Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Strong Female Characters In Fiction

Strong Female Characters in fiction. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Joss Whedon. When asked why he writes strong female characters, he said, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” I think that that in itself speaks volumes as to the real issue, which is why this is even an issue in the first place. Or, more specifically, why this is still an issue. Because it really shouldn’t be.

What exactly is a strong female character? I’ve spent Gosh knows how long contemplating the answer to that question, because it’s important to me to include such characters in my work, as I believe it should be with every writer. What I find interesting is that there isn’t a lack strong male characters. Strong male characters aren’t an issue. Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula – these aren’t considered ‘strong’ male characters. The fact that they are male isn’t really worth mentioning. Because being male doesn’t define them as characters. Yet there is a significant lack of strong female characters. Why is it that every other year Batman or Superman get a new movie, but no one can seem to get a Wonder Woman project off the ground?

When people talk about strong female characters, I don’t think it’s with reference to physical strength, although that can play a part. What I’ve gathered so far is that a strong female character is a character whose being female is not her defining trait. She is a character who cannot be summed up by simply saying she was ‘the girl’ in the story. Her function within the plot transcends her simply being a female. Being female is not her most important attribute. In short, a strong female character is a strong character who happens to be female.

Obviously I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with being female. That’d be stupid of me. What I am saying is that to sum up a character by saying she is ‘the girl’ of the story implies that there is some standard that being ‘the girl’ entails, which is totally not the case. It reduces being a girl or a woman to a set of preconceived notions, it implies that she is ‘the usual’, or ‘the typical’, which is damaging and limiting.

Take the ‘love interest’ for example, in this case ‘the girlfriend’. A love interest serves a function within a story, the same way that a foil or an antagonist does. So having a female love interest is not a bad thing in and of itself. The problem is how frequently this is all the character is ever allowed to be. When a female love interest has no real personality beyond being the thing the protagonist is after, has no goals of her own, or is a two-dimensional afterthought, it reduces said character to a mere prop. She is not a character, she is a trophy, a prize, an end. 

Something that bothers me is that I’ve heard it said that the reason there aren’t as many strong female characters as there are male ones is because most authors are men, and it is difficult for a male writer to write from a woman’s perspective and/or with a woman’s experiences. I personally think this is a lame excuse for lazy writing. Following this logic, a writer is limited to creating characters with experiences similar to his own, which would mean that all works of fiction should be semi-autobiographical at best. Creating a believable female character, as it turns out, is about as difficult as creating a believable male character.    

Does a strong female character have to be the main character to qualify? At first I thought so. I thought that without being the protagonist, any effort at creating a strong female character would be in vain, as the focus would still be on someone other than her. Characters like Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennett, Laura Croft, and Kim Possible (yes, the cartoon) definitely qualify. But it is entirely possible to create strong female characters without them being the protagonist. Again, it all boils down to how well this character is developed. Does she have more than a superficial personality, likes and dislikes, goals and aspirations? Does she exist beyond what she looks like? Does she have purpose? Does she affect the plot? Is she more than a prop? Take, for example, Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter series. Strong female character? Yes. The main character? No. Other examples include Mariah Hill from the Avengers film, or Sarah Conner from the Terminator film series, or Chani from Frank Herbert’s Dune novels.

Granted, right now there are many positive steps being taken to include and create stronger female characters in fiction in all mediums. This is wonderful. However, much more remains to be done, and it is a goal of mine as a writer to contribute to equal gender representation in literature as best as I can, and I think we as writers – in particular – those who happen to be male have an obligation not to contribute to the sexism that is still very prevalent in our society. I’m still researching this very interesting topic, and hopefully I can post more of what I’ve gathered. I’d love to hear input from you all on the subject as well. All comments are welcome. 


Friday, May 10, 2013

I'm So Freakin' Excited!!!! Seriously Guys, I'm Geeked!

So it's been an uber long time since I've posted anything here, so firstly, sorry guys and gals.

Since I've last updated some exciting things have happened to me, the most recent of which is that as of yesterday (May 9th, 2013) I was invited to become a contributor for WhatCulture!.com!!!!

Seriously, I could not be more honored. I'm still spaced out. Today I pitched my first article, which was accepted, so now I'm working on it and . . . we'll see where it goes from there!

