Connecting with female characters in geek television

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

s. e. smith wrote this amazing post a while back at Bitch’s Push(back) at the Intersections: “I Just Don’t Like That Many Female Characters.” And I read it and was like, “OMG GEEK CULTURE.” Because, really:

‘I just don’t really like many female characters, you know?’

I see this coming up again and again in discussions about pop culture; this is an attitude I myself once embraced and espoused, like it was a badge of honor to dislike most female characters. I thought I was being oh-so-edgy and critiquing female characters when really I was engaging in an age-old form of misogyny, where people prove how progressive they are by saying they hate women.

I know, it sounds weird. But there is a thing that happens where some feminists declare themselves firmly to be ‘one of the guys.’ I’m not sure if it’s a defensive tactic, designed to flip some attitudes about feminism and feminists, or if there is a genuine belief that being feminist means ‘being one of the guys.’ Once you are ‘one of the guys,’ you of course need to prove it by bashing on women, because this is what ‘guys’ do, yes? So you say that you don’t really ‘connect with’ or ‘like’ female characters you encounter in pop culture.

If feminists feel pressure to be accepted as “one of the guys,” imagine how geek women feel, particularly early in their lives, when they often feel isolated from one another.

This tendency to dislike female character reminds me of another “being one of the guys” strategy: I often meet women who tell me proudly, “I just don’t get along with women.* All of my best friends have been guys.” These women also often think that this fact actually makes them progressive (because nothing’s more radical than failing to create female-centric relationships!). And most of the women I’ve known who say this are geeks. It’s actually one of the reasons it took so long for me to become friends with geeks, because “I don’t get along with women” is dealbreaker for me. Any woman who says this is either a) telling me that I can never expect more than perfunctory friendship with them or b) inviting me to denigrate women as well, as the basis of our friendship. And no thank you.

Which is not, of course, to say that these ladies are horrible people. Women who refuse to connect with other women, fictional or real, are not causing the problem, but perpetuating it, because they’ve bought patriarchal narratives about women hook, line, and sinker. They seek connections with men, because men are the rational, smarter set, and by doing so they feel required to malign their own genders, because, as smith points out, “bashing on women” is just what dudes do. But loving other women, connecting with other women, is one of the most radical feminist act one can perform. And I think that goes for fictional characters, too, especially since I know that my personal path to feminism would have been greatly hindered if it weren’t for Xena and Buffy.

So it hurts my heart when geeks inexplicably “hate” female characters on geek shows. Indeed, the two examples smith uses are actually from geeky/fantasy/SF shows: True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seems like misogynist write-offs of female characters are disturbingly prevalent in allegedly progressive fan cultures (like the overtly feminist Buffy), and the ones that have been pissing me off lately are, of course, Doctor Who-related. A sizeable part of DW and Torchwood fandoms has a lot of ire for female characters from these series. The two I want to focus on, in part because hatred of these characters is well-represented in both fan communitities, are Gwen Cooper (from Torchwood) and River Song (from Doctor Who).

[Spoilers for season 5 of Doctor Who and Torchwood: Children of Earth (season 3) below the fold.]

[Trigger warning for imagined violence against female characters, slut-shaming, and other misogynistic language.]

Gwen Cooper

Now, Gwen is not perfect on this show. For that matter, neither is anyone else. Everyone on this show is flawed, most of them quite seriously. Under the stress and weirdness of working for Torchwood, Gwen is dismissive of her partner, Rhys, and then cheats on him with a fellow Torchwood employee, Owen. And, throughout the entire series, she’s in love with Jack (who the fuck isn’t), but marries Rhys anyway. So, Gwen has some personal failings. Compared with the failings of the other major characters, in particular Owen’s unfeeling libertine ways and Jack’s stringing along Ianto and sacrificing his own grandson, however, Gwen is about right in the middle of the Torchwood-employees-are-bad-people bell curve. However, unlike most of the other characters, a sizeable minority of fans violently hate her, to the extent that there is an Anti-Gwen Alliance on LJ, complete with youtube video. People call her things like “a selfish stupid slutty little gap toothed bitch who should die a very painfull death.” So what the fuck is up?
She’s ugly. If you think this, and also think that it is a legitimate reason to hate a (female) character, you’re a douche. I mean, not only are you wrong, judging female characters solely on whether you want to fuck them or whether they live up to unrealistic standards of beauty makes you a misogynist, even if you’re a lady. (More on this with River Song.)

She’s whiny. From smith:

People who claim not to like female characters often have difficulty explaining why exactly. Take a character like Buffy, who is called ‘whiny’ for having opinions and not being shy about them, for occasionally being vulnerable and frightened and sad. It couldn’t possibly be because her friends repeatedly fuck her over, she was yanked out of heaven to save her friends’ butts, she’s been burdened with huge responsibility, and she’s constantly taken for granted, right? She couldn’t possibly have any reason to be angry and to speak up about it, just like Tara has no reason to be angry either. Nope, they’re both just whiny women. Write off, move on.

THIS. People who call Gwen whiny don’t feel the need to explain why. And if they do, they hate Gwen because she acts like a woman (because, ew, who would want that?). From a Facebook thread about hating Gwen:

Yeah, I don’t really watch Dr. Who, but I got the impression that Rose was a lot like Gwen, and I can’t for the life of me understand why the writers like characters like this. I just find them so irritating. I don’t get why women have to be all sappy in shows. Why can’t there be more women like Xena or Ellen from Supernatural, strong without the sappy. I tend to like women characters better when writers don’t feel like they have to make them all soft and whiney, because I just don’t think that’s really embracing feminism. It’s keeping girls in the whiney category and keeping guys as the strong ones who don’t whine a lot.

In other words, if producers would make female characters MORE LIKE MEN, then they would be less annoying. That, apparently, is feminism. Women who have feelings and express them are “all sappy” and “soft.” Because, gross, right? My favorite part is the reference to Ellen from Supernatural, whose response to her daughter’s death is not at all emotional or drawn-out (/sarcasm). smith again:

Much of this baseless hatred of women characters seems to be a reflection of internalized self-hatred. Being ‘emotional,’ for example, is a trait that society says is not acceptable for women, and thus expressions of emotion on the part of women characters are condemned. People will sometimes hide behind claims of ‘stereotyping’ to criticize women characters, arguing that the characters reinforce problematic ideas about women while little realizing that they themselves are reinforcing those ideas; people who claim that characters like Tara [from Buffy] are ‘too emotional’ and that this feeds ideas about ‘hysteria’ and women don’t seem to recognize that they are reflecting a commonly held social attitude, that women should not be emotional. They ignore the very real reasons for Tara to be upset; seeing your lover shot and lying in a pool of his own blood, for example, is a very emotional experience.

Calling women who express their emotions sappy and whiny doesn’t make you a feminist. Capitulating to sexist stereotypes about proper behavior, painting everything “feminine,” like having emotions, as “soft” and “sappy,” as not legitimate, is exactly the opposite of feminism, and doesn’t do women any favors.

She’s a slut. This one is particularly precious, because most Gwen-haters love Jack, the sluttiest** of all DW-related characters. People seem personally offended that Gwen is a threat to Jack and Ianto’s relationship (obviously, before Ianto died in CoE), as if that particular flirtation is all about Gwen being a home-wrecker. We see that Jack both initiates and encourages their flirtations, as well as his tendency to rather unfeelingly brush off Ianto whenever Ianto tries to define their relationship or ask for committment from Jack. The image that Gwen-haters seem to have, of a happy, committed gay couple and a bitch trying to wreck it, is a constructed fantasy, one created for the sole purpose of maligning Gwen.

She’s smug. Don’t women know they should never act like they know anything? Gwen is often accused of acting too much like a know-it-all:

Can they kill Gwen in episode one? Please? I promise I’ll watch all 10 episodes live if they do.

I just can’t stand the smug bitch. Oh, look at me. I never get hurt, am loved by everybody, and have an adorable caring husband who loves me unconditionally even though I’m a raging knowitall bitch. Fuck. I’d prefer Ianto’s sister coming back to join the force over more Gwen.

Anyone want to play a guessing game? Who else can we think of that never gets hurt, is loved by everybody, and has an adorable caring partner who loves hir despite hir serious committment issues? Oh RIGHT. Jack fucking Harkness. And while he certainly gets his share of being called “smug” on the internet, it’s not by people who call Gwen smug. It’s cool for him to act like he knows everything (and, of course, he does act like that), presumably because his penis gives him magical not-annoying powers. This is the real problem with hating Gwen: she and Jack are quite alike, and not by accident. But behaviors we find acceptable in men are simply not okay in women. And even if Gwen doesn’t act like Jack, and goes around acting like a lady with her lady-feelings, she’s still considered whiny and annoying by the fans. There is no winning this game.

River Song

People that hate River Song confuse me sometimes more than people who hate Gwen. Which isn’t to say that Gwen-hate makes more sense, because if you hate severely flawed characters, WHY ARE YOU WATCHING TORCHWOOD, but River gives them a lot less to work with. Not that it matters, because it appears that folks draw from the same store of justifications when it comes to hating lady-characters. From Amplicate:

she is just so fuckin smug! she looks about 50 (especially in the weeping angels episodes) and shes still teasing the poor doctor about what they used her handcuffs for *shudder* i wouldnt mind seeing david tennant or matt smith use them but with her!! *shudder of disgust*. and she always calls him pretty boy and sweetie. it makes me sick, seriously. and i ABSOLUTELY HATE it when she says ‘spoilers’ in that smug voice of hers. and in dr who confidential she had to thow herself right ontop of poor matt, i bet she loved that, especially when she put her knee into matts groin continuously, which even matt admitted she did. and she was giggling away, probably fantasizing about using her handcuffs with matt.

sorry, this might be a bit harsh, but i just had to say how i much i hate the pig.

