"Strong Feminist" versus "Strong Feminine" Archetypes

Thursday, August 24, 2017

You've probably heard a lot of buzz about "strong female roles" in the media--books, movies, etc.  Many groups want to see a woman who can bash bad guys' heads in and then polish their manicured nails straight afterward.  However, the first time a female character bashes a bad guy's head in, polishes off her nails, and then falls in love with the somewhat hapless young man helping her, the character is written off as a failure.

For example: the new Wonder Woman film from DC Comics.  Gal Gadot's character in this film was the first female-centric superhero solo film to be released.  It was a major box office success--one of the few this year--and actually included an island containing a female-only band of warriors and goddesses, Amazonians.  However, the film was condemned to be a major flop...because Diana, Gadot's character, fell for a man she met during her journeys (trying to keep it spoiler-free here).  Everyone was pumped for Wonder Woman, and it was held to the high standard of being the first major feminist film out there....until people flocked to the theaters to see it.  The reason many groups started to condemn the movie was because of Diana's love interest, who nobody had known about until the film was released.  Then they started to bash the actress herself for various and extremely odd reasons barely worth mentioning.  (Gal Gadot, being a wonder woman herself, filmed while heavily pregnant and was also a 2-year member of the Israeli army prior to the film.)

Another example  involves the extremely successful Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  The books were popular, but the fandom blew up into practically being a household name when the film adaptations were made.  During the media campaigns for this film, an interesting shift occurred: during the first two films, Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the media jumped on the love triangle in the books: whether Katniss Everdeen chooses her friend Gale Hawthorne or her ally and protector, Peeta Mellark, to be her boyfriend.  ("Team Gale or Team Peeta?" was a question everyone obsessed over.)  But during Mockingjay 1 & 2's releases, the media started proclaiming Katniss as a wonderful feminist icon and promptly condemned the character as a disappointment when she, inevitably (anyone read the books?) ends up with Peeta.  It's as if the drama of a relationship, the power of a girl having multiple options for relationships, pumps everyone up--but don't you dare take that jump into being into a relationship: you're immediately weak.  

Let's also look at some timeless examples:
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, and the subsequent Kevin Sullivan film adaptations, also show a fearless young woman who gets herself into a lot of scrapes but figured her way out of them.  She was the top of her class, competing with the boys, and went to college in a time when a lot of people still thought girls shouldn't educate themselves more than necessary.  She also, obviously, marries Gilbert Blythe after years of bantering.  In the Kevin Sullivan adaptations, Anne also braves the dangers of WWI battlefields to find her husband after he's presumed MIA.  Her story is timeless, classic, and even has TV and movie adaptations being created today.  

Even the story of Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz displays similar features.  We have a little girl who gets thrown into an entirely new world, and while she can sit down and have a good cry about it, she also dusts herself off and gets back home to Kansas even when the odds seem clearly stacked against her.  Baum faced a lot of criticism for his decision to write such a "strong female character" in the early 1900s, but her story remains today.

Other examples of timeless, female-led stories include Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, etc.  You've probably read at least one for school.  Why?  Did you notice any similarities between the old and the new?  Of course, while the new characters may lead a rebellion or save the world, they're in separate genres than the older novels are.  Aside from that, we have the bare bones: a girl who can hold her own and still be girly.

Why the dissonance?  If we still hail these classic books and movies as masterpieces still to this day, but the exact same character archetype is sorely disapproved of in today's new books and movies--what's the difference?

This is what I call the struggle between a "Strong Feminist" versus a "Strong Feminine" role.  In this new era of requesting "equality", it appears as though feminist groups and the media actually want male traits and roles imposed onto a female character/body.  Conversely, a "Strong Feminine" role displays a gal who can get the job done and still be a lady about it--and it seems to be pretty successful.

When we are writing stories for the future generations, now, we must ask--should we write what is popular today, the "Strong Feminist" role, or should we write among giants and be the pioneers of the 21st century's "Strong Feminine" classics?

Lastly, something for you to chew on:  what makes the "Strong Feminine" role so successful in comparison to the "Strong Feminist" role?  Why is falling in love deemed a fatal flaw, a massive failure, when you've saved the world?  Lastly, have you any examples of either archetype to add to the conversation?  Sound off in the comments!

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