Are Male Characters More Likable Than Female Characters?

Rule #1 of writing fiction in the 21st century: All characters must be likable.  Sure, sure… but what does “likable” mean?  A while ago, I wrote a piece about this subject, but my findings were superficial at best.  “Likable characters have dogs,” I said.  “Likable characters are easy for audiences to identify with and pity.”

Such analysis was not particularly useful to the would-be writer or to most consumers of modern fiction.  What, for example, are we to make of the fact that psychopathic killers like Tony Soprano and Ben Linus are loved by the masses?  Why is it that “whiners” like Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Shinji considered detestable, while sad-sacks like  Eeyore and Charlie Brown get dubbed “lovable losers” and existentialists?  Why do we hate know-it-alls like Wesley Crusher and Adric but love know-it-alls like Spock and The Doctor?  And why aren’t I mentioning any women in these questions?

Clearly, there is a lot more to likeability than I thought.  This week, I’d like to continue my on-going series of “How To Be Likable” by focusing on the following question: Are male characters more immediately likable than female characters?


For some time now, I’ve held the hypothesis that, to the majority of the American population, if not the majority of the population of Earth, male characters are automatically more likable than female characters.  It seemed to me, based on my experience on the Interwebs, that many male characters were given a pass for deplorable behavior while female characters tended to be hated for the vague sin of being “a bitch.”  My hypothesis seemed to be confirmed by my recent experiences reading about Breaking Bad on the web.  I won’t spoil the show for you in case you haven’t seen it, but in the first two and a half seasons, certain male characters have 1. produced and distributed methamphetamines, 2. killed people and allowed innocents to die, 3. attempted rape, and 4. constantly lied to their families and put them in extreme danger (among other things).  One female character, on the other hand, had an affair—weeks after begging her husband for a divorce, which he would not grant.  Guess which character is the unlikable one?

Psst! It's the one in the middle. With the boobs.

Of course, we at Overthinking It don’t base our conclusions on anecdotal evidence.  We’re scientists.  If an article on pop culture doesn’t have a chart, graph, or Excel spreadsheet in it, it doesn’t count.  So I decided to see what science (“science”) had to say about the matter.  Are male characters more likable than female characters?

For my research, I visited Entertainment Weekly, which last month came up with a list of their 100 favorite fictional characters.  (NOTE: There are more than 100 characters on the list.)  These characters came from TV shows , the movies, novels, the theater, and FunnyorDie.com.  Oh, and The Gorillaz are on the list for some reason.  Here’s the breakdown by gender:

TOTAL CHARACTERS: 108
MALE: 68 (63%)
FEMALE:40 (37%)

For the record, I didn't count The Gorillaz as male or female.

So does this mean that male and female characters are equally likely to be liked?  Well, maybe yes, maybe no.  I next broke down the EW list by character type.  What kinds of male characters do we like, and do we like the same types of female characters?  I divided the characters in two ways.  First, I looked to see if the characters were active or passive/reactive.  I defined active characters as characters that control their plots.  They have strong desires, and go after them using their wits, physical strength, devious skills of manipulation or what have you.  These characters are often described as “badasses,” but they don’t have to be badass.  Examples of active characters from the EW list include Jack Bauer from 24 and The Bride from Kill Bill (on the violent side) and Barney Stinson from HIMYM and Sue Sylvester from Glee (on the non-violent side).

Passive/reactive characters, on the other hand, are acted upon—the plot happens to them, in other words.  These characters tend to be pitied by audiences, and their actions tend to be less violent.  Examples of “passives” or “reactives” include Truman from The Truman Show and Rachel from Friends.

Beyond the obvious “actives” and “passives” there were also some “unclassifiable” characters.  For example, District 9’s Wikus van de Merwe, started his film as a “reactive” but finished it as an “active.”  He is, therefore, unclassifiable.

Most “how to write” books and websites I’ve read claim that likable characters are always active—no one likes a reactor.  But that’s not how the EW broke down:

TOTAL ACTIVES: 56 (52%)
TOTAL PASSIVES/REACTIVES: 42 (39%)
TOTAL UNCLASSIFIABLE: 10 (9%)

According to the EW list, likeability was indeed correlated with active badass-itude, but being active was not a requirement of being likable.

Now let’s see where male and female characters fall on the active-passive continuum.  Before looking at the EW list, my guess would have been that audiences prefer their male characters active and “badass” and their female characters sweetly passive and mommy-like.  Surprisingly, I found just the opposite:

MALE ACTIVES: 32/68 (47%)
MALE PASSIVES: 25/68 (37%)
FEMALE ACTIVES: 24/40 (60%)
FEMALE PASSIVES: 12/40 (30%)

Clearly, EW likes active characters a bit better than passive characters, but it likes active female characters significantly more than it likes passive or reactive female characters.  According to the above statistics, for every Felicity or Lorelai Gilmore on the list, you get two Starbucks (or two Patty Heweses).  EW’s writers and editors, it seems, like their “strong female” characters better than their “reactive but interesting” female characters by a ratio of 2:1.  As you can see, there is less of a spread between the active and passive male characters.  (For every Forrest Gump or Napoleon Dynamite, you get only 1.3ish Omar Littles.)

Next, I broke the characters into character types: hero-protagonists, anti-hero-protagonists, comedic protagonists (who tend to flip-flop between heroism, pure evil, and complete passivity), villain antagonists, and none of the above.  By my count, there were only 10 clear villain-antagonists in this list

- Tracy Flick from Election
- Amanda Woodward from Melrose Place
-Catherine Trammell from Basic Instinct
- Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada
- Mary Jones from Precious
- Annie Wilkes from Misery
-Violet Weston from August: Osage County
- Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects
-Gollum from The Lord of the Rings
- The Joker from The Dark Knight

and yet seven of the ten are women.  That means 17.5% of the women on this list are villain-antagonists, while only 4.5% of the men are.  My definition of a villain-antagonist was a character who did evil things that the POV protagonist did not approve of.  People like Hannibal Lecter and Tony Soprano would be considered anti-hero-protagonists, because one helped out the heroic main character, and one was the main character.  As evil as Tony Soprano can be, audiences identify with him too much to call him a true villain.  (Fascinatingly, there are very few female antihero-protagonists in general, let alone on this EW list–Mary Louise Parker’s character from Weeds immediately jumps to mind–but she’s not only the list.  Damages’ Patty Hewes is.  If you go to TVTropes and look at their list of villain protagonists, you’ll see the number of female characters is negligible.  I have nothing much to say about this fact other than to say it’s interesting.)

If I don't put a picture of Linda Hamilton in all of my gender-themed articles, my computer explodes.

Anyway.  All of the above data suggest to me that we (or at least the critics at EW) like a wide variety of male character types but prefer our women to be two-dimensionally “badass” and/or evil.  Most great female characters, the EW list seems to say, are doers—not thinkers or losers or comedians or lovable orges or what have you.  Great male characters, meanwhile, range across the entirety of human experience, from Shrek to David Brent to Edward Scissorhands to Eric Cartman to Jules Winnfield to Spongebob Squarepants to Tyler Durden.