Even though River is a very different character than Gwen, we get the same string of reasons to hate her: she’s ugly, she’s a slut, and she’s smug. Let’s deal with the ugly thing first. Because, again, it makes you a douchebag, particularly when you only think someone’s ugly because she “looks about 50″*** and especially when she’s clearly gorgeous. I keep pointing this out, not because conventional beauty actually matters to liking a character, but because these characters are, for the most part, conventionally beautiful. River steps outside that paradigm the most, because of she’s not white, but she’s still light-skinned, abled, thin, etc. So by arguing that these conventionally beautiful actresses are “ugly,” fans capitulate to an unrealistic and problematic standard of beauty for women, one that insists that the great majority of women (including actresses and models!) will never actually be beautiful, but must continually strive for it. One that causes real harm. One that is used to police women who presume to attain any power or agency. Which is all to say, it is not a legitimate complaint to say that you hate a female character because she doesn’t match your definition of fuckable or beautiful. Period.
Sometimes River also gets called “whiny,” but more often people seem to have a problem with her “smugness,” because female characters are in a double bind, just like actual women, whether in positions of leadership or just on the street. Act like a woman (like you have gross lady-feelings), and you’re a whiny twit. Act like a man (like you know things), and you’re a smug bitch. Observe:

I already REALLY don’t like River Song (and just why that is I still haven’t figured out) but she has been the closest thing, personality-wise, to a female “Doctor” I’ve seen thus far, and she makes me want to punch her in the neck.

Because only a dude can get away with acting like the Doctor. It’s violence-inducing when a woman does it. Like Gwen and Jack, River and the Doctor are judged differently for having the same characteristics. Acting like the leading men is not okay for female characters, but neither is it okay for them to “act like women,” because then they’re whiny and girly. They simply can’t win, which is sort of the point. Hating female characters doesn’t have anything to do with some magical combination of characteristics that make female characters likeable. Rather, it has to do with misogyny and capitulating to a sexist culture, in order to show one’s credibility in that culture.

You may have noted the excessive imaginative violence in the hatred of these two characters. Fans often imagine the deaths of these characters (preferably painful) or imagine inflicting violence on them (“she makes me want to punch her in the neck”). This is disturbing, and can be explained by the ways in which geeks feel more pressure to over-act hypermasculinity. Geek boys are often picked on or bullied in school for being beta males, and geek men usually continue to feel undervalued because of their perceived lack of “manliness.” Their reaction to this bullying is very often not to subvert the patriarchal masculinity standards that they fail to meet, but to overcompensate for this lack by participating more enthusiastically in misogynistic and homophobic behaviors and language. And women who exist in this culture, and want to be accepted by these geek men, will also often capitulate with misogyny as well, and show their credibility in part by refusing to connect with female characters in television.

smith asks us:

What is so frightening about women characters who display emotions? What is so terrifying about storylines that center women?

Indeed. So let’s, as geeks, start to value women, in all their complexity and variety, instead of deciding prematurely that any woman is only worthy of our contempt. There’s nothing scary about accepting that women, fictional and real, are human beings.
____________________________________________________________________

*Actually, they usually say “girls.”

**I don’t approve of the judgmental connotations the word “slut” carries with it. By using it, I’m just mimicking the language used by haters, not agreeing with the slut-shaming.

*** Ugh, what is wrong with people? Are we really okay with the idea that women are just utterly unfuckable past the age of 30 or 40 or 50? I mean, really?

UPDATE ON COMMENT POLICY: 

Guys, this thread is not the place for “I dislike Gwen! Let me ‘splain why!” or “I dislike River, how dare you call me a sexist!” types of comments. If you want to justify your dislike of these (or other female) characters, you have the whole internet to do it in. If your reasons for disliking these characters are completely different than what I talked about, then I’m not necessarily talking about you! If you don’t like the shows at all, I’m still not talking about you! Which means that you are being off-topic. Any comments that are mainly or solely “But I hate River! The explanation! I will gives it!” will not be approved any more.

To head off the “you just don’t want me to disagree!” arguments, let me point out: my argument is that the specific reasons given by the majority of fans for hating these characters are misogynistic. You can disagree with that! But saying “I hate Gwen!” is not actually disagreeing with my point, since my argument is not that Gwen is super awesome.

104 thoughts on “Connecting with female characters in geek television

  1. Ben

    I don’t think you actually used queer in the post if that’s what the *** footnote was for.

  2. lala

    if producers would make female characters MORE LIKE MEN, then they would be less annoying

    behaviors we find acceptable in men are simply not okay in women

    I love the contradiction here. It’s like that neat thing where if you have sex, you’re a slut, but if you don’t, you’re an evil bitch cruelly exerting power over men by denying them sex. Or that other neat thing where if you’re assertive in the workplace, you’re a bitch, but if you’re not, any lack of success is because you’re too inherently weak to succeed in the workforce.

  3. Kareena

    YES! THIS! *bows to you*

    Incidentally, Gwen and River are two of my favourite characters. The only hesitation I have on admitting that I fucking love River has to do with my well established Rose love and liking River kind of feels traitorous. :)

    1. Tais

      I don´t feel like traitorous. I love both and I feel like I´m a exception but I don´t care.

  4. Molly

    This article was AWESOME and really food for thought. I’ve gotten into so much trouble in the Doctor Who fandom for daring to adore each and every companion — Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, River . . . I love ‘em all, all in different ways, but there’s a kind of fierce need in fandom to pit them against each other and hate on whichever ones aren’t your favorite because they’re all of the things you talk about here — too whiny, too emotional, too smug, too needy, too old, too ugly, too WHATEVER. It’s absurd. These are fierce and fabulous women, and the misogyny rife in pretty much all discussions about any of them just baffles me.

    ALSO, hell to the yes, Alex Kingston and Eve Myles are freaking gorgeous.

    1. Courtney S.

      I agree about the companions! I actually have a hard time picking a favorite. (I always say Rose, but then I either waffle or qualify it by saying, “but I also love Donna. And Martha. And Amy.”) I don’t really get the desire to pit them against each other either, and when I run against people who tell me they don’t like ANY of them, I wonder why they watch the show at all. They are sort of the main characters.

      Sometimes, I don’t like how they are underwritten or underused (*cough cough* Amy), but that is a whole different issue.

  5. jaysee

    River steps outside that paradigm the most, because of she’s not white, but she’s still light-skinned, abled, thin, etc

    This sentence intrigued me because I’d never considered River not-white so I went a-Googleing. Although it’s hard to prove a negative, I did find an interview with Alex Kingston from when she was in ER where she notes people had assumed that she’s black (presumably noteworthy because she isn’t):

    Did she get hate mail? ‘No, it was much stranger than that. A lot of people assumed I was black.’ Kingston shakes her head in rueful amazement.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2002/jul/07/features.magazine

    So I’m interested that you say that River is not white. Is the character not-white? I never got that from the show.

    As an aside, I’m devastated to find out that people don’t like (hate!) River. She’s my favourite and I love that the Doctor isn’t the smartest person in the room any more.

    1. Courtney S.

      Perhaps I’m showing my ignorance here, but I never assumed she was black either. But she certainly doesn’t look white to me. I could be entirely wrong.

      ” I love that the Doctor isn’t the smartest person in the room any more.”

      THIS. All over the place.

      1. Mel

        All I can find about her heritage is that one of her parents is (presumably white) German. She doesn’t seem to identify as anything other than white.

      2. Marcy

        I agree with your thoughts on this topic, but I have to say that I find it offensive that you assume Alex Kingston to be non-white because she doesn’t have … well, I don’t even know what she doesn’t or does have that makes you feel this way. Is it because she doesn’t have straight hair and a perky nose? Not all Caucasians have them, those of Jewish and Italian descent as an example. I’m not offended because I think it’s offensive to be considered anything other than white, I’m offended that you think anyone who doesn’t fit the “white” stereotype must not be white.

    2. tiferet

      I love River Song like burning and want to grow up to be her. It makes me sad that people don’t like her, too.

  6. Eivind

    I do admit to finding certain female characters, who behave in overly stereotyped ways annoying, infact they’re almost as annoying as male characters who do the same.

    For example, I think Reimi from the latest Merry from the latest StarOcean highly annoying. Yes, she’s a cat-girl, but by golly, could they -possibly- allow her to have even the sligthest hint of a clue about ANYTHING ?

    But she’s easily trumphed by Bacchus. Come now, could we be spared ONE iteration of the “friendship is such a myserious emotion to me” “so -this- is what they call love” “honor and duty above all” archetype ?

    1. Leigh Honeywell

      Wow, Eivind, you read that whole post and all you could comment was about some female characters you dislike. Methinks you miss the point a wee bit.

    2. Meg

      Dude, it’s *Star Ocean 4*. Star Ocean 1 had shallow characters, but the sequel to the sequel to the sequel is supposed to be deep and meaningful? You’re supposed to revel in its silliness. Either that, or find a different game to play. Complaining every time the Star Ocean series doesn’t behave like great literature is just going to give you ulcers.

      And speaking of characters people usually hate but I don’t, I always liked Peppita. Yeah she’s squeaky and flaky, but frankly I’m tired of 14-year old girls acting like grown women (and, almost inevitably, looking like and being the target of objectification like them) in male-targeted media . She’s adorable and she is devastating in battle if you take the time to level her properly.

  7. Wednesday

    I love this post and all others that show the prevalence of Gwen-bashing up for what it is — misogynist. This isn’t to say that there’s no way one can legitimately dislike Gwen. I dislike Gwen, because I believe that Torchwood is full of unhealthy character relationships (and Jack/Ianto worst of all) and it gets a little upsetting to watch how writers and fans alike think that’s somehow worthy of being OTP. But that’s not why a majority of fandom dislikes Gwen, no; it’s because she is [all the traits that Jack is] but a woman. *shudder*

    So, yeah, thanks for this post.

    1. Courtney S.

      Absolutely. This post is really about fans who love other Torchwood characters and single out Gwen as the worst. Not one Torchwood character has their emotional shit together, which is why that show is fucking depressing, but also why I find it compelling. I like watching them all, though I probably wouldn’t want to be Gwen’s (or Tosh’s or Owen’s or Jack’s or Ianto’s) bestest friend.

      1. Kareena

        This reminded me: I love all the other Torchwood characters (because they’re human, they’re interesting, they have great lines, etc) EXCEPT Owen. There, I said it. I just think Owen’s a prat. :)

        1. tiferet

          Owen is a rapist. I don’t like Gwen either, but she’s not a rapist, and I am completely befuddled by people who bash Gwen and then praise Owen. (Frankly, there is nobody on Torchwood that I really like, and I don’t think I’ve followed it closely since the middle of S2. I liked Jack Harkness on DW, but he’s an asshat on Torchwood, like everyone else.)

