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November 20 2014

Mentions Skye and (early) Willow as examples of a new tech-savvy female stereotype: "women who are smart and competent but in an entirely nonthreatening way."

Probably could apply this to Dr. Jemma Simmons, too.

Ok, this article lost me when they brought up Skye and Willow. They haven't watched the new season of SHIELD or the later seasons of BtVS at all, have they? Skye's barely done any hacking so far, it's all been action spy stuff. Willow also became "the big gun" around the time she picked up magic, enough to raise the dead and take on gods. If these two women are stereotypes, then there really is no hope.
Willow is nonthreatening? Bored now.
blackflamerose- My thoughts exactly. Skye and Willow are two geek girls who have transcended the stereotype and have become much more fully realized characters. Skye has become significantly tougher this season and has definitely taken a more hands on role in SHIELD and Willow was probably the character on BtVS who grew and changed the most throughout the course of the show. Even when her powers weren't all black and veiny, she was still a powerful enough witch to stake a vampire with a pencil.

And the same goes for Jemma, albeit to a lesser degree. She was a spy inside of Hydra, and I don't know if her character would have been able to do that last season. She's growing as the show progresses (as do all characters on our Whedon shows) and while we may never see her as a skilled fighter, she's still proven that she can do more than just geeky tech/science stuff.
If they wanted an example from a Whedon show, there's Ivy on Dollhouse. I imagine they had plans for her if the show had continued ... but I'm still disappointed she never got to do much besides be Topher's assistant. She seemed like a potentially interesting character, but was mostly relegated to geeky sidekick science girl.

I think they're citing Willow as a mostly positive example ... she started out as the geeky girl who understood computers, and then developed far beyond that. But I don't think she really *ever* really fit the mode of "hot geeky sidekick girl" they're talking about. When she was the most geeky, she was an awkward, woefully unfashionable high school kid, which hardly fits with the "hot" part of this trope. She was always a believable, well-rounded character ... not a trope.

I can see the argument a little more with season 1 Skye. I found her really annoying early on--but still, she had her own motivations and her own reason for being on the team. She wasn't just a hot sidekick to some superhero dude ... and she's certainly continued to grow and develop. Skye stopped being annoying hacker girl a looongg time ago.
Skye was positioned as non-threatening tech support by design. Something huge is likely to happen to her to make her much more. You can't based an argument on the Whedonverse on Season 1 alone. Season 1 is usually set up for bigger things.
The writer does point out,
Willow’s computer skills were all but forgotten after Buffy’s third season, when the show delved into exploring the character’s sexuality and magical abilities. She wound up being one of the most interesting, powerful, and scary characters on a show that had plenty of other characters who fit those three qualities.

Just to mention Star Trek, T'Pol was a strong science advisor and 7 of 9 could (wo)manhandle anyone between solving cosmic tasks.
I find it bewildering that Claudia from Warehouse 13 was used as an example in this article at all. She was never "non-threatening." She was always out in the field, doing the dangerous agent work.

Most of the examples given in this article actually prove it wrong. It like the author thought of something, realized that there wasn't much to back it up, then decided to just keep going anyway.

Plus, I don't see anything wrong with Felicity. Yes, the episode focusing on her highlighted her hacking skills. That's because *obviously* that's what they'll focus on. That's her skill. You don't do one Aquaman episode and focus on the year he worked an office job miles from the nearest body of water, you don't do a Green Lantern episode and only showing him doing customer service for Ferris Air, and you don't do a Felicity episode without focusing on the thing that she does better than almost anyone in the world.
Nah. See, Willow's computer skill is a consistent feature through the series, and, more to the point, her skill with magic is very closely related to her intellect and hacking ability -- her creative problem-solving (and trespassing of normal boundaries) that led her to be a great hacker *is* what allows her to be a great (and dangerous) magic-user. AND she still continues hacking into season seven, and the comics for that matter. Something very similar is happening with Skye.
I've always thought Willow's superpower was knowing stuff, which is why her geek-lore and hacker skills translated wonderfully to magic, etc. And the article brings up Willow as proof that these kinds of characters can exceed the stereotype.

That said, I think the author does raise a legitimate danger, though it's hardly limited to hacker girls alone. Any time any writer tries to "transcend gender norms!" by pushing a solitary boundary and keeping the standard damsel-in-distress off-the-shelf-female-character package in every other way, that is indeed a problem. Buffy herself could come close to falling into that trap when she was just a normal valley girl who happened to be able to hit real hard. Of course she grew out of that, but not every "badass female character" does.

Still, as other comments here show, the geeky girl stereotype may be more of a hypothetical problem than an actual one, or better shown with other examples.
Isn't TV also replete with men who are similarly smart and competent in a completely non-threatening way? I'm not sure this actually cuts along gender lines. Typically, supporting or ensemble characters in this genre (regardless of gender) have a particular area of expertise they excel in while being somewhat one dimensional so as to not show up a main protagonist or to allow them to be complemented by other members of the team. Even for the shows mentioned, there are other female characters who are more action oriented, but less likely to be doing the hacker/science thing. I do think the "damsel in distress" trope still rears its head on occasion, but I wouldn't necessarily make this particular connection.
Imo sounds like someone has very little comprehension/appreciation for just how dangerous and powerful computers can be.
I do think there's still an unsettling lack of strong women in TV and film in general and genre projects in particular. As much as I love Joss' work on Buffy it's kind of sad that when the topic of "female superheroes in the media" is brought up one of the few notable examples is a low budget TV show that aired ten years ago (!) on a minor network. Again I love seasons 2-5 of Buffy, but both DC and Marvel have massive reservoirs of great female characters (and poorly developed female characters that could be turned into great characters, like Bruce Timm's reshaping of Mr. Freeze). There's just no excuse, really.

