Imagine you are a different person.
Not just a different version of yourself, maybe smarter, or stronger, or with magic powers, but a different person entirely. A different gender, race, sexuality, religion. Imagine you grew up rich, or dirt poor. Imagine you are an Armenia teenager who helps his widower father run a stall at a fish market. Imagine you are your next door neighbour. Imagine you are China’s first transgender ballerina. Imagine you grew up consuming different media, fancying different people, being called by different pronouns.
Can you imagine the entire inner and outer life of a person whose experience is completely different from yours?
This is the exercise that writers are asked to undertake. Unless we choose to write very true to our own experiences, then we have to be able to get inside the heads of people who are different to us. Sometimes these characters need little more than a basic wire framework of experience and personality. However, central characters need to be more than just a cardboard cutout. They need life, and that life generally requires some note of authenticity.
There are some very basic tenants or characterisation that any not-completely-awful writer will know; things like not reducing a character to a single trait or quirk, not making them a stereotype, and ideally, not defining them entirely through their relationship to another character. It can be a little more difficult to write ‘authentic’ emotions, but this is where the writer employs both their own experience and their ability to empathise (fairly essential to the majority of quality writing). As long as the author has experienced a reasonably wide range of emotions – happiness, anger, embarrassment, grief – they should be able to project their emotions onto their characters.
There are some emotional experiences, however, that can be extremely difficult to write accurately if the author has never experienced them. Empathy can only extend so far when it comes to accurately representing experiences such as: being an adopted Asian child growing up in a white Australian family; depression, schizophrenia, or any other mental illness; the tension of being a woman walking alone at night or the constant feeling of being watched and judged that comes with being female; the body dysmorphia that many trans people experience; being a homosexual child trying to figure out their crushes and whether or not they are ‘normal’.
Even if these experiences do not occur within the story itself, they will affect the lives of the characters, their personalities and how they behave. Can a writer who has not had these experiences convincingly write a character who has inevitably had them as a part of their life?
It is not impossible for an author to write outside of their own emotional experiences. Many writers do it well. But it is far, far easier for a queer woman to write a straight male than it is for a straight male to write a queer woman. Why?
The stories of straight, white, cisgender men are everywhere.
Big beefy male action heroes, skinny male nerds, sensitive male musicians, wise, elderly male professors, unhinged male psychopaths, compelling male assholes, evil male villains, average joes, guys-next-door, male athletes, male politicians… the narrative landscape of our society is a veritable cock forest. Just about every possible model for ‘straight, white, cis dude’ has been done a hundred thousand times. Churning out a male character becomes almost second nature given just how often audiences are expected to identify with each and every one of them. That doesn’t mean they are bad characters, or that writing them is inherently lazy – rather that it is much easier to write a good male character with so many variations to build upon.
The dearth of other narratives means that writers must build much more on experiences that may be alien to them in order to create their characters. This requires a good deal of empathy and skill, and is often where many writers can tend to fall flat on their faces.
Because of the lack of wide variation in, say, female characters, writers who learn from those who’ve come before them can often end up regurgitating sexist tropes. Female characters can end up having their personalities revolve around the fact that they are female, i.e. they exhibit only traits associated with stereotypes of femininity (irrational moodiness, superficiality, mothering, etc.). While not always bad, these sorts of characters are usually pretty terrible and can bring down a narrative with otherwise well-written (male) characters. (The best way around this, of course, is to recognise the fact that women are multi-faceted people who can possess a variety of strengths and personalities and still be interesting, well-rounded people. Game of Thrones is an excellent example of a show which contains a wide range of unique, powerful women.)
