Friday, February 8, 2013

On the characterisation of females in action

Last night I was watching a new American version of an older British show (it shall remain unnamed and unshamed for now) and I became rather appalled at the lines given to a female who wanted to tramp out into danger in order to check out something of interest. Out of her mouth were coming lines only a male trapped in an early impression of feminist aggressiveness would write. It sounded like a child protesting to a parent that they could do anything so let them. "I can do this", "I won't be in danger" and then the sudden shock of just what the danger means and surprise that her life is in danger.
To be honest it all makes me want to slap hands over my eyes and ears but I don't have enough. The only other solution is to turn off the show but the rest of the show is fairly interesting, so far at least. While clearly not as good as the original series with regards to characterisation, all round, and drama, as the music is muted and bland, I haven't as yet given up. There's some hope it will improve.
Now, the disgust I feel at this characterisation is because it is completely unbelievable that a physically adept woman used to using a weapon or a smart and physically capable woman unused to using a weapon would pronounce with complete assurance while tramping off into danger that all is fine and she doesn't need that much protection. It just wouldn't happen. The woman used to weaponry and action would be cautious and well aware of just how quickly potential danger can turn into a deadly altercation. And the woman who is smart and physically capable would be well aware that she has some weaknesses to be covered by another. Strong women are strong because they react appropriately to a situation, not because they protest loudly, as a child does, that they can do anything. The woman who is left with only slung words is out of her depth and deserving of the bimbo blonde role. My disgust at watching this particular show was that a smart woman, physically capable with a weapon she has competency in wielding, was issuing the babble of an idiot. And she was supposed to be one to look up to.
At the very least I'd hope that a woman would promise that she'd try to keep herself safe rather than protesting that she would be no matter what. One shows a woman seeing reality as it is and then doing her best to get through while the other isn't a woman but a child seeing that the world will do as she says. 
The problem is that this isn't an unusual case. Unrealistic writing for female roles, born mostly of a repetition of cliche lines used since female roles came to include somewhat unfeasible action heroines, is still being produced en masse. And this is in addition to the usual inclusion of a few brainless bimbos (whether blonde or not) and tartlets who usually just babble at the leading male while he surreptitiously rolls his eyes.

So, here are some quick notes on female characterisation for a range of women-in-action roles. They can be mixed and matched and when doing so it is fairly obvious which points will be cancelled out.

Physically strong female

  • Usually trained to some degree and capable of accurately judging her own strength versus another's.
  • Analyses a situation before jumping in.
  • Always looks out for danger out of habit or instinct.
  • Uses other people's weaknesses against them.
  • Shows careful consideration of physical situations.
  • May be a bit more aggressive than sensible.
  • Usually more sensible than aggressive due to the large number of those physically stronger than herself.
  • Capable of covering or working around her own weaknesses better than those physically stronger than herself.
  • Determined to get through any situation.
  • Highly values teamwork as this is one way to work around weaknesses.
  • is NOT the same in character as a physically strong gung-ho male seeking to establish himself. There is mainly adrenaline to contend with rather than a testosterone battle.
  • Is usually more straight forward in her approach to others.
  • Identifies with those of capability not just those in a clique formed of physically strong people.
  • If stuck in a group of men, she is likely to joke and laugh with them, if allowed, but not be the same as them.
  • May not identify with another woman even if there are only two women in a group of men.
  • Is unlikely to run from danger nor barrel in headfirst without thinking and assessing the situation.
  • Very deadly when given a weapon she understands and is adept at using.

Physically weak female

  • Usually untrained but willing to resort to weapons she understands - from keys through to mace or a gun if she has lessons.
  • Usually less aware of what can lead her into danger.
  • Usually more aware of what danger can mean to her and more things in life are a threat.
  • Aware of her weaknesses.
  • Works to cover them up through some bravado in normal situations.
  • Will not attempt anything beyond her capabilities even if she wants to.
  • Will balk at smaller challenges than a physically strong female would.
  • Instinctively looks out for danger but not always as good as a physically strong and trained woman at identifying what is dangerous.
  • Unlikely to say she can do something she can't just to make a point.
  • Does not always understand the aggressiveness of men but can find it attractive if it is in her favour - due to admiration of strength and the perceived safety their presence creates.
  • Can be greatly intimidated by physically strong men approaching her aggressively as there is little she can physically do to fight back successfully.
  • Likely to resort to tricks, if smart, in order to escape danger as she is very willing to use tools and weapons to substitute for physical strength. 
  • More likely to be a quick problem solver, unless incredibly dumb.
  • Unless dumb, will not immediately scream and run when in danger - thereby drawing attention to herself - but rather lie low and think of a solution or an escape route.
  • Will work with whatever she's got to survive.
  • Determined to survive and will do nearly anything to.
  • Will definitely work in a team whenever possible.
  • Potentially deadly when seriously attacked by anyone who expects her to squeal and run.

