Recently, I was reading an article on a gaming website I frequent that speculated on the potential plot of the upcoming Star Wars movie. Like many, I am quite skeptical of another Star Wars trilogy after the mess of poor writing and terrible character development that was the prequel trilogy. I am still hopeful, however, that the new trilogy could be good. After all, I still love Star Wars, and new movies that are actually good might bring me out of this 14 year depression I have been in since the credits rolled at the end of The Phantom Menace. Anywho, the article proposed the idea of having a female protagonist for the new trilogy. It made quite a few good points towards its case and was a very interesting article.
Then, I made the mistake of reading the comments, and read one of the more unintentionally ignorant non-YouTube comments I have read in a while. The reader stated “Why have a female protagonist just for the sake of having a female protagonist? If the director thinks a female protagonist will enhance the vision and/or story then sure. But women don’t need special treatment. Stop acting like they do.” To some, this may seem like a rather harmless comment. And the reader who left it likely isn’t some hate spewing sexist, bubbling with rage over the mere prospect of a woman being allowed to be anywhere but the kitchen or the bedroom. In fact, he’s probably just a normal guy, who actually considers himself to be a pretty progressive minded individual, who believes women deserve equal treatment. I’m sure that many people would agree with him. As a matter of fact, enough people who read the article agreed with him that he received over 2000 upvotes, making his comment the top rated comment on that article.
The problem is the mindset behind this comment. The guy believes that making a female protagonist is giving special treatment to women. Women should only be protagonist if it can improve the movie in some way. By this logic, only men deserve this special treatment. So there has to be some reason for a female to be a protagonist. Meanwhile, John McClane is free to run around Russia and kill EVERYTHING, with little semblance of logic or reason. But the reader, as well as many of the rest of us, don’t see it this way. To them, men do not get special treatment by being the protagonist, male protagonists are simply the norm. They are what we are used to and many people don’t care to attempt to change this. They believe that things are working the way they are going, so why bother changing? And it’s not like there are no movies with female protagonists. There are plenty of romantic comedies, horror movies, and even some action movies with female protagonists. And women get plenty of important roles in movies as well, like Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers, and Anne Hathaway or Marion Cotillard in The Dark Knight Rises. So they are getting equal representation, right? So what’s the problem?
Well, most movies with female protagonists are aimed at women, and even these movies don’t create the greatest image for them. Many of these movies revolve around women who are living perfectly happy lives, but they find their lives are incomplete without a man to love them. Action movies, on the other hand, are traditionally aimed at men, and it shows. If an action movie has a female protagonist, she can usually kick all kinds of ass, but she usually has little to no personality to speak of, gets naked (or at least gets very close) at some point in the movie, and is probably Angelina Jolie.
Seriously, Angelina Jolie is a popular choice for a “strong” female protagonist, and in many of the films she has starred in, she had at least one nude scene. Casting directors continue to use her because they know that men don’t mind paying to see her, and they don’t care that it’s not for the right reasons. Horror movies are guilty of the same crime. Many horror movies will find an excuse to get their female protagonist naked, be it an unnecessary sex scene, an unnecessary shower scene, or something of the like. At the very least, she is wearing something like this…
The female protagonists in these movies are little more than a walking pair of boobs for the audience to gawk at. Even Scarlett Johansson’s character in The Avengers has this issue. It’s true that she never sheds any clothes (though that skin tight leather suit doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination,) and she is pretty badass, but she is also by far one of the least developed of the otherwise incredibly well developed cast of characters. You can argue that she didn’t have her own movie like the other characters, but she did appear in Iron Man 2, which also did little more than establish that she is better at punching things than most people. Her inclusion in the movie feels like little more than tokenism, which isn’t really promoting equality, it’s just doing the bare minimum to not seem like a bigot.
But what about The Dark Knight Rises? It has two strong female characters that kick ass and are independent and capable and, oh yeah, both have sex with the male protagonist. Who is, if you remember, an emotionally crippled psychopath who runs around in a batsuit at night.
