I've seen a lot of female characters in fiction being sorted into two camps: the "weak" emotional, sensitive females and the "strong" cold-hearted, kickass females. I'm always scared that when I write that my female characters fall in either those categories or are left behind in a tag-on love-interest way. Or become Mary Sues. How do you find a balance?
DANGER, WILL ROBINSON. THIS QUESTION IS A TRAP.
I mean, look, it’s not your fault that it’s a trap; don’t feel bad. You didn’t build the trap. You may not even know you’re in there — god knows I didn’t, in the years I spent asking myself and others this question and questions like it. It’s a good trap. It’s tricky. It gets almost everyone, at some point or another. There are a lot of people who never actually find their way out.
But, hey, don’t take my word for it. A trap is easiest to identify in action, after all. Let me show you how it works.
You should write strong women — but not too strong, because then you’re saying that only strong women are valuable, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. So you should write weak women — but not too weak, because then you’re saying that all women are weak, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. So you should write women who are both strong and weak — but only in the right ways, of course, because if you write women who show strength and weakness in the wrong ways then you’re only enforcing the idea that women can’t handle themselves, which is wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. Make sure you write women with flaws, because that’s how you develop interesting characters — but not too many flaws, and definitely not the wrong ones, because then you’re saying that all women are inherently flawed, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. But don’t write them without flaws, because then they’re too perfect, and that makes them a Mary Sue, and that’s wrong, and you’re writing women wrong. HOW DARE YOU WRITE WOMEN WRONG. Don’t you think it would be better not to write women at all?
See? It’s a trap. And it’s not even a trap in the way you think, either, because the issue here isn’t that you can nitpick out in any direction and then yell HERE IS AN ARBITRARY REASON YOU ARE DOING WOMEN WRONG — that’s a problem, don’t get me wrong, and its own trap to boot, but it’s not what we’re talking about right now. Like, it definitely sucks, but that happens all the time about all kinds of things (Women shouldn’t sleep with too many people, BUT ALSO NOT TOO FEW; women shouldn’t compromise themselves for their spouses, BUT HOW DARE THEY NOT DO THAT; I could go on but, like, why), and it doesn’t have shit to do with how you tell a story unless you let it.
Naw, friend, the trap here is the idea that you are writing women. You’re not. You’re writing a woman. One person. Every time you write a female character, that’s what you’re writing — just that one. She’s not an archetype, she’s not a statement on All Women Ever, she’s just a person. Singular. Solo. The same way (I hope?) you don’t think, “What is this male character saying about every single dude who has ever walked this earth?” whenever you write guys, so you should avoid thinking that when you write ladies. They’re just people. They don’t have to Be Everything — the idea that women have to Be Everything is enough of a drag in day to day life, you know? It doesn’t need to be given any room to strut around in your writing.
Build her, and not who you think she’s supposed to be: that’s how I do it. What’s she afraid of? What does she believe in? What’s the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to her? The best meal she’s ever had? How would she describe herself if she had only five words to do it? What makes her laugh? What makes her cry? What does she think people want her to be, and what does she want to be, and is there a space between those things, and how does she fill it, if there is?
Nadia, one of the main characters in my novel — she’s a chef, because she likes the simplicity of food, the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to disappoint it, that its nuance is in physical construction as opposed to conceptual tone. She’s spent so much of her life desperately trying and cataclysmically failing to be the person her parents want her to be that she projects a certain amount of hostility towards everyone else, almost daring them to demand anything of her at all. She is hesitant to trust, because she has regretted trusting in the past, and she’s the sort of person who takes regret as a sign that she, herself, has done something wrong, something she should resist repeating in the future. She sneers because she’s used to being sneered at. She smiles when she feels someone has earned it, because that’s more or less the only way she’s ever received that reaction herself. And the thing is, for all I know this now? When I first thought about her, all I knew was her name and her profession. But I built her out out from that, thinking about how she, personally, came to be where she was, as opposed to how women, in general, might come to be in that place. It’s a much more effective strategy, in my experience. Less anxiety-producing, too.
Whoever your female character is, the more you know about her as a person — the more real she feels to you — the less you will feel like that other shit, the what-if-I’m-writing-women-wrong-shit, matters. Because it doesn’t; the truth is the trick, the really important thing to remember in writing women, is to write them one at a time. To write them into individuals, as opposed to into boxes. I hope that helps <3
PHIL: Agent Romanoff? This is Captain Rogers.
NATASHA: It was quite the buzz around here, finding you in the ice. Thought Coulson was gonna swoon. Did he ask you to sign his Captain America trading cards yet?
STEVE: Trading cards?
NATASHA: They’re vintage. He’s very proud.
Amongst the designs that were chosen was my Psylocke design, which is in the company of artists like Meredith McClaren, Ross Campbell, Mark Brooks, Jamie McKelvie, Phil Noto, and Jesus Siaz. Not a bad group of artists to be grouped with, if I do say so myself.
Basically the gist of the article was about costumes should be designed by artists who also know fashion and design, rather than just pencilers who will have to be drawing that character for their book, and how when the right person is tasked to design the costume that it will have a far better outcome. She went through and chose characters who she felt needed the update, and talked about how the redesign was an improvement.
