Women in Fiction: Are Our Favourite Fictional Females Actually Strong, or Stereotypes?

I’ve been wanting to write a post on Overthinking It’s “Female Character Flowchart” since I saw it on both Jezebel and Musings of an Inappropriate Woman about two weeks ago, and the time has finally come I’ve finally gotten around to compiling a list of my favourite fictional female characters and whether they qualify as “strong” ones.

Without compromising the quality of the image, I wasn’t able to enlarge the chart, nor add my own annotations as per the below characters of my choosing. Instead, I’ve reproduced their equations below, as well as Mean Girls’ Regina George, who appears on the chart, and Blair Waldorf, whom Rachel Hills believes is a “girl Hitler”, but who I find to be much more of a genuine strong female character.

Regina George (Mean Girls): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? NO. Villain? YES. Sexualised? NO. (I would argue yes. Hello? Have you seen her Halloween getup?) Over 35? NO. Is the protagonist male or female? FEMALE. Is this a rom/com? NO=Mean Girl.

Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? NO. Does she have any flaws? YES. Is she killed before the third act? NO=Strong female character.

Belle (Beauty & the Beast): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? NO. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? YES. Do they get together? YES. Is she only interested in her man? NO. Is she in a committed relationship with a protagonist? NO. Changes her man or is changed? CHANGES. Are they from different cultures? YES=Nobel Squan, whatever the hell that is! (Looks like something out of Avatar, though.)

Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? YES. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? NO. Is she part of a team/family? YES. What is her main role? LEADER. How does she feel about babies? NOT RIGHT NOW. Does she get pregnant? NO. Is she in a horror story? NO. Is she violent? NO. Is she nearly perfect? NO. What is her flaw?=sassmouth, which I guess is true, but Scout is so much more.

Elphaba (Wicked): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? YES, many. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? NO. Is she part of a team/family? YES. What is her main role? ROGUE=wildcard.

Elle Woods (Legally Blonde): Can she carry her own story? YES. Is she three dimensional? YES. Does she represent an idea? YES. Villain? NO. Is she mainly a love interest? NO. Is she part of a team/family? YES. What is her main role? LEADER. How does she feel about babies? NOT RIGHT NOW. Does she get pregnant? NO. Is she in a horror story? NO. Is she violent? NO. Is she nearly perfect? YES. Is she older? NO. Should the audience like her? YES. Who likes her more? WOMEN=Mary Sue.

[Overthinking It] The Female Character Flowchart.

[Overthinking It] Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women.

[Jezebel] Flowchart: Know Your Female Character Stereotypes.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Flowchart: Know Your Female Character Stereotypes.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

Men in Fiction: My Most Loved Made-Up Males.

Last week I featured my favourite fictional females, and this week I thought I’d give the guys a go.

In the vein of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, her father Atticus is way up there. He represents “the father figure I never had”, guiding Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dil through the last summer of their naïve childhood and how judging a book by it’s cover (or skin colour) is not the way to go. Plus, he has a kick ass name!

Similar to my obsession with To Kill a Mockingbird is my love of Dominick Dunne and any of his books, specifically Another City, Not My Own, in which Dunne’s alter-ego Gus Bailey acts as the fictional narrator of Dunne’s real-life O.J. Simpson trial experiences. It is hard to separate the two men, which is what I love about Dunne’s stories; a reader familiar with Dunne’s experiences doesn’t know where real-life ends and fiction begins.

Every fan of Friends has a favourite character, and mine has always been Chandler Bing. He gets the funniest storylines, and Matthew Perry has great comedic timing. There are many episodes I could ramble on about, but my two favourite Chandler moments are when Phoebe attempts to seduce him into admitting his relationship with Monica, and when Chandler kicks up a stink about Joey stealing his chair before Ross’s benefit, and in a check-mate move, Joey puts on every item of clothing in Chandler’s possession, quipping in true Chandler fashion, “Could I be wearing any more clothes?”

