Musings: Strong Women in Popular Media

Let me tell you outright.   This isn’t a top 5 list of the most groundbreaking trend setting strong women in fiction.  This is simply my take on a topic that has been buzzing around the internet.  Strong Female characters in fiction.

Instead of going into a diatribe on my opinions on the matter I figured it would have more impact if I simply stated my feelings on some female characters on various media I read / watch currently.

Here we gooooo:

The Walking Dead (AMC Series) : Andrea.

From zero to bad ass in three episodes.

Laurie Holden caught my eye first as an actress when I saw the Silent hill movie when she was playing as Cybil Bennett, a police officer in a small town in West Virginia.  Not to mention she was one of the few actresses that struck me as genuinely attractive.   I really don’t make it habit to go gaga over actresses and this was a stark exception.

When I started watching the Walking dead in 2010 her character stood out.  If not for the eagle eyes and actual attention paid to the casting list of my significant other, I would have never put two and two together that it was the same woman.

Andrea starts the story the same way everyone else does: Confused, angry and frustrated.  She makes good choices and bad among them siding with the volatile Shane.  She manages to take his extremist approaches and filters them into something usable rather than just follow him blindly.   She also manages to maintain a pretty high badass quota.

There are times I hate Andrea and times I find her endearing.  She was at her best in the back end of the farm conflict.   I don’t want to give anything away for people that haven’t seen the show.

Street Fighter 4 / Marvel vs. Capcom 3: C. Viper

I think I would be better behaved if my mother had the capacity to generate electrical charges.

I figured I’d get this out of the way since I know I’m going to get crap for this.   C(rimson) Viper is as much of a ‘problem’ as she is a boon when it comes to how women are portrayed in video games.  But let me focus on why she’s actually a good character.

Viper is a secret agent, ass kicker and single mother.  When you start fights with her she frequently consoles her little girl via Cell phone before laying down the gadget laden smack down.  It also helps that she is an arguable proxy for one of my favorite Capcom Characters, Captain Commando.  Funny that she actually does what he does… better.

Viper is a character that grows on you, mechanic wise and visually.   She is currently the most technical character in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, just using and winning with her gains you instant props for being a bad ass.   At first I thought she was another chip on the pile for bad Capcom female characters but if you look at her closely you realize she’s pretty unique.  I just don’t understand why her agency budget doesn’t cover dress shirts that fit.

A Song of Ice and Fire: Arya Stark

What do you say to those that misrepresent potentially powerful women? “… not today.”

Yes.   Little Arya remains my favorite female character in this meaty fantasy series by George RR Martin.  Simply put she personifies that even if you are small and helpless doesn’t automatically make you useless and weak.   I think a lot of sword swinging plate-kini clad warriors could learn a thing or two from her.  I just hope she doesn’t start donning said plate-kini once she gets older, it would be a great disservice to the character.

There are a fair number of honorable mentions in the story too.   Two predominant ‘villains’ in the story Cersei and Melisandre have a serious love to hate vibe and Daenerys comes into her own once she stops rolling around on the ground lamenting in her fate and starts lining people up for some Dragonborn ball kicking sessions.  She still irritates me sometimes.

Arya is my favorite because of consistency.   Maisie Williams does a great job capturing her spunk and actually makes a convincing little boy when the time is appropriate in the TV interpretation.  From the moment she is introduced you have a feeling she’s one to watch.   It made me glad when I continued reading, I found that I was exactly right.

Gintama: Kagura

That stuff does not look appetizing.

For those of you that don’t know.   Gintama is an anime I hold in very high regard.   It is a gag series that parodies frequently, relies on toilet humor, and is generally offensive.   However it manages to be heartwarming and heart wrenching when it chooses to be.  Kagura is a rare breed of female character.   You could call her a ‘tom-boy’ but that’s not exactly accurate.

Kagura is blunt, crass, is rarely seen not eating sukonbu (pickled seaweed).  What makes her a fun character is that she is effectively the polar opposite of about 90% of women in anime.  A lot of her quirks can be attributed to the fact she looks up to the main character as a big brother / father figure and he is no saint himself, but it’s nice to see some lines being stepped over.

As a supporting character in a gag series she isn’t well developed in terms of her back story but for what the series is, she’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Avengers: Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff)

She’s basically a professional troll. U mad bro?

I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to see Black Widow represented as well as she was in  The Avengers movie.  I will spare you comic book nerd rants and just focus on her movie incarnation played by Scarlett Johansson.

Without busting out spoilers, I will say that there were some great moments with Natasha in the movie including not one but two great ‘sike!’ moments.   You have to respect a movie that prods fun at the habit of fiction to make women ‘fall apart’ in the face of vulnerability.   Her dealings with Loki I found particularly amusing.  Then again… many of the best parts involved Loki.   Hulk vs. Loki will remain one of the best fights in movie history.

Back to the subject at hand, Black Widow shines in that she is a normal human amongst super powered titans like Thor and Iron Man.   That alone makes her far more impressive in my eyes than most of the other cast.   Her and Hawkeye definitely kicked any notion that they didn’t belong there through the goalposts a few times.

Again, I’m not claiming that these are the pinnacle of strong female characters just ones I feel that make some sort of step in the right direction.   Some fields are richer than others by default.  The Video game scene in particular really doesn’t represent either sex in an intelligent light, and by default the whole ‘save the princess’ mentality has put a deep shade over the topic.   Recent events regarding the gaming community’s treatment of women can be pretty scary…

The fantasy genre has been pretty man-centric in its habit to mirror how things were in medieval times.   Some authors find it difficult to be progressive when they use these societies as a base.   Can you really blame people that are writing historical based fantasy that have hundreds of noble houses?

Television thrives on exploiting women; no one can begin to deny this.   Instead of trying to fix the problem there is usually a balance of exploiting men more often to balance the scales a bit.   I find taking TV with a grain of salt makes it a great deal more bearable.

Anime is just… anime.   I don’t think there will be much in the way of improvement on the general quality of female characters especially not in Shonen(Manga/Anime aimed at young men).  Occasionally there are exceptions despite the cultural disposition that influences it, but overall Anime could make even the most patient and understanding woman’s eye twitch.

Movies are all over the place when it comes to portrayal of the fairer sex.  There are enough solid examples of strong female characters to offset it, but movies tend to fall in the same pitfalls as television.  Movies like to make targeted strikes on specific interests since people can just opt to just not see a movie that looks exploitive and obnoxious.   TV can do this too… but it’s a bit more accessible.

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