Strong Female Leads: Really?
I published my first novel in 2013. Shit, it doesn’t feel like five years ago. Ah well, time marches on and in the words of Dolly Parton playing Trudy in Steel Magnolias, “Sooner or later you realize it marches across your face.” The Esau Emergence is a science thriller.
As genres morph and evolve, some have tried to label it as speculative fiction. My problem with that is no one’s trying to reclassify James Rollins or Michael Crichton as speculative fiction. I’ve come round to the theory in the wake of #Metoo this attempt to slide me out of techno-thrillers is in part because I don’t have a penis.
I’ve addressed poor reviews from readers who felt betrayed after reading my books TO THE END that I have a vagina, therefore, bamboozled them somehow and deserve a one-star rating. Not everyone will love your books. I also recently struggled with watching Jolene a film based on an E.L. Doctorow short all the way through. Don’t do it.
An idea has nagged my brain the last few weeks as #Metoo movement gains momentum (and despite its complexity it should). It keeps buzzing around as we discuss the gender and racial inequality in politics and media (and we should).
This idea is one of the standout reasons readers have a problem with one of my main protagonists. She’s just too darn perfect.
Cordelia Fiore is an intelligent, educated, independent woman whose job allows her to travel. She has a close circle of friends and has a strong and healthy relationship with her family. Cordelia doesn’t date for some excellent reasons (read my book), but she’s not lonely. She’s not pining. And when thrown into an impossible situation, she doesn’t entirely lose her shit.
Of course, when she meets a group of former military spies, there’s bound to be sexual tension involved. Even Tom Clancy has sex in his books. Male gaze sex, but we won’t dive into that cenote here. Cordelia isn’t tormented by the does he or doesn’t he inner dialogue we’re used to seeing in novels and film because frankly, she doesn’t care.
That doesn’t mean Cordelia is the perfect woman in response to his neurosis. She is not accommodating his bullshit. She sees his crazy and is willing to dive into that hot mess with both eyes open.
Cordelia understands it might work out and it might not. The critical piece I think readers are missing is her self-worth, her intrinsic value doesn’t depend on whether or not Sebastian is willing to jump with her. She can take him or leave him.
Most media formats don’t portray female leads that way. It freaks an audience out, even a female audience.
Jolene was so irritating, no infuriating to me, I decided to stay up past my bedtime to cleanse my palette with a light-hearted, 80’s romp just landed from my adolescence on Amazon Prime. Earth Girls Are Easy.
I don’t know what we were doing in the 80’s but WTF?
In general, I love to watch older films and television shows. They burst at the seams with A-list actors in their first awkward roles. This movie is no exception. Geena Davis, Jeff Goldbloom, Jim Carey, and Damon Wayan all work their darndest to get through this story with straight faces.
Sure, the lunacy of the essentially 90-minute MTV music video about furry, horny aliens crash landing in the San Fernando Valley entertained me but it is another example of the male gaze.
No wonder strong female characters cause us conflict.
An Earth girl bases her self-worth on her lying, cheating ‘doctor’ fiance. She worries the suave, now depilated handsome alien will think she’s easy if she sleeps with him. P.S. Jeff Goldbloom was in his leading man prime. She’d have been an idiot not to sleep with him. It’s no wonder he and Geena ended up a couple for a bit.
Ladies, we have got to get over this male gaze idea of ourselves. I write strong, self-realized female leads because let’s face it, bad things happens in no matter if you’ve got your shit together. Let’s shift this gaze so the Strong Female Lead is an unnecessary qualifier.