The Leak Isn’t A Scandal, It’s An Outrage

•September 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It’s one of the big stories of the day: this weekend, a hacker released nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, along with several other female celebrities, onto the internet.  While the celebrities themselves have fired back, stating that the images were doctored or false, or decrying the fact that someone dug them up and posted them, the reality is that some of this is just damage control.  It’s obvious that whomever posted these photos likely wanted to cause a scandal…but that, right there, is half the problem.  In the words of Forbes.com writer Scott Mendelson, it’s not a scandal: it’s a sex crime.  And it’s an absolute outrage.

The hacking has been called a “major breach of privacy”, both by representatives of Jennifer Lawrence and by media outlets covering the story.  And it absolutely is that: sometimes, in response to celebrity outrage on the issue of privacy, we see responses along the lines of “they chose to live in the public eye”, but the right to privacy isn’t dependent on one’s career choice.  That just simply is not how rights work.  So yes, this was definitively a breach of these women’s privacy, but it goes  beyond that.  This is hardly the first time that female celebrities have been targeted through the leaking of nude photos-~-decades ago, Marilyn Monroe was subject to the leaking of nude photos, and in 2007, Vanessa Hudgens was also the target of a nude photo “scandal”.  In 2004, a leaked sex tape brought Paris Hilton the negative attention of a media frenzy, and a similar incident occurred with Kim Kardashian in 2007.

Every time this happens, society looks to the victims to see how they will react.  People go to view the leaked photos or videos to see what they really contain, or perhaps just because they think they’ll enjoy seeing them.  But the reality of the situation is that when individuals consume these leaked images, they contribute to and perpetuate a system that normalizes and accepts the abuse of women, in part because they are famous, and in part because of how we view female bodies.

Part of the problem is that we as a society need to stop treating women like they are not entitled to any sense of sexuality.  In 2007, in the wake of the photo leak that nearly destroyed her career, Vanessa Hudgens-~-who became famous through the High School Musical franchise-~-was treated like a sinful child, shamed by Disney Channel, and ultimately had to apologize for the mere existence of the photos that she took in private for private purposes.  The idea that sex is “dirty”, and that individuals whose products are marketed towards young people need to be “pure” and never associated with anything that parents might not love, restricts the ability of individuals to conduct their lives in a way that suits their needs and desires.  While it might be one thing if Disney Channel had reprimanded Hudgens for showing up on the red carpet in lingerie, to extend the expectation that an individual should keep their appearance clean from the public sphere to their private life is sexist, unfounded, and inexcusable.  Its only true purpose is to punish women when they cross over the artificial boundary from Madonna to whore, when they stray away from the publicly-acceptable appearance of women as pure and asexual, and into the apparently uncomfortable reality that many people are sexual beings.

But the story right now isn’t Vanessa Hudgens and what happened to her back in 2007-~-it’s what’s going on right now, and the fact that it is still going on right now.  In his article on Forbes.com, Mendelson writes that: “Ms. Lawrence and the other victims have absolutely nothing to apologize for in terms of the contents of the photos or the nature in which they were leaked. The story itself should not be addressed as if it were a scandal, but rather what it is: A sex crime involving theft of personal property and the exploitation of the female body.”  He hits the nail right on the head.  It doesn’t matter whether one thinks it’s wise to take and/or transmit nude photos electronically.  It’s not the responsibility of women like those targeted in this incident to never take provocative photos so that they can never be stolen.  The person or people who should be ashamed, who should be held accountable, are the hackers who stole these individuals’ private information and distributed it for the world to see.

Van Badlam, writing for the Guardian, speaks to this issue as well, stating that “It’s not merely tawdry that the private sexual conversations of partners are now being disseminated like memes. Sharing these images is not the same as making a joke including characters such as Doge, Grumpy Catand Sad Keanu. It’s an act of sexual violation, and it deserves the same social and legal punishment as meted out to stalkers and other sexual predators.”  She goes on to discuss the idea that prosecution may not be limited to the hackers, once they are caught, but to those who view and distribute the photos as well.  The reality of the situation is that to look at this photos is as if one were a so-called “Peeping Tom”, someone who trespassed on private property and intimate moments for one’s own enjoyment, and just as we consider those activities illegal, we need to treat the dissemination and viewing of these photo as being just as violative.

