Q&A

How Can I Keep an Angry Character Likable?

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Dear Mythcreants,

After getting frustrated by media stereotyping and belittling of female anger, I’m currently creating a female protagonist with anger as a deep motivating factor. Her arc centers on learning to harness her anger positively. The emphasis is very much on the management part rather than on the anger part. She has damn good reasons to be angry (even if I haven’t figured out what they are yet…) and I want to show that focused anger is a useful motivating force for change.

However, I’m concerned by how often angry characters are held up as unlikeable, e.g. Harry Potter in Order of the Phoenix. If a character is going to break out of destructive/self-destructive cycles of behavior, they have to behave destructively first. Do you have any advice to avoid angry characters coming across as unlikeable/unsympathetic?

-Tucana

Hi Tucana,

That’s a fantastic question. She will probably be likable if the audience can share that anger. That relies on what is making her angry, how well you show what is making her angry, and whether the audience has the experience necessary to understand why it’s so infuriating. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend my post on melodrama, which describes the mechanics of giving your character strong feelings. It discusses the Order of the Phoenix.

If your audience experiences her anger with her, they will sympathize with some level of acting out – particularly if that acting out only hurts her and/or characters they don’t like. Even so, the amount she acts out has to feel proportional to the level of justification for being angry.

You mentioned she has an arc about learning how to harness her anger positively. To show that the way she handles anger is a problem initially, it’ll be easier to focus on whether or not her choices get results and help her achieve her goals, or if they are counterproductive. If you want your audience to recognize that she’s doing the wrong thing just by what she’s doing and not by the results it gets, you’re more likely to end up with an unlikable character.

Let me expand on “whether the audience has the experience necessary to understand why it’s so infuriating.” If you want to make real-world commentary, then you may need to strike a balance between getting all of your audience on board with her anger and having the source of her anger be something that women in the real world are blamed for being angry about. The problem is that if an audience member doesn’t properly recognize the stimulus as something worth being angry about in the real world, there’s a good chance they won’t in the story either. For instance, unfortunately some people will dismiss sexual harassment as harmless jokes. In that case, you can choose to focus on the smaller audience that understands or you can go with something anger-inducing to a broader audience of people.

Best wishes for your story!

Chris

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Comments

  1. Charles Lee

    Two words: John Wick

    • Cay Reet

      I agree in general, but I don’t think a lot of people will accept a woman who acts like John Wick. I would, but most people don’t given women the same leeway when violence is concerned.

      • Charles Lee

        It’s not about how the protagonist acts. It’s about how the audience empathizes with why the protagonist is angry and has no problems with his (or her) later actions.

        Also, I don’t see why most people would object to a female version of John Wick, as long as the audience can empathize with the protagonist.. The first movie worked because of the premise, not just the violence. I think that is why the first movie worked a lot better than the 2nd. The premise of the second movie wasn’t as visceral as the first, and often felt forced.

        • Cay Reet

          John Wick is not just a man, he’s a former hitman with a very violent past. Him getting back into the world he left behind and resorting to the violence he has learned in his youth isn’t hard to believe (the extent of the violence is another question entirely). There aren’t many female characters around who work similarly to John Wick, who have the past, the training, the experience to do what he does. And a woman who decides to end a few lives for a dead dog runs the big danger of being labelled as ‘hysteric’ – a label men never get hit with. Because women, according to popular opinion, are just ‘too emotional’ and overreact then.

          You will in many cases find that the audience has more of a problem empathizing with a woman who shows anger and uses violence than with a man who does the same. The ‘typical’ gender roles do not allow for violence in women and that means a lot of people will find a woman who uses violence (especially in such an extreme, yet controlled way as John Wick does) very off-putting.

          • Charles Lee

            We are talking fiction. There is absolutely no reason why a female “hitman” with similar training as John Wick can’t work.

            John Wick doesn’t work because he is a man. The movie works because a lot of people, men and women, can relate to his motivation. As both a dog lover and a car lover, I had no problems with him killing a bazillion people to get to the person responsible. The sex of the protagonist is irrelevant.

          • Cay Reet

            There are more female hitmen in real life than in fiction, as it were. Just as there are female serial killers (who often stay unnoticed much longer) and other women who kill and commit violent acts. That just doesn’t fit with the way a large majority thinks the world works.

