I’m the new blogger for the Geeky Mormon. My name is Elizabeth but you may call me Lizy. I will answer to Liz. Some people are picky about being classified as either a geek or a nerd, but I will answer to either.
Female characters, especially strong ones, are definitely a reason that I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy. I don’t mind identifying myself with the girl who needs to get rescued, but I have always been interested in heroines who take care of themselves, fight their own battles alongside the boys, and sometimes even get to do a bit of the rescuing. The heroines who really catch my attention are a little of both. Below are just some of my observations and thoughts on what makes a strong female heroine, based on about a year’s worth of writing, research, and observation.
The point of fantasy is that you can identify with the character in some way and because of that experience what the character is going through.The first Marvel movie I ever saw and enjoyed was Captain America: The First Avenger. While I primarily liked the film because I could relate to the underdog Steve Rogers, I was in awe of Agent Peggy Carter. She was smart, beautiful and absolutely fearless. She took absolutely no nonsense from any of the other guys, but she not only liked Steve but she believed in him. (As a side note, I have not been able to watch the Agent Carter TV show yet but I want to very badly). That is the kind of person I felt like I could emulate.
Sometimes I am less interested in the female leads and more in the fantasy elements or the story. But that being said I am still excited for Captain Marvel, because we will get all of that and a female lead too.
One of the first Star Wars characters I loved was Queen Amidala. As a little girl I loved her wardrobe in The Phantom Menace and I spent many happy hours pouring over the pictures of her dresses in the visual dictionary. And in addition to that, she fought for the freedom of her people. When I got older, I discovered the original trilogy. I liked Princess Leia a lot, and I still like her a lot. She didn’t have the visual glitter of the Queen, but she spoke her mind and carried a blaster. I wanted to be tough like that when I was a kid. It was when I was older that I came to appreciate her tender side as well.
Years later, I found out that a lot of people didn’t like Padme Amidala because it was clearly a bad idea for her to pursue a relationship with Anakin Skywalker, and then it didn’t make sense for her to die in Revenge of the Sith. I liked Padme too much as a character to let these things get in the way of liking her. But I have thought about these issues a lot. People don’t like having to identify with female characters who make decisions differently from the way they would, especially when it comes to love. But Padme’s failure, to me, makes her all the more human and relatable. As far as Anakin is concerned, she had a fatal blind spot, but his decisions were not her fault. And when a heroine fails, sometimes something good comes out of it. Usually this means she is able to get up again and confront the problem, but in Padme’s case it meant that her love for Anakin lived on through Luke.
And then there are the people who think falling in love is absolutely demeaning for a female character to experience. I could not disagree with this more. If the love story is relevant to the plot and it strengthens both characters, then it can be a good thing. It is natural and human to fall in love. In all honesty, I was not thrilled that Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow tried to pursue a romance with Bruce Banner/the Hulk in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. But the online backlash against the love plot was ridiculous. I do not think that having Natasha fall in love was completely demeaning. I make missteps in my love life too sometimes. And it made sense in context of the larger theme that Joss Whedon was trying to get across.
The fact that Natasha was sterilized in the Red Room is a symptom of her much bigger problem: she was created to be an assassin in both mind and body, to the exclusion of all else. She has her worst fears, and she has a dark side I can scarcely begin to imagine. What makes her more interesting is the way she copes with her darkness, by being the auntie to Clint Barton’s kids, by being compassionate to people in need, by protecting those who are weaker than herself, and by relying on her quiet, inner strength. I like Natasha a lot more now than I did three years ago. And while I’m upset about her pursuing Bruce I can at least forgive her for that. What matters is that he is a well-rounded character.
The matter of the strong female heroine is only an issue of gender to a point: it is about the development of character and how that influences how gender is represented. This is important because the media has a huge influence on individuals as well as cultures. But all heroines are not alike and should not be expected to conform to some invisible standard. We can allow our heroines to be human just as much as the men. Isn’t that what makes these stories great, by seeing the characters we sympathize with have human experiences?
A Fandom of Her Own: Women of Today’s Sci-fi/Fantasy Franchises (Capstone paper)
The Strong Feminism behind Black Widow, and why the critiques don’t stand up by Alyssa Rosenburg for the Washington Post