Celebrities may offer up their public image to us, but that doesn’t mean that they are willing to share their most intimate moments with the public.  Pictures of Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet and pictures of her in her bedroom are two entirely different situations, and we as a society need to come to understand that women’s bodies are not just objects for public consumption, and that fame does not negate an individuals’ right to safety and privacy.

 

 

 

 

On Writing Women

•August 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Literature, media, and the presentation of female characters has been a running theme on this blog for a while now…but it’s only recently, as I’ve come to think about how I write female characters myself, that I realize I haven’t talked at all about the actual creation of these characters, only the need for them.  I’m not going to pretend to you that I am a writing expert, but I wanted to talk about the basics of good female characters based on things I’ve read and common mistakes, because if any of you are writers, or editors, these might be things to keep in mind.

In writing this post, I consulted a variety of other opinions, looking for the kinds of things that stand out.  I’ll start with the same issue that Impish Idea’s Kitty lists first in “How Not to Write a Female Character”: she should be a character first, and female second.   This means that she can’t just be a  hodge-podge of traditionally-feminine characteristics, featuring Eurocentric beauty standards (thin, busty, luscious hair, clear skin, etc.), a love of cooking, and a “sweet” demeanor or just a defining “sexiness”.  She has to have actual character traits, actual depth, for example:

GOALS AND MOTIVATION: Ask yourself, what does this character want?  It is okay if she wants to find her true love or impress her mother-in-law or win a bake-off, but is that all she wants in life?  Ask yourself also, WHY does she want those things?  Is marriage important to her?  Why?  Does she view it as a sacred partnership, a cultural rite of passage, or a way to make sure someone is paying the bills?  Maybe she wants something else completely: glory, recognition, a solid career, revenge.  Why does she want these things?

Example: Colette from “Ratatouille”, voiced by Janeane Garafolo

INTERESTS: She should care about something.  Whether it’s hand-to-hand combat, spending time with her friends, collecting stamps, or volunteering at a pet shelter, she should do more than just blindly chase after her main goal in the story.  Real people may want to get into college, but they also like to jog or are in drama club.  Real people may want to find their true love, but they also like to read novels or spend time with their families.  This helps make your character real.

FLAWS: Flaws, like goals, motivations, and interests, are an important part of all characters.  Real people have flaws, which means for your characters to be believable and relatable, they need them as well.  A woman who is physically perfect isn’t someone that any woman can relate to, because no one is physically perfect.  Does she feel self-conscious?  Does she have acne?  Is she flat-chested?  Is her hair unruly?  How about the rest of her life?  Is she clumsy, afraid of spiders, or perpetually fighting with her mother?  Is she academically brilliant but socially awkward?

RELATIONSHIPS: No man is an island, and neither is any woman.  What kinds of relationships does your character have?  Does she have mentors, or maybe mentees?  Does she have siblings or parents who factor into the story?  What kinds of friends does she have, and how did she meet them?  These, again, are factors that make your character seem real.  Female friendships also need to be more than petty gossiping and trying on shoes if you want them to be meaningful in the story (unless, of course, your point is to have your character realize that her friendships lack any real meaning).  Romantic relationships matter too-~-and it’s worth noting that they don’t all have to be heterosexual, or monogamous.  Maybe your character is exploring her sexuality.  Maybe she has multiple partners.  Maybe she is asexual trying to navigate a predominantly sexual society.  It’s up to you.  Make sure that your character, especially if she is a supporting character, isn’t just a trophy for your protagonist to win: she has to be able to stand on her own.

Example: Juno in “Juno”, played by Ellen Page

These things all impact the key elements that Daniel Swenson talks about on SurlyMuse in discussing well-written female characters: agency, relatability (remember, a character doesn’t necessarily have to be likeable to seem real), and integrity (in Swenson’s words, if your one-sentence description of any character includes the words “love interest”, the character needs more depth).

