Friday, April 4, 2014

The Role of Women in SciFi and Fantasy

At Emerald City Comicon, I had the opportunity to attend the Supernatural Fan Panel, where fans of the show discussed trends, issues, and potential futures for the show. A common issue that kept coming up was the inability of the show to maintain a female character. Every major female character, to date, has been either written out or killed off.

In fairness to the writers, female characters have typically not been well received by the fanbase. Hate mail, violent memes, and passionately enraged blogs flood the internet whenever a female character interacts with the leads on the show.

(The exception to this rule is Charlie Bradbury whom, even Misha Collins has suggested, avoids the ire of the fanbase because she is openly lesbian, and therefore not perceived as a threat)

I didn’t stand up and comment during the panel for a variety of reasons, but this is the message I wished I could have conveyed:

I think we, as women, need to stop cutting off our own opportunities.

As much as we like to think that the entertainment industry is all about the characters and storytelling (and a portion of it is), it’s first and foremost a business. Producers, executives and writers are not going to invest the time, energy and funding necessary to create intelligent, well-written female characters, unless they are seeing a return on their investment.

It’s not just Supernatural. This is a problem that is industry-wide.

If, week after week, showrunners receive copious complaints about female characters, the result is going to be 1) those female characters are not going to remain on the show much longer and 2) it’s going to be much harder to convince the show to introduce any other females in the future.

I’m not suggesting that we stop providing feedback regarding our individual fandoms. Opinions are valid, and feedback is important. But, I am suggesting that we, as women, are more careful with the language we are using. Saying that you dislike a character because she is shallow, two-dimensional, and transparent in her intentions is one thing. Pointing out that you feel that a character is an overly sexualized stereotype, or that you disagree with the direction the writers are taking her story is also valid.

Calling a female character a tramp, slut or witch is not empowering, and is self-defeatist. We need to be supporting each other as women, not tearing each other down.

The only way we’re going to see a change in the industry is if we demand it.  We need to be giving the-powers-that-be a reason to develop strong female characters, not sending them scrambling for creative ways to kill off what is perceived as an error in judgment.

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