Kirk out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Skinny People Problems

A very common misconception many people have is that if they could just be thin, everything would be better. Less societal pressure, better health, more self esteem, etc. and while all of this may be true, don’t think being thin is always a walk in the park. Skinny folk have their own stigmas to contend with.

[DISCLAIMER: I’m talking about people who are naturally thin, not those that are that way because of an eating disorder or some other illness. Nor am I in any way bashing people who aren’t thin.]

Problem is, in a society such as ours, where everyone seems to be obsessed with losing weight or being skinny, those of us who are that way can actually have it pretty bad. How so? Here are three things we as skinny people regularly have to put up with.

People Constantly Worry About You

I can kind of see the logic behind this one. If you’re skinny, you must not eat, if you don’t eat, you must be malnourished, if you’re malnourished, you must be on the verge of death.

There’s a problem with that line of thought. Just because a person is thin, it doesn’t mean they don’t eat. Which means they could, for all anyone else knows, be in peak physical condition. But because so many people struggle with their weight, they assume that if you’re skinny, you must be making some sort of sacrifice in the form of starving yourself to death (literally) or else you have some other problem because by golly, people don’t just come that way.

Never is this more apparent than when physical exertion is required. I can’t go up a freaking flight of stairs without somebody asking me if I need to take a break. People are extra careful around me, like I’m made out of glass or something. And for any able bodied person to be treated like they have just gotten over some type of strength sapping sickness all the time is annoying to the point of actual insanity. The last I checked, I hadn’t suffered from any type of muscular dystrophy. I can do just as much as the next guy. But because I’m thin, people assume that I need help lugging that big ol’ backpack around.

And it isn’t because I’m short, either. Know how I know?

I am, by anyone’s estimation, a little guy. I’m 5ft. 7 on a good day, I weigh 135 pounds, and with a metabolism as fast as mine the only way I can gain any substantial weight is if I’m carrying something heavy.
So this one time (how I begin all my stories) I was helping  an older lady move. There were a few other guys there as well, and we were putting her furniture in the truck. Now, there was a TV, one of the older ones, not a flat screen. Me and this other guy – let’s call him Joe – go to lift it up. Next thing I know, a third guy rushes in and tells me to ‘let a bigger guy handle that’. Now I don’t feel like making a scene of the whole thing, so I shuffle away while Joe and the third guy carry the TV away. I am then handed a lamp and told to bring that, if I can manage.

Now, let’s examine Joe for a moment. I’m a good three inches taller than Joe, so it obviously wasn’t a height issue. Joe does, however, outweigh me by at least twenty pounds. So the exact reason I didn’t get to lift the TV was because the third guy assumed that because I was thin I couldn’t handle it (which, for the record, I totally could, but that’s neither here nor there). Is it a big deal? Not really, it happens all the time. Is it annoying? Yes, yes it is.

People Always Want to Feed You

I recently returned from an extended stay at my Grandmother’s house. Just a social visit, nothing more, at least for me. But do you know what one of her express goals was while I was there? To ‘fatten me up’. My first reaction was to feel exactly like a chicken being plumped so that I could be butchered and sold at some whole foods market. My second reaction was to shrug and say, ‘What the heck,” and just go with it.
To make a long story short, I stayed with my grandmother for a good three months, and every hour she would ask me if I ate. If I said no, she would use her grandmotherly powers to make me eat. Every hour. For three freaking months. I weighed myself before and after, and you know something? I didn’t gain an ounce. Not one little ounce.

I relate this tale to illustrate a point. When you’re thin, people always feel the need to come to your rescue, where ‘come to your rescue’ means pumping you so full of food that you quadruple in size. Everyone wants to feed you. This is awkward enough, but it gets worse, because it can go one of two ways. You can either (A) go along with it and accept whatever they give you, which may get people off your case, except  now you have to eat it all, because they sure as heck will be watching to make sure you really do eat it and don’t sneak off to the bathroom and barf it all up. Which is probably what they think you’ll be doing anyway. Or, you have option (B), which is to politely decline, and watch as people try to reason with you, like they are literally trying to save your life. Eventually, they will stop trying, but the fact that they offered you food and you said no (“who does that?” they’ll be thinking) will reinforce the idea that something is wrong with you in their head. Because any normal person counts recreational eating among their list of favorite pastimes.
The issue with this is, there’s this thing called an appetite. It’s your body’s way of reminding you to nourish it. Appetites vary. Some people graze all day long, some people like to eat three square meals a day and no snacks, whatever. Skinny people have appetites too. And we listen to them. If it were telling me to eat right now, don’t you think I would be doing just that? Wouldn’t you? Who wouldn’t?

