Television Tuesday :: 5 of the many different types of strength found in female television characters

14 Aug

So yesterday on my tumblr page I kind of went off on an internet list I found .  It was TotalFilm’s 50 Television Characters Who Deserve Their Own Movies list, and it made me a little cranky.  There were only 10 ladies on the list, period; while I was all over some of them, like my Willow and my Joanie, some of them were ridiculous (Sue Sylvester) and the majority of them were children’s media actionish heroines.  Which I have no problem with.  I was all about some of those shows, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  (Though it confused me – I mean, wasn’t there already a Sabrina-related film back in the 90s when it was relevant?)

The only of the ladies that wouldn’t have led to a “female-centered action film” (which there should be more of, yes, but) were probably ridiculous Sue and my Joanie, and while they proposed that Joan’s film be a story of success and feminism (yay!!) there were comments in it that made me sad.  Comments like, as I discussed yesterday, “Pedro Almodovar lives to write strong female characters.”  Here, I’ll just copy-paste the commentary from the tumblr tl;dr in case someone didn’t see it, and just assume that I am also referring to television:

“Also, isn’t it weird that three-dimensional women written into films are being treated as a niche market?  It’s like saying “such and such lives to write kung fu movies” or something.  Why is it so unusual and unique and specialized to actually write female characters who don’t suck?”

Point being, it got me thinking about ladystrength that doesn’t just come in the form of Strong Female Characters.  It’s female characters who are strong in a whole big variety of ways and I celebrate them because they’re all equally valid!  So here’s some of that, with examples from a few television programs.

5. The physically strong, ass-kicking ladies
Sometimes, the Look I Am A Lady Look I Can Kick Your Ass trope is all that a character is written as.  (No immediate television examples, but, you know, action movies.  This is a movie problem too, but I’m talking television examples for the positives, so.)  And that sucks.  But sometimes a character is written to be able to kick ass with the best of them and she still has a personality that is interesting and valid.  A strength that is not only because of the physicality she has, but one that is shaped by that.  Such as:

  • Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who was chosen, who has innate abilities, who trained and practiced and fought for her destiny, for her family, for her friends.  Who died twice in pursuit of a cosmic goal she didn’t even choose for herself, who inspirsd those around her to fight and be strong too.
  • Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres), who fought because of what she believed in and because she had to, who can be cold when she needed to be but who is also warm and loving with those that matter.
  • River Tam (Summer Glau), who was conditioned to fight by bad people who wanted bad things and used those skills to help bring them theoretically to justice, who is graceful and elegant while kicking asses.
  • Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who wanted to play with swords and learns to fight with them and in other ways because she has to.
  • Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), who swore to protect one and then another, who can fight better than a lot of the men around her.

4. The polite, oftentimes quiet, but nonetheless courageous ladies
This is one that gets debated a lot online, isn’t it?  Sometimes sitting and doing nothing, or doing not much, doesn’t seem strong.  It seems weak, like you’re letting someone walk all over you, like you’re letting them puppet you.  But… no.  Not all courage is loud and overt.  Sometimes, just continuing to be can be brave, just being kind to people when it’s not necessarily deserved, having manners about things.  Such as:

  • Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and sure, in TV canon especially she was a brat to her sister and her septa and whatnot sometimes (sometimes even the most mannered people can be snippy when they feel they can sort of get away with it, particularly when they’re, you know, barely a teenager), but Sansa my sweetheart, just there doing what she’s got to do, being polite and not speaking her mind and not lashing out so she can survive another day.
  • Tara Maclay (Amber Benson), who was quiet but resolute in her beliefs and helped herself and others to act based on what she believed was right, as before I’ve mentioned.
  • Joan Holloway Harris (Christina Hendricks), who often (not always) keeps her opinions about small things to herself and works to do what she can to make things work.
  • Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite), who has a smile on her face for everyone unless they’re hurting them she loves, as before I’ve mentioned.
  • Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin), who can turn manners on for anyone, even the undeserving, and still be firm about her opinions while doing so.

3. The (not always perfectly, but strivingly) diplomatically strong ladies
This is the kind of strength that I was mostly talking about when I did the HBICs of awesome post awhile back.  This is for ladies that are firmly loud, or loud-ish, in their beliefs, and will do what they must, which is usually dealing with other people in a work-related and/or sociopolitical sense.  Such as:

  • Again, my Joan who I love, because she is quiet about personal things (except when she suddenly lashes out for a moment, which is a different thing of course) but when it comes to keeping things around her functioning, she will whip that politesse out in a different fashion and just snark people’s faces off with a smile while she does what she can to, again, make things work like they should.
  • Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), running a relatively immoral organization with standards that are nonetheless driven by her personal morals and verbally (and sometimes organizationally) bitchslapping anyone who gets in her way.
  • Alma Garret Ellsworth (Molly Parker), running her deceased husband’s gold claim and the first town bank with a smile and refusing to give into the demands of assholes.
  • Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), my queen, who still has to learn some lessons and she knows it, but who rests not just on birthright but on the fact that she wishes to be a just queen, tries to act accordingly to her subjects, is upset when this does not go well, and comes out still fighting and doesn’t let it get her too down.