Another major thing to consider?  Make sure you don’t fall into any tropes or stereotypes.  When I looked at the National Novel Writing Month thread for writing female characters, and the OP noted that he knew women were more emotional than men…this is a stereotype.  Women aren’t inherently more emotional than men, they just aren’t socialized to approach emotion the same way…though they may be socially punished for emotional displays anyway.  On Healing from Capitalism, Ela Thier outlines five major sexist cliches that are particularly apparent in film: the femme-fatale (who is inherently sexy and uses sex to get her way), the nurturing mother, the damsel in distress, the manic pixie dream girl, and the tight-leather-wearing “liberated” woman.  Like Thier, I take issue with the last one because it seems to imply that more “traditional” women can’t be or aren’t liberated, capable of agency or having diverse goals, and that’s simply not true.  I’ll add to this the common tropes of “the woman who transcends femininity” and the “too-perfect woman” for bad ways to write women, and refer you to this post where I discuss them.

While we’re on the subject, make sure your characters don’t fall into any racist or other tropes as well.  Stingy Jewish lawyer?  That’s potentially offensive.  All your African-American characters are hypersexualized or thugs?  Problematic.  All your Asian parents are incredibly strict and their children are all math geniuses who are Harvard-bound and they all play violin together (on that note, are they all “Asian” as opposed to Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc.?)?  Think a little harder.  I’m not saying that there are no Jews who are cautious with money, or no Korean parents who have high expectations of their children, but make sure you’re writing reasonable characters who aren’t just a collection of stereotypes.  I’ll refer you to the blog Writing with Color for more on this.

Good Example: Carmen in “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants” (1 and 2), played by America Ferrera

Many of Thier’s tips parallel the ones I’ve already discussed, but I’ll mention a few here: give your character something to want besides a man, even if your character does care about romance; give your character a flaw, other than nagging or betraying others; and give your character bodily functions (like sweating when nervous, or feeling sick).  These are good suggestions, and her post is worth looking at, but all of the advice in this post gets to one major concept: write a person, not a stereotype.  Write a character who is reflective of actual lived realities, someone with interests and fears, who has a society which she has to navigate, who has a multifaceted personality.  Female characters need to be characters, not just icing flowers on a cake of male-centric plot.  What kind of women they are, what they want, and how they try to get it…that’s all up to you.

Thin Privilege and Fat Shaming: Recognizing the Problem

•August 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

We don’t think about body type as being in the same category as race or gender or sexual orientation, with regards to privilege and oppression.  Racism, for example, appears so frequently in our news, and has such a deep history in our society, that it’s relatively easy to recognize that race divides people in this country, that certain groups are disadvantaged.  Black individuals are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to go to jail, and become targets for police brutality.  Feminists have, of course, been pointing out ways in which men are privileged over women, from the controversy over contraception to pay inequities to issues related to immigration.  Disabled persons also suffer from discrimination that is more readily seen by able-bodied people, who can recognize when buildings are not handicap accessible, or when schools fail to meaningfully help students with learning disabilities, or when mental illness is vilified.  We can see ableism, and racism, and homophobia, and recognize that these are related to systemic oppression of certain groups.  But we have trouble seeing the ways in which this applies to body type.

Thin privilege is a topic I haven’t really discussed much on this blog.  It’s something I wasn’t sure I knew how to discuss, but it’s something that needs to be talked about.  As much as feminists try to promote self-love and combat eating disorders and talk about accepting your body-~-and those are still good things to do, because people still shouldn’t feel bad about their bodies and because body type exists on a spectrum and people are impacted differently-~-but the reality of the situation is that larger bodies are policed even more heavily than thin bodies, and that while you may be made to feel bad about being thin, people who are considered “fat” face much bigger problems, on a bigger scale.

There are obviously health consequences of being overweight or obese-~-there’s increased risk of  conditions such as type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.  Certain medications, including forms of emergency contraception, are less likely to work if one is over a certain weight.  But there are secondary consequences of being overweight which also impact people’s health, particularly with regards to mental health.  It’s fatphobia that is linked to problems like eating disorders-~-it’s a combination of the need for control, and a fear of not being thin, because not being thin comes with real social consequences.  Moreover, individuals considered overweight are at risk for other psychological consequences, such as an elevated risk for depression and anxiety, and poor self-esteem, particularly among children considered obese.

