Sophie McDougall brilliantly explains the problem with “Strong Female Characters”



I don’t fundamentally disagree, but I think we are collectively getting better. Peggy Olson from Mad Men and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones are highly nuanced, maddeningly fascinating characters.

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Also, if you define “strong” as a certain set of things that might be primarily masculine (kicking ass physically, being super aggressive, not taking no for an answer, etc.), and then try to fit a female into those characteristics, it seems to miss the point.

As she says - what we need is MORE female characters.


Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary,
abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain,
untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius.

Orphan Black has virtually all of those covered.


I think you’re right, but it’s worth pointing out that both characters exist in a setting that is monstrously sexually violent and on shows that treat nudity as nearly essential. They’re good characters. They’re also still within the gravitational tug of awfulness.


That is my own bias showing through, I identify with monstrous situations. From either of those shows is anyone getting out without being a quivering mess?

I can’t see the phrase “strong female characters” without thinking of these ladies.

I think that the problems with these characters (as with many other problems of media representation) mostly come from the marginalization of female creators. Many of these characters are created by men simply taking male character tropes and applying them to a female model, rather than exploring a woman’s point of view in a more nuanced way. This is not to say that men cannot write female characters well, but women have an advantage in that department, and as long as they are underrepresented among creators and publishers, depictions of women are likely to be subpar.


Also let’s not forget Orange is the New Black. Nothing but a beautiful spectrum of female characters.


Yeah, that is one part that has always bothered me. The stories are already so strong. And like good word play, nudity in film is best when implied.

Its not about prudishness, about the best analogy may be oversalted fried chicken? Traveling fifths during songs? Recreating the painting Starry Night? :slight_smile:

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Did I just imply there should be nudity in word play?


The thing that’s striking about the novels is just how many, and how varied, are the characters who are women. There are problematic aspects to the characterizations, but on the whole, I think GRRM’s efforts are a positive contribution. For instance, Brienne of Tarth fits the sort of “strong woman” trope that McDougall complains is overused, but she’s not the only woman in the story, nor the only woman who’s a point-of-view character, nor even the only woman skilled with weapons, and there’s more to her character than that trope. Come to think of it, part of her role in the story seems to be to critique the limitations of that trope – she seems to do that consciously on a few occasions, as in her disappointment with the two Mormonts, women from Bear Island who superficially seem to resemble her, and her fascination with Catelyn Stark.


I think nudity is part of the human condition and belongs in art as much as anything else. The real problem with it is that depictions of it are incredibly skewed - towards “perfect” bodies, towards the male gaze, towards sexiness in general. I think the solution is not less nudity, but more other kinds of nudity. Obviously we tend to fill our fiction with the stuff we want to see, and not boring mundane reality, but depictions of nudity on film aside from titillation or wish fulfillment are practically nonexistent.


I think it’s like sugar in cooking. You’ll often get a positive response by adding sugar to a dish, but sweetness can easily overwhelm the other flavors, and you don’t want to end up with a table of nothing but blandly sweet things.


I don’t think Arwen from LOTR is representative of the sort of character Ms. McDougall seems to be on about.


Care to elaborate?

McDougall specifically cites Arwen in the movie, Fellowship of the Ring:

How else to explain the fact that when the screenwriters of The Lord of the Rings decided to (clumsily) expand Arwen’s role from the books, they had her wander on screen, put a sword to her boyfriend’s throat and boast about how she’d sneaked up on him? (It took Liv Tyler to realise later “you don’t have to put a sword in her hand to make her strong”)

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Rereading the article, I notice that she mentions Peggy Carter in the Captain America movie. I’d be curious to know what she thinks of the show Agent Carter. I thought it nicely upgraded her from “strong female character” to “complex and interesting female character who is also strong”.


The article’s pretty much spot-on. “Strong Female Characters” are what happens when shitty writers try to create complex female protagonists. The male counterpart is just as boring and one-dimensional. People aren’t tropes, so I wish fiction would stop treating them that way.


Arwen, whether her role was expanded upon or warped in the LOTR movie or not, was not portraying a human woman but an elf, and all elves who were portrayed in the movie were portrayed as being more dexterous and combat effective, as well as highly arrogant and haughty. While her boyfriend was trained by elves, apparently, he was still no elf in terms of raw physical ability or in personality. So the ‘strength/stealth’ portrayed in the movie by Tyler’s character was typical of any elf in the movie, with the best example being the way Legolas was portrayed. She was as arrogant as any male elf shown in the movie when she was first introduced into the story.

tl;dr …

Additionally, it can certainly be argued that everything about the LOTR movies was clumsily done. I have personally enjoyed the series several times, but with each watching, the heavy handed approach to every aspect of the way Jackson told this story becomes more evident (I was certainly wowed by all the special effects, sets and costumes first go-rounds because I’m a fan-boy at heart - but with perspective I’m certain that some future generation will find a way to tell this story with a bit more subtlety).

But Tyler’s Arwen also displayed an emotional range in the story, and while elfy-strong, was she weak in terms of judgment–I mean Elron presented perfectly reasonable arguments regarding her elfen longevity, which Arwen in her youthful exuberance entirely ignored for what was going to be a temporary love arrangement at best. I don’t think her character was a two-dimensional cardboard cutout at least no more than anyone else’s character in the movies.

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While it is more problematic with female characters, I feel that more shows these days have only archetype characters. It isn’t just women, but the men are also one-dimensional. The larger the budget, the simpler the characters.

This is bad not just for women, constant exposure reduces our empathy.

Is it because we binge so many shows we don’t want to think too deeply? Is it because we are watching 3D and HD pictures and we just want to see things get blown up?