Netflix is the devil. I bet many of you have already jumped to that conclusion after wasting a weekend watching season after season of your favorite show, but I have come to this realization myself just know. How? By making the mistake to, once again, watch Buffy. After one episode, I was reminded of how much I love this show and before I knew, halfway through the first season.
You don’t even have to know much about the show in order to know that it features some strong female characters. After all, it’s named Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, Buffy is filled with damsels who are not often in distress, and that is surely one of the reasons why it was such a big hit in the nineties and early 2000’s. My favorite of all these strong, independent women who don’t need saving every damn minute? Willow. Why? Because she’s the best example of how to do believable, yet strong female characters.
Next to being played by one of the most gorgeous women on the planet, Willow starts off as a quiet, bookish teenager who stumbles into this world of demons and vampires by pure accident. In the beginning, she’s the computer geek and naïve girl of the gang. While not kicking asses like Buffy, Willow supports the group in her own cool way while always having a smile for her friends. I like this because it shows the viewers that helpfulness and heroism comes in difference forms. Even the badass Slayer sometimes needs a friend who can hack the city hall servers or who just has kind words whenever they are needed.
However, what makes Willow (and many characters in the show) so great is her evolution. With every season of the show, she grows more from the insecure teenager to powerful witch, showing every aspect of this transformation. Some parts of change are great, like coming to terms with your sexuality or finding your place in the world. Others are frightening, like when you are consumed by dark magic to fuel your hatred for the world after the death of your loved one (not that I hope any of my readers can relate to this). Still, we must go through the good and the bad to become the person we are, and Willow portrays her journey with all the feelings someone would have when going through such turbulent times. She is not a strong female because a writer wanted to have a strong female, but she is one because she grew into it.
Why is this so important for female (heck, even male) characters? Well, because it seems that even in two-thousand-freaking-thirteen, we still can’t make many believable and cool female characters. Instead, we just shove someone with boobs into the fray, make her look badass in a few scenes, and claim we created a richer story by inserting a “strong, independent female character”. Exhibit A: Tauriel from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. God, does my loathing for this character know any bounds? Nope, it doesn’t. Tauriel is the incarnation of poorly written female characters. The only reasons for her existence are cheap eye-fucking scenes with a Dwarf and a marketeer’s need to attract the female target demographic (wasn’t Lee Pace enough for that?). Her absence wouldn’t even be noted, we could have gotten some more scenes to develop Legolas (don’t be shocked, I actually liked him in the movie) and we might have some more time with, y’know, the Hobbit himself!
It just angers me that writers from the 90’s were able to fill an entire TV show with diverse, interesting female characters, but contemporary screenplay authors still struggle with it. Are we so much focused on the need to include women in our stories that we forget the purpose of characters? Y’know, to tell and support the story? To contribute to it? To act as representations of our feelings, problems and fears? Are demographics more important to us then what it is actually about, namely the story?
Look, I’m all for more female characters in media. I’m all for strong women kicking ass. But please, let them carry the story, let me hear their tale. Show me more Willows, and less Tauriels.