An important question remains, however.  Is it that audiences and critics prefer two-dimensional “strong female” characters to “weak-but-interesting” women and girls, or is it that writers don’t know how to write nuanced female characters?  Or do writers know how to write three-dimensional women but avoid doing so for fear of being labeled misogynistic?  After all, the writer of an unsubtle villainness or plain-vanilla action heroine can hide behind the excuse of, “But look!  She’s so empowered!”  Or is it that Hollywood’s female characters have been focus-grouped to death, as A.O. Scott suggested in his (hilarious) review of Knight and Day?  Are writers shackled by the market research that says that likable female characters must be “tough but not aggressive,” “sexy but not actually having sex,” and “willing to fall for a certain kind of guy without entirely losing their heads”?  Maybe we see so many female characters in this bland “Cameron Diaz” rom-com mode nowadays that every time a writer steps slightly out of those boundaries by writing a loathsome Lady Macbeth stereotype or one-dimensional Femme Nikita-type, magazines like Entertainment Weekly fall over themselves to congratulate them for it.

I don’t know.  My guess is that it’s all of the above.  So let me open this question to you, OTI readers.  I’m sure most of you enjoy watching badass characters of both sexes–after all, we humans love our wish-fulfillment fantasies–but do passive/reactive female characters turn you off more than passive or reactive male characters?  If so, why?  Were you socially-conditioned to only enjoy watching women if they act stereotypically “masculine” (i.e., proactive and violent), or do you think that Hollywood’s writers tend to have a hard time writing different types of female characters?

41 Comments on “Are Male Characters More Likable Than Female Characters?”

  1. Count Spatula #

    I think your last point is the most true: there’s no variety in female characters. I love badass characters, but IMO female characters are hardly ever badass. Badass-itude requires the kind of panache with which Kaiser Soze can weave an elaborate lie by reading the bottom of a mug, or the way Dexter teaches kids about blood spatter analysis and brings donuts to work, but you just don’t get that with women. Just the fact that they can kick people automatically = different, which isn’t enough to compare with the variety of interesting and likeable ways in which male characters go about their lives.

    Also female characters are often criticized for things that real women sometimes do (e.g having an affair) which I think is unfair, but at the same time that sadness, awkwardness and emotion is often very boring to watch. I’m thinking Tara from True Blood, Rita from Dexter, hell even Kara Thrace fell into this trap when she started being all mopey back in Season 3. It’s just too true-to-life, and rather than being cool characters you want to be around they push fans away with their problems.

    Men on the other hand are stereotypically stoic and practical, therefore male characters usually go about things with a spring in their step and a spark in their eye that fills people with confidence and is more immediately likeable for both sexes.

    Those’re my current thought anyway, but it’s an interesting question and one with many answers. Looking forward to reading more in the Likeability series :).

     
  2. Matthew Belinkie #

    Shana -

    As usual, you give us a lot to unpack. But one question immediately comes to mind: is Tracy Flick really a villain/antagonist? Sure, she’s a little unlikable. But so is Matthew Broderick’s character, who tried to cheat on his wife and kind of plays God with his students. I’d say she’s at least as sympathetic as he is. I guess by virtue of her being pitted against the main character, she’s the antagonist. Still, seems wrong putting her on the list with Keyser Soze, you know?

    All in all, EW’s list seems refreshingly gender-balanced. No?

    - Matt

     
  3. Tom Houseman #

    Mlawski, I love you. You combine feminism and film criticism in the most delicious way (and yes, those last words were sung in my head by Tobias Funke).
    You also give me a reason to talk more about how much I love Charlie Kaufman. This is a list of some of the major female characters from Kaufman films:
    Lotte Schwartz
    Maxine Lund
    Lila Jute
    Susan Orlean
    Clementine Kruczynski
    Claire Keen
    Hazel

    None of these women are types. They are all unique, complex characters. We don’t like all of them (certainly not Maxine), but they are all fascinating. No male writer creates female characters as interesting as Kaufman does, and most female writers don’t either (I’ll give credit to Nancy Meyers for It’s Complicated, which featured a great female protagonist). This is just one of the reasons why Charlie Kaufman is one of the best screenwriters of all time.

     
  4. mlawski #

    @Belinkie: It’s been a while since I’ve seen Election, but I got the impression the movie wanted us to mostly sympathize with Broderick’s character, even though he was clearly an asshole, and loathe Tracy, who was written as annoying and Machiavellian/somewhat evil(ish). But, yeah, your mileage may vary.

    I agree that EW’s list is pretty decent in terms of gender balance. Hmm… I actually had a whole paragraph about this topic… which mysteriously disappeared from this article…

    Anyway, the thrust of that mysteriously disappeared paragraph was that the male-female breakdown of speaking roles in movies and TV shows over the last twenty years has hovered around 70-30% and 60-40%. The breakdown varies by year and medium–there are more female speaking parts in adult TV series than in the movies and on children’s shows. EW’s list (63%-37%) pretty much reflects the gender breakdown we see in Hollywood. That’s why my article focused less on the percentages (because clearly the EW writers and editors went out of their way to be gender-balanced) and more on the types of characters they found worthy.

     
  5. Tyler #

    I guess they weren’t represented in the list, but I think Mad Men does a great job at creating likable, well-rounded female characters. Joan & Peggy both jump to mind. But then at the same time they have Betty Draper, a character that may be universally disliked.

     
  6. Colin #

    I think EW’s list is far too vague simply because there’s no way of defining what they mean by “greatness”. For instance, Truman from the Truman Show is a great character becuase he’s a nice guy, likeable and iconic, whereas Eric Cartman is a great character becuase he’s funny…not because he’s nice. The Bride is a great character because of the plot around her, while Hannibal Lecter is a great character because of Anthony Hopkins’ performance (I doubt he would be considered a great character if we only had Brian Cox’s version). Some of the characters are only on the list for being realistic and believable e.g. David Brent. So I think the EW list is flawed because it mixes up the terms nice, funny, memorable, well played, well written, identifiable etc. etc. We’d need to be much more specific about what we mean by “likeable” characters. But I think it is a very interesting point, male characters in films feel more likeable…but it’s hard to quantify it or explain why this is.

     
  7. dock #

    As a fan of acting as a craft, I can enjoy the performance of a reactive type if played well. That can be said of any general personality type being portrayed, as well. If someone plays an annoying pain in the ass well enough that I actually get annoyed in real life by their character then they have done their job. Unfortunatly a lot of people (in the entertainment business, as well) don’t seem to make that distinction between the actor/actress and their character. So in the end, even if Rachel Harris does a really great job playing an irritating snob of a woman, Angelina Jolie phoning in some cheap movie about table condiments will garner much more attention from the media, and men in general.

