Less than twenty-four hours ago as I write this, I was attending Christine Conradt’s presentation on Creating Strong Female Characters. Going into this, my thought was, “how is creating a strong female character different than creating a strong male character?” The answer is that it is not. This lecture was more about gender biases and how to overcome them.
Every culture has its gender biases, and as writer’s we have them too. A bias is a generalization we have about gender roles. What is a male role and what is a female role. If we create characters that fit into these generalizations, we aren’t creating anything new or different. As writer’s, it is our job to create characters (male and female) that go beyond these roles. That’s how you create interesting characters.
There has been criticism lately that there is a lack of strong women characters is film. Ms. Conradt mentioned that there is actually a test to determine if a film has strong female characters: The Bechdel Test. The test goes as follows: 1) Are there two named female characters? 2) Do they talk to each other? 3) Do they talk about something other than men? Wikipeda has a comprehensive article about this test http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test . But for now, think about it. If two women in a film don’t talk about anything other than men, how deep can their characters be? You may think that is obvious. If two character only talk about one subject throughout a whole story, how believable can those characters be? How three dimensional? Yet most films, according to Conradt and the Wikipeda article fail this test. And in failing, these films make less money than those that pass the test.
So why do these films keep being made? Partly because of the bias producers have. Some feel that the female character can’t save the male character. It makes the male look weak. But that’s the wrong attitude. If you have to make the male character weak to make the female character look strong, then you’re doing it wrong.
Conradt covered a myriad of other topics. Some of them were obstacles writers have to overcome, history of gender roles, helpful and harmful generalizations, and overcoming the feminism trap. Conradt’s powerpoint presentation is available at www.writersstore.com . I would also suggest you look up her website www.christineconradt.com . She has published articles she has written, movie reviews from a story structure standpoint and offers small group seminars and script consulting. You can also check out her Facebook page.
As for the lack of strong women characters in films, I’m not so sure. America Ferrera, Astrid of “How to Train Your Dragon”, has expressed similar concerns. But there is her character in “How to Train Your Dragon 2”. And while her character is not as central as it was in the first movie, Hiccup’s mother, Valka, is. Then there is Anna and Elsa from “Frozen”, and Katniss from “The Hunger Games” movies.
Maybe it’s just the movies I see. What do you think?