By now you've probably caught fellow Cinematical writer Dawn Taylor's posts about desiring female Pixar leads and wanting some Bechdel rule-abiding women in Star Trek. Both posts got their share of positive comments, but they also got a slew of knee-jerk reactions and vitriol. I don't want to rehash what Dawn already expressed well, nor get into another argument about specific female characterizations. Instead, I want to look into this neverending trend where any desire for a strong female character leads to complaints and accusations of a political agenda.
Ask for a certain type of female protagonist, discuss inequalities, gripe about the proliferation of poorly developed female characters, and in a flash, comments will pour in with a myriad of political catchwords like: feminist agenda, feminist rants, equality of the sexes, affirmative action, sexist conspiracy, and political correctness. These will be joined by painfully inaccurate sentiments that equate a desire for female success with wanting "every unfulfilled desire," Hollywood bending to charity and catering to specific audiences, wanting to exclude men from film, a lack of acceptance at the equality already reached, and of course, that including strong female protagonists is somehow sacrificing or tainting good work. (All of the reactions mentioned in this paragraph can be found in the comments on Dawn's two posts.)
The fact of the matter is: Wanting interesting and diverse female protagonists is not a political agenda. It's a widespread human trait found in both sexes: the desire to find camaraderie and others who are relatable and recognizable. When Dawn wishes for a less relationship-focused Uhura, or I want some physically strong female butt-kickers, it's a desire to see something different; a desire to see something that feels more real, and often, a desire to feel something a bit more relatable. It shouldn't be reduced to a feminist chant. It's a human desire.
It's no different than minorities wanting to see positive representations of themselves in the media that surrounds them, but this isn't about simply about equality -- it's also about preferences and desires for originality. Why is an inclination for great female protagonists any different than a desire for Hollywood to stop the neverending remakes, musical adaptations, or re-imaginings? How is hoping for Pixar to create a spunky girl lead any different than a fan wanting sequels of their favorite franchises, or a certain director to tackle a certain topic, or a specific actor to be cast in a specific role? Why is griping about the upteenth stripper movie any different than a rant about another tired cliche?
Everyone wants to see themselves and their preferences represented. Put a SciFi geek into a world of romcoms and sports genres and they'll ask for more science fiction on the big screen. Smother a romantic drama fiend in cinematic world rife with action and horror, and they'll whimper for love and heartstring-tugging. Take a Bruce Campbell fan and put them in a world where Keanu Reeves gets every role, and they'll beg for more Bruce roles and more dynamic and comedic leads. It's all relative.
At this point in a conversation about the nature of women in film, we'll often hear something like: "well then, go out and do something about it!" or "If women want more movies about them, they should go make them!" ... so on, and so forth, as if the women of the world are just sitting on their tuckuses, being sarcastic and lazy. Well, a lot of women in Hollywood are trying to do something.
Take someone like Nia Vardalos. She penned an indie sensation, but has to work like mad to get interest in her work, even after the success of a certain female-led film that hit last year. As she wrote for The Huffington Post: "Lately, I've been in meetings regarding a new script idea I have. A studio executive asked me to change the female lead to a male, because... 'women don't go to movies.'" So she points out the success of films like Sex and the City, and the executive calls them "flukes."
Love or loathe Nia, she hits the nail on the head. Women (and men) in Hollywood fight to get better femme-centric films out there, and must contend with any success being a "fluke."
Look, women aren't flukes. We love, we hate, we learn, we fight. We go to movies. We want diversity in our interests just like everyone else. We want to see films with females in the lead roles where the characterization isn't seeped in cliche. We want female protagonists without the movie getting pre-emptively labeled "chick flick," because well-written girls and women are just as relatable to the opposite sex as the great boys and men are to us.
And we'd like to express our desires without having it fall into a political discussion, without our reasonable desire thrown off as a feminist rant or bit of political correctness.