Thursday, July 10, 2014

Written on

SFR: A Secret Source of Equal Heroes

Heroine is front and center for the win!

Author Jody Wallace tipped me off about Tasha Robinson's We're Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome. It's an insightful article about the state of female action heroines in film, television, comics, and videogames. Here's a taste:

There’s been a cultural push going on for years now to get female characters in mainstream films some agency, self-respect, confidence, and capability, to make them more than the cringing victims and eventual trophies of 1980s action films, or the grunting, glowering, sexless-yet-sexualized types that followed, modeled on the groundbreaking badass Vasquez in Aliens. The idea of the Strong Female Character—someone with her own identity, agenda, and story purpose—has thoroughly pervaded the conversation about what’s wrong with the way women are often perceived and portrayed today, in comics, videogames, and film especially. Sophia McDougall has intelligently dissected and dismissed the phrase, and artists Kate Beaton, Carly Monardo, Meredith Gran have hilariously lampooned what it often becomes in comics. “Strong Female Character” is just as often used derisively as descriptively, because it’s such a simplistic, low bar to vault, and it’s more a marketing term than a meaningful goal. But just as it remains frustratingly uncommon for films to pass the simple, low-bar Bechdel Test, it’s still rare to see films in the mainstream action/horror/science-fiction/fantasy realm introduce women with any kind of meaningful strength, or women who go past a few simple stereotypes.

Sing it, sistah! While I could easily add a few thousand more words waxing poetic about the importance of compelling heroines with agency, I want to focus on one line in particular from "We're Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome":

It’s hard for any action movie to have two or more equal heroes, and the ensemble approach doesn’t work for every story.

I agree that Hollywood is tremendously challenged regarding the concept of two equal heroes. SFR, however, is not. SFR has shown it can be done. This genre's willingness to experiment with two equal heroes excites me and is a huge reason I read it regularly, if not the number one reason. I'm always on the hunt for more books that fall into this category.

This story features a heroine with agency!
Unlike PNR, where the heroes are almost always the extraordinary being, or romantic suspense, where the hero usually has the Navy Seal/cop/FBI type status, SFR often delivers extraordinary heroines. And if they're not extraordinary, they're equal to the hero in other ways. Both are things I've come to depend on in this genre.

Heroines with agency are probably the most important to me. I don't care if they're kick-butt, cerebral, or ordinary people as long as their actions drive the plot on an equal par with the hero's. If I can't have compelling female characters with agency in SF/F films on a regular basis, then I'd at least like to frequently encounter them in books.

Given the marginalization of female characters and women authors in genre fiction over the years, SFR's penchant for action heroines with agency remains quite hidden, like a club with a secret handshake. SF and the action-adventure genres have routinely turned up their noses at the idea of a hero and heroine (or two heroes, or two heroines) sharing the spotlight equally, so authors and readers have often turned to genres like SFR to satisfy demand.

In stories featuring couples squaring off against an external threat, SFR has been a proving ground for two equal heroes (whether heterosexual, gay, or lesbian) connected not just by a sense of duty, but also by love. Many books have already been written with that concept in mind and could easily translate to the big screen. If film adaptations aren't in the stars for current books, then perhaps a future one might get lucky. (Wishful thinking, I know, but that possibility seems more likely than a Hollywood studio greenlighting an original SFR script.)

Regardless of SFR's future in film, Ms. Robinson's article resonated strongly with me because I've long been a fan of heroines with "…agency, self-respect, confidence, and capability…" Many of the posts here at TGE have reflected that. Sci-fi romance has been a good source of the type of heroines I love to read about--and I'd love if the genre delivered even more.

Want me to beg? I'm not above begging. :)

Joyfully yours,