2. The evil and/or manipulative but so damn entertaining ladies
For whatever reason, these women are playing the antagonist, so you’re probably not supposed to root for them (I do anyway, sometimes, or at least I revel in them).  They’re not good, but they are still interesting characters who are not just I Am An Evil Woman Whose Entire Character Is Evil And Bad.  (Because this list is as much about ways that characters show strength via behavior as ways that characters are written in a technically strong or fascinating way.)  Such as:

  • Drusilla (Juliet Landau) and Darla (Julie Benz), both of whom are psychotic in their own ways, but they are the fun kind of evil.  The kind that is just so wrong, and they just don’t care.  They’re unapologetic, they’re giddy in their evil, and sure, they have their reasons, but they also have the reason of just enjoying it.  They like to murder and they can fight, but take Dru’s fighting: really, when fighting physically she often just sort of flails around, effectively but still, and she relies on hypnotizing a lot of the time anyway.
  • Nora Gainesborough (Lucy Griffiths), whose crazy comes from a different place but who is, as repeatedly mentioned, an ace liar and manipulator, a “political genius.”  She is often self-serving and while she’s not the oldest vampire or the most powerful (yet) she is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Saffron or whatever (Christina Hendricks), my crazed manipulative devil woman darling.  When questioned about why she doesn’t just rob folk, she just smiles and replies, “You’re assuming the payoff is the point.”  Again, this is very consciously making the choice to do the legally wrong thing, because it is fun for a whole variety of reasons.  Sure, she can kick your ass if she has to, but that’s not the game, not really.
  • Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who is a bad person in so many ways, and is fairly aware of this in a delightful way.  She is the power behind many, many actions, actions which are not always for any greater good but her own and that of her children, and she is sometimes diabolical and cruel, yes, but she is so good at it.  Sometimes you get glimpses behind the dealing-with-others mask she so often wears and it’s just fascinating: that everything that has made her how she is has made her how she is is not an excuse always, but it’s so interesting to explore.

1. The intellectual or otherwise mentally gifted ladies
This is, as we all know, one of my pet things.  Not every character has to be a genius, no.  People naturally have different strengths and weaknesses.  And intellectual gifts do come in different forms, which are interesting always.  Such as:

  • Again dearest River, who is gifted in the physical fighting sense and in the being preternaturally graceful sense but is also freakishly smart.  For the majority of the series, she’s more intellectual than physical anyway, what with the mind-reading and the future-glimpsing and the obscure knowledge about everything and all.  And I love that she so effortlessly straddles the possible physical/intellectual dichotomy and it seems perfectly good.
  • Also Bennett Halverson (Summer Glau), did you really think I’d pass up the opportunity to talk about her.  While she can do the above-mentioned manipulative thing, I don’t think it’s necessarily a thing she does just because it’s fun.  Sure she tortures Caroline because it’s fun, but she is not by nature evil.  And a lot of her viewpoints that could be considered wrong are, I think, more a product of a different kind of thinking about things than most people partake of.  Bennett does not make the best choices always, i.e. the torturing, but Bennett also doesn’t do things for no reason, she thinks them through.  And Bennett is a super-geniusy genius.  She’s, as before mentioned, big with the brilliant, and sure she let her accident lead to copious amounts of revenge-related fantasizing, but she also didn’t let it stand in the way of so many (morally gray) intellectual accomplishments.  Which is awesome.  (The theoretical accomplishing, not the moral grayness.  Though that is fictionally fascinating.)
  • Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) went to secretarial school and probably never considered herself an intellectual in the strictest sense.  She may not even think of herself as such now.  But Peggy’s talents are largely related to intellectual/creative ability, and they are strong and awesome.  She knows how to take charge of what she wants and she knows how to show off without being a showoff.  She is useful and helpful and a damn good copywriter, and I applaud her always.
  • Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), who starts out as the Smart One and is then the Magic One and is then the Dangerously Addicted One and is then the Recovering One, who I just want to hug so hard.  She’s so bookish and learning-friendly, and that’s how the magicks start: she’s teaching herself new and interesting things.  Eventually it becomes her way of feeling powerful and useful amongst the group, and then the power starts to overtake her, but you know what, addiction is a disease.  I do not, not, not condone the actions she takes while in her addiction, no, but at the same time I also do not condemn for them.  She is still a very smart and very powerful character, and one whose strength can sometimes also be her weakness, but because of the intellectual ability and the help she gets, she knows that and knows she did the wrong thing and she wants to change and she’s able to figure out a way to start to do that.  (And disclaimer as always: comic canon, I have no knowledge of you.)

–your fangirl heroine.

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2 Responses to “Television Tuesday :: 5 of the many different types of strength found in female television characters”

  1. MistressCinder August 2012 at 7:08 am #

    I love your list but you left off Xena & Fred from Angel…

    • partlydrawn August 2012 at 11:00 pm #

      Oh, I am fully aware that there are plenty of television ladies I haven’t mentioned, and this is because I am not aware of them (yet). I’ve never watched Xena, though I’m sure I should, and I’m still in season two of Angel, so I haven’t met Fred yet. When I do meet her, I’m sure she’ll appear on many, many lists.

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