March 6, 2019

Is There a Right Way to Write Female Roles?

Jack Nugent's recently published video essay from Now You See It takes a look at female characters in some great movies, as well as the way they're written and portrayed.

Jack Nugent's recently published video essay starts out with two of my personal favorites, Alien and The Silence of the Lambs. Nugent makes some apt points about these roles. In Ripley's case, her protagonist role is essentially genderless, that is, her being a woman at no point is an issue in the story. Her strength and authority are not questioned, and she faces no gendered obstacles in the film.

However, Nugent incorrectly states that the role was always intended as unisex (for a man or woman). At some point, the project called for a male lead, and it was director Ridley Scott who made the decision to swap the genders. Either way, this could be a fun experiment for your own writing, as I've talked about before. Why not try giving some of your male roles to women instead, or the other way around? It might bring something unique to your story, or it might be as simple as giving your cast a refreshing face.

Nugent also makes a great point about Clarice Starling being constantly subjected to the male gaze throughout The Silence of the Lambs, which is handled through POV shots and gives the film a unique look. The writing of your female characters could, in some cases, dictate how you then shoot them and portray their experiences.

Nugent moves on to Kill Bill and asserts that the Bride is fulfilling "the fantasy that a female character can act like a male hero." This, to me, seems like a bit of an outlandish claim. Just because the Bride is assertive, physically strong, and in charge of her own story does not automatically mean that she is masculine.

Within the comments, he goes on to say that she's operating under the "masculine ideas of honor, justice, and 'getting what you deserve,'" and again my automatic response is, "Say what now?" Women aren't interested in honor or justice? Sure, these are Western tropes, a genre that predominantly features male leads, but that doesn't mean men have a monopoly on those character traits.

Another issue is that key motivations for the Bride are an unexpected pregnancy and a missed chance at motherhood, which are fairly gendered experiences. Overall, the video reaches a bit here and pulls a muscle.

The Bride - Kill Bill

The essay concludes with a look at a slightly more grounded example, Lady Bird, a movie that shows the relationship of two female characters and examines their weaknesses as much as their strengths. Remember that while writing characters of any gender, "strong" doesn't mean physical strength, or superpowers, or attitude. A strong character is one that is well rounded and fully fleshed out, flaws and all.

Nugent concludes, "There's no wrong way to write women."

While I get the sentiment, my answer is an eye-roll into the infinity of space. Sorry! That sure as heck ain't true.

Watch the video in full above, and let us know what you think.     

Your Comment

3 Comments

Great insight - treat the character with care and empathy.

March 6, 2019 at 12:57PM

2
Reply
avatar
Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
Writer

No discussion of this subject would be complete without considering the advice given by the character Melvin Udall from As Good As It Gets. He gave the simplest, clearest, and most politically incorrect answer ever to this question. I'm not saying he was right. I'm saying that his answer remains provocative, revealing a truth not about women, but about the way that some think and write about women.

March 6, 2019 at 1:10PM

2
Reply

I have to go with Now you see it on this. You sort of miss the point on this on this topic, the things that "pull a muscle" are pivotal attributes of the characters that shape their stories. Movies are not about the specific traits or ambition, they are about how the character acts within the perimeters of traits and ambition that shape their character and the story. And to give a female character a tipicaly male set of attributes is not a bad thing, to disregard the perception of those is. Only thing I disagree is that There is no bad way to write a woman. There is a bad way to write a character, and there are plenty of bad examples in contemporary cinema. Personally I love this kind of film analysis content and Now you see this is one of top 4, it provides us with in depth view of great movies with great naration and without eye shattering eye rolls.

March 6, 2019 at 7:47PM, Edited March 6, 7:49PM

2
Reply