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October 12, 2010 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Writing a work of fiction? Want to know if the female character in it is a strong one? There's a flowchart for that. (more info) Though you'll want to go through the flowchart at least twice if you want any hope of passing The Bechdel Test (bonus link)
posted by 256 (109 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does she die before the final act? Michelle Rodriguez

Also: Mom of MomCorp is shown next to Has a family? No. Her name is MOM!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:17 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's nice to see that "Mary Sue" is one of the destinations on the chart. But given the prominence and commonence of such characters, that really should have been emphasized more.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:20 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Previously...
posted by maryr at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2010


Very cool. Though the Makes Head Hurt layout adds immediate emotional impact, still, a slightly cleaner design really would increase reading time.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:27 PM on October 12, 2010


I'm not sure Lois Griffin really counts as a 'perfect wife.' She and Peter have arguments and fights (even violent ones) on a regular basis, whereas I presume the stereotypical perfect wife would be infinitely patient and indulgent of her narcissistic man-child of a husband. And to the extent the 'perfect wife' stereotype also encompasses 'perfect mother,' well, she's even worse at that. Lois is a perfect wife only when it fits the story or the humor. When the story or humor demands it she displays any number of other characteristics.

Now, whether that just means she's occasionally one stereotype and occasionally another or whether it means she's actually a strong female character I have no idea.
posted by jedicus at 2:29 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Poor Uhura is the "Useless Girl."
posted by gc at 2:29 PM on October 12, 2010


I'm glad that "manic pixie dream girl" has reached somewhat common usage.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:29 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Previously...

Aha. I was surprised that the Bechdel Test hadn't been on the blue before, but I guess the Flicker link has just changed. Put the lead link is the flowchart, which was published by overthinkingit.com today.

And sorry for the ugly formatting. I decided to go with <sup> tags for the supplementary links at the last second and then didn't preview to see how they'd look or take notice of the fact that I'd mis-placed one of the periods and misplaced the other.
posted by 256 at 2:32 PM on October 12, 2010


(Don't worry, I think this is still a valid post as the flowchart is definitely worth a read and discussion. I just couldn't believe the Bechdel Test hadn't been on here before so I searched.)

I object to Zoe from Firefly as merely a Lady Of War. I think she's a pretty well-rounded character... but then, so, arguably, is Lois from Family Guy, as noted. So.
posted by maryr at 2:36 PM on October 12, 2010


I really hate this chart.

Can we discuss how to write female characters without dismissing the importance and worthiness of a huge swath of them? And are they creators of this chart seriously saying that ladies like Azula, Zoe Washburne, and Sarah Connor are all cardboard cutout stereotypes not worth taking seriously? REALLY?

Because I was under the impression that they were pretty damn egalitarian examples of genre media characters.

I am by NO MEANS saying that we don't have a long way to go in terms of treating women respectfully in fiction (particularly SF and fantasy.) I think that the community of creative professionals who work on this stuff need to be thinking about these issues more seriously and should be less willing to go along with the misogynistic status quo that executives often prefer.

But I don't think that being dismissive of women -- even fictional women -- is a useful or productive way of going about that process.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:44 PM on October 12, 2010 [21 favorites]


Also, it seems to me that this is a pretty easily solved problem when it comes to film and television shows. Take a good script with well-written characters and then just randomize the sexes, letting the family and romantic relationships fall where they may. For a lot of stories it just doesn't matter whether a given character is a given sex, race, or orientation (obviously there are exceptions for period pieces, non-fiction, etc).

To the extent that studios don't do this, that they instead craft characters to appeal to certain demographics, speaks of a cynical manipulation and exploitation of society's prejudices. What's more is that we have empirical evidence that this approach can be successful. The movie Salt was originally written with Tom Cruise as the lead and was kept essentially intact when Angelina Jolie became the lead. It made $289 million on a $110 million budget, which is pretty successful. In fact, it was more successful than the last Tom Cruise action movie, Knight and Day, which was released at about the same time and made $228 million on a budget of $117 million.
posted by jedicus at 2:45 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The creators of this chart." Ack.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:46 PM on October 12, 2010


Now, whether that just means she's occasionally one stereotype and occasionally another or whether it means she's actually a strong female character I have no idea.