There are other consequences as well, though.  Weight stigma in the United States is particularly prevalent among healthcare providers, resulting in biased diagnoses or a failure to address real problems presented by patients because the doctor is fixated on the patient’s weight.  This is particularly true for female patients, for whom this bias kicks in around when a woman has a BMI of 27, as opposed to men, who begin to suffer this discrimination when they reach a BMI of 30, according to a 2007 study by Yale University researchers.  The reality that doctors make assumptions about patients’ lifestyles and conditions based on their appearances is troubling (it is, after all, bad medicine), but is also tied into cultural narratives that vilify larger bodies and blame them for any issues at play.  These same narratives, along with the health statistics previously referenced, health insurance often costs more for people considered overweight.  As a result of this discrimination, both by insurance companies and healthcare providers, many obese women are less likely to seek medical care, which can have detrimental effects on their health and their lives, as they may forgo preventative care that is cheaper, less invasive, less time consuming, and ultimately easier to handle.  Overweight persons at risk for pregnancy also face barriers to access to contraception, as many medical providers maybe reluctant to prescribe birth control.

This problem doesn’t end with health and healthcare, though.  Overweight persons are more likely to be convicted of crimes by juries, particularly female defendants, who are more likely to be perceived as being guilty than their leaner counterparts.  Persons considered overweight are also less likely to be hired or promoted at their jobs.  There are jobs for which heavier individuals may not be considered, or which they may not be able to hold, including some service jobs (like waiting table), where employers are less likely to hire or keep employees whom customers may find “unappealing”.  In face-to-face interviews are a part of the admissions process, overweight students are less likely to be accepted into college than leaner students, and again, this bias is stronger for young women.

This doesn’t even account for some of the day-to-day lived experiences of being overweight and dealing with weight bias.  Though I can’t speak from personal experience about these, friends’ and other accounts (like the one I just linked) outline a number of general hurdles, everything from social isolation and negative comments from peers and family members, to struggling to find fashionable or appealing clothes available in your size, pressure to lose weight from doctors and family members, feeling self-conscious…like all other kinds of micro-aggressions and subtle forms of prejudice, these add up to an uncomfortable living situation that no one deserves to have to deal with.

 

So why is this less discussed than other forms of oppression?  According to a study published in the Journal of Obesity, weight bias has increased 66% in the last decade, making it comparable to race bias today.   This means that it lacks the history that other forms of oppression come with, and is therefore talked about less.  But it definitely matters, because weight bias impacts the life outcomes of individuals and communities, and the way we talk about weight isn’t helping.  Researchers at Yale Law School point out that the government’s “war on obesity” places the onus on individuals to stay thin or to become thin, and fails to address the reality that even if one wants to solve for the health consequences of obesity, there are structural issues at play, including access to safe areas to exercise and access to healthy food.  On top of that, referring to a body type as an “epidemic” may exacerbate or seemingly validate some of the forms of prejudice already seen, which in turn reinforces the problems that persons considered overweight already face.  Thin privilege does play a role in people’s lives to various degrees because fat-shaming plays a role in people’s lives to various degrees, and it’s dangerous when official organizations endorse rhetoric or actions that may legitimize this divide.  Everyone deserves a fair shot at college, employment, healthcare, and good quality of life, no matter what their body type, no matter who they are.

Revisiting TRAP Laws: The Courts, The Clinics, and the Targeting of Women’s Rights

•August 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Anti-abortion laws have been getting smarter over the past few years.  As the courts have upheld a pregnant person’s right to choose when laws target the actual act of abortion-~-for example, the courts have struck down a series of 20-week bans across the United States-~-legislators have taken a different approach, through the use of TRAP laws.  TRAP-~-or Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers-~-laws are, in theory, supposed to make clinics safer…but what they really do is create difficult or even impossible conditions, which result in many clinics closing down.  These restrictions can be anything from arbitrary mandatory hallway dimensions that would require expensive remodeling of clinics to requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals, or multiple hospitals.

