I wish I had the courage to write from my heart when it came to the shootings in California. But I can't. I can't find the words. All I can do is copy and paste this essay that I wrote a couple of years ago, about female heroes in literature. I guess that's the way I can start to express my fear and repulsion. Because we are writers. Some of us are women writers. And we have a duty to change the tides with our words.
Let's start here:
This is a blog entry I’ve wanted to write for a very long time. I know that I wrote a bit about it before, talking about the Jonas Exercise and discussing how completely floored I was at Jennifer Lawrence and Suzanne Collins’ work on The Hunger Games. To recap, the Jonas Exercise is taking a male character and seeing if a gender-bend would fly narratively for that story.
However, there's more to say. And I just haven’t gotten around to collecting the words to say it.
I guess I would like to start off by telling another personal anecdote: the day I realized I was a girl, and that meant I counted for less of a character.
I was playing with my brother and cousin at my grandmother’s home when we started picking out what parts we were going to act out for our Disney game. They had a plethora to pick from: Beast, Lumiere, Aladdin, Jafar, Triton, Sebastian, Simba …
I had the princesses. That was it.
And while I loved the princesses, I also loved the current RPG we were acting out in the living room, and that was The Lion King. I quickly had my pick of two characters: Nala or Sarabi. The girlfriend or the matronly mom lion.
I wanted neither.
This led to an argument with my cousin as to who was going to play Goliath in our next game: Gargoyles. My cousin pointed out I was fit to only play Demona, the lone gargolye chick on the show. After already being shunned to playing Nala, I did not want to play Demona. I wanted to play the awesome main character. But my cousin was having none of it.
This led to us deciding to play Power Rangers instead. I wanted to play the White Ranger, and my cousin again pointed out I could only pick from the Pink or Yellow Ranger. And if you know anything about the Power Rangers, you know that both of those characters are terrible. Pinkie is a flippant airhead and Yellow doesn’t have any sort of personality whatsoever.
Suffice to say, I punched my cousin in the face and play time was cut short.
I’ve learned many things since then, one of them being not to punch people in the face. I’ve also learned that what I was experiencing is still something I’ve experienced in the past year. Although things are better now for our female characters, they aren’t better by much. They gave us voluptuous potato sacks with the brains of a galvanized frog, and recently they are kind enough to give us perky or rebelliously pretty potato sacks with the brains of a galvanized frog. And don’t get me wrong, I would take Rapunzel over Jasmine or Ariel any day, but I would also like an actual human being. Or a not-princess.
And we were so close, weren’t we? We saw Emma Watson's Hermione. And with Katniss Everdeen, a promising premise to Snow White and the Huntsman, a (gasp) single heroine in Frozen, and an unlikely beauty in Brave, we were on our way. So what went wrong? Why are we still not there?
Maybe because we’re trying to make a strong girl character, and not just a strong character. I believe the two largest problems is this feeling of writers patronizingly making up for the lack of awesome girlness, as if Hollywood is saying “See? We can be hip! We have an awesome girl heroine!” And that heroine, if a hero, would look like a dim-witted selfish prat (Merida), a still sexy but troubled and alone and very marketable princess with a sweet theme song (Elsa), a girl who is supposed to be saving the world but instead is constantly bombarded by a love triangle (Katniss), or a character that makes no decisions for himself (Snow White).
The second largest problem is the idea that women are seen as a completely different species than men. Freud never could figure out what women wanted, and as a woman, I don’t think it’s that difficult to figure out.
So Hollywood. So writers. So book publishers. This is what I want.
I want a character who is not afraid to speak her mind, because she wants what she wants and she doesn’t care what anyone has to say about it.
I want a character who makes her choices and thus brings the plot upon herself, not a Kristen Stewart who bumbles around behind Thor and has things happen to her. Or a Katniss who gets stuck in a bunker and told what to do. I want her to hold the reins and make mistakes and cleverly work through the snags.
I want a character who won’t self-destruct or fall off a cliff without their male counterpart. Bella.
I want a character who has better things to worry about than who likes her or who she likes.
I want a character who isn’t wanted or pursued by anyone.
I want a character who doesn't sacrifice herself for the betterment of a dude or a civilization, like she's some kind of Mayan virgin. In other words ...
I want a character who does not end up married or dead.
I want a character who works hard on her own to earn what she wants.
I want a character who isn’t pretty. Maybe she’s too skinny, maybe she’s too fat. Maybe she has an ugly voice. Maybe she’s too tall.
I want a character who doesn’t wear makeup and doesn’t have perfect hair, even after all hell breaks loose.
I want a character who has never been told she has to grow up and marry anyone.
I want a character who is never addressed with a jeering “because you’re a gi-irl!” from a male character. Even if it's considered motivation for her to prove him wrong.
I want a character who is attempting to honor her mother’s love and her father’s strength. And when one of them fails her, I want her to stand up to the challenge.
I want a character who doesn’t know how it’s going to end up, but she keeps a strong face. Or maybe she breaks down.
I want a character who doesn’t have to shoot an arrow twice as well as a boy in order to prove her worth.
I want a character who isn’t a walking stereotype of a tomboy if she's not feminine.
I want a character who is not a decoration, a mother, a witch, or a spitfire.
I want a character who doesn't constantly think of her femininity. It will of course come up, but no one walks around all day thinking, "Boy, how woman am I? I'm pretty dang woman right now. Oh look, a man!"
And I guess, what I really want is a character boys would want to play on the playground.
But here are a few things you should also know about girls:
Sometimes we do fall down and cry, and that’s okay.
Sometimes we do fall in love, and sometimes we don’t. But if we do, we will fight tooth and nail for that man and ourselves. And that strength doesn’t come out of girlish fancy or stupidity. It comes from love.
Sometimes we want to be pretty, but a good amount of the time, we don’t feel like we are. And other times, we don’t care.
Sometimes we forget we are girls, and we just regard ourselves as people.
Sometimes we are afraid of how the world sees us, and sometimes we have to be brave to walk down the street.
Sometimes we are not quirky nor are we fashionable, we are not ditzy nor are we geeky. Sometimes we are just who we are.
Sometimes we are scared, but sometimes we are steadfast. We always keep moving.
Sometimes we think about things that aren’t boys or being a mother or going against the status quo.
Sometimes we just want to be firemen and astronauts, and it isn't until someone says we can't be that we realize there's a lot of hurdles ahead of us and two girl characters in The Lion King.
Sometimes we aren’t spunky or strong-willed; we’re just mean.
But most of all, we are always human beings.
So please write like we are just that: human beings.