Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the deluge of responses I’d get to my simple little questions in my earlier blog entry: “Strong Female Characters Are… Myths?” Honestly, when the replies started pouring in, my first thought was, “Oh, Mere, you stupid dummy, you have just done gone and fucked yourself.” (Whenever I get intimidated, the white trash side of me rears its ugly mullet.)
You see, organization has never been my strong suit. My strong suits include things like “being obnoxious,” “writing about grim and gritty death,” and “swearing a whole fucking lot.” I’ll be listing all the responses below, but it’ll probably take me another couple days before I can assimilate everything into an approximation of an opinion. Sorry to keep dragging this out, but Mere no thinkee so good without a lot of time, and her good friend, the Delete Button…
A few quick observations, though:
What struck me first was, I didn’t realize how much TV I don’t watch. I suppose it’s foolish to assume that one can watch everything — but some of these shows and characters I had never even heard of, much less seen. So if a particular character seems wildly out of place — in either genre or non-genre — please don’t take it as a sign of my stupidity — only my ignorance. (It may seem a fine line, but after 13 years in this town, I’ve learned to tell the difference.)
My second thought was: man, people sure are opinionated when it comes to their favorite characters! Ask me, this is a good thing — because if you don’t hold strong feelings about a character, chances are you’re not that invested in her/him. And getting an audience to emotionally invest themselves and their imaginations in your characters is the closest any Writer gets to Valhalla.
Lastly, to clarify one point that I may have muffed the first time around: though I expressed my admiration for a blue-collar heroine like Roseanne, I never said a woman had to be poor to be “real.” Although I don’t think I implied this, if we’re going to get “real,” check out these statistics from the 2010 National Census:
15.1% of households in the U.S. lived below the established poverty line. ($22,314 annually for a family of four)
Said households, I’m assuming, include real women. But are y’all seeing TV shows about these people? Y’know, the folks that make up FIFTEEN PERCENT OF THE ENTIRE POPULATION of the United States? ‘Cause I’m not.
The mean annual income for women of all races and ages was $34,111
Meanwhile… back at the ranch…
The mean annual income for men of all races and ages was $50,221
(And in case you don’t feel like grabbing the calculator — that’s a difference of, oh, about SIXTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS, or 47% of what those women earn. I can and will concede that more women than men stay home to tend to children, but honestly, people. Didn’t our mothers burn enough bras? Should we start that up again? Flash-mob bra-burnings, anyone?)
Putting aside the fact that this last little stat sticks in my craw like a giant marlin bone, think about the average woman’s salary again: $34,111. Looking back on my earlier post, with the exception of Rusty Dennis (and Erin Brockovich, though I have a feeling she’s making a shitload more now), NONE of the “non-Sci-Fi/Fantasy” or “NON-genre” — or “real” — female heroines makes (or has access to) less than that. Even the most blue-collar of them, Olivia Benson of “Law & Order: SVU,” would be making around $69,005 after five years, according to the NYPD. And that series has been on for 12 seasons.
I cough up all these numbers only to show that even those women we think of as “real” — or “non-genre” — are still wealthier than the average American woman. And while I can’t possibly know everyone’s definition of “poor,” I can certainly aver that these non-genre women aren’t struggling for a breath above the poverty line.
Okay, polemic over. Now time for your responses. To refresh the memory, here was my challenge:
You have 30 seconds from the end of this paragraph. (No cheating!) First, come up with any three “strong female characters” from film or TV. Then, in the next 30 seconds, come up with three more — from NON-GENRE films or TV (no lawyers, no doctors, no cops, no superpowers — and no one I’ve already mentioned).
Anything in double-parentheses, I’ve added — usually to clarify, but sometimes to distill supporting statements in favor of simple character and show names.
NON-GENRE: How about Peggy from Mad Men and Gemma from Sons of Anarchy… And Mags from Justified.
GENRE: Guem-ja, “Lady Vengeance”; Lady Kaede, “Ran”; Jackie Brown, eponymous
NON-GENRE: Peggy, “Mad Men”; Ree, “Winter’s Bone”…30 seconds…over.
GENRE: Starbuck ((“Battlestar Galactica”)), Rose Tyler ((“Doctor Who”)), Sara Connor ((unspecified as to the “Terminator” movies or “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”)).
NON-GENRE: are making me realize how much genre TV/FIlm I watch.
NON-GENRE: Also, CJ Cregg from The West Wing…although that’s still monied/educated. But, not genre!
GENRE: Wendy Watson (Middleman), Alice Morgan (Luther), Merlyn Temple (American Gothic)
NON-GENRE: Dana Whitaker (Sports Night), Hayley (Hard Candy), Claudia Larson (Home for the Holidays)
NON-GENRE: CJ ((Cregg, “The West Wing”)) is one of my favorite characters of ALL TIME!!!!
GENRE: 1) Aeryn Sun ((“Farscape”)) 2) Nikita (from original TV show) ((“La Femme Nikita” — 1990)) 3) Susan Ivonava ((“Babylon 5”))
NON-GENRE: 1)Veronica Mars ((“Veronica Mars”)) 2) CJ Craig ((“The West Wing”)) 3) ??
