Stop pigeonholing female characters

Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori in Pacific Rim - property of Warner Bros Studios

This exchange came across my Twitter feed:

@(Person 1): If there’s one thing I find most fascinating about Pacific Rim it’s how strongly the views diverge regarding the character of Mako Mori.

@(Person 2): What divergence is there?

@(Person 1) Re: Mako, whether she’s strong compelling character or damsel in distress.

Now, I don’t often get involved in ‘ism’ discussions because I’ve got (what I’ve been told is) a bizarre set of ideals that often gets me yelled at. I also have trouble coagulating my squishy abstract thoughts. But I do have a few feminist buttons that, when pushed, rocket me into hand-flailing and incoherent squawks of agitation.

This is one of them: The idea that women must either be strong, untouchable, borderline bitches and therefore be “good” and “compelling” OR sappy, weak-willed damsels in distress and therefore be “bad” and “damaging.”

*shoves soapbox into the center of the room*
*stomps atop it*
*starts gesticulating wildly*

Women don’t fall into easy-to-digest categories! They’re complex, nuanced individuals with many facets, thoughts, presentations, issues, values, backgrounds, and goals!

JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLANET!

*pauses to catch breath*

Ahem…

Point being, this thing where we tear apart positive portrayals of women in media for any minute aspect that doesn’t exactly match the Official Feminist Platform is fucked up and more damaging than Fifty Shades of Grey.

Are there archetypes for female characters? For sure. When you’re a writer, they’re handy starting templates for creating a character from scratch. I’d fall into the ‘starving artist’ and ‘housewife’ and ‘white Midwestern girl’ categories, just as an example.

But no one is 100% true to their cliche, and when attempts are clearly made to give female characters depth and breadth outside of their starting archetypes, creators should be given, if not applause, then at least a knowing smile and nod for their efforts.

When we get all pissy about if Mako’s vulnerability in Pacific Rim‘s ending scene or her failure to sync on the first neural handshake makes her a stereotypically love-sick, incapable, and therefore weak female character, we’re willfully ignoring her loyalty, physical prowess, drive, and bravery in pursuit of something to decry and shit on so we can feel like we’re being Good Feminists.

That’s messed up.

When you look at a female character, see all of her before you judge her. Not just a single moment, characteristic, action, problem, or feeling. It’s not an on/off switch; it doesn’t have to be one archetype or the other.

A woman can be a strong, fierce warrior type and have soft emotions and moments of weakness without automatically becoming a damsel in distress or undermining the value of women everywhere.

*takes a small bow*
*shuffles off soapbox*
*backs away slowly*


 

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