            A lot of people can relate to someone taking revenge for a killed dog, yes. But if you show a man being violent, he’s being a man. If you show a woman being violent, she’s hysteric and overly emotional. People would call Jane Wick unrealistic (and not because of the unrealistic level of violence in the movie), because a woman ‘can’t be that way’ – even though that’s not true.

          • Dinwar

            That’s not necessarily true. Look at the Metroid series (excluding Other M, for obvious reasons). Okay, the first one didn’t tell you Samus was female, but after that everyone knew. And everyone loved it. She was a lone bounty hunter fighting off hoards of enemies, including extremely powerful ones. She was not just gender-swapped, either; her being a female did play into the story (the metroid that took her as its mother, for example) without sacrificing the kick-ass-ness of the character (if anything it was used to give the character more depth). Anger may not be her driving emotion, but bounty hunters aren’t typically shown as happy-go-lucky types either.

            There are historic examples as well. The story of Boudicae is remembered for a reason. A woman who got angry and attacked Rome. She ultimately lost, but it took as much firepower to subdue her as it took to subdue Germania. There are also female pirates who’s stories get told among certain circles.

            I don’t think the issue is gender. I think the issue is how the author addresses the gender, but even more importantly the quality of the work itself. Quite frankly many female protagonists are portrayed badly, in stories that aren’t worth reading for many other reasons.

          • Cay Reet

            Metroid got most players used to the character before the reveal, though, at least the first one. And among video game characters, Samus still has a special place – most action games without character generation have a male lead, even Tomb Raider was, after all, originally going to feature a man, not a woman (they allegedly changed it to escape a comparison with Indiana Jones, there are definitely designs which clearly show that they were working with a male lead).

            There is a different perception of men and women using violence which plays in how angry men and angry women are perceived.

            With men, it’s often ‘that’s what real men do’. With women, it’s either ‘cute’ (the yandere trope, the cute, little girl who gets angry quickly, but can’t really harm anyone) or she’s ’emotionally unstable’ and thus more of a case for a psychiatrist than just being angry and showing it.

          • Cay Reet

            The tsundere trope, I’m sorry.

          • Dinwar

            That Samus has a special place doesn’t negate the fact that she’s an action hero acting like a man would, but clearly is a woman, and therefore illustrates that women in these roles are acceptable to broad audiences. (The argument that people were drawn into the franchise by the reveal doesn’t work, because many were brought in via Super Metroid and later games, which made no attempt to conceal Samus’ identity.) Yes, female protagonists are rare–but when they exist within well-formulated and well-articulated stories, people accept them.

            The problem isn’t the audience. The problem is the WRITERS. Most stories that feature angry or violent female protagonists are either bad stories, include bad characters (from a technical, not a moral, standpoint), or simple gender-swaps for existing stories (which is annoying because why can’t women and minorities have their OWN stories told?). There are numerous examples that demonstrate the audiences are hungry for strong female characters–but no one wants to lower their standards just because the character’s a woman.

          • Cay Reet

            There are, however, two possible reasons for badly-written female characters in certain roles.

            a) the writer does only work with stereotypes and, perhaps, just gender-flips his female baddies – that can’t be solved by any means, but will also make his male characters weak

            b) the writer is working off what comes off as acceptable for a female character (and society does have two different standards for how we portray male and female characters) and that doesn’t go together well with a badass female character who is angry and aggressive

            Jane Wick would be a gender-flipped character, because she would be a female John Wick. Finding a story for a female character driven to revenge isn’t easy, because so many things come off as not acceptable for them. John going to war with a crime syndicate’s head over a dog works, because we believe he’s been raised in a violent environment where it was normal for a man to act that way (provided the dog was important enough, which it clearly was for him). Men resolving stories with violence is a regular thing – the quality of the violence differs, not whether it’s used or not.
            The Bride in Kill Bill goes to war over the fate of her child – that is a very, very female topic and one that can quickly get your character put into the ‘too emotional, needs therapy’ niche. In addition, Kill Bill is based on a Japanese story, the story of Lady Snowblood, and the appropriate reaction to certain things depends on culture.
            A woman growing up in the same way as John would act the same way, no question, but would a crime syndicate raise a girl the same way? In most cases, they find other use for female than for male syndicate members.