     
  8. dock #

    **although that is a terrible example b/c Harris’ character was a 7th credit support character and Jolie headlines her movie, but the idea is in the right ballpark

     
  9. Gab #

    I realize this sounds like a cop-out or way to say a lot but not actually say anything, but I do believe there is kind of a double-whammy or cycle repeating itself, and I partially blame the audiences themselves. In my theory, Hollywood is afraid to try for fear of backlash and accusations of misogyny and such, so it doesn’t get enough experience- but at the same time, audiences confuse what could actually be a realistic portrayal as misogyny. A woman crying isn’t automatically out-of-proportion or histrionic, but accusations of stereotypes prevent them. Likewise, a woman literally kicking ass isn’t automatically “just making her more like a man,” but it often gets labeled as such by audiences, so ass-kicking women don’t show up as much. I think a solution would take both audiences and entertainment-makers alike to grow up: audiences should be more open-minded and less quick to point the finger in the most negative way possible, but movie/TV/whatever makers need to take more risks and put themselves out there a bit more.

    I would like to mention that in gearing up for the _Last Airbender_ movie, I’m watching the series on Netflix sporadically and am constantly seeing that while it may be a kids’ show, there are a number of well-written and well-rounded females in it that are, indeed, likable.

     
  10. Caroline #

    I would point to The West Wing (with the exception of Mandy, who spent every scene she was in trying to find a new way to broadcast feistiness and very little time being a person), as a show that had numerous well-rounded likable female characters: some of who were active and some of whom were passive. C.J., Joey Lucas, Donna, Amy Gardner, Ainsley Hayes, and Abby Bartlett were all realistic and well rounded. Aaron Sorkin in general seems to be a good source of likable female characters. And likable male characters. Interesting characters in general.

    I’m kind of interested that you mentioned the Doctor as a male character we love, because the new run of the show has been a constant source of polarizing female characters. None of the companions get the consistent affection the Doctor does from fans. Why can they create a time traveling alien with the knowledge of a god that is always relatable and lovable, but not make a human that all the humans watching like? Is male/female a part of that?

     
  11. stokes #

    I noticed that Gob Bluth is on the EW list. He deserves to be, of course! Gob is a brilliantly written and performed character that’s at once both iconic and unlike anything else we’d seen on television. But all of those things are also true of Lucille Bluth, who is nowhere to be found. And it’s not just Entertainment Weekly… Spend some time on IMDB checking out the main cast’s careers since the show was cancelled. Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Will Arnett, David Cross, and Jeffrey Tambor all have more or less successful movie careers. They haven’t all been elevated to stardom like Cera and Arnett, but their names are all being used on the posters to sell tickets. The same can’t be said of the female cast. Alia Shawkat has been making movies, but pretty anonymously, while Portia de Rossi and Jessica Walker have been doing TV work.

    Some of this is due to the actresses: Shawkat does a very good job, but I’ve never known her to steal a scene. Some of it is due to the writers: Arrested Development never quite figured out what they wanted to do with Lindsay, but de Rossi proved she could do better work when given better material on the late lamented Better off Ted. (I’m not saying that Ted was the better show, just that the character she played was had more to do.) But I don’t think the writers could have done a better job with Lucille, and Walker played the hell out of that character. If I was going to pick the two standout characters on that show, I would have picked Gob and Lucille… but Lucille doesn’t make the list, and Walker doesn’t get the movie career, and I think that’s on the audience.

    But whether the audience, here, means the everyday TV watcher, or just the TV critic and the Hollywood casting director, is another question. It’s also worth noting that, while Lucille is too comedic to really count as a villain-antagonist, she does fit pretty neatly into the “wicked stepmother” archetype, which means that she’s on the same continuum as Wilhelmina Slater, Patty Hewes, Miranda Priestly, etc. etc.

     
  12. Wordsmith #

    Simply because I just finished watching the series, I’m going to throw the female characters from CARNIVALE into the mix. The interesting thing with this series was the way that the characters consistently fluctuated between being likable to being decidedly off-putting. When considering that most of the cast were at the mercy of a select few (Ben, Samson, Justin and Lodz were the main characters who directed the action – and were often called up on how their action affected the more passive, reactive characters), the show was populated by characters who reacted to the situations that befell them. Oftentimes, their active roles were triggered by events that they had no control over; when their actions played a central role to the story’s progression, those actions were birthed from their passivity.

    Sofie was a massively reactive character, held at the mercy of her catatonic mother and, of course, the carnival’s events. While she was a central player in the story, she didn’t have a particularly proactive role in the two aired seasons; she more-or-less fell into the circumstances that led to her input into the events at play. This vulnerability and sense of imprisonment in the carnival made her a largely likable character (and thus, the events at the season 2 finale were pretty darn shocking).

    Meanwhile, Iris Crowe juggled the dual role of passivity and action. She made bold moves that had far-reaching implications and these moments of action were often her least likable moments. It was when she was in her passive role, as the sister of the Big Bad, that she grew more relatable, and thus, more likable. Even in the twisted, horribly convoluted Crowe household, she still had a humanity to her (even if a disturbing one) – and it was these moments in which she became likable.

    Anyone else seen the series and understand what I’m trying to get at – and perhaps explain it better than me?

    ——————-

    Quick aside: I’m not sure the EW list is particularly useful for judging a character’s “likability.” A character can be interesting, fascinating, simply “cool” (and a “favourite”) without being likable. For example, Annie Wilkes. She’s a nifty, memorable character, but there’s no way in heck I’d call her “likable.”

    ——————-

    @Caroline, RE: Doctor Who and the Companions. I don’t think that gender plays a role in our universal likability of the Doctor but our more subjective reaction to his companions. I think that if Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy had been Robert, Martin, Donald and Andy (with the same characteristics) there would still be vast differences between fans concerning the companion’s likability. This has to do, in part, with the fact that they *are* humans, and we, as humans, all have preferences for what types of humans we like. Some people identify with Martha’s calmer approach to the whole time-travel deal, whilst others find her straightforwardness dull, unrelatable and boring. Given that the Companions frequently rotate (unlike the Doctor, who is relatively consistent through all his incarnations), there’s an inherent comparison that is divisive. You’ll inevitably rank the companions by your interest in them, and your subjective interpretation of their likability will follow that trend. After all, we see similar reactions to the Doctor’s male companions (Mickey, Jack, Rory) – some people love one, other hate ‘em.

     
  13. Jon Eric #

    stokes, I don’t want to completely dismiss your point, but I’ve always kinda thought that the reason Alia Shawkat isn’t more famous is because of her funny name. Maybe we could call it Tahmoh Penikett syndrome?

    And Portia de Rossi hasn’t had a very active film career, but is there any evidence she wants one? She’s had great roles on at least three well-reviewed television shows with cult followings (recall that even before Arrested, she was stealing scenes in Ally McBeal), and gets pretty consistent rave reviews by continuing to work in these quirky weeklies. In fact, check out her filmography on IMDB. A bunch of bit parts in b-movies, and then she struck gold on TV. I dunno, it seems like she’s been pretty successful.

    You’re right, though. Jessica Walter deserves much better than she’s gotten. She’s got a lead voice role in Archer, where she’s perfectly cast and brilliant, but it seems there ought to be more uses for talents like hers.

