22 April 2010

writing a strong female protagonist, part deux

all right, peeps. time for me to do an informational post comprised entirely of my opinion. some of you might agree, some of you might not. that's fine. we're all adults, right? we can have disagreements.

tonight's topic of discussion:

Bella Swan.

in all honesty, i've been dying for a forum in which to pinpoint the exact ways that ms bella does us a disservice as womenfolk. even when we were lovestruck teenagers, we eventually figured out, either through our own experiences or the commonsense advice of close friends, that mr awesome wasn't all he was cracked up to be. and we moved on.

here's what bothers me about bella (and yeah, i read all four of those books).

1) Bella never progresses. the same silly girl who fell in luvst with edward in the beginning is the exact same girl who births renesme in the last book. there's no indication that she has grown as a human being, you know, like normal people. there's no sense of maturity. she lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes edward. her entire world revolves around him. where's her independence? where is her identity? it's like she doesn't have one until she meets him, and then she's mindnumbingly redundant, which leads me to point number 2.

2)She's superficial. even the most resolute twihard (right? i really don't know twilight lingo) will admit that bella is fixated on edward's looks. and that never. changes. ever. i eventually got to the point where i just read dialogue because i was so annoyed by how much bella missed edward's sculptured chest or eyes or whatever. i guess she couldn't miss parts of his personality, given he doesn't actually have one. he's as exciting as a rice cake. not even the caramel- or chocolate-covered ones. the original. bland. tasteless. rice cakes.

now, don't get me wrong. everyone who knows me knows that i'd leave my bf in a heartbeat for chris evans (bf knows it too; unfortunately, chris evans does not) and for the first few months, i'd likely worship the ground the man walks on. however, at SOME POINT, that fades. i'd stop noticing his piercing blue eyes and perfectly sculpted chest in favor of his charm, his wit, and his intellect. i'd engage him in conversations about life, love, music, our choice of arts... i'd get to know HIM inside, not just outside. my guy is a really good-looking man, if i say so myself. when i'm away from him, i don't miss his body. i miss HIM. i miss his voice. i miss his stupid jokes. i miss laughing with him while we watch stupid people on 'most shocking.' i miss the comfort he provides. i miss the way he smells. i miss the way my head fits perfectly into his shoulder... i miss how he GETS me. i just want HIM, you know? not his chiseled manly form or whatever the hell she calls it. i can understand missing someone to the point of insanity, but it's gotta be more than his muscles and pasty sparkling skin. really.

3) She's the woman tied to the railroad tracks. Other known aliases: Damsel in distress. Woman tied to a chair with a stick of dynamite. Princess locked away in a tower. we've all seen the movies and read the fairy tales. rapunzel is locked away in a tower, just waiting for someone to come by and rescue her. sleeping beauty is awakened by her true love's kiss. dudley-do right has to rescue nell from any number of snidely whiplash's traps. you know who kicked serious ass? rachel weiss' character from the mummy, evelyn. she even came back from the DEAD and kicked anck su namun's reincarnated butt! hellz yeah, nefertiri! some seriously awesome sai work there. or hows about max from dark angel (fell in girl love with jessica alba on that show)? she TOTALLY kicked ass, but she was still vulnerable with logan. she did whatever she had to to protect the people she loved. granted, she was genetically altered, but still.

my point is that bella does nothing but promote (unhealthy) conflict while never acting as part of the resolution. though the story is told in her POV, everything happens TO her, never BY her, if that makes any sense. the one semi-brave thing she does is confront james, and even that is a bad idea. she only gets herself into more trouble and then edward has to come rescue her for the zillionth time. she can't get herself out of trouble.

there's a huge bold line between help from friends and being saved by friends. let me give you an example.

in TEEK, by steven krane, alison is wanted by the government because she's part of a controlled experiment and has NO idea about it until she somehow makes a boy's pelvis explode. yeah. that's right. EXPLODE! but that's not what makes her a strong female protagonist, oh no. what does is that, despite her paralyzing fear, alison DOESN'T GIVE UP. she fights through to the end to uncover what this whole teek thing is and why it's happened to her. why she's different. and she does so with the help of her sassy friend macy and the dad she never really knew. then there's this awesome teek fight between her and jessica and...yeah. you'll have to read it yourself. i'll mail it to you.

but do you see the difference? please say 'yes!' the situations are different, but the principle is the same. strong female protags push the action. weak ones are pushed BY the action.

...i'm totally copyrighting those last two.


Mayowa said...

True talk.

What is a little interesting/disturbing is how much this image resonates with tween readers (and adults?). Does that large fan base mean the strong female protagonist is overrated? I don't know.

Tracy said...

I agree. Bella COULD have been a compelling character, because most of us - when we're in our teens and falling in love for the first time - are scared and confused a lot. But as you pointed out, her biggest flaw is that she doesn't ever really grow. Now, granted, the average 17-18 won't grow tremendously over a 8-9 month period of time...but one who goes through as many life altering experiences as Bella should.

lexcade said...

@mayowa - to be honest, i don't think that people understand the concept of a strong female protagonist. we grow up on these images of helpless women in fairy tales and a lot of movies. women have this need/desire to be "swept off their feet" by their knight in shining armor. that, for some reason, is the female obsession. granted, only in the last few decades have women really come into their own, so these ideas will remain fixed for some time. i don't think the idea of a strong female protag is overrated as much as it's misunderstood.

@tracy - that's exactly my point. when i was 17, i moved from my little town of 2000 people to cincinnati for college. i had to be pretty much on my own, and that made me grow up quite a bit. bella is stalked by vampires, protected by werewolves *some of whom also hate her*, has to deal with high school *which sucks at any age*, and has to come to terms with the fact that the man she "loves" wants to kill her. soooo much more could have been done with that! bella could have been proactive and done SOMETHING about it. but no, we get this measly, mousey little whiney girl who doesn't stop whining until the very end. and even that's a stretch. one rule of fiction is that your character MUST CHANGE in the course of the story. that doesn't mean that she can just become a vampire and have that count. there has to be a mental/emotional change SOMEWHERE. in the mummy, evelyn becomes a lot more badass than she was before. there was a lot of rick saving her butt in the first mummy movie, but by the mummy returns, she was destroying anak su namun. even in dark angel, sam starts out really withdrawn and unsure of herself, but as the series progresses and she allows logan to become a bigger part of her life, she starts to care for a lot of other people. with bella, it's the same crap different book. always.

thanks for reading, folks! i think i'm going to make this into a little series...