Label Guns

I ran across a really excellent article about Strong Female Characters and wanted to comment on the broader applicability of the effect of identity politics on fiction.

I try to avoid getting into discussions about sex and gender because I prefer not to talk about things I don’t understand.  I am a person who is male and I like some people, and some of the people I like are male, some of them are female.  Sometimes (not often) I have sex with people, and some of those people are female and some of those people are male. I don’t claim to speak for all men, and I don’t believe that any woman can speak for all women. There, now you know everything I know on the subject.

However, I do think I know a thing or two about fiction, and one of the things that I think I know is that every character in a work of fiction needs to have a narrative reason to be there.   That is, every character needs something to do, and characters are defined by what they do, not what they are.

The example that the author of the piece uses is the character of Trinity in The Matrix movies. And while Carrie-Anne Moss does look absolutely scrumptious in tight black leather, Trinity doesn’t do much to move the plot along aside from look good. The main characters are Neo, Morpheus, Agent Smith, and Cypher. One could remove Trinity and all references to her from the script rather neatly without drastically changing the plot.  Or, really, changing the plot at all.

However, any or all of the four Matrix principals (Hero, Mentor, Antagonist, Betrayer) could have been of either gender.  Trinity could have been a main character in any of those roles, which would have changed the feel of the films, but not the basic message.

I really can’t add much to the article referenced above, actually.  Go read it, it says pretty much what I’d like to say on the subject.


About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, Who I am, Worms Of Heaven and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Label Guns

  1. kaineandrews says:

    The blog you linked to was amusing, and reminded us all we need fewer floor lamps… and now I’m picturing a version of The Matrix where Trinity takes on Cypher’s role, and think I like it a lot more than the movie we actually got.

    So far as the topic at hand goes, I do think the “Strong Female Character (Potentially with a “TM” at the end, or followed by “!!!!11!!1!!!one!!”)” concept is potentially about to drop off the discussion table. I notice there seems to be less use of it as a “selling point” than there was, say, five years ago; there are more characters who actually fit the definition creeping out of the woodwork (often without trumpeting their appearances); and fewer plot descriptions seem actually applying the label “man” or “woman” (instead going with their occupation, a title from their backstory or character arc, or some other way to identify them) when doing “back cover” type blurbs.

    Of course, on the downside, we’re now instead focusing more on characters’ sexuality and ethnicity in the way we were focused on their gender ten years ago. Instead of hearing about our strong female leads, we now read “Odija, a gay English-African, must learn to cope with the death of his mum” while the critics go wild about the brave portrayal of a homosexual mixed-race main character (who suspiciously behaves like any other character except for occasionally reminding us that he is gay and a minority) or “Inari, a transexual Indian woman, has three days to stop a deadly virus” as the (assumed) throngs of transexual Indians exclaim how important it is to have strong, meaningful characters that speak to them… and she acts just like every other female spy type (probably getting captured and/or rescued in the process.)

    I really hope the day comes soon when those labels cease to have significance. Where it won’t be a big deal to have a “strong” female character, or a “vivid” homosexual or a “gritty” minority and instead we worry about them being a strong character. No adjectives or descriptives (beyond the basic archetype) necessary.

    • LindaGHill says:

      I want to “like” your comment. I agree wholeheartedly. It reminds me of Brokeback Mountain which was basically just a gay version of Romeo and Juliet. Had it been a heterosexual couple, the movie would have gone completely unnoticed. I honestly didn’t see what the big deal was.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I do think a character’s sex is important, but it’s far from the most important thing.

  2. LindaGHill says:

    Thanks for pointing that article out, Misha. It’s made me think about my female lead character. I knew there was something not quite right. Now I know what it is and I can easily fix it. 🙂

  3. ameliabishop says:

    I loved that linked article! I’m sharing it around. Thanks so much for posting it 🙂

  4. Pingback: Label Guns (Part II) | mishaburnett

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