Putting the Female Back in “Strong Female Character”

 

Honestly, I’ve been meaning to write this since the first Supergirl trailer and Age of Ultron came out, but better late than never right?  Here goes.

I’m so excited to watch Supergirl I can barely contain it. Not only is she female superhero and wonderful and all that jazz, she’s a girl. When I say that, I don’t just mean that she’s female. She’s bubbly and feminine and I love it. I feel like with the whole trope of the “Strong Female Character” all we’ve gotten is a guy with boobs, female but not allowed to be feminine.

As an example, I give you Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you haven’t seen Age of Ultron yet I find that sad and I want you to stop reading this and go watch it immediately. For the rest of you, you’ve probably heard about the Black Widow controversy. I want to call bull on that. Essentially what Joss Whedon did was he made her more human and people hated it. Why? Black Widow’s (Natasha Romanoff’s) big thing has been that we haven’t been given much backstory on her so she gets to kick butt and be Russian and we love her for it. In Age of Ultron, we get some of that backstory. As part of the Red Room, her “graduation” was being sterilized. She can’t have kids ever. Now I’m not saying that all women have to have kids. There are a lot of women that don’t want to have kids and that’s fine, but having the ability taken from you is highly traumatic. Your autonomy has been taken from you in a way. You can no longer change your mind later if you end up wanting to have kids. Not only is this emotionally traumatic, but it’s traumatic to the person herself. Sterilization can cause all kinds of problems, not the least of which is early menopause. The fact that Natasha has been sterilized is very humanizing for her character and it disrupts the mysterious persona she has been given. But why can’t she kick butt and be human, in a distinctly female way?

After this, I was watching Legally Blonde and I realized that Elle Woods was exactly the person I’d been looking for.

Yes. Elle Woods can totally own law school while wearing pink and yet we don’t call her a strong female character. Again I ask why? I think it’s because she doesn’t fit the “man with boobs and a gun” label. She’s intelligent, she’s opinionated, and she spends her free time getting her nails done. Why can’t she have it all?

In the middle of the spectrum marches the wonderful Agent Peggy Carter. She’s gorgeous, she can kick butt in heels, and she can cry because some douchebag shot her roommate in the head. She’s allowed to care and have emotion without us thinking she is weak, because we all know she could kill us with a stapler if she were ever so inclined.

This is the next step. Now that we’ve established that women can be strong, we have to establish that they don’t have to be pseudo masculine to do so. I may or may not be able to beat you senseless with a stapler. That shouldn’t be the qualification for being a strong woman.

What do y’all think?

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Cruella Deville and the Fear of Strong Women

I was watching 101 Dalmatians earlier and something struck me. We all know Cruella Deville, she is completely insane. She wants to skin adorable puppies for their coats. What kind of sick person would do that? Noone! Then I thought about when the movie was made. It came out in 1961 based on a book published in 1956. Then it struck me, Cruella Deville is what people were afraid strong women would be.  Don’t believe me? Let us contrast her with the other women in the movie.

Both of them fulfill typically femine roles: wife and domestic servant. The nanny has some spunk, but she only brings it out at the “appropriate” times. Anita lets Roger handle most everything, because he’s the man and that’s his job. Cruella has no one. The two men she works with are imbeciles so she ends up having to do everything herself. In the live action version, she condemms marriage by saying “More women have been lost to marriage than to war, famine, disease or disaster.” The problem is that she is an exaggeration. Noone (at least I hope noone) is that crazy. Cruella is the monster that people in the 50s and 60s told their kids about at night. They were so afraid of the strong woman that she became Cruella. “Strong, independently wealthy women are dangerous.” “They’ll destroy us all.”

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this.  Is Cruella Deville a paranoid fantasy from a bygone era or have I gone too far? Comment and let me know!