Writing Women: Worthy of Criticism
Greetings once again. Today I return to the blog to re-examine a topic I have touched on before- writing a good female character. Previously, I’ve stated how I learned to write a female character by focusing on them as characters, and not placing much emphasis on them being female. What brings me back to the topic is some recent criticism published about the current Wonder Woman comic. These critics accused the writers of making the Amazons into xenophobic killers, incapable of leading themselves, and how Wonder Woman has been changed into a character hating her current roles as a hero, the Amazon Queen, and the new God of War. The reviewer, Grant Raycroft, goes even further, saying that DC has mishandled Wonder Woman in the last four years, and calls the current book “one the comic book reader doesn’t deserve.”
These are harsh criticisms, but they do highlight something I noticed in reviews of another series I’ve discussed here, Legend of Korra. While I still have mixed feelings on the series itself, one aspect that I did applaud it for was centering it around a young female hero in Korra. However, I found Korra’s flaws outweighed her positive traits- she was headstrong, resolved too many problems with her fists, looked to others for approval, and just seemed ill-suited to the responsibilities of being her world’s hero. Now, while I found many fans online that agreed with me, the critical reviews largely praised Korra, and did not mention the flaws I saw. Obviously, difference of opinion is always a factor. But I found it strange at the time and more so now, as many reviewers have shared Raycroft’s feelings concerning the current Wonder Woman creative team and their direction.
So why does this matter? To begin with, Wonder Woman is an icon, one that has largely been used as symbol for women’s rights. Her portrayal is taken more seriously and has more impact as a whole. Therefore, when she is not portrayed well, the response is voiced quickly and loudly. Wonder Woman is a landmark in an often male-dominated medium, and despite bumps along the way, has kept that status. But what is it that lets Korra escape many of these criticisms, despite having many flaws of her own?
Simply put, because the world of entertainment tends to be male-dominated. Just looking at the superhero genre, there have been few superhero films that feature women. Even after making it to the screen, Black Widow has been a supporting character in both of her film appearances. And many times, female-led comics are done in such a way to simply attract the male readers through sex appeal, or make them seem less then some male counterpart. Obviously, there are exceptions, such as the new Ms. Marvel, but it tends to make the idea of a positive female lead seem somewhat revolutionary. So when a show like Korra comes along, many want to support it, and show they do want to see a female lead.
But that is the problem as well. Because of that lack of publicity, it can be hard to say you dislike these new female leads. Others can easily accuse a critic of hating women, or refusing to change with the times. So there is something of a need to publicly support these female leads, even when they don’t live up to the ideals they champion. But that makes these women seem inferior, like they can’t be judged to the same basic character standards we apply to male leads. So what do we do about it?
For writers, I will reiterate my stance on women as characters rather then gender examples. And I will add that if you think writing a female lead is all you need to grab attention, you’re wrong. A female lead needs all the good character traits we expect- imperfections, goals, and far more depth then ‘toughness’ or ‘evil’. If you want to show them as equal to men, then write the story that way. Balance strength with sensitivity in everyone. Let the men save the women AND the women save the men. And for critics, when writers fail to do these things, don’t be afraid to tell them. Women can take anything men can.