    (Hey, what about Tony “Buster” Hale? He’s been doing the rounds recently. Still not a poster name like Michael Cera or Will Arnett, but he had a serious role on one of the last episodes of Law and Order, an episode of Justified, an episode of Community, and a fifteen-episode deal on Chuck. Whoo.)

     
  14. Dez #

    Sidestepping many of these issues (which have been addressed by better writers/thinkers than myself), the polarizing nature of the Doctor’s companions is deceptively simple: they’re supposed to be our (the audience’s) stand-ins. The Doctor is an enigma; we don’t have much in common with him in spite of his outward appearance. The Companions, however, are just like us! So as we’re watching, a part of us is meant to be thinking, “Would I react that way? Would I be half so useful/useless? What reason would he have for bringing someone like that (read: like me) along?”

    This serves to divide the audience. While the Doctor is relatively consistent, the companions are vastly different: a scientist, a doctor, an ordinary girl, a supertemp, a warrior lady, another Time Lord…the way they react to the same kinds of situations (like the Daleks, just as an example) is vastly different. Of course that’s going to get on one segment of the viewing audience’s nerves (oh man, why is she screaming so much?! Did she seriously just suggest they change history? Do none of these people read science fiction?).

     
  15. Ryan #

    Mlawski, you are wonderful as always.

    Your article got me thinking about how unlikable characters are tolerated so little in video games. Specifically, there was a controversial plot twist in “Metal Gear Solid 2″, which replaced the series protagonist, Snake, with a naive and emotional rookie named Raiden. Many fans disliked the character and said that he ruined the game. Your article reminded me how, while the writing overall was criticized, the main complaint was about Raiden as a person. Players griped that the hero of the story shouldn’t have been so emotionally fragile — or, to put it in the context of Mlawski’s article, passive and effeminate. But wait, can’t such characters flaws give him depth and make the story more complex?

    Nope, much of the debate went, the hero needs to be badass like Snake. No one wants to play a game as a whiny, prissy guy. And that’s the core of the complaint: you don’t just watch the protagonist of a video game, you play the role of the character, and nancy-boy Raiden was interfering with everyone’s hero fantasies. Those players wanted, and expected, the protagonist to be someone enviable, someone whose personality makes for nice escapism when you step into his shoes. (By the way, sorry if I’m ignoring big parts of the issue and inadvertently making a straw man out of the MGS fanbase; I’m just trying to simplify down to a blog comment.)

    But this makes me wonder, as with Mlawski’s question: can a video game tell the story of a “weak-but-interesting” protagonist and still be popular? There are many archetypes that deserve exploration other than the active, manly, efficacious hero. Even the ostensibly cooler character flaws of the brooding anti-hero are rather quickly dismissed as “emo”. Too many undesirable traits in a protagonist, and the writer must worry whether player will say, “I don’t want to pretend to be this person.” The bar is not so high for conventional fiction, where the viewer or reader might still want to observe a character they don’t want to be. Which brings us back to Mlawski’s first sentence: “Rule #1 of writing fiction in the 21st century: All characters must be likable.” Isn’t this an unfortunate rule? Wouldn’t our fiction, video games and otherwise, be richer if the writers are free to make the characters passive, weak, or even — dare I say it — whiny? (And as a side question, am I railing against an illusory mob of Philistines and actually should give my fellow gamers more credit?)

     
  16. Jon Eric #

    @Ryan,

    I think in the case of Metal Gear Solid 2, it wasn’t just that Raiden is “too whiny and effeminate” to be the hero of a game, but rather that he’s too whiny and effeminate to be the hero of a Metal Gear Solid game. Think about it: you bought a game expecting to step into the role of Solid Snake, and instead you get this guy? The knee-jerk negative reaction came mostly due to feelings of betrayal. (For the record, I’m not a MGS fan, but I’m pretty close with some people who are.)

    That said, there have been video games that successfully required you to step into the role of a somewhat naive or otherwise unlikable character. For instance, the Prince in the Prince of Persia trilogy (Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and Two Thrones). It’s also a relatively common trope in RPGs, where you start out a low level and eventually work your character up into being the awesometastic super megahero (s)he’s supposed to be by the end. Also, I feel the need to point out at this juncture that I’ve never really like Mario as a character; he just happens to star almost exclusively in brilliantly-designed platformers.

    And then there’s the whole “blank slate” approach. Protagonists like the ones in Valve games (Gordon Freeman, or Portal‘s Chell) and many other first-person shooters generally don’t speak, and only do what you tell them to do, and as such, they have no real character. It’s pretty easy for a gamer to project their own personality onto a character with no name, no face, and/or no speaking part.

     
  17. Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News #

    Loved the article, mlawski. I’m curious about female characters written for pieces that are NOT meant for the whole population, i.e. stories written just for women, like Sex In The City. Do the same rules apply? My opinions on the show, as a man, differ greatly from those of women I talk to. My sister, for instance, loves Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie, while I dislike her for behaving “actively” when it comes to her materialism but then suddenly “passively” as you say when it comes to things like marriage.

    Maybe SITC is a bad example, but is there more leeway given female characters who feature in made-for-women roles? Are they allowed to cry more often? Behave irrationally about love (like SJP’s Carrie)? Do you like them more if they’re strong in the action-hero sense? My guess is in these cases it wouldn’t really help them as much as being faithful to what women are really like.

    And with that, I have a feeling that there is even more room to forgive weakness in books versus film. Crying/being passive, et cetera can seem so much more reasonable when we really know everything piling inside a character’s head.

    I guess this question is for those who’ve consumed both types of media, because I honestly only go for gender-neutral or men-centered media. I know, I know, but when the studios are playing to that beloved 18-35 male demographic, they’re totally looking for me.

    And I think another reason why there are fewer likable females in these mass-audience works is that most movies are initially created for one or the other, men or women, and then tweaked to try and hook some of the other gender in, or at least make it palatable enough for a couple to see it without fighting. I can’t see this sort of pandering/tweaking ever working out well–I’m thinking of movies like the new Star Wars movies, where the attempts to involve Padme consisted of her saying things like “I truly, deeply love you” with no real support. They were just throwaway lines so that the few of us nerds with non-nerd girlfriends could say “See? There’s a girl and love and crap, so c’mon.” Some of the best-written casts of characters, consisting of both male and female, were those created with both genders in mind from the outset–here I’m thinking of something like Harry Potter. Hermione Granger is hugely likable, which is quite an admirable accomplishment considering she’s the know-it-all. (And Harry plays a passive role for almost the entire series, and billions of dollars in J.K. Rowling’s pockets shows us that he’s quite likable as well).

     
  18. Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News #

    I just looked at the list, and I see that Carrie Bradshaw at #9, so maybe she is likable to a larger slice of the population than I thought, (i.e. more men), but at least Harry Potter is #2.

    The most curious character on the list for me, though, is #59 Halo’s Master Chief. I mean, what? I’m not a big gamer, but I played through Halo 2, and I don’t know if MC ever even talks. He’s just a faceless, soulless ass-kicking machine, which is cool, but not cooler than Lost’s John Locke, who is #63.