It’s been a Disney-centric year, what with Beauty & the Beast about to be re-released in 3D, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performing Disney songs in December (which I’m so going to, FYI), the first African American Disney Princess in the lacklustre The Princess & the Frog, and the much anticipated release of Toy Story 3, with one of my all-time favourite characters, Woody. The pull-string sheriff is inspirational in that he’ll never “leave a man behind”, he exists primarily for the pleasure of his owner, Andy, but discovers that there’s more to life, like making friends and other people happy, than what he thought his true purpose was; to be with Andy. I loved the third instalment of the saga, but it can never top the first one. So quotable, so timeless, so child-at-heart. ♥

Other inspirational men of fiction include Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon; Shia LaBeouf’s character in Disturbia, and the character who inspired him, L.B. Jeffries from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window; Fiver, Bigwig and Hazel from Watership Down; Woody’s space ranger counterpart, Buzz Lightyear; the Beast in Beauty & the Beast; Holden Caulfield in A Catcher in the Rye, and the two ChucksChuck Bass from Gossip Girl and Chuck Bartowski from (what else?) Chuck!

Women in Fiction: My Favourite Fictional Females.

A recent post on Girl with a Satchel (which was reblogged here) inspired me to assess my favourite fictional female characters.

One of my favourite books is To Kill a Mockingbird (if you’re a frequent reader of Early Bird, you’ll be no stranger to my love for Harper Lee’s novel), and protagonist Scout Finch is one of my favourite characters of the written word. Her innocence and naivety are super-endearing, and her past-tense narrating allows the reader to put themselves in her shoes easily.

Wicked is a niche musical and book that theatre buffs can’t get enough of, but the general public are a bit oblivious to because it hasn’t derived from/been made into a movie, like Melbourne’s current season of musicals, West Side Story, Mary Poppins and Hairspray, all of which are on my theatre-going agenda in the coming months.

I’ve seen the production three times in Melbourne, and many a friend has seen it in its various international incarnations on Broadway and the West End… oh, and Sydney! I was so touched by the story and its messages of friendship, good versus evil and judging a book by its cover, and even more so by Elphaba, better known as The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Unlike in the original story, Wicked’s Elphaba is fiercely loyal to her disabled sister Nessarose, and those who become close to her like Glinda, Doctor Dillamond and Fiyero, misunderstood because of the colour of her skin and the slander spread about her when she discovers the Wizard of Oz is a fraud and seeks revenge.

In the vein of fairytale musicals, Beauty & the Beast (which is being re-released in selected theatres in 3D from 2 September) is by far my favourite, and I love its heroine Belle so much, I have been known to fight with my friends and children alike over the fact that I AM BELLE! Hello, I have brown hair, like burly men, read a lot and have a penchant for yellow gowns! While there have been arguments circulating that the Disney princesses are beacons of anti-feminism, I maintain my stance that Belle doesn’t need a man to rescue her (in fact, she does the rescuing, helping the Beast when he is attacked by wolves, attempting to make the townspeople see the error of their ways in going after him, and ultimately, setting his heart free) and sees the Beast for who he truly is, not for what he looks like or what he can do for her. She’s a kick-ass beauty in the vein of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

I’ve blogged (or reblogged) a little bit lately about Elle Woods. She’s an everywoman. Rachel Hills identifies with her, as does Satchel Girl Erica Bartle. A law-studying friend of mine recently compared herself to Miss Woods, also. And I won’t lie; I’ve fantasised about wearing a Playboy bunny suit whilst purchasing an Apple Mac! Elle Woods proves that you can take pride in your appearance and have fun whilst pursuing your dreams and making a name for yourself separate from the name of the man in your life.

There are plenty of other made-up women who I have an affinity for, including the aforementioned Buffy Summers, and Daria Morgendorffer for their kick-ass feminist mentalities; ditto for the Charmed sisters; Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf, who can be a psycho bitch at times, but she’s THE psycho bitch; Carrie Bradshaw, only for her clothes, apartment and loyalty to her friends; for similar reasons as Elle Woods, Cher Horowitz; Glee’s Sue Sylvester, whom the show is worth watching for her one liners about Will Shuester’s hair; and at the risk of angering feminists everywhere, Barbie.

In Defence of To Kill A Mockingbird.

 

By now loyal Early Bird readers will know my affection for To Kill A Mockingbird, so I couldn’t resist, after seeing a recap on Jezebel, responding to Allen Barra’s assertion in The Wall Street Journal that Harper Lee “doesn’t really measure up to the others in literary talent, but we like to pretend she does” and her Pulitzer-winning work is “virtuously dull”.

Well, I never!