            Personally, I want more women who use their anger and who use violence very much like men do, but I think it will take a while before we get them in bigger numbers. The gender roles are still very well-maintained in fiction and every female character who falls short is only seen as an argument why female characters shouldn’t be like that.

            I mean, if you step back from the violence and the anger, there’s also a lot of different measures for male and female characters in other stories:
            Male character who continues to follow the female lead despite her saying ‘no, I don’t want to date you’ – guy who is persistent and ‘earns his relationship with her.’
            Female character who continues to follow the male lead despite him saying ‘no, I don’t want to date you’ – mentally unstable woman who is either perceived as a threat or, more likely, as laughing stock.
            Male character who farts and burps in public – ‘oh, isn’t he childish, he needs to find a girl and grow up.’
            Female character who farts and burps in public – either the dudette (a woman who is ‘one of the guys’ and essentially seen as a neutral being – not male, not female) or someone eliciting shock rather than amusement. Imagine – women who have bowel movements.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          In the interests of not talking past each other, I want to point out that two things can be true at the same time.

          1: Thanks to sexism, women are judged much more harshly for being angry then men are.

          2: Despite that, a movie staring Jane Wick could absolutely work. There would be misogynists who hate it of course, as there are any time marginalized characters do cool things in movies, but we’ve seen over and over again that such hatred isn’t particularly relevant at the box office.

          • Cay Reet

            Yes, Jane Wick could work, but I guess there would be a lot of complaints online – not that they’d necessarily hurt the box office. Yet, knowing Hollywood, I don’t see anyone making that one any time soon.

      • Charles Lee

        And two more words: Kill Bill

        • Cay Reet

          The woman who kills more women than men, even though it was, technically speaking, a man who wronged her. Also, a story with Japanese origins (the origin of the movie being the story of Lady Snowblood).

          • Charles Lee

            You should watch the movie again. She kills way more men than women. Not that it should matter.

          • Charles Lee

            And, it wasn’t just a man that wronged her. It was five people, who she sets out to kill.

          • Cay Reet

            Most men she kills are simple cannon fodder – they’re not the enemy, they are in the way.

          • Charles Lee

            So what? Why does it matter if they are cannon fodder or not? Most of the people John Wick kills are also cannon fodder.

          • Dernhelm

            Well, while you are right that most of the men she kills are simply cannon fodder while most of the named villains are female, the main villain is still Bill and the women of the viper squad mainly acted as his henchwomen during the massacre that became the bride’s motivation for revenge.

            I also find it worth mentioning that the films also do include a scene of solidarity between women with the female assassin who agrees to spare the protagonist when she reveals that she is pregnant.

      • Sarah

        Wow, look at all the people mansplaining you. I agree with you.

  2. Cay Reet

    I think another option to make her more likeable would be showing that while she’s right to be angry and while she can fuel the anger into something positive, she’s not revelling in it. Let her be sorry about unleashing her anger uncontrolled and try to make up for that.

    • Dinwar

      Dr. Cox from Scrubs is like this. He’s a jerk, he’s angry, he’s prone to violence–but ultimately it stems from a good place. He’s trying to do what’s best for the people he’s trying to keep alive, and anything that interferes with this makes him angry. His anger is not good–it’s even shown to be counter-productive in many cases–but it’s always understandable.

      The other thing is, he grows throughout the series. He stops being as violent, he shows more respect to (most) people, and he learns that the things he thought were interfering with him helping people were there for reasons.

      The one problem with the character is that everyone excuses his behavior. That his anger comes from trying to do good does not mean that he can, for example, break someone’s nose, destroy hospital equipment, psychologically abuse people, etc. Having an angry character get called out on their behavior would automatically add a level of drama.

      • Cay Reet

        I agree, an angry character shouldn’t get carte blanche for their actions. They should be called out – or they should try to make up for what they did on their own, that’s down to their characters as a such.

      • Jeppsson

        Honestly, THIS is the kind of character who MUST be a white man to turn popular. The angry jerkass, a bully basically, whom we’re still supposed to like because oh look, his heart is in the right place after all.

