Because October is Women’s History Month in Canada, we’re taking the time to discuss the strong women who have changed, and are still changing, the world. This also happens to include the fictional females who have inspired women and female-identifying individuals.
Strong Female Characters
Author/Editor: Jennifer J. Lacelle
September 21, 2021
Does it Pass the Test?
It would be easy to say that yes, women are included in movies, television and literature. But how easy is it to say that these characters have depth, strength, flaws and weaknesses just like any male character?
In film, there’s such a thing as the Bechdel Test. Essentially, in order to pass, the media in question has to have at least two women who talk to each other about anything other than a man. The test isn’t about proving a movie is sexist, but to identify an area that isn’t discussed much. It sounds a bit obscure, maybe even silly, but how many movies actually pass?
Out of curiosity, this author went through a few years of listings on the Bechdel Test’s website, and discovered that out of 62 movies released in 2021 (so far), there were 21 that did not pass the test (33 per cent). How does this compare to other years? Let’s go back a decade… in 2011 out of 372 movies there were 139 that didn’t pass the test (37 per cent). That’s only an increase of four per cent in a decade.
Some of the results are quite shocking though. There are movies you would picture passing the test and others you can’t fathom making it. But, many are quite often the reverse! As example, Mean Girls passes but Star Wars didn’t. Given their general topics, scope, characters, genre and plot points you would think the opposite.
Is it Important?
Representation in all forms of media and entertainment is important. By being represented, people can envision themselves and others. This makes it a vastly influential facet of the human psyche.
Writing strong female characters, not necessarily physically, can boost the confidence in a girl reading about this person. But more than being relatable or inspirational, by writing these characters to life, authors are developing realistic personalities which contributes to the overall theme and quality of the story.
When it comes to boys, these strong female characters can act as a role model as well by shining a light on a three-dimensional human being rather than a one- or two-dimensional form. It subtly shows prime examples that it’s okay for women to be strong, to have flaws, and be leaders.
Society shines a light on the strength of boys and men, while diminishing that in a woman and exemplifying demure or hysteria. This comes through in media and literature quite often, so it’s almost expected that these female characters would lack the luster of their male counterparts. To use an example, the new movie, Snake Eyes, had a few female characters but each of them came across as bland, mechanical and boring (in this author’s opinion).
- Sabriel (The Abhorsen Trilogy, also called The Old Kingdom Series)
This trilogy is one of darkness, mystery and absolute fascination. Garth Nix, an established and acclaimed author, wrote the series between 1995 and 2003.
However, the first book focuses on Sabriel — the Abhorsen; a necromancer who prevents the dead from walking amongst the living — who is a very strong female character. Nix is able to define this leading lady by her intellect, abilities and flaws rather than her sex, making her a believable character. If you haven’t given this trilogy a shot, then it may be worth your time. It’s written in a quick, to the point fashion and demonstrates what good writing means.
- Hua Mulan (The Ballad of Mulan)
Long before leather bound books and movies were invented is the story of Hua Mulan, a Chinese woman who sacrificed everything to save her father. While some people claim she isn’t a historical figure, rather a fictional one, it begs the question: who was she, really?
Her story was likely transcribed close to 400 AD and depicts Mulan lamenting her father heading to war since he has no son. Subsequently, she goes to war and battles for 12 years before finally returning home after declining an official position, thereafter it is revealed she is a woman. This classic tale as been told, retold as the affection for this female character seems to know no bounds. She is bold, strong, fierce and feminine. A reason she’s one of the favourites for many young women.
- Hermione Granger (Harry Potterseries)
The biggest phenomenon to hit the mainstream media in the past two decades: Harry Potter. While the protagonist is a boy, one of the leading gals is the one and only Hermione Granger.
This delightful lady is at first introduced as a strange, over-bearing little girl who needs to be right but J.K. Rowling quickly demonstrates that she’s simply smart. Despite this intellect, like all other people she comes with flaws. This intellect adds to her other amazing qualities that Rowling endows her with throughout the series, making her a character for readers to admire. Hermione shows people that it’s important to stand up for what’s right, what it means to be loyal and to be courageous. The actress, Emma Watson, who portrays the character in the movies is also a role model in many rights and often advocates for the equality of women.
- Celie (The Color Purple)
Praised for its in-depth female characters, but admonished for discussing rape: The Color Purple.
The author did not shy away from a usually hushed topic of sexual assault and abuse (both parental and spousal) as the story follows Celie, an uneducated black woman, from childhood through adulthood. This character goes through extreme situations and always manages to come out standing, despite having little self-esteem. Though, at the end of the book she finally emerges like a butterfly from a cocoon. It’s a tragic story but possesses all the elements of strength, character development and faith people so desperately crave. The sheer will power and resilience written into this character, along with her flaws, is why she’s such a profound female lead.
- Nancy Drew (Nancy Drew)
Beginning in the early 1930s is our next heroine: Nancy Drew. This unwavering young lady is a detective, without a badge… she’s extremely intelligent, insightful, respectful, daring and witty.
Although, as time progressed she was shifted to a less outspoken girl. Given the time period, it’s not surprising people were shocked by the sheer will power that was given to a female character. Despite this change, she has continued to draw audiences from many walks of life as the character herself retains that original sense of strength.
Nancy Drew can also be seen on the screen as movies and television shows have been made, the latest television series beginning in 2019 and still filming.
So, what does all this mean for us readers and viewers?
It means we have a lot to look forward to in the future as we possess the power to influence the next generation and keep rising the ranks of realistic, in-depth female characters.
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