I'm So Over the 'Powerful Female' Trope in Media

(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

I’m going to be called a sexist for this, but what else is new? I’ve had so many accusations about my character hurled at me over the course of my career as a socio-political commentator that I’m barely moved by outrage… but I digress.

I’m pretty over the “strong woman” trope I’m consistently seeing in media nowadays. Even in movies and shows that I enjoy, there’s always some woman in the show that is always far smarter and can perform any task better than a man. She is powerful, she is fierce, she is flawless, but most of all, she is so boring.

This is the part of the article where I state the obligatory disclaimer that I actually do appreciate strong women in media when they’re written well and fit naturally such as Sarah Connor, Samus Aran, and even modern characters like Katniss Everdeen, but it always felt like a defense of myself, and I’m not here to do that. I’ve done that enough.

Instead, I just want to focus on attacking these blatantly feminist box-checking characters that are so flat and one-dimensional that they might as well have cast a piece of notebook paper with a kid’s crayon drawing of a stick figure woman on it to play the roles.

Let’s start with one of the biggest standouts in my mind…how does one defend Brie Larson’s, Captain Marvel?

For those who haven’t seen it or don’t plan to, Captain Marvel is a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) character whose only flaw is that she’s not letting herself be the powerful person she is. She can out-fight people more experienced than her and can smash any obstacle with pure power. She’s more or less invincible and has only lost one fight in her life. She’s witty, kind, and everybody loves her except the sexists who want to hold her back because she’s a woman. Her character arc can be summed up with “she was less powerful but then she broke free of the restraints put on her by society and now she’s more powerful than anyone.”

She has no worthy adversary except a sense of amnesia, a power-regulating neck patch, and patriarchal societal programming. She has no real hero’s journey, she never has a real flaw, and she arrives at the end of her arc having hardly deserved it. She never had any stakes and the only thing she stood to lose was her “chains.”

I’ll break this down, but first, let’s look at an even worse example of the strong female trope in the form of Rey Palpatine and/or Skywalker, the most powerful Jedi to ever live in the history of ever.

For those of you who haven’t seen it or don’t plan to, Rey is a character in the new Star Wars movies whose only flaw is that she’s not letting herself be the powerful person she is. She can out-fight people more experienced than her and can smash any obstacle with pure power. She’s more or less invincible and has only lost one fight in her life. She’s witty, kind, and everybody loves her. She knows more about the Millennium Falcon than Han Solo and can outfly him in it too. When she’s captured she needs no help because she’s already so powerful with the force that she can rescue herself. She’s also so good at combat that she can beat Jedi master Luke freakin’ Skywalker in a duel.

I’d say she has a very shallow character arc, but I can’t because she has no character arc.

Let’s move on to another in the form of Disney’s live-action recreation of Mulan.

For those of you who haven’t seen it or don’t plan to, Mulan is a character whose only flaw is that she’s not letting herself be the powerful person she is. She can out-fight people more experienced than her and can smash any obstacle with pure power. She’s more or less invincible and has only lost one fight in her life. She’s witty, kind, and everybody loves her.

You get it at this point. They all follow this same formula and this infection is eating up and ruining all sorts of beloved media. One of the primary complaints for the Wheel of Time Amazon series is that it’s turned one of the greatest fantasy series of all time into a man-bashing strong woman-fest. I’m loath to see what Amazon has in store for us when it finally releases the Lord of the Rings series but I have very little hope for it.

It’s not even relegated to movies. Everywhere you look, a woman is somehow getting the better of everyone, especially men.

The fact is, these characters are so boring that they do not attract audiences and their films are, while constantly praised by professional critics, continuously destroyed or ignored completely by audiences. They make one excuse after another, but the reason we don’t want to watch these movies is clear, and it has nothing to do with sexism, the patriarchy, or some societal flaw.

It has everything to do with the fact that these are bad characters. From start to finish they are finished characters that lack believability. These women don’t act like women, they act like robots with very little allowance for actual human emotions with the exception of righteous anger. They practically aren’t allowed tenderness or warmth, especially toward the opposite sex, and rest assured, if there is a relationship you can bet that she’s better than him at everything and he is highly deferential to her. And you can forget maternal values as there is no greater sin than a child distracting the woman from her ultimate potential.

She has no flaws and so she makes no enemies unless these enemies are the enemies of the good she encompasses.

People are expected to flock to theaters and cheer for these characters but why should people do that? We’re given no reason to like these characters that are more manifestations of bad propaganda than they are people we can relate to on some level.

Rest assured, this question or questions like this have been asked of filmmakers and these films’ defenders but the answer is generally the same: “you just don’t like seeing women in powerful positions.”

Wrong. We do like seeing women in powerful positions as evidenced by the myriad women characters we revere as a society. What we don’t like is bad characters in prominent positions. Characters we can’t relate to that bore us to tears that, while they have a story they’re a part of, have no journey.

I sincerely doubt these studios will be changing their mind anytime soon about these characters and they will continue to lose money as no one shows up to see them. Eventually, the financial burden of these failed movies will take its toll. Studios that do not resort to this kind of propagandistic formula will begin exceeding in sales, allowing for more budget for everything from marketing to production values. Once-powerful studios will fade into the background as movies people actually want to watch elevate more creative studios to the top.

This may take years, possibly decades, but it’s what will happen if this formula is continuously stuck with, and I won’t miss this era of bland characters made on the back of post-modern political thinking.