By Susan Moore
Editor - Saif Khan
Women, to the shock of many authors, exist as humans. They do not solely live as wives or mothers. Usually they take on many roles. They can be diligent businesswomen, protective sisters, loyal friends, caring daughters and devoted homebuilders; sometimes all of these at once. Similarly, rather than being the embodiment of a single trait; they are multifaceted. They may be intelligent, or perhaps frivolous. They have romantic longing, or they might be void of it. They may be naïve. They may be intelligent. They may be hurt. They may be downright crooked. They are as complex as (and if not more so than) any man. However, it is never easy to make a realistic character; let alone a woman. While it is easy to criticize a flat, disposable woman character; it must be admitted that not everyone is familiar with what a proper woman character looks like. It also must be admitted that women sometimes don’t know how to make women characters. After years of saint-like Cinderella's, tough YA Mary Janes, and many other damaging stereotypes (especially so for female characters of color) how can we really know what they are? However, there are some good examples that can give us a clear image.
Sometimes, an author feels that in order to make a strong female character, the character in question must be perfect. On the contrary, this is not only a poor decision but a damaging one. To make a woman perfect and all enduring is to make light of the struggles women in real life face. It is setting impossible expectations while also denying the right to be vulnerable. Therefore, the first and most obvious sign of a good character is that she is flawed. A beautiful example of this is Natasha Rostova from War and Peace (Or the musical adaption: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812). Yes she is youthful, beautiful, and vivacious; but she is also naïve. She is moody, she is impatient, she is impulsive. These flaws are not just present but they are active. These flaws hurt her and others to the point that is unbearable, and yet realistic. After all, if the ugly qualities do not rear their head; it is almost like they are not there. When a bold and brilliant heroine falls because of her own doings; we are struck by it. After all, we have been there too.
But imperfections in themselves do not promise a good character. After all, what good is it if she only lives for someone else? She must be able to stand on her own two feet, to live on her own. She should have interests, goals and desires. This seems very simple, but isn’t as common as we would think. After all, how many heroines’ lives have revolved around the ones of their male counterparts? A few excellent examples are the March sisters in Little Women. Jo writes, Amy paints, Beth plays piano. Meg wants to start a family, but it’s for herself. Aside from these hobbies, they have a complex web of interests and desires. Jo wishes for freedom and adventure. Amy wants beauty and comfort. Meg wants finery and romance. Beth is content to merely have her family around her. We do not have to guess at what they want, what they hate, what they need, which is how it should be. If real women have interests, there is no reason for them not to see that represented in their fictional counterparts.
Going further into the miraculous concept of a woman having her own interests, she should also have friends. Naturally, women have complex friendships, but sometimes there's not even a hint of their existence. Even worse, sometimes her only relationships with other women are hostile and filled with rivalry. However, a work of fiction that not only represents women friendships brilliantly but shows them in all their complex and sometimes messy glory is The Joy Luck Club. A masterclass in character relationships, we see mothers and daughters struggle to understand each other, we see women making friends and allies in a new country, we see tension and passive aggression as well as love and affection. The women in The Joy Luck Club don’t always get along, but at the end of the day they are friends. They interact in the way that real women do. Real women don’t always love each other, but they do not see each other as merely rivals either. If real women behave in this way, why shouldn’t fictional women behave that way also?
The fact is, there are many brilliantly written female characters. As time has gone on and we have progressed as a society, it has shown in our art as well. We, as an artistic culture, have almost started to expect that out of our writers. There is Christine from Ladybird, the women of Roma, Amy from Booksmart, all the women of Parasite, Juno from Juno, Mulan from Mulan, and Marjane from Persepolis. Of course, for every thinking, breathing, woman, there is a cardboard parody. But one day, hopefully, the parodies will be gone forever, and women will exist in fiction as they do in real life. They will be striking, as they are now, and they will represent us exactly as we should be.