Another great look at the true feminine character by Moira Greyland
Strong female characters fail when they try to supplant or replace male characters, or when their “powers” overwhelm their humanity.
It is already understood that creating a male character with boobs is not compelling either to men or to women. Not only is such a creature something which none of us could be, it is also something none of us would want to be.
The rules of the universe can be bent to accommodate superpowers, as a normal extension of what people are and what they want, but they cannot be broken, to pretend that our morality can be removed, or our normal human psychology can be removed.
Right and wrong exist, and are at the center of all good stories.
We can relate to Hermione Grainger, partly because she is a brilliant overachiever, which many of us can relate to, but also because she is obsessed with her academics, which we can also relate to. She is heroic in a female way, which we can also relate to, and she is also vulnerable in a female way.
She is the sort of girl we might either be, or want to be.
On the other hand, Michael Burnham fails because she is a murderer who got few consequences. None of us, as in NONE of us want to be murderers, nor do normal people want the unjust to escape guilt or consequences. We do not escape our own guilt or consequences, because right and wrong exist independently of our opinions as part of the normal laws of the universe.
Michael Burnham fails because the only thing female about her is her DNA. She, (or the writer) has done everything possible to remove every single feminine trait from her. Since we women like being women, or at least understand it on a gut level, a non-woman masquerading as a woman is not compelling, and none of us can identify with such a creature, standing both outside of normal human sex and normal human morality.
To build a good female character that women can relate to, we have to be able to identify with her, which means she has to be discernibly female. Ripley, the fabulous action hero from Alien, was motivated not only by survival, but by the ferocious protective instinct mothers have for their children. This we can all relate to, either from having been a mother, or from having been a child. Even those of us who had bizarre or useless mothers know what motherhood is SUPPOSED to be.
Princess Leia was more compelling as a Princess than as a general, because more women want to be princesses than generals, also because she was royalty, not military. Her assertiveness was tempered by her vulnerability, and she even made mistakes, like the ill-fated excursion into the garbage chute.
We could imagine Hermione, Ripley and Princess Leia as mothers. Michael Burnham? Not so much. Nor can I, at least, imagine her as a wife. She is the sort of “woman” who would shrivel most men. Nobody wants to wake up to a woman who cannot smile and will never make you coffee.
Being wives and mothers is normal, and it is also something that we as women WANT. Fifty years of feminist programming has tried to alter this, but it is biological. I grew up shamed by my own mother for wanting to be a wife and mother, but it did not alter what I WANTED.
Writing female characters who are not likely to be wives and mothers, who hate men, and who are superpowered is a waste of time.
Captain Marvel is unappealing because she is bitchy as well as unfeminine, and she does not seem concerned with right and wrong or with men. I could imagine her in a wedding dress, shouting at her bridal party and her husband, poor guy, but I would shudder for her kids as well as for her husband.
Wonder Woman is appealing because she likes men and because she is beautiful. She is obviously concerned with right and wrong, and it is clear that she loves people. It is easy to imagine her as a wife and a mother.
LGBT characters are not relatable, because so few of us want to be like that, and many of us have had bad experiences in that culture. I have gay parents, including a mother who is a famous author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, so my perspective on this might be surprising to some…if not to fellow victims and survivors.
Little-known fact, but the most relatable characters remind us of actual people, not made-up creatures with supercharged, unrealistic personalities. Show us the predatory lady prison guard in the musical “Chicago” and she might remind us of someone we know. But wrap the same personality in a superhero body, and you have a creature nobody wants to have over to dinner.
Compare these characters to Superman, about as morally clear a character as one might ever find. But he is enduringly popular because he is vulnerable, awkward, and a little bit naive. He is the sort of man women adore and men want to be. He is strong and protective, both as a man and as a superhero, and where he takes care of business, he is unfailingly just.
Stop trying to throw out morality, family, and traditional gender roles, and watch your sales go up, Marvel.
Moira Greyland is the author of The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Amazon.