Smart female

  • Will recognise all weaknesses as a matter of logic.
  • Will work hard to overcome any physical or situational weakness by using tools and weapons.
  • Will always think before acting.
  • Respects the physical help offered or provided by others as she sees it might well be needed.
  • Does not proclaim she can do anything because she thinks she might be able to.
  • More likely to underestimate her survival abilities when in danger and therefore overcompensate - she'd build a bomb where a single bullet is all that's needed.
  • Unsure of her physical abilities due to an understanding of what different experiences and backgrounds ultimately mean.
  • A quick problem solver by nature with greater tools and weaponry options to pull on than the average woman, purely for knowing how to construct or use more tools and weapons - if only theoretically at first. Knowledge is power in this case.
  • Usually needs some time or period of calm, however short, to assess her surroundings in order to come up with a complex solution. If such a situation does not arise then she will pick up and use anything available just as a physically weak female would.
  • Determined to overcome her weaknesses but not assured she will so she will always accept help.
  • Will not scream and run.
  • Will lie low or find a place with the equipment she needs and think of a solution.
  • More likely to respond to danger with force than a physically weak woman. If she is both physically weak and smart though, she will resort to more powerful and complex tools and weaponry - possibly than needed.
  • Will not claim to do what she can't.
  • Good at working in a team and possibly the leader of the team due to her ability to plan ahead with care and an eye towards every one's survival.
  • Very deadly unless she is without the supplies to make tools and weaponry or any pre-made ones.

Dumb female

  • Unlikely to understand what danger truly is until she sees it.
  • Likely to scream and run, thereby calling attention to herself and dying first.
  • May freeze in shock instead of running.
  • Could protest that she's more capable than she is but unlikely to continue to do so when she sees by comparison that she's not as capable as others.
  • Easily put in her place.
  • Once she understands she's far less capable she's unlikely to go wandering off into the danger field. She's more likely to cower and dream up worse situations than what's coming.
  • May be prone to hysteria but can be intimidated into shutting up.
  • Unlikely to survive despite wanting to unless helped.
  • Unlikely to do anything useful to prevent her death unless helped.
  • Is not a child and does understand things once they are pointed out to her.
  • More often than not she needs direction.
  • Incapable of adequately fighting back the strong in a physical altercation.
  • With direction she is capable of using weaponry.
  • Will possibly use tools if she has a moment to think.
  • Likely to die screaming and too panicked to fight.
  • Not very deadly unless directed to be so.

Insane female
  • Depending on the condition she has she may overestimate her abilities due to a fantasy based thought process.
  • More likely to respond violently and irrationally.
  • Fights more instinctually.
  • If smart she will use any weapons and tools she's adept in but will less capable of adapting to a new situation - will not change her fighting style so easily as she's mentally trapped by fantasy and a previous victory.
  • If she's dumb then she's more likely to fight as an animal, losing her higher reasoning in her drive to survive.
  • Often needs help to survive.
  • Will go down fighting.
  • Is more likely to leap into battle than any of the other women.
  • Is less likely to care about any injury received.
  • Very deadly in a one-on-one but unlikely to survive in more complex and difficult situations.

Possible combinations for sane characters

  • Dumb but physically strong - loses the mental aspects and caution of a physically strong fighter but gains a greater ability to survive a one-on-one. May be mouthy if she realises her strength. Likely to be cannon fodder unless helped.
  • Smart and physically strong - the deadliest of them all as no matter the situation she will find a way to survive and is most likely to achieve her goal.
  • Smart and physically weak - more likely to use her mind to overcome any problem. Less likely to believe she's capable of any physical feat and so greatly in need of company if trying to survive a terrain without potential tools or weaponry. Even quicker thinker than a smart and physically strong woman out of necessity.
  • Dumb and physically weak - she dies.

In short, for a female not to be strong in some way shape or form she has to be as thick as a brick. Women tend to rely on their minds a lot more than muscle when in a fight and only extreme fear or stupidity will stop them from coming up with a solution. A physically stronger person may beat them or  the dangerous situation may be too much to handle but the vast majority of women will go down fighting and trying to protect what's important to them.

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