        We can debate John Wick, the Bride and other revengers, and whether women in that genre play by different rules than men. But at least there ARE women killing people for revenge in fiction, and popular ones at that. But the closest you get to “the angry jerkass whom we’re still expected to love” on the female side is “the mean bitch who still might have a point”. The latter must be much more composed. She can’t go around yelling at people all the time.

        • L

          Bailey from Grays Anatomy.
          Also Yang.

  3. Erynus

    Imperator (trix?) Furiosa

  4. Emily G

    Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books is a prime example of anger at the state of the world being forged into a weapon. She’s a cranky old woman and not everyone likes her, but by all the gods, when those with power abuse those without it, she’s Not Having It.

  5. koeleria

    The article gives two options: give a widely sympathetic reason for her anger, or appeal to a narrow audience. The third option is to show your readers why her anger is valid. This is harder than the first two options. But one of the neat things about books is living inside a character’s head and seeing things from someone else’s perspective. You may not be able to change the mind of people who have already made up their minds. But most people haven’t really given much thought to their opinions on things they aren’t personally impacted by. For example, a sexual harasser probably won’t read a book about a woman’t anger over sexual harassment. But someone who thinks sexual harassment is just a few dirty jokes and therefore overblown might have their eyes opened by reading a story from the woman’t point of view.

    • Chris Winkle

      Unfortunately reading about something simply isn’t the same as living it. Even if you describe exactly what happened, it won’t feel the same without years of lived experience and personal context. I’m not going to say changing someone’s mind is impossible, particularly when people haven’t thought very hard as you say, however, it’s pretty unlikely. People apply their own viewpoint and experience when they read. If you’d like to try to change minds that way, power to you, but I can’t recommend it to most writers because the probability of success is too low.

  6. Dernhelm

    This is probably less about this particular case and more about female characters in general, but does anyone else find it worth pondering why there are so few female characters taking revenge/going on a rescue rampage over their child in pop culture? The only mainstream example I can think of is the Bride from Kill Bill, which is odd considering there are plenty of male examples of action heroes rescuing/avenging their kids.

    But also, regarding acceptance of female anger, the one context in all human cultures, no matter how restrictive they are on women fighting in any other area, where it’s socially accepted and even encouraged for women to use nearly any amount of violence and their anger will virtually always bee seen as justified, is when a woman is trying to protect her young child.

    • Cay Reet

      I think it’s usually assumed that the father will rescue the child (and authors are more squeamish about killing children than about killing women, especially on-screen), because they are, in a lot of cases, more likely to have the necessary skill set. To locate the kidnappers, infiltrate their hideout, and thin their numbers until you have your child back and they’ve been punished, you do need some pretty specific skills which, most people assume, women don’t have.

      Of course, you can create a female character who does have such skills, but that bears the question why they’ve become a mother. They can hardly be a working mom (keeping their skills sharp) when their job is to fly to other countries, hang around in shady pubs, and spend a lot of time in hideouts, killing enemies. Fathers travelling for work-related reasons is more common, whereas ‘stay at home’ fathers are much rarer. For a woman who took the considerable time to develop those skills, it would be a huge decision to give it all up and go full mother (with or without a daytime job that lets her come home every day). It’s therefore more likely that such women wouldn’t be mothers and thus the whole ‘rescue/avenge child’ storyline wouldn’t be kicked off. Also, because of conservatives, Hollywood is weary of mixing ‘violent and dangerous woman’ with motherhood – since mothers, by common definition, are the opposite of violent and dangerous.

      It is generally accepted that a mother would do anything to protect her child, including brutal violence, but in addition to the wish to use violence, you usually also need the knowledge to do it right. The fathers in action movies centred around avenging/rescuing their child usually have the knowledge and skills through their past and/or their job.

      • Paul C

        Another example of a (cinema) mother who also happens to be a spy/assassin and is very good at chopping vegetables for dinner: The Long Kiss Goodnight, with Geena Davis, Samuel Jackson.
        Her best line from the movie (IMHO), when she and her daughter are trapped in a locked room —
        Daughter: Mommy, are we going to die?
        Mom: (Smiling reassuringly at daughter) No dear, they are.

      • Dernhelm

        I also remember The Long Kiss Goodnight, and from what I remember, it was pretty good!

