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Female Ass-Kickers Opinion Article

Vulnerability does not diminish a character's strength

Opinion by Mermaid-Tail posted over a year ago
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I recently read an article that said Joss Whedon is not a feminist writer because he often shows his female characters emotionally vulnerable (it was phrased in a more patronising way, but that was the gist) and I didn't get it. For those who don't watch his shows he is known to show ALL his characters at times like that, not just the women. He focuses heavily on loss, tragedy and overcoming adversity, and I just don't understand why in shows that have every character facing vulnerability, pain and weakness it's un-feminist that some of those characters are women. I actually think the person who wrote that is being sexist against women, because it shows the opinion that for a woman to be strong she has to give much more than a man should to be strong.
There seems to be a surprisingly large amount of people who think the way to write a good feminist character is to make her perfect in every way. She should never make mistakes, never have the nerve to cry when she is suffering and never under any circumstances love her boyfriend (heaven help her if they split/he dies and she has the audacity to be sad about it). In my opinion that's not writing a feminist, that's writing a Mary-Sue. An insulting Mary-sue at that. As far as I can tell the people who think that are the type of people who think strong women are make believe. Why else would they see any sign of humanity as a character destroying fault? None of the people who say Buffy isn't really feminist because she suffers, gets passionate about her lovers and sometimes screws up ever seem to focus on the male characters in the show who have the same faults, sometimes worse. Spike for example was completely dependant and needy in relationships, was injured and vulnerable for a fair portion of season 2 and more than once mucked up his plans. Is he sexist against men? Do his faults cancel out his triumphs? No? Why not? Because he's a man, and for some people that apparently means he's allowed faults. They make him a richer character, but when you give a female character the same depth it's weakness. It takes away her claim to strength.

You tear characters down so you can build them back up. Watch them overcome their troubles, learn a lesson and fight back stronger. It makes a character weaker if they never go through troubles, not stronger, because if they never face real struggles what is their challenge? How are they strong? If they are never in a vulnerable position (physically or emotionally) then there is nothing for them to face, so how are they showing their strength? Some of Buffy's most powerful moments were a response to being emotionally hurt, for example her fight scene with Angelus. If that hadn't been so heartbreaking for her it would have just been another generic vampire fight. No challenge.
Having human weakness doesn't stop a character being a good role model, it makes them a better one, who can relate to someone who never has bad times or slips up? By acting as if the only women who are strong are the ones who are so far removed from real humans (of either gender) you are basically saying to women 'if you have ever had anything resembling a bad day, forget it, you are weak' Is that a better message than 'if you've been hurt learn and come back from it stronger. Everyone falls, the strong get back up'? And why is it men are aloud faults and it's called depth but when women have them it's called sexism? When I'm watching a character, whether it's a man or a woman, I want to see them at their best AND their worst. Victorious and heartbroken, at their strongest and their weakest. I don't want writers to be afraid to give their female characters the same range of faults and emotions because they're afraid making a female character seem realistic and human will be labelled sexism, and I think the people who do think having a female character show the same emotional highs and lows as the men is sexist need to take an honest look at how they view strong woman. I hate watching weak damsels, but that doesn't mean I want perfect Mary-sues.

I just want to end clarifying that my issue is not someone who dislikes Joss Whedon, has problems with his work or with people who do not think Buffy is a good feminist. I've heard people who feel that way explain why intelligently and in ways that make perfect sense, and while I personally disagree I felt their point was valid. This is an issue with people who think if a female character is shown having vulnerable moments, needing someone's support or messing up she has lost her right to be called a role model. I have never heard anyone say that about a male character.
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3 comments

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fanfly said:
I know exactly what article you're referring to! I, too, was infuriated by the writer's condescending, rather shallow interpretation of women in the Whedonverse. He went on to lecture about how Whedon fans don't really see the shows they're watching and I was honestly flabbergasted. I felt he was the one who failed to see beyond the surface. I could rant about that article and the many things in it that ticked me off, but I'm not going to.

I totally agree with you about how vulnerability and making mistakes doesn't automatically denigrate a female role model. It makes them a relatable and more realistic character. Like you said, it gives them depth not weakness. I've encountered this perception that feminine role models must be perfect and never make mistakes time and time again and it infuriates me. I've written about this subject before! I can't stand this double standard that so many people don't even seem to realize is sexist. That's why I sometimes hate the term 'feminine role model'. Because it automatically makes people think of some kind of stone cold, marble-perfect woman who can do no wrong and never needs help. And to me that's not a role model, that's a caricature.
posted over a year ago.
 
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5/5! You rule!

I know, an article like this deserves something other than that, but that's just what I'm used to saying :/ . But really, THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS! I'm now no longer scared to have my OC cry when her love intrest goes over to the Dark Side (Don't like it? Tough. Also, 100 E-bucks to anyone to guess what fandom I'm writing for).
posted over a year ago.
 
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Excellent article, I couldn't agree with you more.

I have absolutely nothing against emotional (or any other type of) strength in female characters. On the contrary, strong is one of the traits I prefer my favourites to have. However, the insistence that a female character can't be anything but strong all the time in order to be a proper role model is, imo, anything but feminist. It seems to me like a product of the patriarchal society where macho values are treasured above anything else. Of course a women (and a man for that matter) can/should be strong, but she is also perfectly entitled to be emotional, vulnerable, impulsive, have her weaknesses etc. It's only human.
posted over a year ago.