  8. lilacsigil

    As a teenager, I was that anti-female geeky girl, and saw no contradiction between that and my feminism. I thought that the problem was that girls were told to like “girl stuff” and if we could just like “boy stuff” (which was of course the default and really gender neutral) everything would be great. Most of my friends were male, I was involved in (mostly) quite sexist tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, and I liked fantasy novels and computer games. I didn’t like “feminine” things; partially because girls I knew didn’t like the things I liked, partially because of constant body-shaming by my family – it’s no good liking make-up or dresses when you’re constantly told how ugly you are.

    It took me a long time to realise that by valuing only traditionally masculine pursuits, I was devaluing myself and other women, and accepting patriarchal values. I can’t say I ever hated female character – I mostly just ignored them – but I was totally on board with the “ew, women acting like women!” boat.

    1. Liz Henry

      I also grew up this way! I thought that “feminism” had fixed everything and that the only problem left was that not everyone had realized that liking girl things was stupid. I thought that way till I was about 15 and then reality (in the form of late puberty and other people’s suddenly changed attitudes towards me) hit me like a goddamn truck. I think I went around saying proudly that I wasn’t really friends with other women for quite a lot longer (though in retrospect, it wasn’t true.)

      It’s rough when I see other women or girls going through any part of that process but I like to keep firmly in mind that it can be a long process and they are part of my feminism, ie, I’m not going to trash them, even if they are happy to throw me and other women under the bus.

    2. Sarah

      I had to agree. Around the age of 14 I had an official policy of hating the color pink and the idea of shopping. I was on academic team and was called one of the guys. I wasn’t flighty or manipulative like it seemed ‘girls’ had to be. And so I condemned all ‘girly’ trappings. And then I got over it. I decided that I didn’t care what other people thought of me, that I liked wearing jewelry, and that being (and even sometimes acting) feminine didn’t mean I bought into the idea that girls, or women, were either dimwits or bitches.

  9. Burn

    Ah, yes. I have been anticipating/dreading spring 2011, when my fandom will make it to TV and explode all over the internet, because I’ve been part of a vocal minority of fans who constantly defend several female characters for, well, existing. The fandom in question is George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (coming to HBO as Game of Thrones in March) and, while portraying a vast number of characters with good sides and bad sides, the women by far get the worst treatment from fans. Some of them are too “whiny”, “stupid” and “weak” and possibly too “focused on protecting their family” and yet at the same time “horrible to their family members”. Two of the most popular recurring threads over the last 10 years have been “Sansa/Catelyn is a bitch”. At the same time, someone who would be immune to all of those criticisms is “too perfect”. And since the world is very bloody in general, some fans wish upon those characters all matter of horrible deaths for being too cutthroat or too naive, too flawed or too perfect, too masculine or too feminine, whilst one of the few absolute vicious, 100% evil bad guys has basically developed a fan cult revolving around his alleged “badassness”. *sigh* And that’s just with the books, no TV required, although the casting discussions for the show has already devolved into various actresses being criticized for looking too old, not young enough (to play a teenager), not beautiful enough, not ugly enough, etc. to play the fans’ mental images of those characters. So if you ever watch this show in the future, keep in mind that whatever misogynistic threads pop up probably have a long history of existence before the show ever got on the air. Additionally, the two sites I’ve been involved in have been male-dominated. I know there’s a sizable fandom on LJ and probably elsewhere as well, but it doesn’t seem to have a major crossover with the largest boards. Since TV SF fandom on the internet seems to have a very large female component, I really hope some of this filters over into the preexisting communities, since our feminist ranks could use a boost in numbers and strength.

    On a more general note, I’ve long been tired of the “all my friends are guys because women are too ” meme. I am a geeky woman who spent 14 years with very few male friends (having attended a girls’ school) and generally feel more comfortable around other women despite having very few stereotypically feminine interests and personality traits. As such, even though my academic field, my two main hobbies, and my fandom are all male-dominated, I usually try to seek out other women in whatever circles I’m moving in (hence reading this blog) and I have to say, I’ve felt hurt or rebuffed when talking to other women who don’t seem to be interested in socializing with me because they would rather be one of the guys, and who expresses pride in this to my face. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but after a certain number of times of hearing this, I kind of want to reply, “You say you don’t like women because they’re too [emotional/dramatic/whatever] and seem reluctant to talk to me because of this. And you have judged me to be like this within a few minutes of talking to me….how?” But yeah, it’s unfortunate that this attitude is so prevalent, since it really cuts down the number of potential friends and close acquaintances I can make, although I’ve been lucky to have made some close friends who share my outlook.

    1. Jayn

      I’ve wound up in the ‘most of my friends are guys’ group, but more by accident than design (on a somewhat ironic note, most of my best friends are female). I find now I feel more comfortable in majority male groups than in majority female groups, and will tend to gravitate towards the former. I don’t consider myself one of the guys, but neither have I really felt right being one of the girls either.

      1. Sarah

        As a teenager I said most of my friends were guys but it wasn’t true. I’m not even sure now, looking back, how I managed that piece of doublethink. Yeah, all the guys on academic team were, well, guys but my best friend from kindergarten to graduation as well as most of the people I ate lunch with were girls. *shrug* I suppose I had really bought into the girly=bad meme hard at the time.

    2. Kareena

      I would add here that, while I *love* Song of Ice & Fire and most of it’s female characters, Lyssa was very misogynistically written. She’s the one character that makes me almost feel guilty for liking the rest of the story because of how horribly she’s written/portrayed/etc.

    3. Neev

      Oh lord, I’m so excited for and yet dreading what happens when Song of Ice and Fire comes to TV. I loved the books for the way they presented strong, dynamic female characters and I’m seriously worried about how those characters will be portrayed in the the series. I foresee a LOT of hate for…well, all of the women, actually, since they definitely fall into the categories mentioned in this post. (Too manly! Too womanly! Not manly enough! Not womanly enough! Oh geez…) Of course, my favorite character wont be showing up anytime soon, unfortunately, though I would LOVE to see who they cast for a character who is specifically described as being homely at best. (Oh Brienne, you are the best, though the suspense of waiting to find out what happened to you is probably going to kill me.)

      I’m curious as to who the 100% evil bad guy you’re talking about is, because I honestly can’t think of anyone who fits that description, though I might just be forgetting someone really obvious. My first thought was Jaime, who is…well…pretty damn horrible in the first books but who I feel definitely improves over the course of the latter ones. (Second thought – Littlefinger? Because if so, totally agree – he skeeves me right the hell out.)

  10. MadGastronomer

    I hate that sort of thing. This is (part of) why I can’t join most fandoms. The only fandom I participate in actively has almost none of this sort of behavior (one regular dislike a highly competent woman character for being a “tryhard,” which makes me crazy, but he’s the only one, and he doesn’t usually speak up about it). It’s one of the great things about it.

    I love River Song, and never understand people who hate her. When I dislike a character, male or female, I can usually outline why. For instance, I really dislike the character of Tara from Buffy. I think she’s poorly written and only shallowly developed. She’s never given any interests besides Willow and magic — even the other characters comment on that — and exists only to be Willow’s Lesbian Girlfriend. All she gets is a slot, with very little personality. Every other character who dates a Scooby gets more character development than Tara. She gets a quick sketch at a family background (which, if expanded, could actually have been pretty interesting), and she’s a vague mother/big-sister figure for Dawn, and otherwise she’s Willow’s Lesbian Girlfriend The Witch. Who goes crazy and later gets killed in a couple of utterly stereotypical moves. The writers failed that character, and I think it’s a crying shame.

    But hating women characters for acting like human beings? Or even fictional characters? Gah.

    1. Meg

      Tara is withdrawn because of her family background. It’s not a failing of her character; it’s a major part of it. I’m just sad they killed her off when she had only just started to poke out of her shell. I guess she wasn’t very popular… maybe it’s hard to “get” her character unless you’ve come from that sort of background yourself? I’m sure if someone wrote a TV show where me-five-years-ago was one of the characters, there would be people saying the same things. Maybe even me now. It’s not that she doesn’t have a personality — she just represses it because she spent the first ~2 decades of her life being punished for having one. The lack of other real-world interests are also a natural result of ~2 decades of familial abuse. How many interests do you think you’d have at 18 if, from 0-17, you lived in a rural area, had no transportation or money (parents want you to stay inside and stay quiet), and no friends (you are “the weird kid” due to your obvious baggage & lack of proper parenting, and probably rumors of magic in Tara’s case)? Given the time period and family demographics, she likely didn’t have a computer/internet, either. For interests, that leaves only solitary activities that don’t involve much equipment, or involve only equipment she can find around the house that nobody will notice her taking. Sooo, magic.

  11. xenelle

    I don’t really have anything for or against these characters – I don’t like Gwen because she cheats on a man she claims to love (I’d have the same feelings towards a man who’d do the same) and because she’s not really developed throughout the series – again you could say the same about the other characters and I have. She’s mainly seen as a Mary-Sue to me. My boyfriend doesn’t like her because she doesn’t seem to blink (he’s suggested that he’d like to see her take on the Weeping Angels or have a contest with Rose, who he claims has a similar issue) as well as being poorly written (he doesn’t like Torchwood and watched it under sufferance) but he said that about all the characters and got upset when they finally developed 2 of them and then killed them off.

    I got the feeling that most of the hate on River Song is because she seems to be (at the moment) set up to be The Doctor’s wife and a lot of people feel that The Doctor is supposed to be a ‘Lonely God’. That could just be my limited view of it as I only hang out at one place. Personally I always thought that River was supposed to be the (supposedly as I’ve not seen otherwise ) straight female version of Capt. Jack)

    I have seen the comments about Gwen and Buffy being whiny and to some extent I can see that as they do seem rather self-involved but where Buffy’s whinyness does seem to stem from justifiable. Gwen’s can be seen to come from actions that she caused (her whining about Rhys when she shuts him out purposefully so she can have a reason for cheating also for going against Jack’s orders to have a normal life by spending all her time at work. I thought that she could have made a similar lie to converse with her boyfriend/husband about work without going into specifics.

