Female representation has been on everyone’s mind lately and the panelists at “Nobody’s Damsel: Writing for the Women of Tomorrow” want to make sure that the sudden interest in female characters is not a temporary shift in public opinion.
Moderated by D’nae Kingsley, head of integrated strategy at Trailer Park, top producers, writers, actors, and creative executives were asked to discuss the complexities of developing modern female characters that are relatable to the young women of today.
The first question that people tend to ask is: Why are there more female characters present today?
Big changes started happening after Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a television sensation. Buffy Summers, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, refused to follow in the footsteps established by previous leading ladies in television. Buffy had real problems and real flaws. Seeing that audiences were connecting to Buffy because she was relatable, companies were willing to place a female character in a leading role.
According to Sam Maggs, author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks, social media has played a major role in carving out a space for women to talk to each other about anything and everything. Women were never a minority in the world’s population, however in the past it was easier for female voices to be silenced. “Women are now able to say what they think en masse,” said Maggs. Maggs went on to say that when companies fail to meet the needs of their female audiences, women can band together and “go directly to Marvel and directly to DC and say: ‘We have all this money, all this buying power. Why aren’t you catering to us?’ And they kind of have to listen.” Today’s world of viral media makes it impossible for companies ignore what women have to say about the way they are being represented on screen or in print.
Of course, now that women are demanding more female protagonists, Molly McAleer, co-founder of Hello Giggles, noted that the strong female character with a hidden burden has become the go-to trope. The “strong female character” often sets an impossibly high bar for women to follow. If the “strong female character” is flawed in any way, her flaws tend to be utterly ridiculous male-approved flaws, such as choosing her career over love. People love watching flawed characters, but they want to see realistic flaws.
Presently, most writers who write about women are white males who have a set notion of how women behave in society. Issa Rae, creator of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, recalls a time when she submitted a script and an editor replied, “Women don’t talk like that.” Rae based the conversation in question on a conversation she had with a female friend. People tend to write what they know, and if they make a mistake they go straight back to the stereotypical white female character.
In order to remedy this oversight, panelists argued, more women need to participate in the creative process. The more women participate, the more real female representation we can have. The more real female representation we have, the stronger the story becomes, thus making it easier for audiences to connect with characters and when audiences connect, lifelong fans are created. Moreover, equal representation should not stop at women. People of color and members of the LGBTQ community are also seriously underrepresented in media. Everyone deserves a character they can relate to. People of all colors and creeds have interesting things to say, and if companies give them the chance to speak to one another freely without trying to check off a bunch of boxes, audiences get fresh perspectives on old stories.
If there is any doubt that audiences truly crave well-rounded diverse characters, one simply has to look at children’s television, where equality and diversity have become a main staple in many programs. Meghan McCarthy, a writer for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, pointed out that boys are drawn to the show, which is heavily marketed for girls, because the stories written around each female character are strong. Male fans rally around these stories and continue to support My Little Pony despite the fact that society deems the show exclusively female.
As avid fans, it is our duty to call attention to movies, television series, and comic books that champion diverse multifaceted characters who reflect real life. Shining a light on companies who push for equality will urge other companies to leave their comfort zones and produce new content that promotes diversity. After all, one woman can represent all women.
If current trends are any indicator, future nerds and geeks will have a very large pool of role models to select. Soon everyone will have a hero they can relate to whole heartedly, and that, my friends, will be a glorious day for celebration.