Before my next points I want to state that I'm 26, I'm a white male and I'm a christian. So I know absolutely nothing about discrimination or being a minority first-hand. I apologize in advance if any of my opinions are offensive, ignorant or uninformed.

Having said that, I have a few problems with the article:

1) Since when is a strong woman defined by how much "ass" she can "kick"? Don't get me wrong. I love ass-kicking male AND female characters. I am a geek after all. But what about Lorelai and Rory Gilmore? Or C.J. Cregg on The West Wing? Or C.C.H. Pounder's amazing (and sadly Emmy-snubbed) portrayal of Claudette Wyms on The Shield? They're arguably the strongest characters on their respective shows and they kick little-too-no ass. Nary an "ass kicking" in sight.

2) The writer has a problem with female techie characters? Why? I don't think this makes Felicity Smoak or early Willow or Simmons weak. Nor does it make male versions of the hacker and/or supportive sidekick weak. Xander, Lorne, Wash, Fitz, Alfred, Lucius Fox, etc. These are not weak characters. Some genre characters (male AND female) are warriors. Other genre characters (male AND female) fight the good fight in other ways. That doesn't make them weak. Physical strength isn't the only (nor most important) form of strength. Having said that, I DO have a problem with the damsel-in-distress trope.

3) So is the author's proposed solution to eliminate the female sidekick archetype altogether? That's just a step backwards, as those roles would then only be filled by men. Or is the proposed solution to make all the roles in genre projects female? That seems to be kind of limiting storywise, unless you're adapting something like Y: The Last Man. I'm really confused about the point of this article. Other than to waste our time instead of kickstarting an important and (sadly) still much needed conversation about the real legitimate problems regarding the lack of strong women in media.

[ edited by JesusSavedIn01 on 2014-11-21 14:54 ]
Felicity's feats with computers seem more like magic than science most of the time. The Arrow writers count on the audience's willing suspension of disbelief in episode after episode. This weakens the character.

It's especially off-putting since nowadays, so many more people know how computers actually work than they did during the early seasons of Buffy. Joss could have gotten away with much more, but (unless I'm forgetting something major) he didn't go down that path.

Buffy also showed us the incremental growth of Willow's courage, and the best part is that it all happens in a Willow-like way. She doesn't whine about wanting to be included more in the action; she devises her own, uniquely useful forms of action. She breaks in to the Mayor's office, steals pages from the Books of Ascension under threat of capture (and it must have been a big deal for her to tear pages out of any book). There's the wonderful pencil staking that someone mentioned earlier, and later, an almost equally wonderful pun about it (wanting to lift something bigger than a pencil ...). -- In season five Buffy takes an evening to care for Joyce, and Willow stakes two vampires in one outing, rescuing both Giles and Xander--then as they walk away together, unhurt, her knees buckle. That's Joss paying attention. And she takes on Glory with full knowledge of who and what Glory is.

I can think of only one comparable, real-seeming, heroic feat by Felicity--the business with the antidote at the climax of the second season--and it was heroic on a personal emotional level as well, because of her real feelings for Oliver, and because she had to improvise a crucial role that she could only guess in the moment. That was very well done, and the writers trusted the audience enough to let it play out without explanation.

[ edited by mozzarellademon on 2014-11-21 15:05 ]
@JesusSavedIn01 - does ass-kicking have to be physical? I love CJ to bits, and to my mind she delivered one of the most spectacular ass-kickings ever filmed.

I really wish people would stop using "strong" to describe characters. It seems to be a recipe for confusion. If the intended meaning is "interesting", why not use that instead?
@blackmarketbeagle You made me remember how compelling The West Wing is able to make two people yelling statistics at each other. I wish it was still on the air.

Regarding alternatives to strong, how about well developed and complexly imagined?
@blackmarketbeagle I was going by the article which seemed to focus almost exclusively on physical ass-kicking as a sign of being strong, and went with "strong" to try and reference back to the article. What I meant and should have elaborated on (but didn't because I thought my post was long-winded as it was) was that the characters I mentioned in Point 1 were the real heroes of their series. They were the most intelligent, independent, caring and complex people on their shows.

I even look at Claudette (and to a lesser extant Dutch) as the true protagonist of The Shield. Unlike the captain she wasn't corrupt and just trying to use the position for political gain. And unlike Vic and the strike team she wasn't dirty and on the take. She was the show's moral compass. As were Lorelai and Rory (and Luke) on Gilmore Girls and C.J. (and really pretty much the entire cast. It was a really optimistic show.) on The West Wing.

@PaperSock I agree. I think we just want well developed and complexly imagined characters. Any strength (outer or inner) seems to take care of itself when that much thought and care is put into the characters we love.

I'm sorry if I offended anyone. Please tell me anything I'm getting wrong. I really do want to learn and grow from this.

[ edited by JesusSavedIn01 on 2014-11-21 21:06 ]
I don't understand why a female character has to be "threatening" or "ass-kicking" to be worthwhile.

Do we really want stories where choreographed krav maga is the only way anyone ever solves problems?

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