An alternative to this can be to write a character with a neutral model. This is sometimes done in films and video games, and has been responsible for some excellent female characters (Ripley from the Alien films was written this way, and she frequently ranks highly on feminists’ lists of best female characters). However, there is a limit to the sorts of narratives these ‘neutral’ characters can inhabit; sometimes plots are about a character’s gender, or race, or sexuality, and while gender may be irrelevant in a sci-fi or dystopia, it probably makes a difference in stories about the American Civil War or a romantic dramedy set in a Catholic high school (these are also stories in which gender by necessity intersects with issues of race/sexuality/etc., other issues generally irrelevant to the narrative of the straight, white, cis dude). Gender and race are also usually fairly visible in ways other traits may not be. While no character should be defined by their sexuality or their gender identity or their faith, these issues shouldn’t be invisible; the “Dumbledore was gay all along” model is a fairly lazy method of representation and is unlikely to get your writing a tick from anyone other than well-meaning straight people.
Ultimately, the best way to write a character outside of our own experiences is to do a lot of research, and never presume to be able to tell the story of someone with different experiences to us better than someone who has had those experiences. If you think it’s too much effort to research what it’s like to be trans and think you do a better job all on your own (looking at you, Jeffrey Eugenides), then think about the amount of time you’ve spent researching the Middle Ages, or how planes work, or how to dispose of a body, or how to survive a gunshot wound, all for the sake of a throwaway line in a story you stuck in a drawer. If we can do all that to provide authentic details, then we can research a character at least well enough that we aren’t going to misrepresent and offend an entire group of people.
It may be impossible to write a character that isn’t you in a way that is truly convincing. That doesn’t make you a bad writer. Writers are also not necessarily obligated to write characters who aren’t straight, white, cisgender males. We don’t have to write anything we don’t want to write. But if we really want to try to be good writers, then we probably should.
While the spin-off show from Once Upon a Time hasn’t been getting the greatest reviews, I think there’s something to be said for the feminism in the last episode I watched. Yes, it’s been awhile since it aired, but I’m just catching up now! It’s been a busy year.
Let’s back-track for the non-Once Upon a Time watchers out there. Basically, the initial show involves fairytale characters who had been thrown back into the real world because of the evil queen’s nasty spell that she cast to punish Snow White because she hates her so. The show flicks back and forth through time and fairy tale worlds, weaving together all the Disney fairy tales rather cleverly. At first I was really disappointed that the show didn’t take more from original fairy tales instead of drawing on Disney’s bastardisation of them – then I realised the show is actually made by Disney.
And they did make Mulan bisexual, so hey, let’s leave that be for now.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland was a sort-of spin-off. I say sort-of because we haven’t actually seen any characters from the original show here, not even any cameos or mentions of them (apart from a brief mention of the Mad Hatter, who appears in a few Once Upon a Time episodes). However, it uses the same sort of cannon – Alice has been to Wonderland, one of the many fairy realms. In fact, she’s been there twice, since the second time she wanted to come back with proof. Instead, she fell in love with a genie called Cyrus, who was being hunted by the Queen of Hearts and Jafar (yep, Aladdin’s Jafar from Agraba).
When Cyrus was captured, Alice returned to the real world without proof and was thrown into a mental institution. Where, of course, the white rabbit and the Knave of Hearts come and rescue her…back to Wonderland to rescue Cyrus.
There in itself, I’m pretty pleased. Yes, she’s a damsel that has had to be rescued, but she takes charge of the situation and flips it around to start a rescue mission of her own.
I’ll admit, the first few episodes didn’t really have me hooked – but I just watched the fourth episode (yes, I know I’m behind) and I’ve been mulling over the female characters here and I’m actually rather pleased.
It might become a bit more of a hefty article if I wrote EVERYTHING that I liked about the feminism in this show, so let me just explain what I think are the two most awesome bits, then you can comment if you agree/disagree/have a point to make about any of them:
Firstly, we have both a female and male villain – and, funnily enough, it is the male villain that is much more one-dimensional than the female villain. She’s not simply a woman scorned, she’s a woman who has done the scorning, and she shows frequent lapses in her evil-ness. The female villains in both this show AND the original show exhibit a much more multifaceted nature than most original Disney female villains. And a lot more motivation that simply, “I’m jealous of the prettier girl who’s going to end up killing me.” Jafar, on the other hand, is led by simple greed and revenge – which is still poor, but from the feminist lens, a refreshing take on the male villain.
