Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Creating Female Role Models

I grew up on pop culture. TV, movies, books, and music have shaped so much of my personality, it's probably a little weird. My sister and I dominate every game of Trivial Pursuit, ever, and I could go into extensive detail about any episode of Law & Order: SVU that has ever aired. You could say pop culture is my thing. 
Luckily, the media has (for the most part) shaped me in terms of my sense of humor and awareness of the people around me. A lot of people would probably talk down how much media exposure I've gotten in my life, but I think it's actually worked to my advantage and given me a lot of the people skills I need to succeed. I'm entirely aware that parts of me subconsciously come from characters I've loved, and I'm okay with it. 
Unfortunately, though, not everyone has the great experiences I've had with television, film, etc. Looking back, I had great fictional role models to grow up with, from Buffy to Hermione to Donna from That 70's Show, all of whom were smart, independent women. Buffy taught me you can kick ass while still liking traditionally "superficial" activities like shopping. Hermione taught me that girls shouldn't dumb themselves down to be liked. Donna taught me never to cut your own dreams short because of a guy. It may seem silly to people that these lessons came from fiction, but they did, and they are lessons I have carried with me into young adulthood.
Buffy: fashionable and ass-kicking are not mutually exclusive
That's why I tend to get passionate when people discuss the issue of female characters in pop culture. Often, I hear the argument that it's not the filmmaker/writer's responsibility to create positive female characters. And while it might not be their responsibility, it would definitely be a step in the right direction toward creating a generation of intelligent, thoughtful young women.
Hermione saving the day, as usual
I remember the first time I ever watched the Twilight movies, and all I wanted was for the end of the movie to come, and for Bella's character to ditch her co-dependent relationship and decide to go to college. But of course she didn't. And in my 21 years of life, I have enough experience to know that the relationship in that movie wasn't healthy- but an eleven year old watching might not get that, and she might try to emulate that later on if she sees Bella Swan as a role model. 

I'm not saying all female characters have to kick ass and take names, or that they can't choose a relationship, I'm just saying they need to be real, and teach young girls real lessons. There's an awesome Natalie Portman quote that I'll include here because there's no way I could articulate it better myself:
"I want every version of a woman and a man to be possible. I want women and men to be able to be full-time parents or full-time working people or any combination of the two. I want both to be able to do whatever they want sexually without being called names. I want them to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad — human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with."
I love this quote because she hits the nail on the head perfectly- a positive female role model doesn't have to be a superwoman who kills the bad guys and saves the day. She can be weak sometimes, and strong other times, and that would set a positive and realistic example for the audiences watching.
So it's not necessarily anyone's responsibility to create these characters. But when we're aiming TV or movies or what have you specifically at a teen or pre-teen audience, think of media's capability for shaping the mind. Showing girls ditzy stock characters doesn't necessarily mean they'll become ditzy themselves, but if we have the opportunity and the power to disseminate these characters to kids, why not create more characters that are worth looking up to?

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