        Anyway, Cay Reet, I think you are too stuck on the idea that the story must be about a superspy/assassin, but a lot of action stories with male heroes feature everymen who are just regular cops, ex-soldiers or cowboys managing their homestead when the story starts, and I’m not an American myself, but from what I’ve seen, women are allowed to serve in the US army and police force and many do so whilst having kids, and it’s not uncommon for women in rural areas to know how to handle guns.

        Also, as for why the father isn’t taking over the show, the solution is simple; just have the female protagonist start out as a widow and there you have a reason that’s acceptable to most conservatives as to why she’s raising a kid alone.

        • Cay Reet

          Regular cop – knows how to use a gun and can do melee-fighting (also can usually do research/investigation and might know some people on the other side of the law they can pay for help)
          Ex-Soldier – knows how to use a gun and should be able to fight without weapons, too (also might have pals who can help, either with finding or fighting the targets)
          Cowboy – knows how to use a gun and can probably hold himself in a fight, too (also can lasso in a cow – much easier to bring down a human – and can survive in the wild on a stakeout)

          ‘Everyman’ would more be like an accountant, factory worker, or craftsman. Add to that that not every country in the world allows for regular citizens to own and use a gun and you may see where those everymen wouldn’t come out of their revenge/rescue plot alive.

          The big problem with women who have a dangerous and time-consuming job (such as soldier or police officer) is that they need someone else to look after the children, especially if they’re widows or single mothers for another reason. Especially being a single mom and as soldier is fraught with problems: you have very demanding work hours and you have deployments (of several months at a time) on which you can’t take your child along – not to mention the high chance of being maimed or killed in your job. So either you have a stay-at-home dad or you have other family members who take care of the child/children in your absence (grandmother, aunt, cousin, sister or their male counterparts). Women need a safety net for their children when they’re working in general and much more of one when they’re working a job which would qualify them for revenge/rescue stories. If they don’t have that safety net for a reason, they have to give up their job and do something else (in the police force, they could do a desk job, but the military usually doesn’t use soldiers for desk jobs – and a desk job means decline of skills, see below). If they do have that safety net, they’re probably not on their own on their mission or the whole situation will have blown up considerably.

          ‘Be able to use a gun’ alone won’t save either the avenging/rescuing parent nor their child (if still alive). There are additional skill sets which are necessary. Not to mention that killing doesn’t come easy to a regularly-socialized person (as they truthfully say ‘the first kill is the hardest, afterwards, it gets easier’). Now, especially an ex-soldier would know how to kill and, depending on their past, have already killed before, but a soldier actually falls into that ‘specialized skill sets’ category from the beginning. Also, don’t forget that skills which go unused go rusty and you won’t be as good with them after a few years (say: raising a child to the age of six or so) as you were while you regularly used and trained them. Your ex-soldier mom who has raised a little girl who got kidnapped during a school excursion is no longer as good a shot, as good a fighter, or as good at survivial in the wild as she was six years earlier before ending her career. Your ex-soldier father, on the other hand, might very well have gone into security afterwards and still be in training (security and child-care are just as difficult to bring together as police work and child-care or soldiering and child-care).

          • Dernhelm

            Well, I think you greatly overestimate how realistic the average action movie is, because if they were as reality-bound as all the things you bring up, John McLane, John Wick, James Bond and just about every other male action star would have died from stuff like blood loss, crushed bones and fatigue several times over, plus while househusbands may be rare, male protagonists who retired from dangerous work to do a regular civilian job with no combat requirements, like office work, factory work or being a farmer, because they wanted to have a regular family life is a common trope.

            I just don’t see why general audiences would suspend their disbelief over male action heroes being super great at skills they realistically would have forgotten or ready to do stuff regular people would be squeamish about but being unable to do the same thing for a female protagonist.

            And if you bring up the argument that not every country have as lenient gun laws as the US, and that’s true, but that’d also flip the “moms need to stay home to take care of babies” argument you bring up over it’s head, because most countries do not have the housewife culture the US does, and the US mainly only have it as a legacy of the post WW2 prosperity that allowed middle class and working class families to support entire families on a single wage, whereas in most other countries today, mothers going back to work is the default, whilst the kids are left in daycare or cared for by relatives, so basically, to much of a non US audience it would be way harder to believe that a mom could just sit at home with her kids and her family affording to and being OK with having a grown adult skipping out on having a paying job than a woman being able to manage having both a job and kids.