Secondly, Alice is always saving men. She’s constantly saving the Knave of Hearts from sticky situations and is the clear leader of the pack. It’s her ‘quest’ and she leads the Knave around with strength and determination. She has every bit of the strength of the alpha male, without truly losing her femininity. She’s delivers a punch to the Queen of Hearts, and she hits like a girl, which is damn freaking hard!
I’m also really liking how they talk about whether Alice has become a woman or is still the little girl she used to be when she first visited Wonderland. That’s pretty awesome because they keep the vernacular feminine, while exhibiting that a woman can become tough and strong as she grows – without having to “grow balls” or “be a man” as the catch-phrases often go these days.
I’m impressed with the feminism in the show, and it’s one of the reasons I’m going to keep watching – because the visuals are definitely nothing to rave about and the story isn’t really grabbing me yet. Though genie Cyrus eye-candy is another reason to keep watching…
What do you think? Feminism in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland good or bad?
A rather amusing look at what the jungle of straight club hooking up would look like were the (stereotypical) roles of women and men to be reversed. It’s not a sausage fest, but “a taco fest in here” (that’s my favourite line).
This is just the first in the series from Yahoo Screen called The Flip Side. There’s so many there to watch!
What do our hetero readers think about the video? I think it’s kinda funny…I’d be amused to see some stereotype LGBT parodies that were like “What if gays were like Lesbians” etc. Someone read this and do it!
Recently we learned that the as-yet-unnamed sequel to ‘Man of Steel’ will add another famous face to its lineup of heroes. Laying the foundations for a Justice League answer to the success of Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ film, Warner Brothers have confirmed that Wonder Woman will appear in the 2015 production starring Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill).
Arguably DC’s most iconic and popular heroine, Wonder Woman – a.k.a. Diana Prince – has been a long-time fan favourite; her image recognised and replicated far beyond the comics. It’s been a long time coming, but the Amazonian princess is finally set to debut in her first feature-length, live action film.*
So why are her fans so furious?
While we’ve long awaited her debut on the big screen, we’re less-than-thrilled to learn that she will be second fiddle in someone else’s movie (why are we seeing what feels like the tenth Batman movie before we see Wonder Woman in her first solo?) and the casting of her character.
Here are the two things incredibly wrong about all this:
#1. The ‘sidekick’ status. Wonder Woman is a supporting cast member instead of the leading lady. She has been relegated to the sidelines and, while visibility of women in media is an excellent mark of progress, there are some things only the titular character can enjoy.
Diana has a rich and exciting story which should be explored fully. This is something which would be difficult to include in a story focusing on one other superhero, let alone two. Supporting characters simply do not experience the full development and personal transformation like that of the primary protagonist.
I’ve seen enough movies to know the formula Hollywood works by. Here’s how her scenes will go:
She’ll appear, probably dramatically, just in time to save the day in a skirmish early on in the film. We’ll have a short introduction to her history when the chaos blows over – just enough to produce a general idea of her origins – before we return to the main arc of conflict surrounding Batman and Superman. She’ll have some butt-kicking moments (perhaps even a scene where the enemy is so shocked that a woman has bested him in combat! Gasp!) but ultimately Clark and Bruce will have the final hurrah. Roll credits.
The sad truth is, as long as Wonder Woman is merely a back-up to the big boys, she’ll never be their fully-fledged equal.
How much of Wonder Woman’s part has been scripted solely for the sake of having a female superhero? Will the director celebrate her strength as a woman, or will her scenes be more reminiscient of the fanservice Gadot provided us in The Fast and the Furious? It certainly makes you wonder when the film’s casting agents asked specifically for “exotic”-looking actresses for the role. Tokenism and the fetishization of women of colour are very harmful forces which the film industry has only recently begun to address. It would be a shame to take a backwards step.