     
  19. cat #

    “..we (or at least the critics at EW) like a wide variety of male character types but prefer our women to be two-dimensionally “badass” and/or evil. Most great female characters, the EW list seems to say, are doers—not thinkers or losers or comedians or lovable orges (ogres?) or what have you. Great male characters, meanwhile, range across the entirety of human experience…”

    I was with you up to this point. I think based on the list you would have to add a category for the women who are not badass and/or evil: Karen Walker, Elphaba (debatable), Mimi Marquez, Mary Katherine Gallagher, Allie, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, Juno, Vivian Ward, Cher, Felicity Porter, Ally McBeal, Bridget Jones, Carrie Bradshaw, Rachel Green. Maybe more than one. Characters like the Gilmores, Bridget Jones, and Carrie embody a different kind of strength that doesn’t really play into the mold of “strong, female character”. I’m not quite sure what you’d call it, but there you go.

    I think there’s a little touch of nuance. You might not be able to define them as “thinkers, losers, or comediennes” but there’s a bit of thinker, loser, and comediennes in these women.

    I enjoyed reading the article but I think the flaw is taking this list as the way of looking at this argument. It’s a fine list, but well, first of all there are fictional characters in books too. Putting that aside, there are so many great movies and TV shows out there that show different types of women that the ones here, though I do think that there have been attempts to make some of them more well rounded. I would suggest that the problem is either not enough exposure to these women in media (I’m thinking of some of the classic movies they show on TCM, and just less mainstream sources) or some intrinsic resistance to thinking of them as great.

     
  20. Gab #

    Okay, way off topic, but the comments on the EW article are filled with myraid gems. I don’t even know what this person is responding to, but they totally win:

    “OMG GO VISIT YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY AND READ UP ON HARRY POTTER U UNDEREDUCATED TROLL-LIKE MUGGLE”

    And the person that said, “Avada Kedavra at Cedric! (again!)” does, too.

    Anyhoo, I think the exclusion of video game characters was an easy way out. Honestly, like John Eric said, Mario may not be particularly likable, but his image is so ingrained in popular culture now that a person whom has never held a video game controller would know where who Mario is if they saw his face on a shirt. That says a lot about the strength of iconography and not necessarily character development, granted, but it’s the character people recognize- even if the shirt has a picture of, say, one of the mushrooms or a gumbaa, the person seeing it still associates it with Mario. And, granted, this is probably strengthened by how the game is named after the character.

    A similar character is Pikachu. Whenever people think of Pokemon, they think of the yellow guy that shoots lightning, they don’t think of Ash. And whenever Pokemon shows up in front of non-fans, they think of Pikachu. Heck, I know people that didn’t realize Pikachu isn’t the only Pokemon until it was explained. Pikachu came from what started as a video game, too, but now it’s frakkin’ everywhere- movies, tv, lunchboxes, the whole shabang. And, actually, in terms of profit for Nintendo, it’s second only to the Mario franchise.

    That’s a digression, though.

    I’m trying to think of video games with well-rounded and likable female characters at the helm, and, honestly, I’m coming up close to blank. But I think one reason video game characters are difficult to classify is that sometimes they just *have* to be dumb. Take the _Resident Evil_ franchise, more specifically Claire Redfield. In the cut-scenes, she often makes rather stupid decisions, but it’s more because if she did the smart thing, the game would end (or at least not be nearly as awesome). But the same can be said about male characters, too, so I don’t think it’s a gendered characteristic. However, there aren’t many female-centered games out there that make the women likable while not making them sexpots, too. Lara Croft is smart and kickass and stuff, but her boobs take up half the screen, and that makes it hard for me, a heterosexual woman, to like the games and, by extension, her- and not because her boobs are so ginormous, per say, but because of *why* they’re so ginormous. Guilt by association, I suppose.

    I suppose some of the females in the Final Fantasy series would possibly count as “great” fictional characters, but I’ll say right off the bat that they’d probably all be either evil or manic-pixie-dreamgirls, and they’re never main characters, either. They may be likable, but are they well-rounded, nuanced, etc.?

     
  21. fenzel #

    The failure here is, I think, a failure of imagination. I would say that nuance is the opposite of what is called for — what is called for is bold departure from conventional constructions around female characters — both patriarchal ones and feministic ones.

    Female characters tend to be kind of lousy because writers have a lot less experience writing them. There are thousands of years of writing in the Western Canon (which is still quite important, haters gonna hate) where most of the characters are dudes, and the women don’t really do much of anything other than hang out in the background and wait for stuff to happen.

    While this is a reflection of the social order to an extent, it’s not like these writers just took a social order like a stencil and sprayed it onto their works. The works are creative — they invent and reinvent new ideas of men and women all the time. They didn’t create a very large space around women; as a result, we have a pretty narrow idea of what a woman ought to be.

    What’s needed is not to hammer away at this end or that end of the dialectic (not that anybody said it was), but to get creative, get crazy, and drop the necessity that female characters need to resemble “real” women (because what so often passes for “real women” is actually just familiar literary trope).

    For example, consider Mortal Kombat. The women characters all suck. This may be sexist, but it’s true from a pragmatic sense as well. The most fun one is the one who looks like Elvira and screams — the others are lousy. Kitana and Mileena have no character at all. Sonja Blade is stupid — on the Jax/Stryker continuum, she is way past Stryker into mundane city.

    Scorpion is awesome. Raiden is awesome. Sub Zero is awesome. Johnny Cage is stupid. Reptile is awesome. Kano is stupid.

    The characters who are “real” or “nuanced” are the worst ones. The interesting ones are the insane ones — and I don’t just mean the characters are the Costello and not the Abbot, I mean, even when they are the calm, normal ones, there is still something that departs pretty far from reality to make them interesting.

    This is true of most fighting games — the female characters are boring. Chun-Li is kind of cool, but she doesn’t do a lot of the insane stuff the other characters can do – she is pretty narrow in how she is imagined, albeit good at the specific thing she does.

    Why can’t the woman have the eyepatch and the Tiger Uppercut? And why can’t she have it first?

    Consider the two versions of Venus De Milo, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — one is a Chinese Turtle who knows magic instead of the ninja arts. She is a travesty and boring and ridiculous, and the creators hate her. But the earlier one is a lizard who is an expert thief. She and Rafael connect in a two-part episode of the animated series, and it really works because she’s not just trying to be a female ninja turtle — she isn’t just a “stuffed bra” (feel free to use the term if you want) — she’s got her own thing going on, and her own crazy ridiculous origin story.

    I think, once you get away from attempts at realism (and very few truly likeable characters are very “realistic” — and almost no real people are “realistic”), writers are more likely to try to invent something new or plumb their own insanity when they are creating male characters than when they are creating female characters. Superman predates Supergirl. Hulk predates She Hulk. Wonder woman is cooler than all the other female super heroes because she isn’t a poor reflection of something they did with dudes first.