    Another thing I see is not so much Gwen hate its more Davies hate for not writing any female characters well.

    I had no issue with any characters showing emotions and I think its fine if they do it, what I want to see is good well written characters, in a good well written show – if its a woman all the better, but I am losing hope on that.

  12. Trix

    While I really dislike the bagging out of female characters just because they are not perfect, I’m afraid I don’t see how the criticisms in the second and third quotes add up to assuming they want female characters to be masculine. I also really find the conflation of emotionality with being female suspect in itself.

    Personally, I don’t find Gwen a “whiny” character – and on thinking of it, that may indeed be a more gendered insult – but I do happen to agree with the commenter’s objection to “sappy” women characters being the majority. In other words, women used as the repository of emotion and feeling, and as emotional proxies that for the male characters. I’m sorry, it’s bloody tedious.

    However, Torchwood and DW are pretty bad as examples of that syndrome, because the men are busy emoting left right and centre. I got pretty damn sick of Ianto’s “sappiness” within about 2 episodes, frankly.

    Now, I don’t agree that being relatively undemonstrative emotionally means you’re “stronger”. Far from it. But I dislike slathering on too much sentimentality in general, and it sucks that women are so often the vehicle for it. Some of us are antisocial types with a big bark (but not necessary “bitchy”, which is that lovely stereotype for angry women). Some of us are stoic. Some do find expressing emotion difficult – and Xena actually turned that into a plot point, which actually made the character more interesting.

    I’d like to see a full range of emotional demonstrativeness expressed in female characters, and we’re far from it. I do think we should most definitely continue to call out (internalised) sexism regarding characters – the labelling as Gwen as a “slut continues to irk me (yes, she did some stupid things, but …).

    Griping about the over-emotional range of female stereotypes we see is not quite the same thing, although it can obviously tip over to sexism at times. But they shouldn’t be conflated by rote.

    1. Courtney S.

      In the second quote, I thought it was fairly obvious, particularly with the foils being Xena and Ellen, both of whom were quite deliberately and clearly masculinized in their respective shows.

      I’m not saying that emotion is a lady thing. It’s a human thing, obviously. But that does not change that it is ASSOCIATED with the ladies, and so when someone says, “I don’t like hir, ze’s too emotional,” that judgment is pretty much always gendered. You can’t escape the cultural connotations of emotion and hysteria.

      And yes, I agree with female characters are usually written to be more emotional than their male counterparts. But the solution to that (usually) is to give their male counterparts more emotion (or, if that’s not realistic, show how their own hypermasculinity hurts them), not to make the female characters stoic and masculine just because.

  13. Trix

    …And what I didn’t quite get to saying was I thought that characterising the person who made the second and third quotes wanting the characters to be more “manly” to be fairly over-the-top. You’re drawing a pretty long bow there, because it wasn’t stated explicitly and nor did I personally get that impression by implication (not having read the entire text, of course).

    Wanting female characters to be “stronger” (and sure, their definition of “strong != emotionalism” could be questioned) does not equate to wanting them to be “more like men”. Sure, often it might, but not necessarily from what was quoted above.

    1. Courtney S.

      The language we use is pretty important here, as are the examples used in the second quote. Xena and Ellen were, as I pointed out above, pretty obviously and deliberately masculinized in their respective shows.

      This woman says “I don’t get why women have to all sappy in shows.” She calls them “soft” and “whiny.” She then says “It’s keeping girls in the whiney category and keeping guys as the strong ones who don’t whine a lot.” “Sappy,” “soft,” and “whiny” are all, in our culture, gendered female. And then the author CLEARLY genders the behaviors of being emotional and being stoic. Her solution to women in television is to make the women not-sappy, not-soft, not-whiny, but “strong,” which not only puts those behaviors on a binary (where they shouldn’t be), but is something she (and our culture) associates with men.

      I’m not sure what you guys are arguing here. Are you claiming that sappy-soft-whiny are not necessarily gendered words? Or that strong is not? Or that emotion and stoicism are not behaviors our culture genderes whether we like it or not?

      1. Burn

        Speaking only for myself, I didn’t realize until very recently that ‘whiny’ was gendered, since I had always used it as a very general descriptive term and probably assigned it to more men than women.

        As a woman who definitely falls much closer to the ‘stoic’ side of the stoic-emotional spectrum, when I read things like “And yes, I agree with female characters are usually written to be more emotional than their male counterparts. But the solution to that (usually) is to give their male counterparts more emotion (or, if that’s not realistic, show how their own hypermasculinity hurts them), not to make the female characters stoic and masculine just because” I can’t help but feel that part of my own identity– and something that’s true for many women– would continue to be ignored or erased. I agree that there should be a wider range of personalities given to men, for sure, but I also don’t think that should come at the expense of allowing more personality types for women. On the other hand, being either stoic or emotion (or somewhere in between) comes with real consequences, and those should be shown, for all genders, without placing a value judgement on anyone’s combination of gender and character.

        1. Liz Henry

          What I notice about how people talk about men is that when men are whiny, they’re whiny bitches, or they’re whiny like a little girl. In other words the whininess is ascribed to some feminine quality or behavior — and that girliness or woman-ness is negative.

        2. Burn

          Fair enough Liz. I often find myself being completely oblivious to a lot of phrasing until someone points it out to me as sexist, even though I’m careful to avoid using gendered slurs like ‘bitch’ myself. And this is as a feminist. Someone had to point out to me last year that calling someone a pussy, as in someone who is weak or a coward, is gendered, whereas I had always thought, in my head, that they were referring to being like a pussycat, the pampered, timid lapcat sort. Despite knowing the slang connotations of pussy. My naivete knows no bound, I guess.

          In any case, I usually use ‘whiny’ to mean ‘complain-y’ or ‘excessively negative’, often in whatever I think is an unfounded way. Like, “The Republicans are whining about health care again” would be a typical use.

          Why does the kyriarchy have to take what should be useful, legitimate, neutral ways to slag on someone and make them non-neutral? Gosh, I might be reduced to polite, refined communication soon enough, and that’ll be unfortunate. ;)

  14. Ajh

    River Song is awesome. I happen to like the shoes, the smug behavior, the banter with the doctor, and the devotion to him. Yes, she looks a bit old, but I want to look that strikingly beautiful when I’m older.

    I don’t know that I’ve ever jumped on a hate the female character boat. I do have a lot of traditionally “male” hobbies. I play D&D, video games, read science fiction and fantasy novels and so on. I never thought to hate the women in the media. I’ve always had a soft spot for female characters that don’t act like stereotypes, but like actual people.

    Growing up I wrote about five notebooks full of stories in a fantasy setting. They’re so bad I could cry, but my female characters ranged from the very “traditionally feminine” type woman, to the princess that decided to go rescue a prince, to very educated women, to women who slept with anything that was at least considered human, women who were very faithful, women who were very brave, and women who were very fearful. I liked the women in my stories just as much as the men.

    The biggest problem I have with some female characters in media these days is they don’t usually seem real. As long as they’re not a cardboard cutout they’re generally fine in my book. This goes the same for male characters, though it often seems like more effort is put in to making them have personalities. Cardboard characters do not hold my interest.

    1. Sarah

      As I mentioned, I was on the boat of hating girly things, but that never extended to female characters. I loved watching Hercules and Xena back to back on Sunday afternoons and Mercedes Lackey was one of the first fantasy authors I read extensively (her books have issues but there are plenty of interesting characters). And I would never have described Buffy as whiny. I thought the actress had kind of a nasal voice (only really noted when the musical episode came out) but anything she complained about (especially after the series got rolling) was generally important. She could be snarky but whiny? I don’t think so.

  15. DTL

    The problem comes from two ways, sometimes. On one hand you’ve got some women in fandom who hate on the female character just because she has a vagina, and on the other hand the writers for these shows are often men, whose skills at writing good female characters might be less than stellar. So, sometimes there’s legitimate critique on a specific female character and how they’re written, and sometimes it’s just ‘girls are icky’.

    And like the article said, characters that are beloved by fandom when they’re men are hated by fandom when they’re women. That’s just plain wrong.

  16. Torvaun

    I’m not a fan of Gwen because her flaw is betrayal. Jack doesn’t betray Ianto, because he never makes a claim of settling down with him or even loving him, as far as I remember. He does betray his grandson, which is incredibly unconscionable, but at least it was done out of pragmatism. The one choice which would stop the 456 from coming back time and again. Betrayal hits hard for me, she engages in it, that’s basically all I’ve got.

    River, on the other hand, is phenomenal, and I was stunned when I found out so many people didn’t like her. Yes, she is like a female Doctor. And that is awesome, because the Doctor is awesome. For people to like one and not the other just smacks of cognitive dissonance, unless they’re specifically objecting to something like her willingness to use violence or the threat thereof to complete an objective.

  17. Jeff B.

    Fascinating article…I wish I was a bit more up on Torchwood and the latest Dr. Who episodes so I could weigh in on those characters more.

    Re: Women characters who act like women.

    It’s a double-edged sword; if you create a female character who acts “girly” someone will say you’re forcing women to conform to pre-defined gender stereotypes and if you create a female character who defies those stereotypes somebody will call you out for just writing “men with breasts.” There are certainly better female characters than others–I thought Buffy was the perfect mix of sensitivity and kick-ass–but you’ll never please everybody.

    What would you say are good reasons to dislike a female character? Personally, I wasn’t very happy with Donna Noble in Dr. Who. It wasn’t because I thought she was bad looking, or whiny, or anything like that, but she struck me as kind of dumb, and really shouty–especially when compared with the more serious, brilliant Martha. Dont’ get me wrong, she made for some great episodes, and NAILED Tennant’s Dr. as the “Dr. Donna”, but whenever I see an episode from the fourth season I kind of wish it was Rose or Martha.

    Is that sexist? (No, really. Is it?l)

    1. Courtney S.

      I don’t think disliking female characters is always, always sexist. (Although, hating them so much you intend to inflict violence on them USUALLY is.)