Let’s check out the second point of contention:
#2. Gadot’s ‘model material’ body. Diana’s muscular frame are more than just for show, they are part of her intrinsic character; strong, proud and powerful – a legendary Amazonian warrior endowed with godly powers. Her presence is meant to be commanding.
The problems of a very thin Wonder Woman on her own are doubled when we then think about her alongside other heroes. Instead of standing tall and strong like the titular heroes Batman and Superman, this Wonder Woman will quite literally be half their size (even whilst teetering in what will likely be high heels).
Such a difference in frame shrinks her physical prowress and presence in comparison to her male peers, reinforcing the idea that women are the ‘lesser’ heroes in capability and in appearance.
Intentional or not, Warner Bros. has made a major statement in their decision to cast an actress with such a thin figure. If Wonder Woman can’t appear onscreen played by someone bigger than size zero, who can?
It seems that her inclusion is an attempt to toss as many recogniseable characters as possible into the movie in hopes of recreating the success of Marvel’s Avengers. This incarnation of Wonder Woman seems to be making an appearance merely to appease viewers calling for female superheroes to be given their due. Warner Bros. will tell us that this is something we should be happy with; isn’t it nice, how she helped the main characters succeed? Shouldn’t we be satisfied that Wonder Woman helps the boys save the day?
But this is not what we have been asking for. This is not good enough. This is second-best and Warner Bros. knows it.
Wonder Woman’s name isn’t included in the title. She’s yet to appear on posters or official promotional material. She will be half their size and will receive half their screen time.
Wonder Woman is not “starring alongside” Batman and Superman. This is their movie and it will be their story; their journey, their obstacles to overcome and ultimately, their triumph.
So until she is given what she deserves – a film of her own – Wonder Woman fans will just have to raise our voices a little louder!
Disclaimer: GayGeek is pleased that Gadot is expanding her career horizons and wishes her all the best. The only regret felt here is at Warner Brothers’ treatment of Wonder Woman the character and their obstinate refusal to give female DC heroines the same chance as their male peers to star onscreen.
*Preceded only by a Lego toy in her image in the upcoming LEGO movie (which ALSO has Batman set to play a more central role).
Disarming the vulva or just…kinda gross. Ok – so this Melbournian artist is up in Darwin performing this piece called “Casting off my womb”. She takes a skein of wool, inserts it into her vagina and then pulls out a thread and begins knitting with it…
She literally sits there and knits away…even through her menstrual cycle. As in, there are going to be bits where the wool is going to be covered in her menstrual fluid.
Ok, I get it, it’s meant to exhibit how the vagina and the womanly parts of the body are hardly a terrifying thing (something many gay men, I’m pretty sure, would point to their nightmares and disagree heartily) but really…is this really an effective way of making the vagina less…fearsome?
Call me an uncultured douchewad but I’m just not seeing how this ‘art’ is really an amazing act for feminism. She says that to her, the act became something a bit “boring” and “natural” but I hardly think that it’s a perfectly natural, nor boring act, to be knitting from yarn coming from your vagina.
If this woman said that she wanted to shock people, to confront people with the realities of a vagina, with the reality that every human being came through the same gateway that the yarn came through, then I might think more of this work. To say that this piece is trying to associate the vulva with something “boring” and “benign” by pulling yarn through it…that just doesn’t seem like what’s happening here at all.
What do you think? A feminist step or just another weird thing some artist is doing?
I am glad that this tumblr, Who Needs Feminism, exists. It has reminded me (and I think brought awareness to many others) that feminism isn’t just about the big issues (e.g work rights) but about female representation in society. It doesn’t just affect other’s people’s mindsets but also our own. We are subject to sexism but we can also perpetuate it. The images below shows you that you don’t have to be male, to be sexist towards female kind. This isn’t victim blaming, but a certain truth that people have yet to contemplate.
A gentle reminder to reevaluate who perpetuates it and how it is perpetuated. Men, question your taste levels and ideas. Ladies, some of us need to start thinking differently as well! I thoroughly recommend looking at the tumblr to see what campaigns are running and maybe even start your own.