Welcome to our newest game show! In honor of International Women’s Day, I felt it was a good time to celebrate fictional women. I’m going to show you pairs of images and have you tell me which one is the strong female character. Simple, right?
Zoe from Firefly or…
Princess Leia from Star Wars.
Answer: Zoe. Not only is she smart and quick on the draw, but she gets a lot of the good lines and is portrayed as tough and unfailingly loyal. Whereas Princess Leia is basically the prize awarded to the hero at the end. Don’t even be fooled by the weapon (that she barely uses in the movies). Princess Peach ain’t got nothin’ on her in the perpetually-being-saved category.
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games or…
Answer: Katniss Everdeen. Yes, Rapunzel is adorable and can sing, and her innocence has a certain appeal. But all she does is follow her heart and paint and sigh about when her life will begin. Even by making her weapon a frying pan, the writers were trying to tie her in to the symbolic place of women in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Katniss defies the usual stereotype of an irrational, emotional woman and makes sacrifices for other female characters (her mother and sister), while the men of the story take a background role.
Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby or…
Black Widow from The Avengers.
Answer: Black Widow. No, the tight costume has nothing at all to do with sexual objectification; it’s simply the most practical outfit for a female sort-of superhero who can inexplicably fight off legions of metal aliens with a tiny handgun. Besides, in the best of liberated modern woman tradition, she’s the one holding all the power in her interaction with men. Daisy Buchanan, on the other hand, is a vapid, lazy blonde who actually says the best thing for a girl to be is “a beautiful little fool.” Outrageous.
Éowyn from Lord of the Rings or…
Arwen from Lord of the Rings.
Answer: Éowyn. No, she didn’t get the man…and that’s another point in her favor. She’s a strong, independent warrior woman who don’t need no man! Also, she followed in the time-honored cross-dressing, gender-role-subverting tradition of Mulan, various female Civil War soldiers, and basically every Shakespeare character ever. Unlike Arwen, who spent most of her scenes staring at the camera with echo-y voiceovers, Éowyn actually went out there and did stuff. Like slaying the Witch King while simultaneously finding a loophole in a gender-biased prophecy. See if Arwen could do something like that with her fancy little necklace. (Wait…the books, you say? Who cares about the books?)
Merida from Brave with bow or…
Answer: The Merida with the bow. As soon as you take that away, she is nothing but a long-haired maiden in a pretty dress. No, this is not about making Merida’s animation style match her traditionally animated sisters, nor is it the glam treatment that all Disney princesses go through. This is different. Stop trying to objectify female characters by saying they are worthless without their frilly or bejeweled accessories! Instead, you should acknowledge that female characters are worthless without their weapons. Obviously.
Me baking or…
Me with a spear.
Answer: Me with a spear. Baking is a traditional woman’s role and you can tell from my expression that I am clearly being forced into it by external pressure. I might as well have captioned it, “Help, help, I’m being oppressed!” Whereas with the spear, I am suddenly the agent of my own destiny, in control of whether the person with the camera lives or dies. Or, since it’s a blunt-tipped prop, whether the person with the camera lives or has a small bruise.
The Point of This Quiz
Classifying a female character as “strong” has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not that character is complex or well-written. Nope. Every woman who at one point in the story is rescued or even aided by a male lead is an empty-headed, giggling damsel in distress. If we want our daughters to value themselves and their unique talents and abilities, we must make sure that only one type of woman is represented in our films and literature: the independent, brave, ultra-fit, and beautiful one, preferably holding some type of weapon.
This matters to me in a very personal way. Because, you see, I am a strong female character. But only sometimes, only when I am acting in accordance with a certain set of values.
It really has nothing to do with what activities I like or dislike, or what I believe about gender roles, because those preferences and opinions are probably a result of my indoctrinating upbringing. And it has nothing to do with me being made in the image of God, because that idea is often paired with a stifling complementarian ideology.
So I will resist. I will not enjoy baking. I will not coo or awwww or even crack a smile at the sight of a small child. I will not wear dresses or skirts unless it is perfectly clear that aforementioned dress (usually short and tight) puts me in control of my sexuality by allowing me to flaunt my stuff in front of staring men without acknowledging their existence.
I am a strong female character. Don’t try to box me in.
Note: The above post is satire inspired by an article about why the female leads of Frozen were not strong female characters and the following discussion I had about the article with several other women. It’s not a critique of feminism (and definitely not of Christian feminism), just a critique of what a few feminists are saying.
Many feminists, in fact, would agree with me: an interesting woman is a strong female character, one who is portrayed as a person instead of a prop or a trophy.
This includes cookie-baking grandmas, lion tamers, the Proverbs 31 woman, race car drivers, dentists, nuns, and attendants at toll booths. (Also arguably all of the characters in this blog post (though some are better written than others), even Daisy, because, well, listen to the first minute and a half of this video.)
Who’s your favorite female character in a book, movie, or TV show? Why?