      It’s interesting that you didn’t like Donna for that reason, because it is THE EXACT reason I like her so much. Martha is fucking privileged like nobody’s business, but Donna’s lack of sophistication is from a pretty clear lack of education and affluence. That she’s basically working-class and lives in a multi-generational home just captured my heart. I still think she’s brilliant, but she lacks Martha’s seriousness, certainly, and her sophistication. But I think the show wanted us to notice that their difference in how they manifested their intelligence was correlated with their difference in social and economic background. Part of it is personality (obviously, Rose is working-class too), but a large part of why Martha sounds smarter than Donna is that she is more educated. Notice, too, that she can leave the Doctor and be just as well-off as she was with him. Donna can’t.

    2. Nightsky

      I love both Martha and Donna. Part of the reason I love Donna is that she is willing to call the Doctor on his shit in a way that very few companions are. Who–New Who especially–loves to pitch its companions as “strong-minded”, “stands up to the Doctor”, or some such, but in fact that tends to manifest itself as minor smart-mouthing. Few of them will really challenge the Doctor in a way that Donna does. See, for instance, her response to the Doctor lecturing her in “Planet of the Ood”: she asks him if his human companions are there so he has someone to condescend to.

      1. Jeff B.

        @Nightsky

        I’m not saying she was a badly written, or that she didn’t make for good television, I’m just saying I wouldn’t want to go to the bar with her.

  18. Nightsky

    This whole post. Just this. I’ve never gotten the Gwen-hate–as you say, people who don’t like deeply flawed characters shouldn’t watch Torchwood–and personally found Owen much more odious. Yet it’s Gwen that gets all the shit.

    But can we dislike characters for other reasons? I don’t dislike River because of any of the reasons you cite. I dislike her because I’m a card-carrying member of the Bernice Summerfield Is Awesome club, and because the two characters are so similar*, River’s presence means that we’re basically not going to see Benny onscreen ever. Which is a shame.

    * Both are interstellar archaeologists from the future, significantly older than the norm for companions, carry diaries everywhere, and are implied to have unusually close relationships with the Doctor.

  19. Brian Corbin

    I could not “Amen” any more emphatically than I am now. Women are emotional creatures, it’s true, but they are also intelligent, strong, and powerful. Portraying them as anything else but a complete package is an extreme disservice to women the world over.

  20. Mel

    if you hate severely flawed characters, WHY ARE YOU WATCHING TORCHWOOD

    Well, somewhat flippantly, I made it through a season and a half because a) I was out of Doctor Who and kept hoping Torchwood would get better (my issues were not just that I found most of the characters completely unsympathetic and tedious, but that I found most of the plots completely tedious), and b) I kept hoping against hope that there would be a terrible accident with BBQ sauce and the pterodactyl and Owen would get eaten.

    Gwen hit my “cheater” buttons, and did some things I cannot forgive in a character, but didn’t quite approach my deep loathing for Owen and his roofies, which the writers of the show didn’t even think was worth dealing with because apparently it’s not rape if the drugs are alien pheromones!

    I DID eventually decide life was too short and switched to watching other shows, but I don’t think it’s ridiculous to give a show a good try before writing it off. But disliking Gwen because she’s “ugly” and “smug” and giving all the other horrible characters on Torchwood a free pass?! Ugh.

    The River hate utterly baffles me.

    1. xenelle

      I agree with what you just said – I kept watching because I kept hoping that the show would get better I kept seeing potential for a cleverly written interesting show – sadly that just stayed the premise (there were some nearly moments but it never panned out) . Owen lost any respect I had for him once he used the pheromone spray. Though I did want to see the morning after where he got beat up by that guy for raping him and his girl friend, but I think the show wouldn’t have done that. I get the feeling that Owen probably retconned them to avoid the hassle of that.

      I watched all three seasons and have given up after they killed off my two favourite characters (Tosh and Ianto who I think I only like as they didn’t do anything too reprehensible and were closer to my personality type, shy, quiet and somewhat introverted ) and have decided that even some of the better US writers can’t redeem it in the US with what I’ve heard about the US Torchwood.

      Yeah I never got the Gwen is ugly bashing – she’s not. She mightn’t be model standards – but she’s very attractive in her own right and she looked great in the publicity shots.

      Also the smug – all the characters were smug at some point (some more so than others – Jack and Owen I’m looking at you) but they all carried their smugness on their sleeves in fact I think that was the theme for one of their episodes – they got cocky and got brought down. Didn’t stop them from getting cocky again.

      I’ll never get the River hate as long as I live – she’s old – not really and she’s not the oldest companion on the show (if you include Classic Who and Romana, or Wilf as a companion). She’s smug – well I think she has a right to be seeing as she can predict what The Doctor is going to do, and again she’s not the only on who acts smug. Ugly – again not really, she’s not Hollywood pretty, and I’m not fond of her hair (when its out, but that’s just me) but she’s not ugly (there aren’t really any ugly actors on the show). To be really honest I’ve been wondering if most of the bashing comes from a small number of the Classic Who fans who want to see more of the way the show used to be. I know a lot of the fans where I hang out are rather split – and most of them just don’t want her to be The Doctor’s wife rather than any real dislike of her character. There are a number of them that love her and Donna simply because she’s older and they feel more happy having someone closer to their age bracket rather than the younger companions.

  21. Nico

    Wow, thanks for this! I’ve been trying to parse my feelings about why so many female characters bother me, and what it is, and this post has helped open my eyes and think about the reasons behind this – in regards to characters of any sex or gender.

    Gwen and River weren’t buttons for me (Owen, however, most certainly was), but this has certainly given me more to chew on.

    Thanks again!

  22. Luai

    Some of this is very similar to the Orihime hatred rampant in the Bleach fandom. Orihime is pretty much the only main character in the manga/anime who doesn’t/can’t fight (the one time she tries to attack, she actually sort of “injures” her powers because her conviction was too weak) and is pretty much a genuine pacifist. Despite this, her powers are actually probably the most powerful in the entire Bleach universe, since she has the ability to reject reality. She’s self-sacrificing, ditsy, and a healer. Of course, to many female fans, this combination cannot be anything but ANTI-FEMINIST! (*gasp*!) Never mind the fact that she’s a very well-written character and all her motivations make sense, and turning her into an Action Girl wouldn’t remotely make sense, and never mind that there are plenty of other women in the show who kick butt and represent diverse personalities. Of course, the real reason why the hatred for her gets so intense is because she is very likely going to turn out to be the cannon love interest for the main male character, Ichigo. Most of the truly astonishingly horrific hatred of her comes from fans who rabidly ship Rukia (who IS an action girl) with Ichigo. What’s weird is that Rukia has quite a few VERY feminine aspects as well, but seems to get a free pass because she fights, has a smaller chest, and doesn’t cry as much.
    Hilariously, someone e-mailed the author recently with her demands that he kill off Orihime, and the author flipped out a bit and posted a series of tweets basically amounting to “if you have nothing better to do with your time than to tell someone their artistic vision is wrong, you should either write your own manga, or go sit in a corner and breathe dust and flies”.

    As far as Doctor Who woman-hate goes, I certainly hope I don’t suffer from that myself, but I know a few people who do. Many of my female geek friends can’t stand Donna because she’s “annoying” and “bitchy”, which is code for “acts like a guy”. I absolutely love Donna, and I love that she has a best-buddies relationship with the Doctor instead of the boring usual unrequited love relationship. Their friendship certainly bears more resemblance to a friendship between two guys than between a guy and a girl, stereotypically, and I think that makes many people uncomfortable.
    I do dislike Amy and River, though. Amy I mostly find boring, although I’ll be honest, I love how the season concluded and I like her a LOT more after the way they handled her relationships with Rory and the Doctor in the end. River, I dislike for the same reason quoted in your post- because she’s like a female Doctor- but not because I don’t want a female Doctor (I do!). It’s because the writers screwed it up. I loved her character when she was introduced in The Silent Library, but was sorely disappointed by the way she’s been handled in the new season. Part of it is that the Doctor’s character itself is kind of hard to pull off- he has a huge number of dislikable traits, and really we ought not to like him, but we end up excusing all his flaws because 1) he does something awesome or 2) he redeems himself or 3) he’s funny or etc. River falls juuuuust short of this, over and over again. It’s also hard to pull off having her and the Doctor be on the show at the same time; I don’t think two Doctor-like characters makes for a good dynamic. It’s good for every now and then, but when it’s constant it becomes grating.
    But even beyond that, she’s also been universally given the single worst line of the episode, in every episode she’s been in, and many of her other lines are pretty bad too. Towards the middle of the season, the writing got kind of sucky in general, and she bore the brunt of it. I think this helped to ruin many people’s opinions of her as well. So as I said, it’s less that I dislike her, and more that I dislike how she was handled by the writers.

    (I do adore that scene of her flying out of the airlock though. Awesome. And I don’t understand how anyone could think she was ugly, not that that should matter)

  23. Liz Henry

    I’ve probably mentioned this before but Claire Light has a great post on exactly this issue: Why Voyager Rocked. A post totally worth reading and note also Tempest’s post (and comment thread) that Claire links to on why people hate Janeway and Sisko and why she is standing up for them as characters. Claire’s post describes a central problem of our culture and its concept of what makes a story:

    “Janeway started out as a shaky and boring character for one simple reason: we have archetypes of male leaders of all ages, but we don’t have valid archetypes of early-middle-aged female good leaders. Think about it: there are the bad mommies (Medea) and evil witches galore (Circe, wic witch of west), there are the insane women-of-a-certain-age (neither good nor bad), and there are the various monsters (harpies, sirens, Medusa, oh my!), and there are the magical wimmins, like sphinxes and such, who help heroes to something, but exact a price. There are no heroines, no protagonist archetypes, who are early-middle-aged women.”

    Yikes, I have a lot more to say about this… need to write a post! But it is part of the leaky pipeline in general. Women in leadership — not part of “the story”. “The Hero’s Journey”. You know what … to hell with the hero’s journey! In every way!

    1. Burn

      Thanks for linking this; I had not seen it before. I feel like kind of a terrible geek in saying that I’ve barely watched any ST shows, but, well, I haven’t, although I’ve always been a bit intrigued by it but have never found the time to watch, and this piques my interest further.