    This is, by the way, why, in symmetrical adaptations where there are male and female examples in a genre, the woman is so often a failure as a character when the dude is a success – the dude character usually comes first, and then the essential characteristics, the insanity. are worn down to make room for breasts and sassiness. Like with Highlander: The Raven or Charlie’s Angels.

    I suspect this is because they think “being female” is enough to make a character exciting or interesting – they are conserving design space by not wasting a good idea on a character who already has stuff to do by virtue of being a woman.

    Or it’s because they are overthinking it and don’t have confidence that a truly insane (again, in the sense of being imagined, not the sense of the character’s own sanity) female character will be worth watching — that they need to improve her by making her make more sense. It isn’t.

    Female characters are unlikeable when they are lazily crafted and have nothing extra on top of their gender. In the example of the men killing people and other crazy stuff while the woman has an affair, of course the woman is going to be liked less — that’s a far more close-to-home transgression.

    This isn’t about the women being competent, it’s about them being boldly imagined, being given distinguishing characteristics. Despite what both traditionalists and feminists would say on either side, being a woman is boring, just like being a man is boring, and they need to give the characters something extra.

    I think this is why villainesses are disproportionately among people’s favorite female characters. Women who aren’t villains are too conventional — there isn’t enough creative space for them to occupy.

    Oh, and one of the other problems people run into is that they think of women as less physical than men — but male fictional characters are _ludicrously_ more physical than men. It’s a metaphor for intention and efficacy, it’s not reflecting the realities of physical strength or other faculties. If female characters are to be on par with male characters in visual art, they must, must, must be just as physically dynamic. Appealing to “female virtues” instead isn’t going to work. Spectacle is necessary for the medium. Nobody watches dudes who just sit around talking either.

    Here are some of my favorite female characters from popular culture, in terms of likeability:

    Gadget from Chip ‘N Dale’s Rescue Rangers

    Pippi Longstocking

    Mary Poppins

    Roseanne (I think she’s tremendously likeable as a character, and most of the people bashing her are uncomfortable with her on grounds of politics or class etiquette)

    Jamie Buchman from Mad About You (Think about how much Helen Hunt frowns about something on that show that has nothing to do with Paul Reiser. She is bothered by a lot of stuff in a much more self-conerned way than most TV wives. That is part of how she can be really grounded in a familiar reality and still have her own private insanity. Paul is by far the less interesting in the couple. I really like the way Helen Hunt creates female characters.)

    Xena: Warrior Princess (and Gabrielle) — Xena is awesome because she is so different from Hercules. Here is a great example where they could have gone wrong and been lazy and instead went right.

    Ariel (of Little Mermaid fame)

    One of my favorite small female characters ever is Joan Allen in _Searching for Bobby Fischer_. The movie is about the relationship between a child chess prodigy, his teachers, and his father, sure, but she steals ever scene she’s in. And how? She is vehemently opposed to almost everything that happens for her own very specific reasons, and she has a gloriously exploded physicality and temperment while doing it — she has her own agenda, she has her own reason to exist. She is not an imitation of any other character in the movie, she is not sexualized, she isn’t even really portrayed as much of a mother most of the time. She is a force of nature.

    More female characters should be forces of nature; forces of personality to be reckoned with. They should not be preoccupied with being women or doing women-type stuff. Interesting male characters don’t sit around trying to be men — they go off and do random other crazy things that make them less human, not moreso.

    Really, that’s what makes them heroic — having that quality that transcends human familiarity and experience and brings a person closer to being a concept than a body and brain. Not just having a lot of lines in the script and being the center of attention.

    Also, as homework, we should all have to watch _Cleopatra 2525_. We could all finish masters theses on it by the weekend!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YmnG2pzVgQ

     
  22. fenzel #

    I’d also add Aunty Entity from _Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome_, played by Tina Turner, to the list of all-time likable female characters. It’s a famously dreadful movie at times, but at times it’s also boldly imaginative, and her character is one of those times.

     
  23. fenzel #

    Oh, and TR-TR-TR-TR-TRIPLE POST

    You can get around the “strong woman” problem and the fantasy girl problem by making the female characters weirder. Use some Epic Theatre skill to bust the bougeroise out of their skulls. Make things strange, and force them to reconsider what they think or feel about stuff.

    Outlandish proactive female characters become reductive sex symbols when they aren’t given enough of a motivation to care about the thing they’ve been assigned to do. That’s what makes them eye candy — whereas normally your eye would be drawn to what their eyes are drawn to if they cared about what they were looking at, instead, you just look at them, because they are surrounded by relatively unimportant stuff.

    This is the problem of the video game fantasy chick — oftentime, the chick is the only thing that changes about the game from some predecessor or previous iteration. Oh, it’s final fantasy, except with a chick. Wow, great. Yay. It’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, except with a chick. Brilliant.

    Tomb Raider is so much more generic than Turok it’s ridiculous. Except for her breasts, short shorts and thigh holsters, Lara Croft is more generic than the heroes of pretty much any other comparatively successful first-person shooter.

    And, putting aside some of my past incriminations on derivative characters, you know what I’d like to see?

    DUCHESS NUKEM FOREVER

    It would blow your effing mind.

     
  24. cat #

    @fenzel I want to side with you completely just on the basis that you named two of my favorite female characters, Xena and Ariel.

    Still, I don’t think you can argue that realism is bad. Or that good female characters can’t be interested in if not completely “preoccupied with being women or doing women-type stuff”. “Interesting male characters don’t sit around trying to be men” but I think it’s fair to say that part of going off and doing those “random other crazy things” is playing to some sense of ubermasculinity if not human achievement.

    Personally, I like my female characters to have something real about them. As writers create animal, toy, and other non-human protagonists we can still identify with them because of what we project onto them and what we see in them as human. Their emotions, their human, realistic reactions to situations (not the going off and shooting everybody but the pain, happiness, etc.).

    Ariel is a force of nature who isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. But a lot of her character is also “teenage girl”. She wants freedom and independence and knowledge…but also a particular guy (which is unavoidably a main part of plot). The real things are what appeals to me. All of the relationships and the great depth of emotion conveyed by the amazing Jodi Benson while she sings and even when she can’t speak. You can’t really identify with a character if you don’t feel like they’re genuine, real, invested in the story. Part of being a woman is growing up and the conflict with her father and interest in a man. Her “random other crazy things” are in pursuit of those goals and the dramatic from Ursula happens to her more than she seeks it out.

    Xena. My memories are a little hazier here but I see to remember childhood trauma, some sort of attack on her family in a Boudica way fueling her desire to protect. She has a child. She has different relationships. This plays to both a core of emotional realism and female concerns.

    Essentially, I’m saying that there can be something real about them and they can absolutely be women and still be strong, likeable characters. I wish I could come up with a good example off the top of my head of a particular novel but I can’t…take a novel from the fairly distant past where a woman has to struggle against the circumstances she is in because she is a woman. This would be real and I don’t see why anyone would criticize the character for having primarily female concerns as if she were a man, she wouldn’t have the same problems.

    I wouldn’t want to see female characters exaggerated to the point some male characters are so that when you strip away the action you don’t really know very much about the character and he’s actually rather bland.

