Luckily this wonderful organisation has also agreed to be host to my word stew, and this is the first piece I’ve written for their blog – hopefully many more will come!
2015 was a fantastic year for badass fictional women. Whether they were making their first appearances or wrapping up a long line of stories, they showed that the world’s attitudes to women have changed, and are still changing. We’re not in the clear yet, but having more women as well-rounded characters in fiction can only be progress.
The world balked when it found out that the real lead of the new Mad Max film was going to be…dun dun dun…a WOMAN.
“But it’s called Mad MAX!”, they whined. “It’s a film for men!” they protested. They asked Tom Hardy how he possibly managed to take the indignity of having less lines than a WOMAN – and thankfully he told them to go screw themselves.
But Fury Road was just as packed with cars, violence and masculinity as any of the others; arguably even more so. The film is one long chase scene and it’s dripping with even more post-apocalyptic scenery. The only difference is that instead of lumping Max with an ineffectual babe (looking at you, Jessie), he was matched with someone as strong and capable as himself.
While not addressed in the film, Furiosa is also a remarkable character from a disability standpoint – the fact that her bionic arm doesn’t have to be examined and explained, and that it doesn’t hinder her in any way, is an incredible shift from representations of disability we usually see in movies.
Fury Road wasn’t a chick flick. The presence of women – particularly Furiosa, who is a stone cold badass – didn’t make it less of an adventure. Max is a famously terse character, so the filmmakers can’t be accused of silencing his very important manly voice – but it’s Furiosa who saves the Five Wives, and is ultimately the hero.
Tiffany didn’t make her first appearance this year, but her last.
Released posthumously, Terry Pratchett’s final book The Shepherd’s Crown featured heavily one of the most enthralling young women on the Disc. From her first appearance in The Wee Free Men, aged just nine years old and already smarter and more capable than most of us, she’s grown into a strong proto-Witch.
Like all of the Witches, Tiffany has the gift of First Sight, the ability to see what truly is – a talent I think more of us wish we had, sometimes. She’s fierce and competent, taking down monsters with ease, even for a brother she doesn’t particularly care for.
She also has Second Thoughts, Third Thoughts and Fourth Thoughts, making her a relatable character to anyone who is naturally self-critical. She’s self-educated, incredibly loyal to her home and family, and makes fantastic cheese. What’s not to like?
Tina Fey’s spiritual follow-up to 30 Rock began early last year with season one of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – an unlikely female-lead story that ought to be too tragic to laugh at, but isn’t.
In a twist on the trope of a young woman coming to New York for her big break, Kimmy comes out of an underground bunker and, finding the fame too much to bear, moves to New York in an attempt to be lost again.
Kimmy’s a fantastic character because she’s strong – not in the way that Furiosa or Jessica Jones are strong, but strong because she can still find joy in a world that abandoned her for fifteen years, and now she’s returned, only wants her to be one thing.
Her character and background is far too complex to go into in just a few paragraphs, but we fell in love with Kimmy because she’s adorable, strong, funny, tragic, and beautiful in a way she doesn’t realise (if she did realise it, we probably wouldn’t like her so much). Her fascinating story could be a compelling drama, but with one of the funniest women around writing it, it’s fantastically, darkly entertaining.
For all those people out there who are sick of seeing female superheroes as nothing more than boobs-and-butts, this is the show you need to watch.
Quite possibly the first Marvel production to feature a woman as the main and titular character, Jessica Jones is like the darker side of Daredevil – and far more twisted than it could ever be.
The fact that the main character is a woman allows for discourse around some interesting subjects, such as rape and domestic abuse. We can see these through Jessica’s life experiences and from the people she gets to know, who are frequently women.
Don’t go thinking this is a full-on man-hating extravaganza though. David Tenant is masterful in his portrayal of the villain Kilgrave, and while the sound of his voice will give you shivers he’s actually revealed to be more complex than just evil, at one point almost pitiable.
Jessica’s sidekick is the incredible Luke Cage, and it was so refreshing to see a twist on the archetype of the male superhero with his arm candy – instead Luke was shown in the light of the Female Gaze, with his body taking on the role of sexual object, while still presenting a complex and interesting character.
Rather than trying to present Jessica Jones in the way that most Marvel productions show their women – scolding, sexual characters that disrupt the flow of humour – they went full DC, tying great depths of psychological intrigue with stunning fight scenes and well-rounded characters.
A minor cheat, as the first issue of Bitch Planet was released in December 2014, but here we go.
Bitch Planet as a comic was always going to draw in feminists. The premise presents the extremes of a misogynistic society, where the slightest transgression on the part of a woman – which could be being too fat, disagreeing with a man, not wanting to have sex, or wanting too much sex – warrants harsh punishment. They are sent away to an off-world prison, where they are allowed to be as vicious to each other as they like – after all, no one’s going to mourn one more disobedient woman.
There are a few great female characters in here, but a special shout-out has to go to Penny Rolle, one of the inmates. Not just a woman but a woman-of-colour, and of significant size, it’s obvious why she would be a target in this kind of society.
From having the wrong type of hair (an aesthetic offence), to fighting men when they insult her (assault) and being overweight (wanton obesity), she’s had a hard time since she was a little girl.
For those of us who know what it’s like not to be the ideal woman (okay, so that’s most of us) we can understand Penny’s anger at the world – like everything else in the comic, it’s just an exaggeration of the frustration we women often feel at the way we’re treated by men, and even by other women.
There’s something more that makes Penny stand out from all of the other inmates of Bitch Planet though: self-love, of the type we should all aspire to. She knows that she’s large, that her hair doesn’t behave, that she has a bit of an anger problem, but even in a world where she’s told repeatedly to be ashamed of herself, she isn’t.
In one issue, the men who run Bitch Planet put Penny in front of a mirror which is hooked up to her brain – it’s supposed to show what the woman feels her ideal form is, and of course it usually shows what that woman has been told is ideal by men. Penny though? She sees herself just as she is.
It’s hard enough in reality for us to be okay with who we are. In this fictional society where women are subject to constant scrutiny, and suffer from extreme consequences if they’re found lacking, it’s even more admirable.
It’s possible that we should all be a bit more like Penny Rolle.
Gone are the days when women were only background characters in comics, only eye-candy in action movies and helpless damsels to be saved. We’re entering an incredible new era where women don’t have to be defined by their gender but by the strength of their character – at least in fiction. We’re seeing more and more strong women in media, and hopefully that’s encouraging all of us to be strong too.
Whether you’re fucked up like Jessica, proud like Penny, lost like Kimmy or driven like Furiosa (see what I did there?) you’ve got a powerful figure to aspire to. Who is your inspiration?