Out of everyone I’ve ever spoken to about To Kill A Mockingbird, only one person said they didn’t like it, but she also didn’t finish the book, so she missed the part of the book I think is most poignant: the final paragraphs where Scout recounts the events of the summer from Boo Radley’s front porch, citing her father Atticus’ wise words that “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes.” For Scout, “Just standing on the Radley porch was enough,” and I think that is one of the most beautiful pieces of imagery that brings the story full circle.

Atticus is the quintessential beloved father figure, and beacon of “all the best lines”, who, funnily enough, Lee crafted to oppose the attitudes of her own father, who allegedly “once remonstrated a preacher in the family’s hometown… for sermonising on racial justice”. Barra mocks Atticus’ juvenile explanation of the Ku Klux Klan (he is speaking to a CHILD, where a certain amount of sensitivity is required) and his dialogue, as seeming to have been written “to be quoted in high-school English papers”. God knows I had a field day with quotes from the book in my Year 11 English Literature essays, and perhaps the reason I feel so affectionately towards Atticus is that he reminds me of my grandfather, who passed away several days before I started Year 11. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Atticus could be representative of the father figure I never had.

For Mockingbird’s haters, there is the defence that it is a novel for children (Barra quotes “fellow Southerner” and author Flannery O’Connor on her observation of To Kill A Mockingbird: “It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book.”) something that I was not aware of until reading the Jezebel article, which should say something about Lee’s writing skills (or my reading skills?).

Nonetheless, I stand by my belief that Mockingbird is one of the best books ever written. Barra might say that, “In all good novels there is some quality of moral ambiguity… There is no ambiguity… at the end of the book , we know exactly what we knew at the beginning: that Atticus Finch is a good man, that Tom Robinson was an innocent victim of racism, and that lynching is bad.” But I think there is some moral ambiguity: was it right of Atticus to “collaborate with the local sheriff to ‘obstruct justice in the name of saving their beloved neighbour…’”? And, as Jezebel asks, “Is Atticus’ evisceration of Mayella Ewell permissible because she is making a false rape claim in the knowledge that it will likely cost an innocent man his life? Is Mrs. Dubose a cranky old racist or ‘the bravest woman I have ever known,’ as Atticus says? Did Boo Radley truly kill Bob Ewell in self-defense? Are Atticus and the sheriff, in their willingness to protect the social status quo, contributing to the system of white male privilege that subjugates women and blacks—and the secrecy on which it depends?

And what did happen to Boo Radley, whom Scout “never saw again”?

Related: Taking a Leaf Out of Amazon’s Book: Bad Customer Reviews.

[Jezebel] Re-Evaluating To Kill a Mockingbird.

[Wall Street Journal] What To Kill a Mockingbird Isn’t.

Taking a Leaf Out of Amazon’s Book: Bad Customer Reviews

Jeanette Demain recently wrote for Salon.com an article on “amateur critics” bemoaning the plotlines of her favourite books, most of them canonical.

At the end of her Amazon search-related compilation of readers’ negative comments on classics from “The Grapes of Wrath to 1984”, she urges readers to peruse Amazon’s customer reviews of their favourite books.

So, I thought I might take a stab at this, and compiled my very own list of attacks on the books that “changed my life forever”.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

One of the finest pieces of modern American literature, I was hard pressed to find bad reviews on this one. The harshest was from three-star-rater Jane A. Marshall, who said To Kill a Mockingbird was “a good book but not as good as the movie. The exact ending as to how the attacker was killed left too much doubt as to who actually was the killer—I don’t think this was a good way to end the book.” Mmm, good, good, good. And more good.

Seriously, though, for my money Harper Lee crafted one of the best endings of all time. So much so that I defaced my copy by highlighting the passage for easy retrieval when I want to marvel at the beauty and power a good writer can wield.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

One Amazon discussion thread was titled “Catcher in the Rye should be banned”, and continued with “not because it’s obscene or perverse”—ever read Bret Easton Ellis, my friend?—“but…because it’s a lousy book.” Eloquently put.

The general consensus in response to that thread was a) who are you to judge whether a book should be banned based on it’s lousy-ness, and b) we are not in favour of censorship. My sentiments exactly.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.

While I will agree that this book is somewhat fluffy compared to the others on this list, I wouldn’t say that it was “a huge disappointment,” according to A Customer. They go on to say that, “I have loved the movie version of Valley of the Dolls for a long time. Admittedly, it is a BAD movie, but its camp sensibility and generally over-the-top style make it a classic of the ‘bad movie’ genre.”