     
  25. mlawski #

    @Fenzel: I like your explanation! All three of ‘em :) And you’re correct. Gadget is great. And so is Roseanne. Ariel is a well-developed character, but I don’t find her extremely likable. Last time I watched The Little Mermaid, she struck me as an exceptionally whiny (and stupidly rash) brat. Which is great. That’s what lots of real teenagers are like. See? I’m part of the problem. When it comes to Disney, I always prefer the villainnesses to the heroines. Ursula? Awesome.

    @Caroline: Completely agree with your point about The West Wing. I was about to write off the EW list altogether because it left off C.J., who is one of the great television characters of the past 20 years. And as long as we’re listing super-likable female characters, don’t forget about Tami Taylor (a.k.a. Mrs. Coach) from Friday Night Lights. She is impossible to dislike.

    @Everyone else: I will most certainly be writing about the Doctor again very, very soon. Don’t worry; my obsession continues. I agree that his Companions are harder to like not because of their gender but because they’re simply Not The Doctor. I think Fenzel hit the head on the real problem: characters like the Doctor are forces of nature. Where are the analogous female superheroes?

    @Everyone else, part 2: Agreed re: female video game characters. That said, Portal’s GLaDOS should have made the EW list. (Does she count as female, though?)

     
  26. fenzel #

    Maybe the whole adventure/masculinity thing is the tail wagging the dog. Rather than adventure fantasy fulfilling societally conditioned masculinity, maybe societally conditioned masculinity co-opts an existing affinity for adventure fantasy, like easter eggs turning into a Christian symbol because of political convenience.

    Maybe women want to have adventures too, and want to be adventurers, and when we identify this need as masculine, we shut them off from something they want. And maybe when we insist women not be portrayed as adventurous, or be only secondarily so, or alienate them from our storytelling’s predominant adventure phantasmagoria, we diminish them and shrink the space where they might exist as fictional characters or self-identifying beings.

    And maybe we have developed the divisons that reinforce this whole paradigm because it makes us feel better about the unjust differences we see every day, and maybe things have changed enough that it’s time we stop doing that.

    And maybe, by insisting that something is essentially masculine when it isn’t, we shortchange and diminish men as well, by limiting how they might imagine themselves and setting them up as essentially hostile to modernity and social progress when there is no real need to cede that ground either.

     
  27. fenzel #

    Oh, and the portal computer is definitely female. The whole point of the game is whether she is a docile servant who will give you cake, or whether she has rebelled against her programming and will not give you cake.

    Also, she’s a matchmaking busybody, what with setting you up on those awkward dates with the companion cube all the time.

     
  28. mlawski #

    @Fenzel: Speak for yourself, Fenzel. My date with the companion cube was anything but awkward.

     
  29. Sillyweasel #

    I’d just like to point out Harley Quinn here, who was in fact likable enough to escape her Batman the animated Series beginning and become a comic character in her own right, complete with her own series (more than one now I think, or am I counting her and Ivy together? I can’t remember at the moment) and becoming pretty much cannon in most DC fans minds.
    I see a Harley costume at EVERY SINGLE CON I’ve ever been to, and have been guilty of sewing my own a few years back. Strong, insane, sexy but without showing much usually, and definitely memorable.

     
  30. Sillyweasel #

    And I don’t care what anyone says the Lori Petty movie version of Tank Girl is quite possibly my favorite film female of all time.

     
  31. Gab #

    @Mlawski: The Companions. Usually, they’re most successful in being likable if they don’t wanna be the filler if the void is solely the Doctor’s. If they don’t wanna be his glass single malt whiskey hidden in the bottom drawer, and they don’t wanna be the bandage if the wound is not theirs. (I had to, I had to. But it fits!)

    @Fenzel: I’m on par with Mlwaski about Ariel, and I thought that about her when I was a wee one, and still felt the same when I watched _The Little Mermaid_ again not too long ago with a seven-year-old girl (with a Disney Princess bedroom): Ariel is her favorite, so I watched with the girl to indulge her a little, and I still thought Ariel was a little prat. Realistic teenager, mind you, but I never liked teenagers much, even when I was one, so there ya go.

    But, did you see _The Princess and the Frog_? Tiana is awesome.

    Generally: And if we’re talking Disney, here, what about Jesse (from the _Toy Story_ films)? And Mulan?

    Disney is a difficult beast to tackle, though, because think about the underlying stories they base their movies with female leads off of: fairy tales, frequently, where the baddies are witches and such (for the most part- _Beauty and the Beast_ immediately springs to mind as an example of a male villain in a movie about a woman, and Belle is another *good* example of a female lead, btw). Notice how in their original, American fairy tale, the bad guy is, indeed, a guy. So I do think they’re trying to break away a little. But it’s a sea WITCH in the Hans Christian Anderson story, it’s a wicked *female* fairy in the original _Sleeping Beauty_, it’s a wicked STEP-MOTHER in the original Cinderella, etc.

    I’m curious as to where they’re taking this _Tangled_ though. The first trailer makes it about the “prince” character (and from the looks of it, he’s not even a prince). The only line Rapunzel has is, “Best day EVER!” as she’s swinging around by her hair- although she *does* sort of kick his butt, too. But it felt like the trailer-makers were trying to pull in the boys by having the male depicted as the central character of the movie. And it’s not called _Rapunzel_, after all.

    I’d like to throw Kaylee from _Firefly_ in there. I know a lot of people think she’s annoying, but I thought she was realistic- her concerns about, say, being horny, were just as natural in her as they would be in a man. Some said she was just a horny, sex-crazed disgrace to femininity, but I beg to differ, because why is it okay for men to have entire film franchises devoted to their quests for sex (think: pie) and one female character can’t talk about how she hasn’t had some in a long while? This relates to what I was talking about before- a double-standard that shouldn’t be there and is simultaneously reinforced and railed against. It should be just as okay for a woman to want a man in her bed as it is for a man to want a woman in his bed, and audiences demand equality; but unfortunately, when something is portrayed equally, it often gets received poorly. Like what Fenzel was saying, really: characteristics that make one person likable shouldn’t be classified by sex or gender, as masculine of feminine- they should just exist, period, and be acceptable in anybody, regardless of their anatomy, sexual preference, or whatever.

    But this isn’t about tossing names out there, so I’ll stop now. But I could think of a number of other females, and they’re mostly from sci-fi shows. (I mean, come *on*, not a single _B5_ character, let alone female, on the entire LIST, EW? REALLY?)

