Strong and Beautiful

Every now and then, someone will tell me about some movie that they saw. They’ll say something like, “I really liked [insert character’s name here.] She was a really strong female character!” A few weeks ago, my friend and mentor, Thea, posted this article that came up on my News Feed. (Yes, I often click on the articles that come up on my News Feed.) Prior to reading it, I would have described her as a Strong Female Role Model. But now she’s got me thinking, maybe there’s more to our females than being Strong.

Step 1: Read the article.

http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/08/i-hate-strong-female-characters

Step 2: Contemplate.

I will first admit that I did not come to Barnard with the intention of becoming a feminist. (What? It’s true!) I came to Barnard because I wanted to a good education, a chance to be live in Manhattan, to attend an Ivy League institution. (Tangent alert: Barnard is part of the Ivy League institution that is Columbia University. Condolences to those who think differently.) But I did not start out my Barnard career embracing the idea that we’re Strong, Beautiful, Barnard women.

Let me clarify, before the dynamite of outrage and frustration explodes: I want women to be Strong. All women, in my world, should know how to fight and fight back; women should know how to use power tools and household appliances and carry their own weight, literally. (As in “literally” literally.) I want women to be Beautiful. Women—in all shapes, sizes, shades—are works of art, and the female form should be appreciated and admired (but not exploited). So yes, I want women to be Strong and Beautiful. But they should be allowed to be more.

The article points out that most leading men have an array of emotions. Take Batman: he battles, he broods, he hates, he loves, he has a duty to protect and an ever-guilty conscience. He’s Strong and Beautiful Batman, but he’s also broken, beaten, emboldened, encouraged by a supporting cast of…other men. Like Alfred, or Robin. Why can’t his lady friends be more than Strong, Beautiful romantic attachments?

Why can’t women, especially at Barnard, be more than Strong and Beautiful? Thea, the inspiration for this blog post, is indeed very Strong and very Beautiful. But she’s also a talented performer, a seasoned traveler, and a very-wise-person-from-whom-to-seek-advice. There are many men and women who are both Strong and Beautiful that are none of the above. I’d also like to think that I’m Strong and Beautiful, but more importantly, a writer, a scientist, a teacher.

So instead of fighting for a generically Strong and Beautiful woman—whose claim to fame is “ability to kick ass while wearing strapless dresses”—let us fight for women who are also Vulnerable and Insecure and Angry and Frustrated and Confused and Smart and Good at What They Do.

An argument can be made that many women already are more than Strong and Beautiful, but we need more. We especially need more role models than the ever-strong, ever-sexy females we see on television, in magazines, in movies. We should look to Strong Female Characters as role models like we should look to Brenda Song in The Social Network as a Typical Asian Woman. (Another tangent: Have you seen her character? She’s crazy. But more on lack of Asian women in the media another time.) If being a man can look like a whole array of character types, then being a woman should look like more than just a girl that’s really Beautiful and also good at Fighting, but usually gets relegated to Supporting Character in Story Titled after Male Main Character.

One of my favorite stories as a child was that of Cinderella, who is arguably not a Strong Female Character. She doesn’t walk out of her beloved childhood home into the dark unknown, just to show her stepfamily what’s what. She dissolves into tears and asks for help from some strange magical beings. She gets married, which is basically admitting defeat and succumbing to society’s role for women. She, in no version, fights in combat or distracts an evil villain with her sexy leather pants, so she may not be the Strongest role model. But Cinderella is a housekeeper, a social outcast, a mouse whisperer, a great singer, and a genuinely nice person. She has garnered international fame as a “timeless” character and she ends up with a pretty nice life. (She’s technically a monarch at the end, if you think about it. In a monarchy. Which means she technically rules. That’s pretty cool.) She’s more than a Strong Female Character, she’s more than a Beautiful face; she’s a main character. She’s a legend, for crying out loud! With that in mind, it’s time that more women, instead of becoming only Strong and Beautiful Supporting Roles, became Legendary Leading Ladies too.

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