      I would heartily approve of your making a post on this. I watch a lot of crime/procedural shows and there’s frequently a similar dynamic going on with the women bosses. Like how often have you seen this dynamic set up, with archetypical characters? A brilliant but non-conformist and risk-taking team leader, some team members, and then the big boss, who represents the government/police/military/whatever hierarchy. Team Leader takes risks, team members are also frequently risk-takers, and the Big Boss warns them not to push the boundaries, but of course the Team Leader goes against orders, and is pretty much always correct in the end. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of women cast as the Big Boss/representative of the Bureaucracy. (Examples: first several seasons of NCIS, more recent seasons of The Mentalist and Criminal Minds, several seasons of MI:5/Spooks.) Since the narrative sets up the maverick Team Leader as a hero, and the Team Leader is almost always male, it sets up the dynamic of the audience sympathizing with the team rather than the bureaucracy, which places more women (usually middle-aged) into this almost-guaranteed-to-be-unlikeable role of the fun-killer. On the other hand, this is supposedly a position of leadership and responsibility (Writers: “But we put women on this show. Look, in leadership roles!”) but in order for the narrative to succeed, especially on television with continuity of characters from week to week, she is almost always going to have to deal with insubordination, and if she succeeds, the audience is unsympathetic. In order for her to come off as sympathetic, she has to concede that her subordinates are right and she’s wrong, possibly then taking on the risk of being fired herself.

      It’s not that I don’t want to see more women in leadership roles on TV, but I don’t want them all to be cast as boring, fun-stifling bureaucrat archetypes. There’s so much more territory that could be explored there, especially things that would fall under the “how leading should operate, really”, such as, well, the Big Boss and the Team Leader consulting on something potentially risky but rewarding before it happens, figuring out a way to make it work within the rules/taking it higher up to allow it to happen, and then moving ahead. But no, it always seems to be a dynamic of brilliant team leaders with the personality of an adolescent who is impatient and always correct about being impatient, and mother-like, rule-following bureaucrats who kill all the fun.

      1. Sarah

        Actually one of my favorite characters from a crime show was a female Big Boss. The original Law and Order had Epatha Merkerson portraying Lt. Van Buren who was in charge of the detectives on the show. I thought her character was honest and tough and just awesome. I’m sure the dichotomy you mention is more prevalent but I wanted to mention this situation.

  24. Rana

    This is an amazing post and I’m sharing it with everyone I know. I have often thought about this and I especially don’t understand the River Song hateration. I absolutely adore her as a feminist. I don’t even know how to respond any better than you have to the critiques of her character because they just don’t make sense to me. I appreciate that she uses lipstick, calls him “darling” and is still a badass. That makes her multi-dimensional.

    I can understand initially being put off by Gwen, but what is amazing about her character is her GROWTH over the series as an individual, as a Torchwood member, as a woman. I didn’t like her at first, but I feel like I went on a journey with her. And honestly, I think that was the writer’s and RDJ’s intent for Gwen. I think we were supposed to be conflicted about her while being in her POV because we were supposed to be conflicted about Torchwood because it was all so doggone cracky.

    There’s an interesting dialogue about Tara going on in the Black community that I won’t even get into here. I actually don’t even have as much of a problem with her as many do, but there are some interesting historical elements at work. What I think is happening in True Blood is camp and folks are reading that show, and character straight.

    I do think that many geek women have developed as male-identified, because they have had to be part of so many male-dominated groups, so the inclination is to have the knee-jerk reaction to reject the female characters, especially those that might exhibit characteristics that would sterotypically “annoy” “one of the guys”. Of course this is all subconscious, but I think that may be part of the process. It’s jolting to see a female character that exhibits what the mainstream would see as contradictory characteristics all at once, or even exist outside of the stereotypical role. Women buy into the mainstream ideologies as well and when confronted with something that challenges them, can also react negatively. Even when they consider themselves a feminist.

  25. Jess

    This is a really interesting post. I find myself walking a fine line in fandom very often, because (for instance) I don’t really like River, but *I think* it’s because she’s being used in a very heavy handed, inept, crowbar-ish fashion by the writers, and not because of any internalised misogyny on my part. But how do I know? Would she annoy me as much if she were a male version of herself? (To be fair, if the argument is that she’s a female version of the Doctor, the same smug, know-it-all, above-your-moral-judgement traits annoy the crap out of me when the Doctor’s doing them as well.)

    Then there are the female characters who I really like overall, but who I think are done a disservice by the writers–like Martha. It’s easier to separate my “GRR, the writers are wasting this interesting character” from the character herself when I am inclined to like her.

    So many female characters are annoying because they are written by male writers who don’t know what to do with them and who can’t really conceive of a woman having her own perfectly normal, complex, straightforward, fucked up inner life. So many others come close to being cool, but miss. I think the difference is that the misogynistic criticism of the characters so often takes the form of violent wishes, or of sweeping dismissal of the character as if she exists in a vacuum. (The plot taking a twist that the critic doesn’t like is the fault of the writer, but a female character being ‘whiny’ or a ‘slut’ is all on the character.) Or, worse, criticism of the character spills over into hatred of the actor playing her–which, really, how else can you interpret the ‘ugly’ comments?

    1. Courtney S.

      (But doesn’t the Doctor’s annoying moral smugness happen all the fucking time? Do you find yourself disliking his character as a whole because of it?)

      “I think the difference is that the misogynistic criticism of the characters so often takes the form of violent wishes, or of sweeping dismissal of the character as if she exists in a vacuum. (The plot taking a twist that the critic doesn’t like is the fault of the writer, but a female character being “whiny’ or a “slut’ is all on the character.) Or, worse, criticism of the character spills over into hatred of the actor playing her–which, really, how else can you interpret the “ugly’ comments?”

      Indeed.

  26. MaryBeth Schroeder

    Excellent write-up, I love your style and the subject of the article seems to get a lot of people thinking!

    I have had conversations with women who are automatically negative about both River Song and Gwen Cooper. What I think is most interesting, though, is that a lot of my male friends adore River Song and my female friends have scrunched noses about her. I think that some of my girlfriends might be jealous of River, as she is a fascinating, confident woman, living a life of adventure who turns The Doctor’s head in many ways. I might even say that my girlfriends are in love with The Doctor and are just being silly.

    I think she is a brilliant character with all her puzzle pieces sprawled out through the clever writing. Alex Kingston owns in that role in every nuance and complexity. The Royal Shakespeare Company doesn’t pick names out of a hat and neither do the casting directors of Doctor Who (or if they are picking out of a hat, they’re picking out of the same small, awesome hat).

    What I think a lot of fans don’t realize is that they don’t HAVE to love every TV heroine who walks across their TV screen. I found myself being a bit judgmental of Amy Pond on the new season of Doctor Who, actually. It made me upset that she made out with someone outside of her committed relationship (especially because her fiancé was such a kind and loving young man) . After rewatching the series, I realized I was being harsh and she just slipped up. She was never trying to hurt anyone. But the “slipping up” turned out to be the thing that makes me relate to her. Maybe I was upset because I knew that if I were in that situation I might have acted similarly. It wasn’t Amy I disliked, it was ME. (CUE EPIC MUSIC AND TEARS)

    Anyway, thank you for getting me thinking.

  27. Courtney S.

    Thank you guys so much for all the wonderful comments so far! I appreciate all the accolades, and the conversation here has been really interesting. I’m glad to have sparked it!

    Okay, carry on. :)

  28. Bruce Byfield

    Wow, do I feel naive. People really hate Gwen Cooper and River Song? Personally, I find them some of the most interesting characters in the modern Doctor Who universe.

    However, I’d disagree with the summary of Gwen’s character arc. To suggest that she is only in love with Jack doesn’t do justice to her character. Part of her complexity is that she is also genuinely attracted to Rhys and the conventional domestic life he offers. The two men in her life represent the two parts of her life that she would like to combine ito a whole, and her ambivalence — and how Jack and Rhys get along with each other — suggest the difficulty she has in trying to have it all.

    This triangle is worth emphasizing, because it suggests one of the reasons why the misogynists dislike her. It is common place in literature and films for a man’s life choices to be symbolized by the women in his life, but much rarer for a woman’s life choices to be symbolized in the same way. At the most, you get a woman trying to decide who she wants to marry, but that rarely involves different life choices; the goal is the same, although the man with whom she pursues the goal may be up for grabs. In other words, Gwen is treated the same way as a male protagonist, and perhaps this is too much for some people’s prejudice.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      Interesting interpretation! I think you’re absolutely right about the men in Gwen’s life standing in for the two different sides of her life she wants. And Gwen’s struggle here seems to be the struggle we have about female characters. Often people rant against female “stereotypes,” but they really mean women who want “girly” things, like a domestic life and babies. Instead they want Buffy, Xena, Ellen from Supernatural, kicking ass, taking names, and having no time for those things. But Gwen wants to be both as a character–leather-wearing, ass-kicking alien hunter and mother with a home and a loving husband. And is it really so much to ask, that our female characters have the ability to do both? Neither are necessarily anti-feminist in themselves, but to demand that our female charaters eschew the traditionally female life just because we find it uncomfortable undermines the choicese made by our fellow women, ourselves, and even our fellow feminists.

  29. Jaynie

    Yeah, because it’s just so fucking wrong for a “50 year old woman” to have a hinted sexual relationship with a NINE HUNDRED YEAR OLD MAN. I can’t believe people hate on River for that, even though I know they do. It’s like how in the actual show it was insinuated that Donna couldn’t possibly use her womanly wiles to get things like Jenny could, because, you know, she’s in her fourties or something. Nevermind that a) Cathrine Tate is v. pretty (especially as Donna) b) and lovable and c) failing all else, has very large breasts. Not that I would like a character’s physical appeal to be confined to her cup size, but seriously, this is a thing that men commonly find attractive and she couldn’t use that in some way? But no. She’s “old” and ginger, so she must be repulsive.