GENRE: My picks are Nikita ((“La Femme Nikita” — unsure as to which version)), Alicia [Good Wife] and Beckett ((“Castle”?)).
NON-GENRE: is REALLY hard. So hard I can’t think of any in 30 seconds! WAIT. I got one. Aunt Jenna from TVD ((“The Vampire Diaries”)). A genre show, but she was not a genre character – human.
NON-GENRE: Katie (@Laura_AllenLA) from Terriers. Actually, Steph too. Joan and Peggy from Mad Men. Patty Chase, MSCL ((“My So-Called Life”)).
NON-GENRE: the Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill. Jackie Brown ((epon.))? Miss Daisy (as in Driving…)? Paikea in Whale Rider, Jackie Kallen (Against the Ropes)
NON-GENRE: Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice), Rachel (Friends)
NON-GENRE: Veronica Mars ((“Veronica Mars”))
NON-GENRE: Mama (Mama’s Family); Ms. Swan (MADTV) and most of Carol Burnett’s repertoire.
GENRE: Sarah Connor ((unspecified as to the “Terminator” movies or “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”)), Zoe (Firefly)
NON-GENRE: Judy Miller (Still Standing). With the time limit – only 3 total.
GENRE: Max – Dark Angel. Nandi, Saffron, Zoe – Firefly. Scully – X-Files.
NON-GENRE: Sway – Gone in 60 Sec (cheat – Jolie), Cher – Burlesque, Veronica – Better off Ted (cheat – boss)
GENRE: I only have one person to submit to your list: Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games.
NON-GENRE: Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the book), and Julia McNamara, Nip/Tuck.
NON-GENRE: Liz Lemon of 30 Rock, Leslie Knope of Parks & Rec, Blair from Gossip Girl.
GENRE: Zoe from Firefly, Echo from Dollhouse, Capt Janeway from ST:Voyager;
NON-GENRE: CJ Cregg from The West Wing, Lorelai Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, Sela Ward’s character in CSI:NY or in Sisters or Once & Again.
GENRE: Um…Arya on Game of Thrones, Cathy on The Big C and Olivia on Fringe.
NON-GENRE: Kalinda on The Good Wife, Lauren Graham on Parenthood, Joan on Mad Men.
NON-GENRE: Lisa Wiseman from Now and Again… Oh, and the woman in Up the Down Staircase ((Sylvia Barrett)).
Philippa: ((from blog comments))
GENRE: Delenn, ‘Babylon 5′; Sarah Walker, ‘Chuck’ [started as a juvenile con artist]; Gwen Cooper, ‘Torchwood’; Kaylee, ‘Firefly’ [smut covered engine mechanic]; Donna, ‘Dr Who’ [temp turned saviour of the universe!]; Emma Peel, ‘Avengers’; Sarah Connor, ‘Terminator’; Xena [her mother lives in a two bedroom cottage]….
GENRE: Jackie Brown (from “Jackie Brown”) Sarah Walker (from “Chuck”) and any woman from a Joss Whedon show.
NON-GENRE: I think of Veronica Mars (from Veronica Mars) Jenna (from the movie “Waitress”) and Nancy Botwin (from Weeds).
Kat Summers ((from blog comments))
NON-GENRE: I’d emphatically second CJ Cregg and Lorelai Gilmore and would add Elizabeth Burke from “White Collar” (which is a cop show, I guess, but she’s an event planner) and Leslie Knope from “Parks & Recreation.”
Marikt ((from blog comments))
GENRE OR NON-GENRE?: Agent Texas ((“Red Vs. Blue” — though it was posited as non-genre, check out the comments here to see Marikt’s reasoning))
VIDEO GAMES ((that’s new to me, but also welcome!)): Also if you count video games, I’d definitely go with Chell from Portal(2).
Jenny86 ((from blog comments))
GENRE: Zoe from “Firefly”. 99 from “Get Smart”. Lucy Bates from “Hill Street Blues”.
NON-GENRE: Veronica from “Veronica Mars”. Jaye from “Wonderfalls”. Lindsay from “Freaks and Geeks”. Margaret Houlihan from “MASH”.
B ((from blog comments))
GENRE: Donna Noble ((“Doctor Who”)), Max Guevara ((“Dark Angel”)), Mokey Fraggle ((I confess, I have no idea other than “Fraggle Rock”)). I don’t watch non-genre television.
Ragondux ((from blog comments))
GENRE: I thought about it for more than 30 seconds before I saw your challenge, so in a way I cheated. However, a few names come to mind: Sarah Connor (Terminator), Laura Roslin (Battlestar galactica) and Captain Janeway ((“Star Trek: Voyager”))
DANA LAWRENCE ((from blog comments))
NON-GENRE: Gemma from Sons of Anarchy…
NON-GENRE: Kristen Wiig’s character in whip it (unless you count roller derby as a superpower). and alia shawkat’s character. actually pretty much every character in that film (except lame-ass landon pigg.)
As with everything I post here, feel free to debate the fine (and not-so-fine) points of this list in the comments section below. Indeed, I have a few questions myself as to the inclusion of some things in “Genre” and some things in “Non-“. But like I said, it’s going to take a couple days before I can absorb all of this and then speak somewhat comprehensively about it (goddamn WORK!), but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both here and on Twitter.