As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was recently hit by a perfect storm of inspiration which threw me back into being a Writer. I used caps there because it’s an important and serious proper noun. Like Congress. Or the World Series. Or a Monte Cristo sandwich. Anyway, one of those sources of inspiration came from a tweet from Lena Dunham. She had linked to a truly brilliant essay by Claire Watkins entitled “On Pandering.” Take a few minutes to go read it and then come back. Here, I’ll make it really easy for you: http://www.tinhouse.com/blog/41314/on-pandering.html

Did you read it? Why not? Ugh, just do it. You’re like those people who smile and nod and then do nothing when I tell them Jane the Virgin is amazing and they should watch it. You’re missing out. Read the essay and then come back.

Did you read it this time? Really? Ok, good. Slacker.

I had my biggest “whoa” moment after I read the section called “Watching Boys Do Stuff.” I, like Claire, have spent a good chunk of my life watching boys do stuff. I too have watched them bang drums and wail on guitars. I have watched them play most of the sports (including a most reluctant day at NASCAR but that’s another story to be told at another time). I have watched them work on cars, light fixtures, and IKEA furniture. I have watched them drink too much, eat peppers that are too hot, and subsequently watched them be sick. I’m not knocking on any of it – except maybe the being sick part – because I enjoy things like going to concerts and the sports. That wasn’t the “whoa” moment. The “whoa” moment came when she started talking about watching writers. I didn’t think immediately of actually watching male writers like she did – I thought of reading and watching male characters. I realized that a good portion of my fangirl life has been spent watching boys.

I watched a bunch of hobbits go there and back again. I watched the evolution of a young Jedi and, less enthusiastically, watched the demise of his father. I watched not one but TWO wizards named Harry battle evil forces time and time again. I watched Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Iron Man, Captain America, and all their daring-do. I’ve watched Shadow and Sherlock, King Arthur and Arthur Dent, Frankenstein and his creation, Dr. Grant, Captain Nemo, Captain Kirk, Rick Grimes, Mark Watney, Parzival, Jon Snow, Atticus O’ Sullivan, Kevin Flynn, Marty McFly, and that’s the abridged list. And how about all the video games I’ve played? Those times I was a boy saving the world? I’ve been Link saving Zelda over and over again, Sora fighting Organization XIII, a Hero from Albion, Master Chief, Mario, Jack, and Cloud Strife. I plan to be Nathan Drake if I ever get a turn on the PS4 in my house.
I can’t emphasize enough how much I love all of these characters. I. LOVE. THEM. I have a Mace Windu lightsaber and a Harry Potter wand. I was even Marty McFly for Halloween last year (and I nailed it). Still, I get tired of wearing these boy glasses so very often. I get tired of how these boys and men see the women around them because that’s not how I see them or how I see myself. I get tired of the women around them acting like nags, damsels in distress, sassy know-it-alls, evil temptresses, or wide-eyed ingenues. Honestly, I get tired of being in dudes’ heads with all their dude thoughts. I’m not saying these that I want these scif-fi and fantasy stories to be different. I like them because they work – in so many ways – just as they are. What I want is a new story.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the badass female protagonists out there. I love Katniss and I especially love Jennifer Lawrence’s take on her. There’s Buffy, of course, Princess Leia, Daenerys, Elsa (oh yeah, I went there), Emma Swan, Joanna Archer, Samus, Ripley, and now Rey just joined the club. Of course, there are other strong ladies who aren’t the focal point of the story or didn’t start that way. Hermione is a central character but none of those books are named after her. There’s Agent Carter and all the women in comic books who are finally getting their stories fleshed out (and I’m not going to touch on the female counterpoints to established comic book heroes like Supergirl and Batgirl. The guys were there first and you know it). For the sake of this particular argument, we’re going to focus on just the Leading Ladies who started as Leading Ladies. So many of them aren’t heroes in the same way so many of the boys are…and it’s because their heroes’ journeys are somehow framed by boys’ journeys. Much of the time, female protagonists become the protagonists because they fall in love with some dude or they’re going to find some dude to marry. I’m talking about Bella, Sookie Stackhouse, and essentially every woman in A Song of Ice and Fire. Then there are the pesky love triangles which become essential to the plot as they do for Katniss, Claire Randall, and pretty much every fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction series to be turned into a movie in the ten years. I can’t understand why things like war and the apocalypse aren’t enough drama to carry a story; no, the real dilemma is that she can’t decide which Hottie McHotPants to love!
And yet, Luke didn’t fall in love with a woman in order to become a Jedi. Harry had Ginny but he was marked as the Chosen One long before they coupled up. Now, to be clear, I do appreciate a really good love story. I heart Snow and Charming so hard on Once Upon a Time, Stardust is one of my favorite books ever, and I will always be Team Angel. Also, I’m kind of, you know, LIVING one. Duh. But my own story didn’t start or end with the falling in love part. I can only think of a handful of Leading Ladies who did not begin their journey because of romance and I’ve already named them. Can you think of any more? And for bonus points, can you think of any more who aren’t children? Once the girls hit puberty, it’s all boys boys boys, we like boys in ca-ars. Then, in certain sadistic¬†turns of events, some of them even get punished for it (poor Susan).

I want to watch more girls do stuff. I want to BE a girl who does stuff. I want to watch awesome, capable, brilliant women do stuff just as much as I watch the boys. I want to watch them do the hero stuff and I want to see them do things that GO HORRIBLY WRONG. Women can be all brooding like Rick Grimes, too. They can make epic Frankensteinian mistakes. I want to read about a woman who is just strong. Period. I don’t want to hear that she “holds her own,” as if what makes her strong is that she does well compared to dudes. If you know of stories with women like this, please tell me! I want to find them. I want to make them known. I can’t find enough of them.