            And once again, even if daycare might be more expensive in the US, I find it hard to see why general audiences would readily accept characters supposed to be regular people with a medium to low income affording giant apartments in popular city centers, travelling the globe on a dime or driving brand-new cars, all of which regularly happens in Hollywood movies, but the characters affording daycare or a nanny would be too unrealistic.

            I just feel like you’re missing my argument, because I’m not asking how to incorporate social-realism into a female-driven revenge story, I’m asking why there aren’t more action movies or similar entertainment media (with all the breaks from reality you see in all typical blockbuster movies) about women rescuing/avenging their kids?

            I just remembered another example while writing, Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, which while an old film, was hugely popular when it came out and regarded by many as the best in it’s franchise, but I’d consider it a good example showing that you can write good stories about mothers rescuing their kids and most people will accept it, and I’ve even seen lots of male critics hold up Sarah Connor as a good grounded example of a realistic female action hero when comparing her to whatever movie heroine they’re criticizing.

          • Dinwar

            Every single reason you give for not having a female protagonist in these stories falls under the heading “Add drama”. (I’m going to leave aside the flagrant sexism for now.)

            Women need a safety net? Remove it. Or turn it against them. Dernhelm mentions Sara Conner; that happened here. The safety net thought she was insane and needed to be protected from herself. This makes not just the action sequences dramatic, but the conversations as well. This means that the writers could have her run to safety, only to face yet another problem, and the audience was on board.

            Women need to find a place for the kids? Hard to find that in a fire-fight. Plus, this builds instant sympathy. She’s just trying to survive and keep her kid alive! Self-preservation can work (see Alien), but protecting a kid instantly gets the audience on the side of the protagonist.

            Need to leave the child behind? Better make sure you can trust the care-givers! The author can EASILY make the caregivers hostile without the mother knowing it, making yet another high-stakes situation the mother has to deal with. Or it’s an opportunity to introduce the protagonist to some faction they were previously unaware of in a realistic way (pretty common, really).

            Can’t use a gun well? That makes a fire-fight all the more tense. Mal Reynolds is going to hit what he aims at, so a gun fight isn’t a huge risk. The authors have to keep raising the stakes to make the battles exciting. A housewife trying to defend her child with a shotgun she’s never used before? One goon is as big a threat to her as a squad would be to Captain Mal. And it’s realistic that the woman continues to be bad with guns, as they take a fair amount of time to learn to use effectively (the Stephanie Plum books get a lot of mileage out of this concept). That means that you don’t necessarily have to raise the stakes at all; they’re already sky-high.

            What you’ve presented are not problems with telling these stories from the perspective of female protagonists. They are opportunities–ones that have been demonstrated to be effective.

            (Of course most of them are merely stereotypes, and realistic depictions of women in combat situations are not nearly as uncommon as you’d have us believe. These are opportunities, but NOT necessities.)

            I would also argue that you drastically under-estimate the tole that these jobs take on men. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dangerous job where you work alone, but I have. It’s not military, but still dangerous enough. Nearly being blown up, cut in half, or eaten alive, to go back to a lonely hotel room knowing–KNOWING–that you almost didn’t make it back alive, seeing your children’s faces over and over again as you wonder how you could have said goodbye….It takes a very unique type of person to endure that, to say nothing of the price we pay in terms of family dynamic, loss of opportunities to socialize, and the like. There’s a reason why alcoholism, drug use, divorce rates, high-risk behavior, bar fights, and the like occur among members of certain professions. These are coping mechanisms to help people endure the unendurable. Men are expected to endure these conditions, but it’s not good for us, and as a society we need to stop presenting them as the ideal.

          • Cay Reet

            What you say, especially about the toll which a dangerous life takes on men as well, is not wrong, but the perception of male action heroes still differs greatly from that of female action heroes.

