On Female Characters and "Bad Writing"

It seems like every other day I'm rushing to the defense of female characters in television and movies, and perhaps that is because I am physically and mentally incapable of letting anyone who insults a woman go without a lecturing.... but this is actually caused by the pervasive sexism and misogyny in the world around me. There is a reason why people are constantly critiquing female characters, and it is because of sexism and misogyny. There is a reason why female characters are submitted to a summary judgment (that is harsh, often cruel and almost always negative) of their appearance, intellect, character, caliber and sexual choices (I'm looking at you, Chris Evans) and it is because of sexism and misogyny.

I do this thing where I separate characters from the writing, and it's not because I'm trying to be cute or make excuses- I do it because it is a necessary method of evaluation. Take Nyota Uhura, of the original Star Trek series. She didn't have a story like the male characters did and yet Uhura is arguably the most important character in science fiction, and that is because of her inclusion, because of HER, not because of the writing. If you cling to the writing, Uhura is entirely unimportant. Now flip it around (my best friend Jade loves to use Buffy The Vampire Slayer as an example here)- in BTVS, Joss Whedon had Spike attempt to rape Buffy, which became a plot device used for The Redemption of Spike. That is sexist, and that is coming entirely from Joss Whedon's writing, not from Spike. 

I'm going to talk about Captain Kathryn Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager, because she's a great example of the point I'm trying to make. Out of the five main captains, she is the captain I hear being negatively critiqued the most, and she is also the only female captain. The only time Captain Kirk, Captain Archer and Captain Picard are ever critiqued is to say that one is better or to say that one is a womanizer, which then leads to them being praised for it. This is entirely because men are not subjected to the same criticism or held under the same light of scrutiny that women are. People attack Captain Janeway's morals, her character, each decision she made, when in reality she did the same shit that all of the men did. The only other captain I hear critiqued on the same level as Captain Janeway is Captain Benjamin Sisko, who is also the only captain who is a person of color. Why do you think that is? Why do you think that the only two Star Trek captains who are EVER attacked are a black man and a woman? This is because of RACISM and SEXISM and whether you want to admit it or not, that's what it is. 

So, back to the writing. People tend to hide behind the argument "well, the writing for X female character was bad". Now why do you think that is? Why do you think writers put so much thought, effort and care into the writing of male characters, and they don't do the same for female characters? The argument implies that writers have somehow transcended sexism. It implies that writers are immune to the institutionalized and internalized sexism and misogyny that is ingrained into all of us from birth, and that sexism and misogyny don't influence the writers' interpretation of women or the way that they write female characters. It implies that media isn't influenced by society and that sexism isn't thriving in the world around us. So, sure dude, you can say that the writing for a female character is bad... It must be really nice to not have the characters representing you tinged with the sexism and misogyny that is prevalent in society. 

Now, people LOVE to hit me with the argument "if you're a feminist, how can you like these female characters if their writing is influenced by sexism and misogyny?" Give me a second while I roll my eyes. If I stopped liking every show or movie that has sexism, there would be nothing left, because sexism is in everything, it's everywhere, it's all around us. This brings me back to Star Trek- you can in fact praise progress, which is what characters like Captain Janeway and shows like Voyager represent. This is why it becomes necessary to detach female characters from the often sexist writing and let them be bigger than the writing and give them the praise that they are due. Captain Janeway was THE FIRST FEMALE CAPTAIN TO HAVE HER OWN SERIES. That is amazing! So like, yeah, the writing was sometimes sexist but you don't get to take the huge accomplishment that was Captain Kathryn Janeway and Voyager away from women and diminish it and dismiss her, her character and the show because you "don't think the writing was that good". THAT is sexist.

My least favorite female character in all of television is Seska from Voyager, but if a man tried to insult her in front of me, I would rush to her defense. Everything bad about Seska can be traced back to the sexism in the writing- Seska is the embodiment of the stereotypical "crazy ex-girlfriend", which is a sexist stereotype. Do you see where I'm going with this? 

I will die defending female characters, because everybody else is busy ripping them apart. 

 

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