Put a different way, Wayne M. Malin calls it a “silly soap opera that follows three women… [through] death, suicide, lesbianism, cancer, marriages, tons of drug abuse, institutionalisation, etc…” Yes, but isn’t that the appeal of the thing?!

I will agree on one of the most common allegations, that protagonist Anne Welles “ is perhaps the dullest character ever created,” said QueensGirl.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

The author of this book, whose “plot unfolds through three points of view—a 16-year-old girl in search of her father who disappeared into vampire land in 1972 and reveals himself through letters to her, the father who was searching sixteen years earlier for his abducted thesis advisor who secondarily reveals himself through a trail of letters, and the thesis advisor who was searching for Dracula through historical research,” has apparently “committed an act of such brutality that it rivals any atrocity that Vlad Tepes [aka Dracula] ever committed,” reviewer Carlos asserts. (Thanks for the plot summation, William J. Meggs!)

Meggs goes on to say that “if you would enjoy the tedium of being an historian digging through old libraries, you might enjoy the tedium of reading this book.” I would, and I did, thankyou very much!

Tietam Brown by Mick Foley.

It was difficult to find a bad review for this novel, “because only wrestling fans read it.” Which is probably 90% true, but even non-wrestling fan reviewers found it a struggle to comment negatively on it.

But lo and behold, I found the diamond in the rough in A Customer’s (again—take credit for your opinions, people!) response: “The dialogue is painfully bad, I’d rather be stuck in the ring with Mick for ten minutes than be subjected to reading another ten minutes of this book.” With Foley’s trademark barbed wire-encased baseball bat and thumbtacks? That is a fate worse than death.

Harsh.

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Mostly light-hearted fun-poking to be found in the Customer Reviews section for this book. Caraculiambro says, “I suppose my threshold for silliness for books with talking animals (particularly bunnies) is The Wind in the Willows. Anything more sophisticated than that is preposterous, I think… on the whole, it’s hard to take it seriously unless you’re a pre-teen girl. But if you are, good luck with the language.” Touché.

Much in the same vein, Lucy the Bargain Hunter says, “this book is really boring, but since there was no bad language or sex, I didn’t have any excuse for not trying to get through it.” She then goes on to ask, as I have many a time after ploughing through a Jane Austen or Stephenie Meyer, “everyone else loves this book. Maybe there is something wrong with me[?].” To borrow a phrase from the late Brittany Murphey’s Tai in Clueless, “everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, a’ight?”

A Lion’s Tale by Chris Jericho.

Again, another WWE alumnus’ tome, so it is geared towards a very niche audience with mostly glowing reviews. The most damning assessment comes from Sean M. Hurley, who says the autobiography doesn’t live up to that of Mick Foley’s debut, Have a Nice Day, or even “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels’ ghost-written memoir. “My main gripe with the book is that Chris doesn’t get as personal with the reader as one would have enjoyed. Mick really exposes himself and allows himself to be vulnerable, while Chris still seemed to be holding back…” he says. Funny, as I found A Lion’s Tale to be on par, if not better, than Have a Nice Day

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne.

Dredging through page after page after page of one star reviews hurt, as this is my absolute favourite of all the books on this list.

To dig the knife in even further, A Customer says “I had to rate the book at least one star for the review to be kept. Actually, it’s worth zero.” Show your face, nameless hater!

Next week, the positive reviews! Yay!

Elsewhere: [Salon] Amazon Reviewers Think This Masterpiece Sucks.

Welcome!

Hi, my name is Scarlett Harris and I am the creator and administrator of this blog.

I have been wanting to start a blog for over 12 months, so what better time to start it now that I don’t have to commute to and from work every day?

I live in Melbourne, Victoria, and in 2008 I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Professional & Creative Writing from Deakin University, with a double major in Media & Communications. I have also done work experience with Cosmopolitan magazine and the RSPCA.

My passions are reading, writing, pop culture and social commentary, which this here blog will primarily focus on.

My favourite authors are the late Dominick Dunne and Mick Foley (yes, the professional wrestler! Check out any number of his memoirs, children’s books and novels; he’s actually a brilliant writer.). Book wise, my favourites are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (come on, who doesn’t?) and A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (likewise).

Keep in mind this is a small blog, starting out with basically no readership and not many media contacts, so any suggestions or constructive criticism is welcome. Please, if you like what you see, recommend the blog to friends!

Enjoy!