So, I’ve been pondering my intro outsider post. As you may have noticed, the only women in my list of favorite outsiders were all Whedon creations. Why is that? Why am I struggling so hard to find other outsider hero types who are women?
I mean, times have changed for the better when it comes to roles for women in books and film. Women can be heroes more often than they used to be. For example:
Sigourney Weaver‘s Ellen Ripley
Eowyn (played by Miranda Otto in the LoTR films)
Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia
We can even go back to a more distant past and Beverly Garland taking on the giant cucumber from Venus in It Conquered The World.
But outsider heroes? Not so much. The female outsiders that we see in most mainstream movies and literature (and I’m talking about science fiction and fantasy, for the most part) fall into one role: witch/wise woman. Guinan from Star Trek: The Next Generation, is an example of the latter; Baba Yaga from Russian folklore and such movies as Jack Frost, is an example of the former.
I wonder if this is because women in most cultures are by definition outsiders? Simone de Beauvoir discusses this in her classic work, The Second Sex, arguing that women throughout history have been defined as the “other” sex. Looking at the cultures around the world that still restrict women’s freedom, this argument still seems to carry weight.
So, women being outsiders is kind of the elephant in the room, isn’t it? Nobody wants to talk about it or show it in film, other than in the wise woman/witch trope. Those can be good roles, of course; I’d rather see women in those roles than in the role of the second fiddle housewife or the long-suffering girlfriend (unless those women decide to take matters into their own hands when facing the destruction of the world (see Beverly Garland above). So boring and uninspiring, otherwise.
Are those the only choices?
Where are the women who go out to seek their own fortune in a place where they don’t belong, save the day, or change the way people think? I’ll be looking for them as I write about these outsider types. I already have a few in mind.
Mia Wasikowska‘s Alice Kingsleigh from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
Susannah Dean (in all her guises) from The Dark Tower
Yves Adele Harlow (as played by Zuleikha Robinson) from the sadly shortlived Lone Gunmen series
If more come to your mind, please share.
Since I’m a writer, it’s a fair question to ask what I’m going to do about this topic besides write about it in a meta sense. Am I creating strong women characters who could be heroes, maybe even outsider heroes?
Why yes, I am. Thank you for asking. My stories are chock full of strong women and strong men, heroes and otherwise.
To come back to de Beauvoir, the goal is equality. There’s also the goal of getting that elephant back into the wild and out of that claustrophobic room it’s trapped in.
My main goal is good story-telling, of course, but creating interesting characters of any gender is part of that. If the characters I create aren’t interesting, what’s the point?
I leave you with happy elephants.
This is great questioning, and I do agree, you do write strong female characters, and can think of one in particular who is not particularly an “insider.”