Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Female Protagonist - Part 1

So, first off, apologies for the fact that this entry is going up a bit late. I think while school is going on, I may limit myself to only aiming for 4-5 updates a week with any other updates simply being gravy. That being said, it's more than just school making this one late.

So, as those of you who are Console RPG fans are probably already aware, Mass Effect 2 came out on Tuesday here in the states. I'm playing through the game, and while enjoying it, it has also got me thinking about something. Namely, where are all the strong female protagonists? Don't get me wrong, they exist, and I'm hoping they're more prevalent than I'm aware of, but it seems to me that girls really seem to get a kick in the pants when it comes to being the star of the show. Even when they do get it, the character is often weak as the writers use that she is a female as an excuse to show overly emotional moments. I don't have anything against this in those characters by the way, I guess I'm just sad we don't have more strong female leads.

Maybe they're out there in the world of female writers, it's probably true, but this blog is more concerned with the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres, and I am also more specifically talking about the works geared towards main stream audiences. Anita Blake (I've never read one, so may be wrong) may be a great novel for a girl to read, but from everything I've heard it's more a Romance series with a sci-fi/fantasy/modern horror twist to it more than anything.

The RPG market isn't much better by the way. Sure, most games will let you make your character, and you have the option to be female, but what is the canon version? Just going through the Bioware list, Knights of the Old Republic has the main character as a male in the canon version. Jade Empire hasn't been built on yet to be known, but most of the art and advertisement I saw for it was promoting a male lead. Mass Effect also has a canon male lead, in all the ads and on the box art Shepherd is a male. In all these cases I'm curious as to why? Does the character lose something by being made female? I played all three of these games with a female character, there wasn't much different between a male and female character, just some gender pronoun switching and different romance sub-plot options. As a female lead though, the character didn't seem unnatural, it actually felt right and fit in with the story. Maybe not more so than a male lead, but definitely not less so.

Back on books, even in books we have written by women we have male leads. Most famously (recently) with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. Why is it "the boy who lived?" and not "the girl who lived?". Is it a societal issue? Or just an accepted view that if you only have one main lead hero that it has to be a guy?

Honestly, as a guy, and with how the world has gone recently I'm almost shocked that I have to wonder these things. Maybe they are out there and I have yet to see them, but when I look the ones I am most likely to see are, as I said, not particularly strong characters. Sure they may be able to bring a lot of force to bear on a matter, but they're weak either on the inside (where a hero needs to be strong) or they're just not fleshed out, hoping to sell entirely on the "hot babe that will kick your ass" imagery.

As I said, there are some strong ones out there, even worth reading/watching. Samus from Metroid, one of the originals. Paks, the titular character from Elizabeth Moon's "The Deed of Paksinarion", Cassandra Kressnov from Joel Shepherds (think that is it) Crossover and its two sequels. If you want to stretch a bit, you then get into the Lara Crofts and Buffy the Vampire Slayers, but I don't think either of those are strong characters (granted I haven't played through a Tomb Raider game since 2 or 3, nor was I a particular fan of Buffy's show).

This entry is probably going to get me into trouble too (if anyone is actually reading it) as I'm sure people will respond with the strong female leads they've seen. I also, admittedly, haven't done any full on research into this, and am just going on my impressions. So I guess for now, I'll end this and list my criteria for what I was looking at for a "strong female lead"

1) they are the lead. Meaning alone, they can have friends and supporting cast, but it should be unequivocally their show. (i.e. Ron and Hermione are around a lot in Harry Potter, but it is HIS show)

2) they aren't female just for the shock value inherent in being female. (it can't be a token effort, if the selling point is "a bad ass babe with an attitude" or something like that, they probably don't apply for this)

3) they're strong, not necessarily physically but on the inside. (using Harry Potter again, he might not be the most capable wizard, and he definitely needs his friends at times, but for the most part he stands on his own. He doesn't back down, he doesn't run as soon as things get rough, he's a rock in the storm for those around him)

4) They're capable, admittedly this one kind of contradicts the need for a lack of strength physically in 3 but I want to be clear, even when the hero isn't the direct reason for things they manage to get things done. So the lead should be bringing something to the table here (an example of violations of 4 would be Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Tsukasa from .Hack//Sign)

5) This one is optional, but the source of their anger, or the beginning of their quest shouldn't be they were raped or sold into slavery. This one is a favorite for authors to do for Women of Action for some reason, and while I get it that it is a likely thing to happen in a dark world, does it really need to happen so often? Hell, I'm even "fine" with it happening if it happens during the story (no, not on screen you sicko) and makes sense. Just, it'd be nice to have a non-raped Female lead from time to time y'know?

So, that is the 4(5) bits of criteria I looked at, fairly basic all things considered. I keep hoping I'll find a really good (or at least decent) work where the main lead is a female, and not the main female is a major supporting character/love interest. I guess the idea that "the hero saves the day, then gets the girl" is long ingrained into our heads as a society, but I don't see why we can't break the mold.

Oh, and yes, this is Part 1 as there is a Part 2 coming up soon with some of the, what I see as failings, in the common depiction of women in these sci-fi/fantasy stories. Granted, this is essentially just soap boxing and not very productive. Sorry about that, but if you are writing a story it might be something to think about. Why not put a girl in the lead? Just, when you do, treat her with the same respect and care you would your original male lead.

Happy Gaming.

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