Stories Without Reason

Don’t get me wrong. You should always have a reason to tell a story. It certainly helps while writing them, and it makes reading them a lot easier. That’s not exactly what I meant. Maybe it’s “stories without explanation”.

There’s this film. You may have heard of it. It’s called “The Expendables”. It did so well they made a sequel. The basic premise is this: every action star, ever. And then they fight.

Except it’s not every action star ever. There are a few notable absences. I bet you can guess who they are.

“The Expendables” bills a whopping nine actors above the name of the movie on the poster. There are two female characters in the whole movie. One of them is Charisma Carpenter who, it could be argued, is kind of an action star? I mean, she had to do stunts on “Buffy” and “Angel”. But it’s a stretch. The other is Giselle Itié, who is not an action star at all.

“The Expendables 2” busts out ELEVEN actors billed above the title. None of them are female. Nan Yu is vaguely action-y, which is nice, but still.

Here’s my complaint. It’s not that I’m annoyed by the Token Girl (I am). It’s not that I think it’s ridiculous that not even JOSS FREAKING WHEDON could manage to have two female characters speak to each other in “The Avengers” (I do). It’s not even that I wish we’d get more female centric action movies (because, oh lordy, I WISH THAT)*.

It’s the explanation.

Imagine, if you will, a movie. It stars Helen Mirren, Judy Dench, Angelina Jolie, Mila Jovovich, Kate Beckinsale, Sarah Michelle Geller, Zoe Saldana, Maggie Q, Michelle Wu, Michelle Rodriguez and, because I have a weakness for her (and also it would BLOW MY MIND), Maggie Smith. Imagine it’s the exact same plot as “The Expendables 2”. I’ll even let you have Liam Hemsworth as the other gendered ingenue.

Why, I wonder, are these women kick-ass spies and fighters?

We don’t have to wonder that about guys. We just assume they are. We assume there is no one better for the job.

It’s not just movies. I tried watching Aaron Sorkin’s new show “The Newsroom”, and in addition to being bored out of my mind, I was very put off by the female characters. When that happens, I like to imagine flipping everyone’s genders without changing anyone’s character traits. I imagined Sally Field in the lead role, maybe with Sissy Spacek (or Carrie Fisher!) playing Sam Waterson’s part. That show? That show I probably would have watched.

It’s not realistic. I know this. I love “Flashpoint” to death, but one of its biggest weaknesses is the lack of female roles (um, female combat roles. There are plenty of victims). But I don’t exactly watch television for the realism. And when I tell you that I would watch (and adore) and entire show populated by Jules Callaghan, it is the emphatic truth. But, you could argue, it’s just TV.

I went to a conference about Forensics and Forensic Archaeology once. We talked about Iraq and the London Bombings. We talked about using x-rays to track abuse in South Africa. We talked about Rwanda and Ipswich (which at the time was hosting a serial killer…several of the speakers had to cancel at the last minute, actually), and then this tiny woman from the London Police stood up, and talked to us about CSI.

They laughed at her, at first, when she brought it up. I laughed too. Because being a forensic scientist in the age of CSI is…well, it’s annoying. But then this tiny person looked out at the room of students and foreign scholars and police officers and military types, and she said:

“I know that isn’t how it is. I know that. But that’s how it should be. What they show on that TV show, how fast they get results and how quickly the databases spring to action. The technology. That is what we should be trying to do.”

Nobody breathed, pretty much for the rest of her presentation.

Television and movies are important, because that’s how people choose to spend their time. I want my nephew to see amazing female characters doing amazing things on television so that he expects them in real life. For crying out loud, I want to see them. I want more than one or two women per show. I want Katniss Everdeen to the the rule, not the exception. I want Firefly every damn time**. It’s not asking too much. I want “Brave” to be “another great movie about a girl and her mother” and not one of the ONLY ONES in recent memory. I want Maggie Smith with a very large gun, leading the bad guys into a trap and then SHOOTING THE CRAP out of them.

And I want it to just happen. With no explanation.


Some Links:
Life Less Ordinary: In which CJ Cregg runs for President.
Another Reason Buffy is Awesome: In which it is proven, WITH SCIENCE, that watching Buffy (and other shows with great female characters) makes you a better person.



*Yup, still bitter about the whole “Ant Man” situation. And if Natasha doesn’t get a substantial part in “The Winter Soldier”, I’m going to be kind of annoyed.
**Firefly wasn’t perfect, but what makes it “the best” is that there were four female characters, and all of them were powerful in very different ways. And all of them were still very female.


7 responses to “Stories Without Reason

  1. Just sayin’…Maggie Smith is the biggest BAMF on Downton Abbey, hands down, no contest. She wields wit like a large gun. 😀

    But EXCELLENT post. Really excellent. I never stopped to think about it, but I would wonder why all those women were spies.

    And the Newsroom has HORRIBLE female characters, with one exception — and sadly, I’m guessing it didn’t hold your attention long enough to see Sloan get awesome.

  2. My main complaint about Expendables 2 was that they made a role for a female action star but didn’t use one. I forgave them in the first Expendables because the point of the movie was casting an epic film of male action stars from the 80s-90s.

    They let a great opportunity to at least through me a bone in the second one. And that’s your whole point. I shouldn’t be satisfied with them throwing me a bone. I should be able to expect better.

  3. I catch myself feeling like I’m doing it wrong and it’s unbelievable when I create an original cast for something and there are equal or nearly-equal numbers of women to men and the women are more qualified/more interesting. I feel like I’m DOING SCI-FI WRONG, and no one would believe it, and people would be like “yeah, but you’re just writing it this way because you’re a girl and making a feminist point.” :-/

    I’m just saying, it’s really deeply ingrained, so that even when I’m aware of it, it’s difficult to overcome. A lot of that is that when you’re basing a story anytime near present-day reality, you’ve got to acknowledge that, yeah, it WOULD be unusual to have mostly women on a team like this. Sigh. I’m stuck in a loop! Where’s the off-ramp?

    • There was that episode of Atlantis where the much-toted “all female” team showed up, and even though the commander got the line “I just picked the best person for each job”, it was still SO ANGRY MAKING and then THEY DIED. *sigh*

      Yes, it’s deeply ingrained. But I’m hoping it’s becoming LESS deeply ingrained?

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