TRAP laws have been of major concern to reproductive justice advocates, as clinics across the United States have been forced to close their doors, and pregnant people have had to travel further or risk losing out on their ability to access abortion services.  Twenty-six states have laws which regulate abortion providers beyond what is necessary to ensure patient safety, and seventeen of these states impose these requirements in facilities where surgical abortion is not even performed, only medical abortion.  That constitutes a widespread threat to pregnant people’s rights, and until recently, it seemed like TRAP laws could successfully wipe out abortion services from one state in the US: Mississippi.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the only remaining abortion provider in the state.  The rest have closed their doors over the past several years, and the Jackson Women’s Health Organization has had to fight for survival.  The clinic flies in doctors from out of state, because no doctor in Mississippi will perform abortions.  It is regularly protested by anti-choice activists, but the clinic continues to provide vital reproductive health services to women from around the state.  Last week, the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the abortion provider, striking down a law that would have forced it to close down.

What happened?  Based on the precedent from Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court found that eliminating ALL abortion providers within a state would constitute an undue burden, defined as a “”substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”  In the majority opinion issued by the Fifth Circuit, Judge E. Grady Jolly stated: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism—applicable to all fifty states—to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.”

It doesn’t end there: earlier this week, a federal judge struck down an Alabama law requiring admitting privileges, saying that the law posed an undue burden on pregnant people seeking abortion services.  The law would have closed down three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, which, like Mississippi’s lone remaining clinic, rely on traveling doctors, who are unable to obtain admitting privileges.  In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Myra Thompson wrote that poor women were unlikely to be able to access abortion services due to their lack of access to independent transportation and resources, and that were this law to be enforced, it would pose a substantial obstacle to low-income people’s ability to exercise their rights regarding bodily autonomy and pregnancy.

This is all good news, but these are battles we have won-~-the war wages on.  Earlier this week, a federal court in Austin began hearing arguments on a Texas abortion law, now in its second time through the court system.  Previously, the courts had upheld the law on the basis that it didn’t constitute an undue burden, but in light of these more recent precedents, reproductive rights advocates are hopeful that the courts will strike down the restrictive Texas legislation.  The law has already caused every abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley to close its doors; the closest clinic to the area is now a 500-mile round-trip drive, and while the Fifth Circuit had previously upheld the law (despite striking down Mississippi’s law, indicating the court has considered the issue on a state-by-state basis), there is a chance the court will rule similarly to the decision in the Alabama case.  It’s worth noting that in the Alabama case, the judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional even though there would still be clinics operating in the state, the increased difficulty in accessing these services still qualified as undue burden.

This won’t be the end of TRAP laws, but it could be the beginning of a real wave of progress, a chance to undue some of the damage that legislators have caused in forcing women’s health organizations to close their doors.  Though we do not yet know what will happen in the Texas case, it’s telling that the courts are beginning to consider the real implications of undue burdens, and which segments of society truly need protection.  Only time will tell if these decisions will gain momentum, leading to increased protections of the rights of pregnant people in the United States of America.

The Word “Feminazi” Has Got To Go

•July 27, 2014 • 5 Comments

Folks, it is 2014 and I can’t believe I have to say this but…the word “feminazi” has got to go.

I know that someone somewhere will undoubtedly say that there are more important things to worry about, who cares about this word, or that I am overreacting.  And maybe I am, but truth be told, I don’t think so.  There are two major problems I have with this word: the first is that it perpetuates ridiculous, incorrect stereotypes about the feminist movement, and second, it diminishes the legacy of who the Nazis actually were and what they actually did.  As a feminist, and as a Jew, the idea that feminists could or should be compared to Nazis, ever, is both ridiculous and vaguely offensive.

Let’s talk about the impact it has on feminism first, though.  I know that most people who use this term are not supporters of feminism, and that I may be preaching to the choir here.  But language does matter, and what language like this accomplishes is to say that feminists are aggressive, vicious, terrible, rights-violative people.  And this frankly isn’t the case.  At best, this term describes a small fraction of the movement, correctly referred to as reactionary feminists, who think that women should become dominant in society and/or hold strong beliefs rooted in misandry.  Reactionary feminists, however, are a small minority.  There may be feminists who are a little radical, there may be individual feminists who hate men, but the movement as a whole does not hate men, does not seek to dominate men, and only wants things to become equal between men and women.

