Great news, Bang2writers: I think we can safely say 2013 was a good year for female characters. Why? Well check this out:
[If you want to read more, click on the pics.]
The three movies above were not the only big budget fare this year to feature unusual female characters; THE WOLVERINE featured not just one, but TWO Women of Colour in prominent roles; PACIFIC RIM also featured a WoC in a prominent role: Mako Mori, who was widely praised for her representation by feminist commentators.
In addition, there has been a veritable EXPLOSION of commentary about the issue of female representation this year, especially in movies, but also in GENERAL – check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the “Girls On Film (And Beyond)” phenomenon. Of course, it’s not all been good news. There has been the usual river of shit flowing through screens and pages, especially at our young people and teens, with much in-fighting about what constitutes “empowerment” and “privilege” and “the male gaze”, etc. Also, let’s face it, there STILL aren’t enough female leads or people behind the camera, especially directors.
But I am still heartened. I recall being told I was OVERREACTING (at best) when Bang2write started talking about all this, not even five years ago. Back then, in those dark old days, the notion of “feminism” was synonymous with “whining” and was said to make your potential audience run for the hills. Now apparently all the cool kids are doing it and not only that, it’s translating to actual £££££, as demonstrated by the figures above … And of course cold, hard cash is the only language the Bigwigs truly understand. Maybe this is the start of something better? It’s long overdue.
But now is NOT the time to get complacent. Now’s the time to get real. But how?
1) Quit pointing fingers.
Look, I get it. You look around and see rubbish representations everywhere. It’s depressing. But guess what: you’re not alone in thinking this. The reason rubbish representations get through is NOT because the world is a terrible place full of total wanker writers and filmmakers. It’s because people have – le gasp – different ideas on what a GOOD representation means! This will never change. You can fight this – and lose – or you can actually DO something about it. More on this, next.
2) Start campaigning.
Writing articles and tweets about how terrible everything is and citing terrible examples to make your terrible point was all well and good as little as a year ago, but it doesn’t cut it anymore. Why? Because we’ve moved on from “Everybody wake up! This is an issue!”, as stated above. Google words like “female protagonists” and you’ll find commentary on female representation is EVERYWHERE. Everybody GETS it is an issue (and those that don’t, won’t even get off the starting blocks anyway, don’t sweat that and don’t engage with trolls).
In other words, don’t preach to the converted. That’s not campaigning; that’s shooting yourself in the foot. Think instead what you can OFFER to the conversation or even better, to women writers, characters and/or audience members, to progress the movement forward even more. Think instead, what is MISSING?
My suggestion: CELEBRATION of the writers and makers getting female representation RIGHT.
But how to do this? More, next.
3) Get behind female-made and female-lead projects. I’m always surprised by the number of commentators, both male AND female, who are interested enough in the industry to spend X number of hours updating their blogs and statuses and feeds about HOW BAD everything is, yet they haven’t seen any recent movies or read any recent books by female writers and makers!
Very often, their response will be, “It’s just all so depressing”. No. No, no, no. You want to make a difference? Part with your money. Try and buy a ticket or a DVD or a novel by a woman writer or maker as often as funds will allow; make it a conscious decision. I double dare you. That’s the ONLY way to make a difference – you HAVE to part with your cash. There is no other way forward. You’re not going to get more female writers and makers simply by magic.
4) Use your reach. Okay, you’re just one guy or gal with a small platform. That’s fine. From small acorns and all that. But I’ll tell you what a difference ANYONE can make … Write reviews and recommendations online. On IMDB. On Twitter. On blogs. On Facebook. On Amazon. Good Reads. WHEREVER.
But don’t slag stuff off; we have enough of that. We can’t move for crappy reviews; they’re bloody everywhere. But there’s usually SOMETHING to enjoy in a work … So if that thing is a female character; or a message for women/girls; or a female actor’s performance; or the female writer or director, editor or DoP does a good job in your opinion, then why not say so, somewhere??? But you don’t have to lie or be smarmy; you still can be honest without the snark. More: Snark vs. Smarm.
5) Follow women writers and makers. Get on social media and find them. It’s not hard. Engage them in conversation. Don’t throw accusations around or put them up on a pedestal, either – they’re just people. You may not agree on everything, but unless they’re trolling people and upsetting them on purpose, they’re probably not terrible people; they just think differently to you. That’s actually a good thing at grass roots level, especially for creative people. If you find you have diametrically opposed POVs and this bothers you, simply unfollow or unfriend and move on to pastures new; don’t undermine your credibility.
6) Grow your real life connections. Are you a female writer, novelist or filmmaker? Then why not make your own group to help promote one another. Guys: know some kick-ass women writers, novelists and filmmakers? Great! Get them together with one another and introduce them, real life is great, but online’s good too. When someone asks you to recommend someone, think of them. It’s as simple as that.
7) Ditch “positive” representations for COMPLEX. Here’s the thing: drama is conflict. That’s just the way it is. Your audience will be bored otherwise. That means your female characters may well do misguided or even “bad” things. If that’s for COMPLEX and authentic reasons within the world of that narrative, then this is where it gets complicated, because this is actually GOOD story-wise. So next time you get irritated by the actions of a female character, don’t jump to the automatic conclusion it is “sexist”; think instead about whether it fits the character’s and the story’s worldview, rather than your own.
8) Stop obsessing & despairing. Female empowerment is a red herring. It’s unrealistic to assume a single movie, novel, writer or make will undo decades of BS. What’s more, we can twist media output to say whatever we want: if you want to see misogyny in an entire genre, trope, type of character or whatever? You will find it, whether it is there or not. And what’s more, because of point 1) on this list, it won’t even matter anyway, because someone, somewhere will think the opposite to you anyway.
So what do you do, instead?
9) Start writing/making yourself – whether you’re a female OR male writer/maker. Because of point 8) and various disappointments when it comes to that slippery notion of “female empowerment”, it’s easy to think we may as well give up or the industry is against female progress. In reality, if we want to change things, it has to be about cumulative build up. In other words, we ALL have to write good female characters AS STANDARD, not just if they’re our protagonists. So, every time you conceive of a story or character, think:
– What if this character was a woman?
– If my character is a man, how does he react to the women in his life?
– How does gender, class, race, ability (etc) impact on this story?
– How does the story and its elements impact on the reader/viewer?
– Who is the character/story FOR?
So don’t get complacent … We do still have a long way to go.
But don’t despair, either: the journey may not be as quick as we’d like it to be, but we ARE on our way.
So: onwards! Good luck …
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