basically make this “bad ass girl power” episode, where the girls have to leave the group in order to use their feminine wiles to prove they’re not helpless women. But they were never helpless before. It was so out of character, and was obvious that it was just used to show how dumb the feminist movement is, and that Jean and the other girls are just as cool as Cyclops. WE ALREADY KNEW THAT. We already were happy with Jean, Mystique, Rogue and Kitty because their powers and characters were just as interesting as the guys, WITHOUT the mention of their gender. Why make an episode like this unless to distance themselves from actually being strong women?
Hollywood doesn’t need to portray women as women doing bad ass things. Just make them badass WITHOUT mentioning their gender. And if you are going to mention their gender, please do it in a respectful way, and not to show that things are already equal, so why are you whining?
23 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.