I understand that this is difficult.  Equality is actually perceived as female domination much of the time, at least in our society.  We have been socialized to believe that there is adequate representation of women, so even though women make up about 28% of speaking roles in movies, about 16% of corporate board seats, and about 18% of Congress.  We know, because it has been repeatedly pointed out, that there are not enough women in Congress, but what people often forget is that we have become so used to this uneven distribution of positions-~-particularly in media, which helps influence people’s recognition of social realities-~-that when the proportions are even, people perceive the group as being dominated by women.  Studies have shown that when women are in charge, they are perceived as being bossy and domineering, but when men are in charge they are perceived as being strong and decisive.

All the word “feminazi” does is underscore this idea that equality is in fact a hostile concept, that women already are equal and that wanting more-~-wanting real equality and representation-~-makes us greedy and forceful.  This simply isn’t true: the pay gap does exist, women are underrepresented in various situations-~-especially queer women and women of color-~-we still have multiple leaky pipeline career fields, gender-based violence is still rampant, and even things like birth control are considered controversial.  Wanting society to address those issues does not make feminists militant, it makes us aware of social realities that are simply uncomfortable to address.

The second thing, though, is that there is nothing about feminism that can be equated to what the Nazis did.  I know the Holocaust seems like a distant piece of history, but it actually happened less than a century ago.  The last Holocaust survivors are still among us, and their children, who grew up with the knowledge of what their parents lived through, and their grandchildren, who eventually learned the same, are active players in our society.  The Nazis killed millions of innocent people-~-approximately 6 million Jews, as well as approximately 11 million Catholics, Roma, Slavs, people with mental disabilities, homosexual people, trans people, and political opponents.  They executed a racist and political genocide against multiple groups of people, and the idea that a group of people advocating for equal rights could be equated to a group of people guilty of such an agenda is problematic at best and offensive at worst.  Have some respect for the families and communities that were lost, and that lost people they loved, and come up with more creative vocabulary.

I fully understand that not everyone is going to be a supporter of feminism.  I know that there are a lot of misconceptions about feminism and what feminists are trying to accomplish.  Those are things that feminists need to address.  But at the end of the day, we also need to work to eliminate problematic vocabulary, and just as one might call out a friend who makes a rape joke or uses a homophobic or racist slur, we need to consider calling out people who use words like “feminazi”.  They’re politically charged and problematic, and it’s time to prune them from our collective vocabularies.

There is nothing wrong with wanting your rights.

 

What Makes a Strong Female Character?

•July 22, 2014 • 1 Comment

In talking about the intersection of feminism and literature, there are a few things that often come up: the need to recognize, promote, and have more female authors, the way books by female authors are perceived, and the need for strong female characters.  This last issue, the need for strong female characters, stretches into the realms of popular culture, into TV and movies.  We need characters that young women can relate to, characters who inspire them, characters who tell both boys and girls that girls are more than prizes to be won or damsels in distress.

I want to be clear: there are strong female characters circulating through literature and popular media-~-I’ve been highlighting some on the Radical Idea’s tumblr.  Some of them are very well done.  But there are two major approaches to having strong female characters, two major ways we have been taught to think of strong female characters, that ultimately have major flaws.

1) The near-perfect woman: Many times, in an attempt to make a female character be read as strong, brilliant, and tough, writers/producers will end up stripping her of some or all of her flaws.  Melissa Anelli, Harry Potter Alliance board member and author of Harry, a History says about movie Hermione that ” that sounds like you’re making a kick-ass, amazing character, and what you’re doing is dehumanizing her.”  She has a good point: no one could be movie Hermione.  She’s beautiful, the smartest girl in her class, brave, always the one to keep a cool head, always the logical one, always the sensitive one, almost perfectly loyal…the first movie stays true to her  character really well, as Hermione is still the annoying know-it-all we meet in the books when she first appears on screen…but over time, she becomes increasingly perfect, and in doing so, she becomes less human.

