Monday, April 21, 2014

Male Writers and the Female Characters They Create

Anytime I hear about a new Joss Whedon project, I instantly become curious. I know a few things right off the bat: a. it's going to be crazy and possibly break my brain b. it's going to have lots of talented familiar faces that I adore c. it's going to have sheer moments of genius that make up for all the campy cheese that will also be included and 13. it's going to have some very kick-ass and complex female characters that I really want to get to know. 

Being a child of the 90s, I grew up with Buffy and Angle, then quickly moved on to Firefly, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible. Recently, Agents of SHIELD has brought him back into my life. It wasn't until I was an adult, however, that I really started to hear what he was saying. Not just through his characters, though that is equally impacting, but to his audience and funders. As a man, he has always created poignant female characters right along their male counterparts. While many writers struggle with writing the opposite sex, this has never been an issue for him. His women (and men) may not be perfect, but they are real and complex and challenge what we thing time and time again. 

So does this make him a feminist? Does this make him an activist against sexism and gender inequality? Is her a pro-feminist? Let's look at his thoughts on women:

Whether you choose to use the term male feminist or pro-feminist, the point is, he is trying to treat women as what they are - people. His work has gathered a cult like following that understands and expects this. Not just from him, but from the other media, social implications, friends and family, etc. They have been exposed to what it is like for people to be treated as people and not tropes. It is not enough to simply write good characters though, as Joss continues to push. 

We need to reach a level where we stop trying to create equality and find it already inherent in society. We're no where close to this point, but through small strides progress is constantly being made. Joss has chosen to do this through his work. He writes the things he wishes to see with the people he wants us to know. Because his female characters stand out, he is often asked about them. It is kind of mind-boggling that he stands out as a creator solely based on the fact that he has these remarkable female characters, but that just goes to show that he's doing it right. 

He's hardly alone either. In regards to popular media, George R R Marin, author and creator of Game of Thrones, has a similar view on the creation of complex female characters. While the show represents a full spectrum of sexism, gender inequality, oppression, and an array of negative situations for women and men to participate in, his characters face these challenges head on. It has some of the most powerful female characters we've seen in a long time. The good ones as well as the bad, show us a spirit and cunning that is many times missing from female characterizations. 
Fantasy author, Neil Gaiman also has similar thoughts on writing women. While we see them saying over and over again that women are people, it really makes me wonder how we've come to a point where this has to be said at all. I think this is something that must be said by men. When people ask J. K. Rowling about why Hermoine is such an amazing and powerful girl, if she were to say, "Well, she's just a person." People would ask for more. If a man says it, it takes their breath away and leaves them questioning. 

So whatever label you choose to apply to men who treat women as people, be mindful of the work they are doing in bridging the gap between where we are now and where we are headed. They are doing feminist work and some of the work they do, needs to be done by men because it is shocking and that is scary. The best way to make society realize that men can see women as people, not just females, is to expose them to this. Which all of these writers are trying to do. 

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