Complex Female Characters: Who Writes Them Better
The following article was written for my Storytelling Through Media course I took this past summer. I realized I hadn't published it yet and with Walt Disney's Maleficent: Mistress of Darkness's one month release anniversary coming up it was appropriate to publish not.
Pretty soon I'll have completed my portfolio section of this website and you'll be able to see this formatted for how it would have been printed if you care to.
Who runs the world?
According to Beyonce, the answer is girls, and she might be onto something. Strong, complex female characters are becoming more and more common each one breaking away from the one-dimensional charac- ters and are impacting the world.
Growing up some of my favorites shows were Totally Spies, Winx Club, and W.I.T.C.H. All of them were about teenage girls who kicked butt, had crushes, loved fashion, and sometimes had a little magic up their sleeves.
That didn’t stop me from becoming a part of a statistic though. According to the Representation Project, the percentage of American girls who want to be leaders peaks at age 8 and is 44%. I was a part of the 56% that didn’t want to be a leader because I didn’t want to be seen as bossy.
By the 1st grade I felt I couldn’t be “girly” to any extent or else the boys would see me as weak. By the 3rd grade I believed I was bad at math because one boy said girls aren’t smart-- and to this day, 12 years later I hate math despite knowing girls can excel in scientific and mathematical fields.
It wasn’t until I was in high school, that I was finally able to truly let go of the idea that I couldn’t be femi- nine and care about how I look and also be strong and a leader. It was thanks to characters like Black Widow, Isabelle Lightwood, and all the other strong, feminine, women I saw on screen and in real-life that I realized I didn’t have to choose, but it took me a decade choosing before I learned that lesson.
So I have absolutely no problem with strong female characters being written for the sake of strong fe- male characters existing. I don’t care if their skills or their victories are unrealistic. I don’t care. I just don’t, because those characters tell little girls what I wish I knew: you don’t have to choose; you can be everything and anything.
These kinds of characters are finally being recognized for their importance, impact, and most importantly for Hollywood their demand. Unfortunately this kind of demand can mean that these characters are being writ- ten for the sake of profit, and not always written well. This idea can be easily analyzed when we look at the examples of Carol Danvers from 2019’s Captain Mar- vel, and Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen. These two characters seem to evoke polar reactions from the fans; they either love the characters or hate them with all their heart.
It’s safe to say that both these characters are complex female leads. However, it is clear to see which had a female writer and which was written by a man. Two of the three screenplay writers for Captain Marvel(2019) were women; Anna Boden and Geneva Robertson-Dworet. Their influence can be seen in how Carol Danvers handles and interacts with real-life, everyday events in a women’s life; from being told she can’t do something because she’s a woman like piloting or being told to smile by a stranger.
The most important part of this is her character arc in which she goes from trying to gain others approval by denying her full self (in this case her emotions), to realizing the strength her emotions have given her all her life. The character received mixed reactions; some felt her character was just there to be there, and others proved art imitates life saying that she didn’t smile enough in the trailer. Despite the character’s reception she is a well planned, well written, complex woman who completed her character arc with a realistic and understandable ending.
On the other hand we have Daenerys Targaryen, written by two men, and no women. For seven seasons Game of Thrones fans watched her over- come abusers, grow into her role as Khaleesi, break chains, be the mother of dragons, and rec- ognize her emotions as a strength . Some cheered her on with every victory and hurdle to over- come; some had no interest in seeing her suc- ceed. The bottom line is that there will always be supporters and haters, and while that may impact what happens to the character; it should have no impact in how the character is written. Hated or loved a character should be well written whether they are the hero, or the villain.
For seven seasons we hear Daenerys preach her values and goals, about how she wants to break the wheel that spreads injustice and puts down the people, how she doesn’t want to be the ‘queen of the ashes”. We know who she is and what she believes in, and then season 8 came out and David Benioff and D. B. Weiss threw seven sea- sons worth of a character’s arc and development, including almost all of Daenerys’s values and per- sonality, out the highest window of the Red Keep. The worst part is it all came at once, with really no foreshadowing, and there was an unfortunate, not so subtle emphasis, that it was because she wasn’t a man, but an emotional woman. What we were shown to be her strength, became her downfall, and they used the oldest argument in the book. When complex female characters aren’t written well they only further the idea that women are too emotional to be reliable, and sane, leaders. Sloppy writing influences the world, and girls, that they can’t be everything and anything, that they have to choose.
I only have one thing to say about that: Dracarys.