Something tells me that this blog post might get me into a lot of trouble.
I know that you, kind blog readers, certainly would not just start yelling at me, so I must hope that I am right when it comes to the general population of the internet. I've been mulling over a lot of these questions for the past few days and I would like to discuss them with you. I want your opinions, and I want to try and figure out my own by writing them down. So here goes.
As you know, I am a big fan of strong lady characters. I like nothing more than girls who can hold their own, whether that means in a swordfight or in a conversation.
I also like Disney movies. A lot. Like really a lot.
I was having a conversation with the lovely and talented Leigh Ann Kopans on Twitter the other day. (Seriously guys she's the best. She writes SUCH GOOD BOOKS. *fingers crossed for Leigh Ann and her books*) We were talking about Tangled and what a wonderful movie it is, and I said that it's the best Disney movie since the 90s. And then Leigh Ann said that she didn't like those much because of a lack of strong female characters. I didn't say much about it at the time, because the arguments are my least favorite things ever and usually I prefer to do the "oh, okay, different opinion. Fine. Cool. Good stuff. Moving on" thing. Leigh Ann is really really great and it was morning and I was tired and didn't feel like expanding upon this thought. But I've been mulling it over in the past few days and... I just don't see the problem.
No, the female Disney characters of the 90s are not Katniss. I've heard many an argument from my aunt to my classmates to the General People of the Internet that these movies are inherently bad for feminism... and I feel like I'm missing their point.
Granted, 90s Disney movies are the essence of my media consumption as a child (along with Bill Nye the Science Guy and Kratts Kreatures, but you get the point) so I am very much biased in their favor. But I also just don't see how those girls are huge red flags. Maybe they could be better, but are they as bad as all that, really?
See, I told you this was going to get me in trouble. I am NOT advocating for a lack of strong female characters! Hear me out here, please.
Beauty and the Beast is extremely high on my favorite-movies-of-all-time list. Top three, if not in the number one spot (I'm 21 years old, this may be problematic...). For one thing, the music is gorgeous. I love the animation. And I've always secretly (or not-so-secretly) wanted to be Belle. I don't think that she's actually dumb, or because the Beast saves her that one time it makes her incompetent. Yeah, she runs out of the castle in the middle of the night in the snow. I would be pretty freaked out in her situation too! A giant guy with claws is throwing furniture and screaming! I'd be out of there! But she knows where she's going, since she found the castle in the first place. And when the wolves show up, she doesn't panic or anything - she tries to outride them, then starts hitting them with a stick. She's eventually overwhelmed, yeah, but there are a LOT OF THEM. I always sort of saw this as understandable.
And yes, the Beast saves her, but in the end, doesn't she save him? In a less dramatic fashion, sure, but she does. She brings him back to life, essentially. And she doesn't do that really annoying "I'm going to change the bad boy" thing. She doesn't fall in love with him at the start (she doesn't like Gaston - why would she fall for another jerk?); she falls in love with him later because he turns into a nice person, for her.
I fail to see how needing to be rescued turns a girl into an instantly incapable character. Doesn't everybody need to be rescued sometimes? Girls, guys, everybody. Sometimes there are just too many wolves for you to take out on your own and you need a little help. Isn't that fair?
I'm also uncertain as to how this makes an entire movie unlikable. I LOVE The Princess Bride. It is an amazing movie. I've yet to read the book (I know, I know) but that movie is just so brilliant. And Princess Buttercup? Is the wimpiest female character EVER. She just stands there when Westley is getting attacked by the Rodent of Unusual Size. She nearly kills herself instead of trying to escape Humperdinck. She's completely pathetic. I acknowledge that. I love the movie anyway. Does that make me a bad person somehow? Because I am willing to overlook Buttercup's complete ineptitude to enjoy the jokes and adventuring of all the male characters in that movie, have I somehow failed at Being a Girl?
Another example: The Lion King. There are all of two female characters in that movie (which the musical attempts to rectify by making Rafiki a woman's part. It's awesome): Nala and Sarabi. If we're going off the "Lion King is actually Hamlet" theory, Nala and Sarabi are, I would argue, far stronger characters than Ophelia and Gertrude ever dreamed of being. After all, I'm pretty sure Nala could beat Simba up at any time if she felt like it, especially when they were kids. But, just like their Shakespearean counterparts, they are minor characters. They don't get large chunks of screen time. Nala is The Love Interest; Sarabi is The Mom. This has never made me love that movie any less. In fact, the Lion King soundtrack is my music of choice whenever I am buried in stress and need to not freak out so much. It never bothered me that Simba was the main character, and that most of the characters in that movie are male. I just think it's a good movie.
I am concerned, lovely blog readers. I am concerned for a lot of different and very conflicting reasons. There has been a bit of a media circus lately about how many women write YA and how many female characters there are and how many girls and women read it and how many boys don't. Those articles usually send me in search of something to bang my head against. So it's obvious that we haven't "gotten there" yet, in terms of being on a completely equal playing field. We NEED strong female characters. We NEED more of them.
We need movies like Brave, where Merida is a very skilled archer and wants to make her own way in the world, and her mother, I have to say, is just awesome (I can't tell you why without spoilers. Just trust me). We need movies like Tangled, where Rapunzel threatens people with frying pans and makes her realizations on her own.
But I think sometimes we get to be a bit overzealous. I think sometimes we are so intent on creating female characters who can be good strong role models that we forget to make them human.
Everyone needs to be rescued.
Everyone needs a good cry sometimes.
Everyone sometimes wants other people to make their decisions for them.
Everyone does stupid things sometimes.
Girls are people too. We should allow our characters to reflect that.
There are a lot of issues that get wrapped up in this. There's the issue of boys not reading books about girls whereas girls have little choice but to read about boys. There's the issue of girl characters being Bella Swan types with absolutely no decision making power of their own. There's the issue of marketing and pink covers and frilly titles for books written by women. There's the issue of boy characters being adventurous or smart while girl characters just like sparkly things. All of these things are significant problems in movies, television, literature, society... And none of these things have easy solutions. It's hard to even know where to start.
But I think a good place to start is to have a discussion about these issues. I want to know what you think of all this, dear blog readers. Tell me if you think I'm wrong about it, and why.
And I think we need to tell stories with the most human characters we can, both male and female. I want to see a book about a prince getting rescued. I want to see more books and movies about friendships rather than romances. And I want to see more strong female characters of course.
Being a strong character, male or female, shouldn't mean having to go it alone, though. Sometimes the hardest thing a person can do is to ask for help.