Can women eat a cookie? Can they walk up and down stairs? Can they ride a bike?
Can they arrest you for insulting them?     
Credit: Richard Masoner
If you didn't find those questions baffling, offensive, or sexist, then you probably need to live alone and without contact from society. Maybe a cave within a cave. Someplace dark until you're ready to open your eyes.

Yes, I am male, and yes I’m writing this. But I believe men can - and should - write stories with leading women. I also feel society should stop modifying "female" with strong, and "strong female" with character.

This shouldn't be challenging. Others have succeeded at it with no more struggle than they've had at writing male characters. The only real difference between the two is that one has the capability of becoming pregnant and reducing testosterone through crying.

Joss Whedon, known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers and having his name mistaken for Josh, constantly writes strong characters. Sometimes his characters have y-chromosomes, sometimes they don’t. When they don't, the characters have all the traits you would normally expect – goals, beliefs, flaws, struggles, and abs. They have pasts to overcome, ethics to be challenged, and imperfections to hide.

It doesn’t matter if they’re male, female, gay, lesbian, transgender, or hermaphrodite.
What were you picturing?
Credit: Thomas Brown
They all have something to worry about, something to fear, something to go after. They’re not just waiting around for someone to come sweep them off their feet and claim them as a prize for bravery.

Again, what were you picturing?
Unfortunately, in an effort to clean up the transgressions of the past, writers have avoided stereotypes and commonalities at all costs. Women have become unrealistic kick-ass soldiers that know eight forms of Taekwondo and complex computer codes - all while still hitting the gym six hours a day.

They’re stripped of what makes them human and left with shallow caverns where their personalities and emotions once were. They have a total disregard to everyone with and without a pules, yet still accomplish anything they want. That doesn’t work for any character.

"We gave her 'car knowledge' because having Shia Labeouf claim her at the prize desk was too sexist." - What the screenwriters probably said about Megan Fox's character in Transformers.
Credit: lopex2k95
It’s not even that strong characters have to bend gender stereotypes like Ellen Ripley from the Alien movie series (bet you didn't know her first name was Ellen), or Sarah Connor from the Terminator films.

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice wants to marry, but her pursuit involves the societal contradictions of the 19th century. Matilda from Roald Dahl’s surprisingly titled, Matilda, was strong, and she just wanted some parents to support her.

"One day, I'll live in a home where there isn't abuse."
And then, there’s Skyler White from Breaking Bad. She might possibly be the most hated woman in television history. (Fans?) have (dedicated?) sites to despising her, including a Facebook page that might just be the world's attempt at listing every offensive thing you can say about a woman.

At least that’s what it turns out to be after you read the page title correctly and realize it’s not a prostitution ring.

Skyler, for all intents and purposes, is a woman in the role of a housewife, despite once working in the accounting department of a local business. When her husband’s meth-cooking scheme goes too far, she responds. She struggles. She fails. She turns outright nasty at times. When she does, she draws the ire and hatred of so many fans who feel she’s not being supportive enough or giving her husband whatever he needs. Some of the comments people post about her are down right misogynistic.

WARNING! - Offensive and crude language in the following image. Skip ahead to avoid it and your loss of faith in humanity.

Might as well just say you hate women while you're at.
It's unfortunate when a strong character, which happens to be a woman, receives this response, especially when the character opposite of her has become a power-craved murderer, whose only purpose in life anymore is to see how many people he can squish under the treads of his shoes.

Sure, it's natural to cheer for the protagonist despite their flaws and shortcomings, but protagonists can only be liked as much as the antagonists are hated. In this case, there aren't many people more hated than Skyler.

That's sad, because her character is one the best written on television. She’s deep and nuanced. She serves as an amazing on-again, off-again antagonist. When the show devotes time to her character development, it's still just as good. She's a character that anyone could spend hundreds of hours studying and analyzing. She's strong and she just happens to be a woman.
And she can drive, too!  (See how stupid that sounds?)
People need to take the time to recognize that her character should be lauded for the complexity and drive she has. Every choice she makes, every thought she has, every quirk she displays all match her past experiences and her future desires.

If Skyler were a man, or if the character traits of her and Walt were switched, I think everyone would still see her as a conniving backstabber and Walt as the hero. Even if their characters were switched, we would still be asking why his character is so riveting and entertaining. We would be asking how to make other characters as strong and immersed as him.

So, there are really two options here. Either we can acknowledge that there are no differences between female and male characters other than anatomy, or
we can continue stuffing our heads in dark, moist places and keep asking, Can women be people, with thoughts, emotions, and desires?

~ S.R.
7/5/2013 02:12:18 pm

"Effin' ay, Cotton. Effin aaaaay." - Pepper Brooks, Dodgeball

It's like the contrast between River from Firefly/Serenity and the female lead from What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

7/5/2013 02:30:39 pm

As a female writer, I find women characters more difficult to write. Maybe our complexity is hard to put on paper?

7/6/2013 02:23:30 am

When I was writing this, I read an article where someone suggested women were harder to write because of the implications society as put on them an actions. e.g.) a woman that cheats is a slut, but a man who cheats has struggled and/or a woman as dominant leader is a bitch, but a man as a dominant leader is a man. His point was that misogyny/sexism has made it hard for people to write women in roles without the aforementioned name calling. Like Skyler White from Breaking Bad.

7/6/2013 02:25:39 am

Wow, should have read, "... society HAS put on them AND THEIR actions." I also should have capitalized the "a" after e.g.)

Maybe I'm not cut out for writing?

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