    I’ve seen a lot of people hate on Martha, too, often with the justification that, unlike Rose (who represents “real” women apparently), Martha is educated and middle class and stands up to the Doctor occasionally. Because no woman could possibly identify with that! It’s absolutely unthinkable that a real woman would ever expect answers from the man she has, however willingly, run off with, especially when she’s been kidnapped because of it. And everyone knows that education is a *man* thing that only selfish spinster women go in for, nevermind the whole “healing the sick” angle. :(

    I always had trouble separating my actual benign like for Rose as a character with my extreme distaste for the writing surrounding her character, and my scepticism of the One-True-Love storyline they pushed with the Doctor, when logically they aren’t very compatible in such a way. I resent that they made the Doctor act unfairly towards his (hey, black!) companions Mickey (the idiot? Really? Even though he taught himself how to hack computers and has a pretty good job?) and Martha just to make his relationship with Rose look special. I resent that Rose’s motive in Journey’s End is essentially reduced from “save the universe” to “see the pretty Doctor again.” I resent that his relationships with other companions (except Sarah Jane) are essentially diminished by making out that Rose is the most specialist ever (even though, come on, he and Romana were totally married — not to mention his 40-year flirtation with the Master!). And I resent that the show pushes as somehow wonderful a romance that would, in the long term, be bad for both of them (since Rose makes it clear she wants to settle down, and the Doctor never would, and since they come from backgrounds so different that science says they are unlikely to have a long-term love). But most of all, I resent that these things make it hard for me to watch Rose episodes, even though I quite like Rose, love Nine, and adore Ten. And I think that’s why *some* people *hate* Rose, not because of her actual character, but because of the poor way the show was written around her.

  30. Emeraldus

    You also see this trend in the Supernatural fandom. Soon as a female character is introduced, you got the fans lining up to take potshots at her. This was especially evident when they introduced the character of Anna, who was not only an angel, but a superior to the male angels on the show. And once she shows interest in one of the male lead characters, she’s thrice damned in fan eyes. IMHO, the fans seem to establish a romantic obsession with the male characters and thus any female character is seen as a threat to that relationship and must DIE lol.

    I’ve always liked Gwen. She brought the ordinary Joe/Jane type of viewpoint to a fantastical storyline. River, I was predisposed to like, as I liked the actress from her E.R. days, and honestly you’ve got to like any character who can outmaneuver the Doctor.

  31. clairedeloony

    I loved River from day one. She’s the closest thing we’ve got to a lady Doctor (which I am fervently hoping happens someday, I don’t care how many fanboys explode, I want to see it.)

    I think part of this whole “I hate female characters” thing is what we as the audience are expected to do, especially with sci-fi/fantasy: insert ourselves mentally into the story, as in the typical hero-quest narrative. Standard hero-quest stuff requires you to insert yourself either as the hero or a sidekick, one of whom is always the love interest – and guess which one girls are supposed to ID with? Because we can’t be guys with swords, am I right? Ladies use healing magic and have low hit points, maybe we get a bow or something, but we’re not the Hero, we bask in his limelight.

    In the case of Doctor Who (and it was my husband who pointed this out while I was discussing the overly violent Martha/Rose fandom hate a while ago) you’re either supposed to be the Doctor, gallivanting around being awesome, or his companion along for the ride – and, the way Russell Davies was writing it, companion = love interest. Boys are the Doctor, and in the absence of love interesty stuff girls can be the Doctor too, but as soon as a love interest enters the picture there’s no choice about who you as an audience member are supposed to be. And then there’s fangirly jealousy (which I am ashamed to say I partook of as a grade-school nerdette – I’m sorry, Leia!) that is, in my experience, tinged with irritation at everything “wrong” the character does that further indicates she is not you. And underneath that all is the nagging feeling that you’d rather identify with the male protagonist, but that’s not how the story is supposed to go.

    That’s why I loved Buffy – she was the metaphorical dude with the sword, and as a viewer I wasn’t asked to write myself off as a sidekick. And that’s why I love River – she’s the love interest but is also is in the rogue/trickster good-guy role a la Han Solo.

  32. Luai

    I thought of something else. I’ve discussed River Song with my friends before, and I remembered something one of them said: That the Doctor, being an alien, needs humans around him to ground his perspective, to bring humanity to it. So the companions become representatives of all of humanity, and as such they need to fit certain constraints to make the dynamic work. River Song doesn’t fit this dynamic because she doesn’t act human enough most of the time (i.e, she acts exactly like the Doctor), and besides which she doesn’t represent compassion. Willifred (Donna’s grandpa) was one of the best companions ever because he embodied this dynamic to a T. He was all compassion and excitement and adventurousness.

    Not saying the above is completely true, just that that was my friend’s opinion. It’s an interesting idea. I agree that there is definitely an established pattern of traits that companions all have, and a role that they take in contrast to the Doctor, and that River doesn’t fit that. Now, whether that is bad or good or neutral is debatable.

  33. Courtney Stoker Post author

    Guys, this thread is not the place for “I dislike Gwen! Let me ‘splain why!” or “I dislike River, how dare you call me a sexist!” types of comments. If you want to justify your dislike of these (or other female) characters, you have the whole internet to do it in. If your reasons for disliking these characters are completely different than what I talked about, then I’m not necessarily talking about you! If you don’t like the shows at all, I’m still not talking about you! Which means that you are being off-topic. Any comments that are mainly or solely “But I hate River! The explanation! I will gives it!” will not be approved any more.

    To head off the “you just don’t want me to disagree!” arguments, let me point out: my argument is that the specific reasons given by the majority of fans for hating these characters are misogynistic. You can disagree with that! But saying “I hate Gwen!” is not actually disagreeing with my point, since my argument is not that Gwen is super awesome.

  34. Lizabeth S. Tucker

    I would possibly agree with about 25-45 percent of what you have expressed. But I also believe that the reason that a large number of female characters on television series are not liked is simply because they are badly written. I always hope for a strong female character, not necessarily perfect, but one who holds her own, who stays in character. While I know that you didn’t seem to want any real rebuttal in regards to specific characters, I feel that I must discuss them to address my point of view.

    I adore Donna Noble and truly believe she is one of the best Companions ever portrayed on Doctor Who. And since I was watching from the Second Doctor to the present, I think I have the right to say so. I also like River Song, although I believe part of the problems with her is the fact that the meetings between the Doctor and River are out of order. It makes it hard to understand her history.

    A female character that I liked from the beginning, but found myself getting annoyed with her simply because of the bad writing that was changing her basic character is Ziva David of NCIS. She began as a kickass Ninja Mossad chick who has slowly degressed into a whiny, needy, father fixated mess.

    Part of the problem, to my mind, with fans, particularly female fans and their reactions to female characters may be the inclusion of romance in the storylines. Whether it is the supposed unrequited love between Captain Jack and Gwen or the love between Rose and the Doctor, or hundreds of other combinations, I think that more than anything turns many fans off. Few series really pull it off well and the on-again/off-again love affairs can do more to turn a fan off than most anything else.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      Let me say this more plainly: NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT YOU AND YOUR PERSONAL PREFERENCES. You have your own website (obviously!) to go on a campaign about why you hate Gwen! So do it there! That’s not actually what this thread is about, as I made perfectly clear, because it is off-topic.

      I did not say that every person who hates Gwen is a misogynist. And if you’d like to argue against that particular straw man, that’s fine. You just can’t do it here. (Yours is not the only comment I did not approve for accusing me of that.)

      I’m letting your above comment stand because it is basically a pingback, which is fine. If you would like to continue bashing Gwen and arguing that I think you (personally!) are a misogynist because you hate her, you can do it in your own corner of the internet. If you want to bitch about my moderation policies, you can also do that there. If you want to be on-topic and actually talk about the argument of this post, your comments might actually go through! Provided, of course that you remember this is a feminist blog, and that means that we expect certain things out of the comments.

  35. andrea

    As a female and a feminist I don’t want to be represented by a character like Gwen on tv. she is cheating, unfaithful, illoyal, disobeyant and a lot of bad things more. She in the end is as much a worst female clichee as most of gay portrays on tv are. She just is a badly written character played by an completely untalented actress. In no way someone one could look up and identify with. One should think her flaws should make her more human and identifiable with but the oppossite is the case because she does all this bad things but comes out over and over again as clean and virgin as snowwhite. That’s just not working for me. It’s in no way realistic. I don’t wish her horrible death but I wish that she has to face the outcomes of her wrongdoings as anyone in real world (and mostly on tv at least in Torchwood) has to do. For me the bets female characetr in Who/Trochwood was Martha but anyone else is better then Gwen.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      Alright, but why are we expecting every female protagonist to “represent” womankind? Does Jack “represent” dudes? Does Ianto “represent” gay ones? Because when we start expecting that kind of thing from our characters, I could give ANY NUMBER of criticism of both those characters, even when I identify with them or find them to be good people. And no one can pass that test, because people, including women, have far too much variation to be satisfied with one personification of their sex.

      And as plenty of people in this very thread have said they identify with Gwen (including me!), you are completely discounting our experiences as genuine or worth anything. That’s not really okay.

  36. Susan

    Could you please tell me why women cannot dislike other women characters? I dislike all sorts of characters, male and female, based on their portrayal and their actions. I would never hate a female character just because she is a woman; to suggest this is the reason is very flawed.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I could tell you, if that’s at all what I was arguing.

      You’ll notice instead that I am suggesting that certain types of criticisms of female characters are misogynistic at their base. I’m pretty specific.

      1. Susan

        But that is just your opinion–you do not know why a person dislikes a certain character. The term misogynist is thrown around way too freely. What do you call people who do not like male characters?

        1. Courtney Stoker Post author

          Did you even read what I wrote? I gave specific examples of Gwen- and River-hate, and analyzed them. I’m using those examples to comment on what I see as a general trend in these fan communities. I’m supporting my claims, so it’s not just my “opinion.” If you have specific problems with my specific claims, please present them.

          And insinuating that I am sexist myself is not going to be an effective tactic with me. If someone hated a male character just for being male or according to sexist standards of male behavior, I would identify their dislike as sexist.

  37. Susan

    If you are referring to people calling Gwen whiny and slutty:
    1) Gwen *is* a whiny character. She always has to get her way, even if it means that other people will be hurt.
    2) I do not like the term slutty. However, Gwen did cheat and then use Retcon on Rhys, which I find abhorrent. I wouldn’t like any character that did that. Then later on she goes and complains that she is the only person who has a love outside of TW. Hypocrite much?