Characters like Psylocke, Glory, Poison Ivy, Ms Marvel, Jubilee, Valkyrie, and Domino.
And as anything involving comics, hatred quickly followed the heels of this article. what else would you expect, right?
But within the comments, a few points were being brought up that puzzled me that I sort of wanted to address, Instead of my initial reaction which was to get into a comment war. Thankfully, that was a path I didn’t go down because I had things I needed to do with my day and I couldn’t waste it in what would undoubtedly become an insult match.
One of the ideas that kept coming up was the notion that there is a trend in current female costume designs that the designer must pander to screaming feminists by covering the character from head to toe and take away all of the characters sexiness and by result make them boring.
Now I’ll be honest, I don’t like being yelled at by feminists. But I also don’t like to be yelled at by womanizers, or kids, or anyone. So I want to just rule that out as a motivation. No one wants to get yelled at.
Secondly, sexiness is subjective. A character can still be considered “sexy” even if it doesn’t fit with your tastes. To say that by giving a Female character a piece of fabric to cover her ass cheeks up is ruining her sexiness, ALL that means is that YOU think that an exposed ass is sexy. There is absolutely no way to make a blanket statement about that. Some people think a baggy shirt on a girl is equally as attractive as an uber skin tight shirt.
Sexiness has NEVER been a factor when I design a character. Sex appeal ONLY comes into play when the characters PERSONALITY dictates that as a factor.
The CHARACTER must be first and foremost the inspiration and guideline for all the decisions made when trying to design the clothing. NOT what you want to see on a characters to get your rocks off. I find that frankly immature, and an insult to the character you are trying to do justice to.
Granted, what is “correct” by the character is also incredibly subjective. Everyone see’s a character differently. This is Fact. This is the exact reason that everyone has different favourite characters, we each see something different that attracts us to them. The best a designer can hope for is that their interpretation can ideally appeal to the largest majority possible of that characters fan-base. No one wants to have a design that fans hate, but you can’t please everyone.
And just to speak for myself, modesty was never a factor. I never approached storm’s, or psylocke’s, or spiral’s design with the sole intention of hiding their skin. The amount of real estate that ended up being covered or not was ENTIRELY dictated by my attempt to respect the character. There was no “psylocke has to be fully covered because it would be indecent for any of her skin to be showing”. I wanted to have her covered because I felt that a character who is performing stealth assassinations would want as little wound-able flesh showing.
My go-to example of a character that should be showing skin is, of course, Emma Frost. Here is a character who prides herself on her looks. She is an incredibly confident character mentally, and likes to show off herself physically. Emma Frost flaunting it works because it works for HER. She likes control, she likes power, and one of the best tools for that is her body. She can turn heads with her body, she can command attention with it. She wouldn’t even need to use her telepathy to have someone lose focus. Emma Frost is incredibly intelligent, she knows what she is doing. There has to be a REASON for the skin.
Even with male characters. Namor doesn’t need to cover up anything because he is indestructible. Armour would give him no benefit, and would probably hinder him. In fact, having Namor show off skin actually helps to tell a lot about him as a character. It shows his confidence, it shows he isn’t afraid to be attacked, and it largely makes sense given he lives in water.
Colossus doesn’t need full covering, because all he has to do is become metal, and he has his own protection.
There has to be a REASON.
To what tactical function would a spy need her cleavage hanging out? Does it help a character who is an acrobat?
There is nothing inherently wrong with cleavage, but it needs to be based on either the characters personality or by what they do. I cannot stress this enough. It cannot just be cause the artist felt like drawing a zipper down.
Fan-Service is no longer a logical reason to do anything. The Story should be the Fan-service by being a good story and doing the character justice, and the art should support that.
And, an Artist’s tastes are an entirely defendable reason for something, but dont try to pass it off as anything else. You can argue that it makes sense for psylocke to wear less clothing because she wants less covering her to hinder her mobility, and that does hold some water to it. It does make sense to a point. But to say the stripes of clothe on her serve any other function that just for appearance sake is laughable. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong about just saying something is drawn that way because thats what the artist likes. I do it all the time. There are things that I draw a certain way, that Ross draws a certain way, that Mark draws a certain way. It’s one of the weird double-edged swords about comics, but a lot of the audiences participation with the comic is determined by the artist and their tastes. It’s just one of those things where the artist holds a lot of power in their hands, and as such, there is a level of accountability that the artist owes the readers, but the readers arguments must come from a place of logic, rather than just “You ruined her because I want to see more tits!!”. No one has time for that
Covering characters works. Uncovering characters work. The character determines what will or will not work. There is no mandate. There are no threats. At least there weren’t for me when I designed X-force. I had incredible freedom to design as how I saw fit. As I assume how it went for the other artists that designed the marvel costumes.
I find it funny that out of the 6 costumes in that article, 5 were designed by guys. I think that just goes to show that there isn’t this gender mental block that makes men unable to design practical costumes for the opposite gender.
Anyone can design any costume for any gender as long as they approach it with with respect and understanding.
And thats my rant on that haha