The topic of strong female characters has been coming up a lot recently. It’s interesting because there seem to be two camps brewing. One says that the “strong” female characters we have, like Buffy Summers, are exactly what we need. The other shows all of the patriarchal themes that still beset and besiege “strong” female characters, like Buffy Summers. (I found it interesting that both sides used her as an example.)
While I did watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer during the majority of its run, I actually started thinking more about my childhood. I was (read: still am) an animation nut as a kid. My favorite cartoons, for the most part, have always been the action cartoons. You know the ones. They’re the ones where things blow up, or there’s a lot of fighting (in one form or another). By and large, they really have no touchy-feely elements to them (Although there’s a line of action cartoons that I watch right now that have one character shoving touchy-feely down everybody else’s throat.)
When I was around ten or eleven, I was watching cartoons like M.A.S.K., G.I. Joe, andTransformers. I was aware they were “boy cartoons”. I noticed the strong lack of female characters. At the delicate age of eleven, I think I actually referred to every single female character as “the token girl” (except G.I.Joe, where each of the three was “a token girl”). I understood, as a preteen, that they weren’t there for any reason other than to represent girlkind.
Looking back over them, I think the only one I had any degree of respect as a tomboyish preteen for was Lady Jaye on G.I. Joe. She was the only one who didn’t get kidnapped, knocked unconscious routinely, or have to put up with sexist family members.
Because I spent so much time understanding this, I took later female characters as just part and parcel of the token female phenomenon. In fact, as I look over my entire animation watching career (only factoring in shows), I think the only token female character who stood out as not being a weak plot excuse was Elisa Maza on Gargoyles. She was shot once by Broadway on accident, but otherwise, she was in the thick of things (often on her own by her choice).
Thinking about Elisa; Gloria and Vanessa; Lady Jaye, Scarlett, and Cover Girl; R.C.; Tea and Alexis…it makes me wonder what defines a “strong” female character.
For me, it was Elisa Maza. She was in a career she loved, a tough New York cop with killer detective skills. She gave as good as she got and never gave up. At the same time, she was kind and caring. She was compassionate without giving anything up in the exchange. She was assertive. She was independent. She was smart. For me, those are important to establishing a respectable, “strong” female character.
What defines the strong female character for you?