College is a time for students to develop new ideas and opinions that will define them for the rest of their lives. If there’s one single idea that has popped up continuously in my first two years of class, it’s that women deserve way more respect than we give them. There isn’t a single thing separating men from women when it comes to being a strong protagonist save for the writers themselves. Oh, and did I mention that HBO’s Girls came back this week? God be damned, you just have to watch Girls if you’re looking for some strong female protagonists being awful to each other and everyone around them. What we’re highlighting here isn’t just the entire gender of female, but a few shining examples of it being portrayed powerfully and fairly in pop culture.
Beyond Good & Evil: Well-regarded as one of the best games that nobody played, Ubisoft’s 2003 adventure game Beyond Good & Evil is exactly the type of game that we need in the gaming landscape today. It harkens back to the best 3D Zelda games with its open world and clever dungeon designs, it respects the player’s time with plenty of substantive activities and secrets to discover, but most importantly, it treats its own story with the proper respect. You play as Jade, a photojournalist in a fantasy world that resembles a less futuristic, more primitive version of The Fifth Element, and you’re on the case of unraveling a totalitarian government conspiracy against the anthropomorphized animals of your world. Jade is never sexualized or treated as a gender-neutral character. She never uses her body to evade trouble, and she never has to rely on her strong male counterparts to do what she can’t. Armed with nothing but a camera, some mean staff-fighting skills, and a thrill for adventure, Jade is exactly what all female protagonists should strive to emulate. It also helps that her adventure is lengthy and fun, even if it was cut short by a cliffhanger and little potential for a sequel.
A Song of Ice and Fire: One of my favorite series is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. This is better known as The Game of Throne Series. The setting is somewhat medieval, with knights, castles, and kings, but the women are portrayed in a surprisingly human way. Martin has been asked about how he makes his literary females so compelling and strong. Martin’s response is to say that he just writes the females as if they were regular people. Martin avoids the hyper sexualization of characters that his fellow fantasy writers often succumb to, sheerly due to his ability to write the women as real characters. From Cerci Lannister to Sansa Stark, the women are powerful, capable, and use their sexuality for their own benefit. While there are a few sex scenes, they are all given a purpose, and what’s more, a real voice.
A link to the first book: http://www.amazon.com/Game-Thrones-Song-Fire-Book/dp/0553573403
Kissing Jessica Stein: I think we all have those films that we see the poster for every time we log into Netflix, and then one day we decide “To Hell with this, I’ll just watch it.” A couple days ago, I had just that kind of a moment with Kissing Jessica Stein, and I don’t regret that decision one bit. Going into this movie I knew next to nothing, except that there would be kissing and there would be a girl named Jessica Stein. The lack of a comma also indicated, although implicitly, that this mysterious Jessica Stein would be somehow involved in the kissing. It turns out that this assumption was correct, as Kissing Jessica Stein is a kind of off-beat romantic comedy in which the protagonist, Jessica Stein, tentatively embarks on a lesbian relationship with a bisexual art gallery director named Helen. Oh, and Jessica is a flaming heterosexual. Nowadays that kind of blasse treatment of homosexuality may come off as offensive, and I guess that elevator pitch sounds like the worst blend of chick flick and Lifetime movie you can think of, but the film itself has an under-budget, quietly urban style to it. The characters feel realistic (despite the somewhat far-fetched circumstances), and I left the movie with a distinct sense of satisfaction. If you’re looking for a movie with some strong women and an undeniable charm, you should give Kissing Jessica Stein a chance. Oh, and Jon Hamm’s in it for like two minutes, so that’s fun.
If you haven’t had your fill of strong female protagonists after all of that, look no further than the combined works of Joss Whedon. The man has a knack for putting women in good, non-sexualized roles, and he’s both done and been the subject of many convention talks about this exact thing.
Here’s his speech on gender equality from 2006: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYaczoJMRhs
Here we see Joss in his natural habit, Comic-Con, discussing strong female characters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7YKYAe0jo4
And let’s wrap up the Round-Up with a video of Eliza Dushku discussing how amazing Joss is at writing female characters at Fan Expo 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7C-Zp5xmV8