The reason I bring up Hermione as an example, however, is that book Hermione is a great example of the strong female character.  She is still smart and loyal and brave, but she’s stubborn, she genuinely never understands Quiddich, she goes on annoying tangents when she does things like start a movement to free house-elves, she’s self-conscious about her appearance, she’s reduced to tears several times, she’s jealous, she’s awkward…she’s real.  Certainly more so than movie Hermione.  Book Hermione lets us read and relate to a character who has enviable, admirable qualities, but also flaws and problems that many of us actually possess.  She’s not perfect, and that’s why she’s a better character.

2) The woman who transcends femininity: You likely know this character as well: she’s tough, she’s strong, she doesn’t get emotional except at funerals, and she’s probably a warrior or something similar.  This woman is strong, or at least she’s painted as strong, but she achieves this by eschewing femininity.  This woman doesn’t have time for things like flirting or parties or dresses, perhaps; her hair is always unkempt, but that’s fine; she thinks that anything “girly” is silly.  You know who this girl is: she’s Arya Stark from Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, she’s Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.  We love these characters, but we see them as stronger than their more feminine counterparts specifically because they avoid or even openly dislike things we see as feminine/weak, such as big displays of emotion, or concern about appearance.

I’m not saying it’s bad to write characters who are, for lack of a better word, tomboyish.  Arya Stark and Katniss Everdeen are good characters, and there are girls who want to distance themselves from traditional femininity.  The important thing in writing these kinds of characters is to a) make them well-rounded and b) not make femininity seem inherently pathetic.  The problem with Arya Stark, which Katniss doesn’t have, is that she sees her sister’s femininity as making her weak, and because Sansa Stark is one of the most feminine, and often most victimized, women on the show, viewers are likely to see her as pathetic.  I digress, though: the point is that if one wants to write a character like that, then one needs to make them more than just a stern expression and a sword.  What drives this character?  Is it revenge?  Is it a need to be able to protect themselves?  Is it love of their family?  What do they like?  What are they afraid of?  Even the strongest people still have fears and weaknesses-~-these characters need them too, in order to be real.

But these archetypes aside, we need more diverse strong female characters, not just more well-rounded, better-balanced versions of the kinds we already have.  As a writer, and as a reader, I want women who come from different backgrounds, women who have different motivations and goals.  I want women who are driven by love-~-like Gwen Stacy (from “Spider-man”), and Meg (from Disney’s “Hercules”).  I want women who have great careers but desperately want families, like Callie Torres (Grey’s Anatomy).  I want women who stand up for themselves and for others, who won’t let themselves be stepped on, like Daenerys Stormborn (Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire), Olivia Pope (Scandal), Tris Prior (Divergent)  and Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars).  I want smart women like Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), self-assured women like Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Jessica Pearson (Suits), women who refuse to compromise their goals like Christina Yang (Grey’s Anatomy) and women who are still figuring out who they are, like Mia Thermopolis (The Princess Diaries).  I want women who struggle with disabilities, like Daphne Vasquez (Switched at Birth), women who have to learn to accept themselves like Jane Bingum (Drop Dead Diva) and women who don’t care what anyone thinks of them, like Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) and Luisa Rey (Cloud Atlas).  I want sassy women, fierce women, shy women, and sweet women.  I want to be able to think of more strong fictional women of color than this post mentions (and more queer and trans women, and roles filled by queer and trans women), and I want them in major, iconic  roles on TV and in movies.  (I did find great lists of women of color in movies, but while some-~-like Halle Berry’s portrayal of Storm in the X-men films-~-might readily come to mind, others didn’t stand out as much.  We need more.)

It’s not just about wanting these women–~we need representations like these in fiction-~-both on the page, and on the screen.  We need female characters who adequately represent how diverse women truly are, characters who remind young women that they can be whoever they want, and that being who they already are is enough.  Being strong needs to be attainable for women-~-not something they can see but never be, not something they could only achieve by giving up who they really are, not something that seems distant and foreign, but something that is really possible, something that comes from trying your best, going for your goals, being willing to take chances, using your strengths, and most of all, realizing that you are valuable, exactly as you are.

 
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