Monday, June 16, 2014

The Unfortunate Misuse Of Words

You keep using that phrase and I do not think it means what you think it does.

So, while scrolling through my facebook dash this afternoon, I came across this article (I've since lost the link, sorry) about "Strong Female Characters" -- I'm sure if you googled, you'd find it amid many others of its ilk.

It's one of the plethora of articles lamenting the "Strong Female Character" and how it's detrimental to feminism, etc and so on. Now, before anyone starts yelling, I will tell you I am a staunch feminist. Not man-hating or a rad-fem. I simply believe strongly in equal rights and responsibilities across the gender identities.

But every time I see these articles, I cringe. Because when I think or say "Strong ___ Character" (male, female, etc) I don't think of a physically or emotionally "strong" person.

A Strong Character does not equal a Strong Person.

A Strong Character can mean a Weak Person. A Weak Character can be a Strong Person.

For me, a strong character is a character within a creative setting (movie, tv, book, etc) that is integral in relation to plot, or characterization of others within the story; or a character that grows and changes within the setting of the story.

I consider Peter Pettigrew to be a Strong Character, if a Weak Person. You cannot sit there and tell me that Peter was a strong person. He was easily manipulated, happy to fall in line with those he saw as authoritative or "better" than him. He was greedy for what little power he could rummage from the crumbs of his master, selfish  in many ways but also selfless for whoever was taking care of him. See: the sacrifice of his hand to return Voldemort to his body.

Peter Pettigrew changes, through the series. It really may not look like it, but he does. If you look at his story arc, in the order of his life's events, he changes significantly. As a young boy, Peter was the weakest of the Marauders; physically smaller, quieter, prone to disappearing behind the brains of Remus, the rebelliousness of Sirius, and the charm of James. As an adult, he not only joins Voldemort, but he retains the trust of his friends even as he betrays them to the one person who has the most reason to kill them. Unlike Severus Snape, Peter is never seen as a threat. After the death of the Potters, Sirius hunts Peter down, and Peter fakes his own death. He cuts off his own finger in order to make it believable that he was murdered by Sirius. This lands Sirius Black in the dreaded Azkaban, wizard prison.

Sirius spends twelve years in Azkaban. Peter spends twelve years as a rat. In a way, they were both imprisoned because of Peter's actions.

Later on, when Peter is revealed as Ron Weasley's pet rat, he attempts to emotionally manipulate, first Harry, and then Ron. It doesn't work, but it shows that he knows how. I wonder how differently that scene might have went without the presence of Remus Lupin as something of a calming influence and bolster to the children's courage.

Strong Character; Weak Person.

This next bit may garner me a bit of hate, but I think I'll deal.

An example of a Weak Character who is a Strong Person is Anita Blake, from the same-named series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Now, full disclosure: I once loved and devoured this series.

It was around BULLET that I stopped reading. Because at that point, the main character had grown so powerful, it no longer felt like she was ever actually in the danger that she was supposed to be.

Anita Blake is a short, curvy, half-Hispanic, Necromancer with ties to Vampires, Werewolves, Wereleopards, Wererats, Wereswans, Werelions, Werebears, Weartigers, oh my gods please stop. 

And I'm pretty sure that list has probably expanded. She begins as your stereotypical heroine--self-confident, full of brass and sass, with a chip on her shoulder the size of Cleveland. She works with cops, so she learns how to walk with the men and talk like the men. She embraces her sexuality in a big bad way throughout the series. (no shaming here, like, totally, go get 'em, gurl, but, damn, can we make it feel a little less like a bukkake scene?) (if you don't know what that is, do. not. google. it.)

Anita Blake is a strong person. She gets a lot of shit thrown at her and always manages to save the day. But she doesn't really grow as a person. She still has the same issues with her appearance--her former fiance apparently ruined her for her own beauty and no matter how many people in her life tell her she's gorgeous, and how many of those people she sleeps with, she just can't believe it. She still wrestles with her feelings for the harem of lovers she has managed to accumulate over the course of the series. She fights against her own rapidly disintegrating morality in regards to, not just sex, but also the ease with which she kills.

Frankly, Anita Blake "grows" into a sociopath.

It's bad when the actual sociopath, Edward aka "Death", is pretty sure he'll eventually have to put her down--and he's not sure he'll succeed.

I find it very disappointing when a character doesn't grow in any real way. Anita (as far as the last book I read, and that was several ago) never really changes much.

I consider that the definition of a weak character who is a strong person.

When I say, "I want a strong female character" I do not mean "carnival strong men with tits" -- I want real women. Women who cry, women who faint at the sight of blood, women who yell when they're frightened, women who throw things when someone pisses them off, women who present a poker face when, in reality, they are cowering children inside.

I want these things because they do not make a female character weak; it makes her human. These are characteristics that everyone can identify with--feeling frightened but pretending to be brave. Being sad but smiling at your family. Being violent when angry, without thought or reason. Because that's real, regardless of their gender.

Does gender play a role in how a character is developed? Of course. It's part of who they are. But it is not the Be All End All of who they are. It is one aspect, and it is not the pivotal aspect.

I want realistic people who happen to be female. 

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