Please, No More “Token Female Characters”

Please, No More “Token Female Characters”

Strong female characters.  A phrase that apparently means many, many different things.  In this interesting article, here, the author notes that the women often portrayed as “strong” are lacking in the character development department and are essentially, in my opinion, glorified tokens.  They point out many of the same movies that even *I* have problems with for their portrayal of women.  (No, this is not a feminist piece or a man bashing piece, just keep reading).

Checking out the good old Wiki on Marvel Comic movies, I see a whopping one starring a female character since like 1944.  We will not discuss that movie here; it left me a little meh.  You can figure it out though.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Avengers and I am waiting patiently for Thor 2.  I love the Wolverine and X-Men movies.  Yet, even though I love each of these, they all have left me a bit meh in some places.  Why?  There are no headlining women in many of the movies.  There just seems to be a mass of “Token Female Characters” that make an appearance here and there with a witty line or two, but there does not seem to be more than that to them.  Who are they?  What powers or ideas do they have?    Why are they fighting?  Even some of the characters you *think* are more than a token gal seem to be kind of lacking if you think about it. Examples?  Silver Fox and Anna Valerious in recent live action movies are a few that come to my mind.  Poor Anna gets it bad in many blogs and forums, but really the authors have it right.  It is like she is written to just fill the “girl” role.

Sure Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman are very nice to look at.  Sure, there are characters like Black Widow and my favorite Jean Grey in these movies that did seem to have a little more depth than some women characters.  However, like the article above points out, sometimes the only woman around seems to have been written there to fill this “strong woman” role.  (Sif, paging Sif, pretty sure she was more than that Thor movie had us believe!)  It is almost as if the best a female character can ever be is a “side kick” in these movies.  So, what is my gripe?  At least they put the women on screen.  Ok.  I will give you that.  But please stop giving us only “token female characters” in our movies and television shows.  As a person of the female persuasion, I want someone I can “look up to” and “pretend to be”.  Yes, I know I am an OLD LADY these days, but I was not always.  I was once a little girl looking for role models other than Barbie.  I liked Barbie OK, but she came with a sports car, not a weapon.  I really preferred Red Sonja, She-Ra, and Princess Leia.   Yes, I like some romantic elements, but I don’t need my women characters to be damsels in distress 97% of the time.  Why?  Because there are many women out there who do not want to be “rescued”.  We can do it ourselves.  Thanks.  Move along.

I often say I enjoy “strong female leads”, but after reading this article and many of the others linked in it, I began to re-evaluate what that meant and if maybe I was sending the wrong message with that phrase.   Luckily, for me, my definition of “strong” did not just mean physically strong or over-reactive and dramatic with a weapon.  Whew. That is good.  I do not want anyone to think my character, Athine, is in any way or shape a “token female character”.  What I mean by saying I love strong female leads is just that.  I am looking for that so not damsel in distress character that gets a lot of the scenes.  (My series is a far cry from anything cutesy, damsel like, or romantic, just FYI.)

I think really this is why I wrote The Daughter of Ares Chronicles, because I was in need of more than just the “token female characters” that I had available to me at the time. I needed to fill the void that the lack of Xena, Lady Death, and Buffy had created.   I needed somebody that I wanted to be and somebody that had a strong personality like I have.   Hopefully, one day, more TV, movie, and video game makers will realize women are not going away and we want super heroines with depth and story too–not just a pretty face with a one liner and a gun to fill the “token female” role.

So, in the end, I do not hate the “strong female lead” term like some people do and  I will continue to use that term to help define what I like to see in my entertainment.  What I do hate is the “token female character” that some entertainers feel must be there to appease the women that obviously have been forced by their men folk to watch because we all know women can’t possibly be interested in super heroes, domination of the Earth, demons, or non-sparkly vampires.  (HA!)

Shameless plug alert!

Interested in venturing with Athine and her non-token female friends?  Visit and follow the “author” link to pick up the first book in the series free.


Commenting area

  1. Hey! Thank for fixing so I could comment.
    I had this revelation about this subject that I wrote here:
    The thing is; it is still that way for me. I tend to have write more from a male main character’s perspective, than the other way around. The male mains vastly outnumber the female in my writing. I find this sad, because I want to write a good female character also, someone people can relate to, who they can have as a role model, because I have lacked that myself. Maybe because it somehow feels like a lot more work to write a good female character. You don’t want people to think she is too this or too that, but that may be just be a problem in my head. (Yeah, probably)
    I’ve only just really become aware of this, that the females are always ‘damsels in distress’ or as you said ‘tokens’ (yeah, I’m late to the party you could say :). It’s just the way it always has been, that the male is the tough, strong one. It annoys the hell out of me that it is this way, and I will try to change my own writing and not default to a male main character.
    Sorry for the somewhat confused rant, but I hope you get what I’m trying to say 🙂

    • Yay! A comment. I wondered why no one ever commented. Hey, I am just as late to many parties as you, so don’t feel bad :). I probably write not so good male characters. It is hard to strike a balance! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Great blog post! That newstatesman article shocked me when it first came out. I read it again and again until I decided how I felt about it. To read my thoughts on it, please visit my blog post:

  3. Great article. I have so many thoughts on this As a male writer I feel it is much easier to write a male lead, but I can appreciate the need for females, whether as leads, foils, or supporting characters. The audience that reads is certainly not all sub-twenty something young men. Is there a place to find archetypes at least so the female characters I do write aren’t either specifically and obviously designed after the closest to me or otherwise found lacking and hollow? I can easily see how my female characters lack in something, especially the proper emotions and thoughts that women would have. For now my wife reads those sections to edit it for content, but that is after the fact. I am sure that a reaction to someone losing an arm should be more than to say, “suck it up buttercup.” To save being disingenuous I opt for the path of least resistance and write what I know, that of being a man. All that said, Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be recognised as a strong female lead written by a man, one who has been quoted above as doing little for women with his Avengers. I would go so far as to say that most of the female characters embodied that strength and I dare say we can’t say they were all improv by the actors. Those who write the shallow do have experience and the ability to create the strong, so why do it in one and not the latter a decade later? So, do I as a writer just keep trying and hope volume will eventually create the character I am looking for or do we start here with support group for writers in hopes that other male writers and I can connect with enough experience to create a female lead with strength and quality? I imagine that not just a little bit of it is wishful thinking that the damsel wants to be saved because we, myself included, want someone to want us to save them. Now, from a marketing and a consumer’s point of view the group approach works because en mass our buying power will tell writers, directors, and publishers alike what we want. Write honest reviews and tell others to do this same so only quality work is accepted. It might take time, but I read the article and can only assume I was nit the only man to do so.

    • An interesting and thoughtful reply, John. I value the insight into this by male writers. I think maybe asking your wife what she would say might help. Otherwise, network with authors and writing groups. Beta readers help. And read. Find qualities in books that feature dynamic women. Shows. Take qualities from each to help build your own. That is a start!

  4. I am actually trying a Beta Reader for my current manuscript. With luck she will feel comfortable enough to be blunt with her comments. Like a child’s behaviour, nothing can change unless it is first noticed and second acted upon. What kind of communicators are we if we don’t listen too?

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