            There’s a handful of female action heroes who are allowed to look like their male counterparts – dishevelled, wounded, dirty (Sara Connor, Furiosa, or Ellen Ripley are allowed to be like that, but for each of them there’s at least a dozen female characters who are not). Most are supposed to be highly attractive both in looks and clothing (see ‘male gaze’). Most female action heroes are supposed to fight in heeled shoes, always have the perfect makeup (which looks like no makeup) and with long, open hair, often barely show any injuries (at least John Wick, John McLane and their pals are allowed to have wounds and scars – although they’re clearly not hindered by them as much as they should be), are supposed to be ‘heavily disfigured’ with a small scar somewhere in the outer area of their faces, and have to fit with the current beauty ideal for women (which is extremely thin) – an ideal which doesn’t lend any credence to ‘this woman can kill a man in one-on-one combat’ and more to ‘this woman is taking flight when a strong breeze comes up’.

            While female soldiers certainly exist in most armies of our planet these days, they are usually in a severe minority in any action movie. It’s almost always about a company of male soldiers (with the odd ‘female one’ thrown in for the care work and so the others have someone to worry about – heck, strategy games like “Desperados” or “Commandos” do better with their female characters). In real combat, the female soldiers go through the same dangers and hardships as the male ones, but not when Hollywood is concerned.

            All western cultures actually have that ‘housewife’ image going – few, like France, have actually worked against it after WWII. Yes, women work in most western countries (and a lot of Asian ones), but we’re far from equality. In most cases the working mother also takes on most of the childcare, housework, and emotional work (i.e. keeping the house and the family running through planning and early actions). In most western cultures, the ‘stay at home’ father is still a rarity. Men take certainly more of a part in family and home than a generation or two ago, but they’re far from taking equal parts. Family and housework are still mostly on the woman, even while she also holds down a full-time job.

            As for ‘I don’t see why audiences wouldn’t suspend their disbelief for a woman as well’: Rey vs. Luke. Everyone accepted that a yokel from a backwater planet who had never flown a craft outside of the atmosphere could shoot down a space station with a little help from the Force (we’ve seeb that trope before Luke). Nobody accepted that a woman who had fought for her life for years already would be able to transfer close-quarter combat skills from one weapon to another with the help of the Force (so Rey is a horrible Mary Sue, needs to be removed from the franchise and be replaced by a male character). No, disbelief for a female badass is always harder to suspend for a lot of people – and not only those who are watching the movies, also those who greenlight them (or not) in the offices of Hollywood and other movie factories.

            I think you are missing my argument about why Hollywood doesn’t have that many female badasses who save their children (or avenge them): because they are very conservative and don’t want to try new things in their movies, they’d rather remake the next franchise with a male lead again. They adhere to the old gender roles and those say ‘women are bad fighters and could never survive the same things the men survive in these movies’. That’s objectively wrong, but Hollywood doesn’t mind that. That’s not what female moviegoes want to see (and a lot of male ones are tired of the current characters, too), but that’s what Hollywood insists on giving them.

  7. Dernhelm

    Cay Reet, I totally get all that you’re saying that sexist Hollywood executives will adhere to outdated gender stereotypes on women fighting and so forth, but at the same time, there still are female action heroes out there, and so I still find it worth asking why it’s so unusual for the few heroines that actually do make it to the screen to be mothers when so much of our culture encourage women to want to be mothers in most other areas.

    Plus in my homeland in Scandinavia and all of northern Europe mothers working outside the home is the default, and whilst Eastern Europe has grown more conservative the last decades, for the duration of the communist rule all women were encouraged to contribute to society in the workforce and the majority of adults there would have grown up with their mothers working outside the home.

    Also, funny that you’d bring up Commandos, I remember playing Commandos 2 when I was younger, but being rather disappointed that the main ability of the one token woman was to distract enemy dudes by making sexy eyes at them, and it seems most similar strategy games have followed the same formula, and in the sequel they even cut her out altogether, so I wouldn’t really place it much higher than Hollywood when it comes to “strong female characters”.

  8. Alverant

    I appreciate this post. I’m writing something (for fun, never meant for publication) where both the main character and a female character both have anger issues, meaning both get angry quickly. Both know it and try to control their emotions. The outline is for them to start a romantic relationship and both will have to be extra careful about expressing any anger because they know that anger feeds anger and a simple disagreement could quickly spiral out of control. But I want both characters to be relatable and give both of them a chance to grow on their own.

  9. Adam

    Check out the 2018 movie Peppermint. It’s about an angry mom who gets back at all the badguys who killed her family. It’s awesome. She’s like a female Frank Castle.

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