The key to a woman’s heart
I think the very best example I can give are the very movies that caused me to go on this rant in the first place: the original Star Wars trilogy. How many significant female characters are in the trilogy? Well, in case you haven’t seen them, or it has been a while, I will count them. There’s Leia, of course, as well as Aunt Beru, Mon Mothma, and… Jabba the Hutt’s slave girl. That’s about it, and keep in mind that this is three entire movies we are talking about, not just one. Oh, but we can’t forget the three female rebel pilots who fought in the battle against the Star Destroyers in Return of the Jedi. Wait, you don’t remember? Oh right, maybe it’s because they were cut out of the film. And I believe that’s about it. Beru and Mon Mothma only get a few minutes of screen time each. But, at least Leia is a strong character who is more than able to protect herself. Well, until the part in RotJ when she gets captured by Jabba and simultaneously becomes a helpless damsel in need of rescuing and an objectified sex slave.
Strong. Female. Character.
And this completely ruined any respect her character may have garnered. After all, what do you think most guys remember about Leia from that movie? How awesome and capable she was, or how they felt when they saw her in that damn slave outfit?
All that being said, I think we need to ask ourselves: is this how we want women to be perceived? As being either helpless damsels who are nothing without a man, or something that men only deem as worthwhile if they are willing to flash some boob every once in a while? I’m sorry, but F that. Women deserve more respect than that, and we shouldn’t continue to teach new generations that men are awesome and women are just men’s prizes for being so awesome. Girls need more heroes they can look up to. Not because of how they look, but because of who they are and what they’re capable of. We need fewer girls longing for breast implants to make them feel like they aren’t worthless, or longing for a man so they can feel less helpless. We need more girls who know that they are great the way they are, and are as capable and worthwhile as any male, and who will spit in the face of anyone who tells them otherwise. And we need to teach boys to treat women like they are human beings, and not just a hole to stick their penis into.
I feel I may have started to ramble. My point is, though it will not solve the problem of sexism on it’s own, making strong female protagonists in movies can go a long way in changing the public image of what a women should be. And it can’t just stop there. You can’t put a single strong female in the movie and call it a day. There have to be more female characters in general. Closer to an equal amount. They need to have personalities and they need to interact with each other and talk about things other than men. You know, kinda they way they do in real life. And really, this applies to all media, especially those notorious for sexism and objectification, like video games and comic books. We need to stop allowing these media outlets to paint such unrealistic, negative, disrespectful pictures of what women are or should be. And though the creators are somewhat to blame, it is also the consumer’s fault for continuing the trend. We need to be more open to something other than what the Hollywood producers consistently spoon feed us. We need to be more accepting of diverse protagonists. Not just sexually diverse, but diverse in other ways, too. We can’t just sit here and continue to only root for the straight, white, buff, clean-cut, Christian male hero.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying women should be in every movie now instead of men. But we speak about equality, and with that comes the implication of some sort of balance. If we truly viewed men and women as equal, shouldn’t they be interchangeable in something as relatively insignificant as the role of the protagonist in a movie? And it’s not impossible to pull off. Ellen Ripley from Alien is an excellent example of a strong female protagonist in a sci-fi movie franchise. A more recent, and possibly better example is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Or Princess Merida from Brave. They are both strong, capable young women who are not once even close to being sexualized. They are both characters young girls can look up to and think “I want to be as cool as she is,” and young boys can look at with respect.
The idea of having more strong female protagonists in movies isn’t something that should be feared or laughed off. It should not be a question of if it “fits the story,” or if it “enhances the director’s vision.” It’s not “special treatment.” It’s equal treatment. And as far as Star Wars goes, I would love to see the new one feature a female protagonist. It would be a great way to make up for the blunders the series has already made in regards to women. And maybe, just maybe, it can reach even a few of the many, many male fans of the franchise and teach them to have just a little more respect for the opposite sex.