Feminist and Very Unfeminist characters in Fiction
Seeing as it was International Women's day on Monday, I thought I'd take the opportunity to discuss some female role models in modern literature and film.
While I would love to believe that all female leads/protagonists are influential, I am also going to be pointing out why a few renowned female characters are problematic and an unhealthy role model for the YA generation of readers.
So, to start positively, I am going to give a few examples of female characters that I believe represent women as the awesome people we are.
HERMIONE GRANGER - without a doubt is perhaps the most well known feminist (whether she is aware of it as a character or not) as a character in book and film. She comes from a non-magical background, has no friends and is described to have buck teeth and a pompous attitude. This make her very unpopular to the other characters in the book, yet as the reader, you love the way she forces herself into Harry and Ron's lives. In a way, she acts as an older sister towards the boys - who would undoubtedly be lost without her expertise.
At first, Hermione is a little dramatic when it comes to talking to boys. Her awkwardness and exaggerated insults towards them reminds me of the indignant way I felt about the opposite sex when I was the same age, and it is really quite relatable and comical. Obviously there is some kind of barrier that makes it difficult for her to talk to them but as the books and movies go on, we see her let down this defensiveness. She no longer sees either gender as being superior/inferior to one another but becomes a part of the trio.
While she does, inevitably, become 'the girlfriend', she never loses her attitude or strong personality - and neither is she swayed by any other character in the book/film when she does become aware that she is the love interest.
ELLE WOODS - the law student in Legally Blonde has always been a memorable character. While she is perceived to be a ditzy middle-class young girl, she defies stereotypes and is actually a very intelligent and sympathetic woman. I first watched this in my teenage years and I honestly feel that she was an inspiration to all different leagues of young women. Elle Woods teaches us that your identity does not need to represent a certain stereotype. It teaches that looks and superficiality doesn't limit intelligence, that embracing your femininity should be valued and that you should do what makes you happy.
Another aspect of this character that I particularly respect is her ability to use the criticism she receives to drive her ambition further. Throughout the film, Elle is mistreated by many - especially by men who make an automatic judgment based on her appearance - but she doesn't let that deter her. The fact that she continues battling through the very obvious sexism and doesn't let it effect the way she represents herself is admirable.
ARYA STARK - I'm honestly sorry that I bring up Game of Thrones in my blog all the time but there's just so much to take from it. Anyway, I do believe that some female roles in the show were a little problematic but I'll get to that later on. Arya Stark, however, was probably one of the characters I was most invested in. The poor girl had it bad from the very beginning, didn't she? Her tomboyish ways and her appearance made her a little bit of an outsider to her own family before all the drama even started - a nonconformist before she was even at an age where she knew what it was. Her little spark and rebelliousness made her instantly likeable and even after the death of so many people around her she remained scary and impenetrable as a brick wall. Because the audience travels with her through a series of ordeals, we become almost parental, and when she is faced with danger, we want her to lash out.
I think that her best attribute lies in her loyalty to herself. Her straightforwardness and refusal to allow others to take advantage of her makes her a strong female character.
So those are a few examples of influential characters. Obviously, there are many many more and I could go on forever but I don't think my readers would appreciate that.
I am now going to list a few that do not set good standards in regards to feminism.
KATNISS EVERDEEN - Okay, I know for a fact that there are people on my friends that will instantly disagree with me on this and that's fair enough. It's healthy to debate, ha. The reason I've chosen to start with Katniss Everdeen is because you'll find that she is literally used as icon of empowerment in the book series and film. Like, she is practically forced to be a mascot which I find is problematic in the book itself. The concerning thing about this is that Katniss, in the beginning of the series, defies the law in the name of freedom and defence for her people. However, she is manipulated into doing things for the very same people in opposition of the oppressors in the capitol. We are made to believe that Katniss is this strong, smart, public leader - that she is independent and it is even implied that she is a role model for the younger characters. BUT, she is so easily coerced into doing things she doesn't want to. She is driven by her emotions and acts impulsively and it lands the people around her in so much trouble and we are left to wonder if anything she does isn't self-inflicted.
Another thing that gives me the ick is the fact that a good half of the second book is about Katniss's breakdown. In her defence, this is understandable - like wow, so many awful things do happen to her but do we really have to be told multiple times how sad and mentally distraught she is? We get it. But what we really want to read is how she uses these setbacks to stimulate her.
If you were to refer to the first book/film, you'd definitely see her as a strong mentor for feminism but by the time the series is finished, Katniss just seems to be a broken. Definitely not what I'd describe as an advocate for female empowerment.
DAENERYS TARGARYEN - I think I'm taking another risk adding Daenerys on here. And in a way I disagree with myself here because for the majority of her role in the series, she is a wonderful character. However, her morality is completely warped in the final series and it feels like everything she had stood for before meant nothing. It's very hard to ignore the final series though. Obviously, I know her change in character is deliberate and is a vital contribution to the conclusion of the story but it just feels so false. I just don't see why George R. R. Martin would develop such a strong feminist character, just to have her crumple under the very moral standpoint that she had created for herself. It makes all the hardships she endured and all the work she did to liberate so many people pointless. I try not to see it this way, but it makes me question whether George R. R. Martin had always set her up to fail. Poor Daenerys.
(P.S sorry for another GOT reference)
YENNEFER OF VENGERBERG - I apologise in advance to my fiancé if he actually reads this because he adores her but I really do think Yennefer of Vengerberg is awful. Not only is she emotionally derailed but she uses her power to manipulate so many men into doing what she wants. I'm actually surprised that so many men my age appreciate her character so much. If they met someone like this in real life, they'd be appalled.
Again, we are presented with a character that has had quite a poor background, who has been mistreated and suddenly gains this power over other people. However, instead of using her power to do good things, she is spiteful, sulky and holds a grudge against the world.
As with the other two examples, I have seen her listed on the internet as a heroine and female influence, which I believe is far from accurate. She does not advocate for any kind of equality and in general, is not a role model at all. However, she is a very interesting character, and I'll give Sapkowski that. Ladies, please do not follow in Yennefer's footsteps but do read the books - she's an enjoyable villain :)
Who are your favourite feminist book and film characters?
I'd love to know your thoughts, let me know!