    I’m not familiar with River Song, so no comment there.

    1. Courtney Stoker Post author

      I’m arguing that your reasons are problematic, and rooted in sexism, for reasons stated in the post. Telling me that they are true is not actually going to convince me of anything, except that you are part of the problem, and that your purpose here is to defend your own privilege. There are plenty of places to do that; a feminist blog is not really one of them.

      1. Susan

        I am a feminist, so I have no idea of how I am part of the problem. Sometimes X is just X, with no underlying sexism at all. Gwen is a flawed character that many people do not like because she never learns/grows from her mistakes. To say that any reason I come up with is rooted in sexism is just stretching it.

        1. Courtney Stoker Post author

          Okay, I’m going to say this again really slow: I NEVER SAID THAT “ANY REASON” TO HATE A FEMALE CHARACTER IS A SEXIST ONE. I gave specific examples, and they are reasons that are based on douchey, sexist expectations of actual, human women. And when you repeat them, you are not helping.

          I’m getting tired of repeating myself because you either did not read the post or are willfully misreading it. This is your last warning. If you don’t have anything to say that actually responds to the post, or adds something new to the conversation, your comments will not clear moderation.

  38. Foxy

    Thanks SO MUCH for posting this. I’m not sure what about “don’t turn this into reasons you don’t like X” led people to actually…do that anyway, but it’s a little ridiculous.

    The reasons many detractors list are absolutely sexist and problematic in so many ways. Of course anyone can find reasons they don’t like any character (and shouldn’t feel compelled to adore everyone) but the particular reasons viewers disparage female characters, particularly Gwen, are both telling and disturbing.

    1. Susan

      But the reasons are TRUE! Why can’t it be, just because Gwen is a female?

      1. Courtney Stoker Post author

        Dude, read the post! Those reasons are steeped in misogynistic expectations of women and sexist connotations of femininity. Complaining that a dude is “whiny” is just as sexist, since it effectively feminizes him in a negative way.

        1. Eivind

          So let me get you straight: Complaining that a female character is whiny – is misogynistic. Complaining that a male character is whiny – is sexist.

          Thus, the term “whiny” is always sexist.

          I’m not sure what your argument is then: does the behaviour commonly called “whiny” not exist ? Does it exist – but isn’t negative ? Does it exist and is negative – but should better be called something else than “whiny?” – should I rather write “she complains to much, and likes to play the victim all the time”, wouldn’t that in practice be the same statement ?

        2. Courtney Stoker Post author

          Yes, is it really that difficult to be more specific? I feel like I’ve told you that you saying “crazy” to mean “disturbingly wrong” is ableist, and I got some version of this response: “But, but, but, I don’t want to change my words! Being specific is haaaaard!” When you call a character or a person whiny, you are using shorthand for “acts like a girl,” and using a term that is used to police gendered behavior in men and women. It’s harmful. But if you’re more specific, you’re more effective. For example, instead of characterizing that “I want to say crazy” person as “whiny,” I would say, “Xe is just complaining because xe doesn’t want to give up hir privilege of being able to think of that word as neutral. Xe’s never had to think about that word as slurring a particular group of marginalized people, and is unfairly complaining that it is too difficult.” Then everybody knows exactly what I mean, and I’m not using a word that polices men and women for being “too emotional” or “acting like girls” in everyday life. Win-win!

          Further, if you are specific, and what you are saying *is* “in practice [...] the same statement,” then you make it easier for other people to call you out on your shit. If you still mean “this characters acts like too much of a girl, gross,” then being up-front about that (not couching it in the word “whiny,” which has such an amorphous meaning precisely *because* it means “like a girl”) allows other people to point out that you are being a douche, or that it’s not fair to expect characters not to talk about their feelings, or not to complain ever, or not to be vulnerable.

        3. Eivind Kjørstad

          No. I never use “whiny” as shorthand for “acts like a girl”, that’d be entirely silly since most girls aren’t, infact, whiny, and plenty of men ARE.

          I do admit to using “whiny” as a shorthand — for something akin to what I wrote above: someone who tends to complain a lot without reasonable grounds for complaint and/or someone who’s a little to comfortable playing the victim-role, even when he/she isn’t.

          I’ll consider it. I thank you for taking the time to clarify your position. I’m still not entirely sure that I understand why anyone would consider “whiny” misogynistic, but the knowledge that some people do, is useful. I certainly don’t intend to say “like a girl” when I say whiny, so if that’s really how people read it, I agree: it’d be better to stop.

      2. Foxy

        Because the same casual hate and disregard is not aimed at male characters who exhibit similar characteristics. Facts.

        1. Susan

          Fine, this will be my last post since you feel I “don’t get it”. I never associate whiny = female and frankly I can’t thhink of anyone I know of that does. Whiny is whiny, how you think that is seen as a female trait is beyond me. If you said ‘hyysterical’ then I would agree, but not whiny.

        2. Susan

          Not true at all. There are plenty of male characters with the exact same traits that many people dislike. You are just assuming they don’t.

      3. Courtney Stoker Post author

        Whiny means emotional. It is used against women like a weapon WAY more often than it is against men. And when men are “whiny” (again, emotional and talking about it), they are often dismissed as acting “like a girl.” Witness! If you google “Whiny boyfriend,” the first result is “my boyfriend acts like a girl.” So, look, you don’t get to arbitrarily decide you don’t think that cultural connotations seen by tons of other feminists aren’t true because you hate Gwen.

  39. The Analyzer

    This! Reminds me of Power Rangers with the hate against Kat and Digimon Tamers, where badass tomboy Ruki is well liked by the fandom (Even though people keep forgetting she became a more caring friend) but Juri is “whiny” when her Digimon partner is murdered (Even though Takeru, Ken, and Masaru reacted the SAME WAY and it wasn’t permanent and Juri had the strength to forgive the murderer [who felt genuine remorse for his actions]).

    I also dislike the looks policing. “OMG her nose is slightly pointy EWWWW! OMG her belly is sticking out a bit WHAAAAAAAALE!”

  40. zillah975

    Very awesome essay!

    I got stuck, though, seriously bad head-scratchy stuck, partway through, and I just wanted to confirm something. This was sarcasm, right?

    My favorite part is the reference to Ellen from Supernatural, whose unemotional response to her daughter’s death is so obviously unhealthy, as all the characters who care about her tell her constantly.

    I mean, I kind of disagree with the idea that Ellen was masculinized, but that’s an arguable point depending on how you define “masculine” vs. “feminine” and how you view the character’s actions and so on. But if I hadn’t seen the episode, I wouldn’t have any reason to think that was sarcasm, so I just wanted to call attention to it: anyone stopping by who hasn’t seen the ep, just be aware that Ellen’s reaction to her daughter’s death was pretty much the opposite of unemotional.

      1. zillah975

        Totally OT now, but I should mention that Supernatural still has huge and rage-making issues, so I kind of feel that I should warn you away from it, actually. I still watch it, but I cringe a lot, and I no longer recommend it to my friends. Which makes me sad, because when I started watching it way back in season 1, it was complete awesome. Now, I’m just holding out because I need to know what finally happens. And hey, maybe it’ll get better. It could. It could! Right?

        1. Sorita

          yes, it will get better like the sequal’s of Anaconda got better. And Jericho. like the Knowing didn’t get horrifically worse within a 2 hour block…. like the land before time XVIII was just as good as LBT I, and Dinotopia got better with the miniseries (although Wentworth Miller made the craptastic show less painful watching)

          stay positive, it could get better. Hey they’re at rock bottom it can only go up from Sam drinking demon blood and Dean and Castiels hoyay, right?

  41. Louise

    wonderful post. One of the things I hate in the Lost fandom is the slut-shaming of Kate Austin. I understand disliking her, but the misogynistic hate gets old.

  42. Fey

    I went into watching Torchwood knowing there were people whon hated Gwen and concious of why and determined not to make that mistake and I didn’t. So I guess thinking about these things does help. (Much the same for Martha actually, even though that was maybe more about race than gender there, but my point for thinking this through stands, though in that case it also meant additional cringing while actually watching some episodes.)

    Of course I LOVED River Song. She’s awesome. And I totally very much appreciated that she looks a bit older (whatever her actual age, if we assume that she’s originally from the far future with better medicine/genetics/whatever, she might actually be a lot older than she looks measured by todays standards, because, guess what: The doctor is over 900 years old! No matter that he’s being played by the youngest actor yet (who does a great job with making him look ageless I think). So, if there’s a female character who is meant to be at least somewhat his equal (always a good thing in a potential romantic relationship) then her being a bit older and more experienced is NOT A BAD THING.
    Also, River is badass!

    That is to say that I agree with this post.

  43. Erica

    As a geek and a girl … I appreciate this post fully … I think that women are much more cruel to each other than men are to them … and always have been …

  44. eldrfire

    I think your post makes a lot of good points! And I mean A LOT!

    However, as a female who has said multiple times “I have a harder time liking female characters”, reading your article and thinking about my reasons, I think that sometimes the reasons are quite different than the ones you listed… I think that it’s harder to get a female character right because there are so many stereotypes, and it takes a really good writer to make a realistic female character and subvert (but not meticulously circumvent, because that in itself would be unrealistic) many of the stereotypes.

    I agree though that it’s really upsetting when people have that double standard about the “loose” female being a slut, but loving the male with the exact same problems. And the age thing, and the excessive violence thing, and basically everything you said in your article– I just wanted to mention that I think the “I have a hard time liking female characters” comment can come from quite a different place than misogyny in some cases.

  45. Alex

    This is such an awesome post. It really made me go back and think about how I approached female characters and analyze whether I was disliking a female character for misogynistic reasons.
    I also didn’t realize ‘whiny’ was a gendered term, but after reading your post I totally see how it’s evolved to be so. It sucks that so many words have their meanings commandeered in ways that are demeaning or derogatory.
    Final note: thank you for presenting your argument in such a well-reasoned fashion. It’s wonderful that you showed *why* certain attributes cited for disliking a female character are sexist, while still allowing that there are perfectly legitimate reasons to dislike a character.

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