    But I *do* need to amend what I said before- I hadn’t looked too carefully at the list before saying “leaving out video game characters” or whatever. I notice now that a bunch got clumped into one, and a few were left alone. It doesn’t change what I said earlier much, because it still seems crazy they’d leave off MARIO, a character that alien races would think is the head figure in a world-wide religion or cult if they observed us, but the list includes Lara Croft and a dude from a game series I’ve only heard of. (Not to say I’m the standard for game popularity in carnate, but

     
  32. sneakyruskaya #

    @fenzel
    “Maybe women want to have adventures too, and want to be adventurers, and when we identify this need as masculine, we shut them off from something they want. And maybe when we insist women not be portrayed as adventurous, or be only secondarily so, or alienate them from our storytelling’s predominant adventure phantasmagoria, we diminish them and shrink the space where they might exist as fictional characters or self-identifying beings…

    … And maybe, by insisting that something is essentially masculine when it isn’t, we shortchange and diminish men as well, by limiting how they might imagine themselves and setting them up as essentially hostile to modernity and social progress when there is no real need to cede that ground either.”

    This is awesome. I think I love you. I’m saving this to a text document to relish forever in the hopes that one day society at large will have this epiphany.

     
  33. cat #

    @Gab I did see The Princess and the Frog. And yes, Tiana is awesome.

    Love Lea Salonga, love lots of things about that film, but struggled with liking a lot of songs in that movie and the depictions of some of the side characters. Just…made me a little uncomfortable. (Mulan)

    No one needs to hear my long, involved discussion on the subject of fairytales which I could go on and on about for longer than the 15 I eventually cut my research paper down to. Lots of metaphors, allegories, archetypes floating about…women and speech going back to Eve and reinforcing stereotypes…stepmother as an acceptable way of projecting feelings of hatred onto a parent…stepmother as mother-in-law and a natural circumstance of the time period…evil women, but women with power.

    Going off of fenzel’s point, what’s so terrible about these extreme female villains? Aside from the obvious negatives, it made it acceptable at a time when it probably wasn’t going to be to portray these strong women in a position of power (though yeah, they had to be evil). It makes me think of something from this week’s podcast. It may not be perfect, but you’re at least getting the idea out there. And looking at the way people gravitate toward these villains reinforces that for me. You’re getting an audience saying, I like this woman in power…maybe she doesn’t have to be the person we root against the next time we go about this, huh?

    Tangled: I’ve been following it for a while and was upset when they replaced Kristin Chenoweth with Mandy Moore, took out the directors that gave us some of our Disney Renaissance films, and the lyricist is the guy who wrote those awful lyrics from The Little Mermaid on broadway. Impressions from the trailer? As a voice actress, Mandy Moore seems to do fine (I’m still worried about the singing…bad memories) but Zachary Levi seems really over-the-top and jarring. I’m hoping that’s all just the trailer. Also, I hope they go more in the direction of Tiana and less in the direction of feisty, spunky, strong female character with Rapunzel (unless they’ve changed her name).

    On the subject of adventures: Of course female characters may want to have adventures, too. I just think that writers should avoid making them precisely the same adventures that male characters go on. Yes, they might be placed in the same situations…but they shouldn’t react in exactly the same way. I’m articulating this badly but essentially don’t write something for a man, change the character to a woman and make no changes whatsoever to the story. Especially as a female version of another character, it’s like saying that character has no depth or life of her own aside from being a female version of the original. (Don’t attack me)

     
  34. Gab #

    @Cat: Wait, Kristen Chenoweth was originally cast in _Tangled_? Okay, I’m kind of irked, now. I don’t really have that much against Mandy Moore (and, actually, think she could do a good job with the speaking parts, at least, given what I’ve seen of her acting). But to ditch Kristen Chenoweth? What were they thinking?

    And I’m with you on that last paragraph: I think it’s okay to acknowledge that some experiences are experienced differently, and essentially photoshopping boobs onto a character takes something away. But, I think the point is that the character should be written as a character WITHOUT sex. Androgynous? A person should be funny because they’re funny, not because they have a uterus. A person should be tough because they’re tough, not because they have a scrotum. If it’s done well enough, it won’t feel like a female OR male version of an original, it will just feel like an original.

    But comedy is a tough cookie, because there are some traits a comedic actor or stand-up artist can play off of that only their sex can. If done right, a woman can make a story about her cycle huh-larry-us, just as how a man can make a story about his morning woody tear-inducingly comedic. But the key there is universality and diversity- one thing can get really old, really fast, so they need to have other stuff under their belt, imo. I suppose the same could be said about tragedy, too- if your only line is the story about the time your dog was hit by a car, you’ll lose your audience pretty fast. That one personal trait can be a PART of the package, but it shouldn’t bloody well be the whole thing.

    Circumlocution, I rock at it.

     
  35. AJ #

    I really like at the end that you brought up how most male writers (at least those working in Hollywood) don’t know how to write dimensional and interesting female characters.
    They tend to keep them two dimensional or default to the “relatable” characteristic of making them neurotic, which is thoroughly unlikable.

    I think it would also be interesting to look at the pool of characters EW had to draw from. I would assume the majority of them were men. Would that alter the statistics so that a greater percentage of male characters are unlikable?

     
  36. John. #

    Don’t forget Ellen Ripley of Aliens. She is a female character, who is likable and completely bad-ass, flawed, and yet ready to confront her fears with courage. She has a huge heart as she risks it all at the end to save newt, even though it would cost the lives of all the survivors and her own. She is a Mother, and a President.

    Ellen Ripley rules every marine in the movie, and she’s smarter than the corporate scumbags in the movie. See every scene she has with “corp_scum” :) lol.

    Male or female Ripley is one of the best movie characters of all time. Up there with Luke sky-walker, Han Solo, Rocky or Indiana Jones.

     
  37. kittiquin #

    I’m late to the thread, and an outsider too, but I would add that female characters are often given “damaged” or “victim” status, while male their male counterparts are allowed to bounce back.

    Watching a character suffer and struggle is often painful and boring – I’m thinking Buffy season 6, which had its moments of dramatic, heart-rending brilliance, but was for the most part unbearably dull. Female characters are forced to suffer and mope long after bad things happen, which is more realistic, but dull to watch. I’m thinking Deb in Dexter, who gets to be awesome for a couple of episodes and then TRAGEDY and we have to watch her act recklessly and cry for the rest of the season. They rarely do that with male characters.

    It’s probably a result of gender stereotypes being applied in both directions – men are stoic, women are emotional. It results in a major handicap for female characters, because any time tragedy strikes they have to suffer through a mourning period while their male counterpart returns from the funeral and gets right back to work, or grieves in a way that is interpreted as less “weak” – he drinks himself into oblivion, or goes on a killing spree. Somehow, this is more acceptable than crying. Probably because it’s a lot more fun to watch.

     
  38. mlawski #

    @kittiquin: There are no outsiders at OTI! We welcome one and all!

    So, I just finished watching Clueless for the millionth time, and Cher is such a great female character. She proves that when a tragedy strikes, female characters don’t have to cry about it, or drink themselves into a stupor, or go on a killing spree. They can head a clothing drive at school or accidentally swerve their Jeeps into unsuspecting cyclists. Man, Clueless is good. Why isn’t Amy Heckerling getting more work?

     
  39. Gab #

    @Mlawski: That’s, like, totally one of my favorite movies ever. When IMDBing her, I see she wrote the _Look Who’s Talking_ movies, and Kirstie Allie’s character in those is pretty awesome, too. I agree, Heckling should do more!