This site will work and look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"Sodding, blimey, shagging, knickers, bollocks, oh God! I'm English!"
11945 members | you are not logged in | 23 November 2014




Tweet







October 12 2010

Big Damn Heroines or Female Stereotypes? Overthinkingit's flowchart of female character stereotypes has a few familiar faces.

Is River just a "Badass Waif"? We may have to disagree. On the other hand, the chart originated at overthinkingit.com, so there you go.

I changed the link/entry to the original source, credit where credit is due and all that.
Thanks, Simon, I didn't even think....
River was there? I only saw Zoe.
You know, if a chart like this turns out that large and complex it isn't about sterotypes or tropes at all, really. It's just about "every kind of woman ever written", in which case basically pointless.
That seems to be a very narrow definition of a strong female character (in my opinion). Still, it was interesting to look over.
Well, the interesting thing to me is that River and Zoe apparently fail the the author's SFC TestTM and that is how they made it onto this chart in the first place. Because:

This flowchart focuses on the one- and two-dimensional female characters we see over and over again in modern fiction.


So are River and Zoe really one or two dimensional? I think I'm gonna go off and think about it. She might have a point. Do they have their own wants? Do we know anything about their own motivations? Do they make self-oriented choices for themselves? Do they have any explored dynamic relationships outside of their primary family connections (husband and brother)? Zoe does have Mal but... it does seem to consist mostly of "Yes, sir." and "Sir, you may want to consider..."

Hmmm...
She might have a point. Do they have their own wants? Do we know anything about their own motivations?


I think the standard party line is that you only have half a season to go on. Is that an acceptable defence? To some yes because you can argue that Joss and co would have intended to do Zoe-centric plots had the show carried on, to others no because you have look at what actually got produced.
Were Buffy and Willow three-dimensional by the middle of Season 1? I think they were, or getting there.
But with Buffy you had a show which had a lead and three supporting characters and it was on a netlet. I think this allowed room for character growth. Whereas Firefly had 9 main characters and it was on a major network. Something hads to give. Are the characters reduced to ciphers as a result? Somewhat, we do get glimpses of character motivations from Mal, Simon and Kaylee but less so from Zoe, Book and Wash.
I find this list a bit irritating. I feel like you could fit every female character in fiction into one of these categories, three dimensional or not.
Whereas Firefly had 9 main characters and it was on a major network. Something hads to give.

Yep, with large ensemble casts the network SOP seems to be to reveal the second tier character backstories fairly slowly (bringing in relatives/old friends or colleagues is a popular approach). Besides which, you could easily make a case for mid-season 1 Willow as being a "Sweet Nerd" for instance by this chart's reckoning (her being three dimensional is - apparently - irrelevant).

You know, if a chart like this turns out that large and complex it isn't about sterotypes or tropes at all, really. It's just about "every kind of woman ever written", in which case basically pointless.

This. Puzzled by three dimensional characters also being stereotypes. Aren't three dimensional female characters pretty much what we're asking for ? Or do they need to be "three dimensional" in a particular way in order to satisfy the criteria ?

(also, having - I think - Gwen Stacy on there as an example of a female character that died before the third act seems a bit unfair. In what sense can ongoing comics be said to have acts at all ?)

Although "Michelle Rodriguez" did make me smile ;). Taken as a bit of fun it's fine, taken as making a coherent, meaningful point, not so much IMO.
I think more than anything what this chart shows is more often than not, female leads and supporting characters have less development that male leads. As b!x was saying it sorta breaks down into every woman ever, and you could do a similar chart for male flat characters, but every story needs at least one dynamic character and said character is usually male. On Firefly, it's Mal, with Buffy it started with her and over the years extended to Willow, Faith, Angel, and Spike.

If Firefly had more time would more "spin-off worthy" characters have emerged? River certainly had an interesting story, but she's so depended by being so broken that her brokenness becomes her being.
So, the only difference between a strong female character and fridge stuffing is whether or not they die before the third act? Would the person who make this chart say the same thing about a male character? I doubt it. And "before the third act" kind of loses its meaning in serialized fiction.
Also, "Is she three-dimensional?" and "does she represent an idea?" are very very vague questions that a lot of the time can't be answered objectively. What defines a character as three dimensional? Where is the line drawn between representing an idea and not representing an idea? Isn't that kind of a spectrum?
And aren't there male equivalents or near-equivalents of most of these "tropes"?
While I think this chart is a very interesting effort, it suffers from at least one major flaw in that its definition of a "strong female character" is only really applicable to characters who have been given the chance to function as central protagonists.

For example, asking "Can she carry her own story?" assumes that the character in question has been given the chance to make the attempt of carrying her own story in the first place, something which most characters are never given the chance to do unless they happen to be the central character in their host fictional continuum* (imo the plight of Zoe.) Similarly the question "Does she represent an idea?" is also problematic since all supporting characters are, by definition, not there to carry their own ideas, but to help support the ideas put forward by their fictional continuum's central protagonist, whose idea representing normally serves as the crux of a given story (eg. River as regards her lack of overall motive - why I'm assuming this chart's author seems to consider her failing the initial criteria.)

It's also worth noting that "Is she killed before the third act?" is almost never applicable to lead characters, but happens all the time to supporting ones, and further skews this chart's conclusions towards metrics of character function rather than how well a character is realized - imo what good characterization is all about. All in all, I think there are some interesting and valid distinctions to be drawn from this chart, but in terms of its actual usefulness insofar as its central topic of what makes a strong female character, I think it could've been overthinked a bit more.



* Imo best made up term ever.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2010-10-13 02:48 ]
Two Golden Girls and Ripley? Is it Opposite Day?
Two Golden Girls and Ripley?

I kind of want to walk up to a bartender and order this.
Someone has way too much time on their hands.
Yeah I thought that 'does she represent an idea' question was a bit odd cus initially I thought, well Buffy does, in a way, I mean Joss always said the idea behind Buffy was about subverting a certain stereotype but that's hardly all Buffy is.

It's an interesting flowchart and I definitely agree there are a lot of problems with the way women are represented on film/tv, I enjoyed the article by the same author here.
There are definitely problems with how women are represented on TV (in fact i'd say there're problems with how people are represented on TV, it's just much worse for women) but to me this chart doesn't highlight them. Taken with brinderwalt's comment about the distinction between supporting and lead characters i'd say what it boils down to is "There aren't enough female lead characters". Which is true but as observations go, not exactly brand new on the face of the Earth (and the circularities, subjectiveness - particularly the muddling of subjective questions like "Is she three dimensional ?" with empirical questions like "Over 35 ?" - and inconsistencies of the chart only serve to distract from that point).

River certainly had an interesting story, but she's so depended by being so broken that her brokenness becomes her being.

Initially. And that's the problem with applying this to 'Firefly' - Whedon characters develop over time and we know from interviews (and 'Serenity') that River wouldn't have remained broken, that, in fact, becoming whole (rather than "being broken") was the focus of her character or at least a major point on her arc.
"Two Golden Girls and Ripley?"

I kind of want to walk up to a bartender and order this.
The One True b!X | October 13, 03:49


Okay that made me laugh.
And I needed the laugh.

You need to log in to be able to post comments.
About membership.



joss speaks back home back home back home back home back home