Thing is, for a while I bought into all of it. I started to believe that even though three different doctors have given me a clean bill of health, something really was wrong with me. There must be, right? So I tried, like, really tried, to gain weight. And it just didn’t work. Of course I quickly came to my senses and realized that there was no problem to be corrected, but imagine if I hadn’t. I could have so easily ended up being someone who was obsessed with calorie intake, developing a rigid eating schedule, always staring into mirrors and hating what I saw and jumping on scales after every meal. Sound familiar? It probably does if you have an eating disorder or a poor body image.

Luckily I haven’t fallen into that trap, but I could have. Anyone can, and lot’s of people do. And what makes it so difficult a thing to deal with is the fact that . . .

People Tease You

Hard to believe, right? Thin is treated like something to aspire to, right up there with youth and beauty, isn’t it? Nobody ever gets teased for being beautiful, do they?

I wouldn’t know, I’m not beautiful. But I am thin, and I can tell you, people will never let me forget it. I’ve been called everything from ‘a rake’ to ‘nothing but skin and bones’ to my personal favorite, ‘manorexic’. Because no harm ever came from accusing someone of having an eating disorder.

Some (well, a lot of) people would say “That’s nothing, just playful ribbing (pun intended), no harm in it.” For those who believe that, let’s look at it from a different angle. Suppose I was the opposite. Suppose I was overweight. Do you think the average person would feel justified in just walking up to me and saying “Geez, you’re huge; it’s called self-control, Captain Indulgence!” Even if this was said in jest, who wouldn’t think this person was a flaming you-know-what?

Funny thing is, this situation happens in reverse all the doodah time. Like, all of the time. Friends, family, people I don’t really know – all of them well meaning – will comment on how skinny I am and expect me to, I dunno, laugh along? “Geez, eat a sandwich!” or, “Somebody needs to feed you.” Or the one I hate the most, “I wish I could give you some of my weight.” That last one really pisses me off, for the simple and express reason that when people say this, it becomes apparent that they are no longer looking at the issue from a healthy perspective. The extra weight on most people is, not muscle, but fat. How on Earth would donating your fat to me help me? That was rhetorical, but I’m compelled to answer anyways. It wouldn’t. I’d be in worse shape.

Anyways, when people make these comments, even as a joke, nobody feels bad about it. Nobody feels as if anything wrong has been said. Nobody but me, that is. And don’t get me wrong, I can take a joke, and for the most part I don’t read into it. Sometimes I even laugh along. That part doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the bigger issue that all this reveals. The media portrays thin as the norm. We all know that isn’t necessarily true. Rejecting that falsehood has become something of a common struggle in our society. The attitude people take is that it’s okay to have shape, it’s okay to not be thin. All of this is great, and all of this is true. The problem is that there’s some resentment being built up toward those of us who are naturally thinner. People see us as ‘them’, as part of the problem, when the truth is, it’s all just a matter of genetics. People like me don’t try to be thin, we aren’t slaves to the media, starving ourselves or going to other extreme lengths to be a size zero (I have no idea what the male equivalent of a size zero is). We eat, and some (most) of us eat a lot. But people don’t always see that, and that’s where the problems begin.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I mean, everybody’s got their own personal issues, plenty of which are worse than mine, blah, blah, blah. I get that, I am aware. I suppose that the point I’m trying to make is that no matter your situation, the grass is not always greener. Sometimes, when we get the things we want, the things we thought would solve all of our problems, we realize too late that all they do is hand us another, different crop of problems to deal with. So the next time you see someone who appears to be everything or something of what you wish you could be, remember, odds are they have just as many
hang-ups as you do, maybe even more.

And if it’s a skinny person, for God’s sake, don’t offer to buy them a cheeseburger.