I think the phrase you're looking for is "crappy writing."

This chart has some issues (some arrows appear to lead you nowhere) but is awesome in many ways. Favorited!
posted by emjaybee at 2:48 PM on October 12, 2010


You could do this for 90% of all characters, regardless of gender. I'm whichever one is overly dismissive of dumb flowcharts.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 2:50 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's lots to disagree with in this chart, but what stands out most to me is poor Harley Quinn getting relegated to the "can't carry a story on her own" category.

Harley's Holiday is easily one of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 2:52 PM on October 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was excited to see Lucca representing the Sweet Nerds until I realized this implied that Lucca is not a strong character.

But then, that doesn't seem to really be what they're doing. Or it is, and they just hate Futurama, Arrested Development, Star Trek, The Simpsons, Chrono-Trigger and Terminator despite knowing a lot about them.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:55 PM on October 12, 2010


I don't really like the "Is She Three Dimensional" question, because that gives writers too easy an out ("Uh, sure she is. She's a dark elf and a stripper. With a mysterious past"). Lose that question. You should have to work your way through all the other questions and the results of those questions should lead you to "Strong Female Character" if you chose well or "Lesbian who Changes Teams" (or whatever) if you didn't.

Also - this has Ripley as a "Final Girl" and Sarah Conner as a "Mama Bear" and both of them deserve better than that.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:01 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The chart is incredibly retarded. The questions you have to "pass" to be a "strong female character" are incredibly vague, but still easily encompass the majority of characters trotted out as being bad characters.
posted by kafziel at 3:04 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like how the creators of this chart think they can protest against weak female characters by creating a classification system that itself oversimplifies and negatively portrays a large number of interesting, complex fictional characters. The irony is delicious!

Also, I do not think these people actually understand what cliches and stereotypes are. Maybe someone should send them a link to the TV Tropes Wiki so they can learn to distinguish between these and what are simply recurring character types.
posted by fearthehat at 3:04 PM on October 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


By the way (and sort of ironically), the original DTWOF strip "The Rule" has a poster for a movie called The Barbarian with a really muscular dude striking a barbarian pose. I'm assuming it's there for effect, as in "oh, look at these male-centric movies they're all so terrible".

Unfortunately for the characters in the strip, Conan The Destroyer passes the Bechdel Test.
posted by King Bee at 3:13 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately for the characters in the strip, Conan The Destroyer passes the Bechdel Test.

Yes, but does Conan the Barbarian?
posted by jedicus at 3:22 PM on October 12, 2010


No, it doesn't.
posted by King Bee at 3:30 PM on October 12, 2010


I think this chart is great because rather than in spite of how easy it is to disagree with. I teach a course in feminist drama, and it takes a lot of effort at the beginning of the term to get us past a simplistic discussion of "strong female characters" and, worse, "role models." I'll definitely use this as a teaching tool, not necessarily to apply it to plays (though that will be fun) but as a way of framing the critical knowledge that many of the non-womens studies majors in the class don't realize they already possess. Thanks for the post.
posted by Mngo at 4:00 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you're "mainly a mother" you can't be a strong female character, according to this chart. Which makes it suck.
posted by Avenger50 at 4:10 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


You also can't be a strong female character if you die.
posted by kafziel at 4:17 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You also can't be a strong female character if you like sex too much.
posted by mmmbacon at 4:27 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


And what the fuck does "Can she carry her own story?" even mean? Not a lot of worthwhile stories out there with one and only one character.
posted by kafziel at 4:29 PM on October 12, 2010


This is a bit naff, to be honest. You simply can't sum up a character like that, because their motivations change all the time. Unless they are completely static characters, which in turn would make them completely boring.
posted by New England Cultist at 4:29 PM on October 12, 2010


...but if you're "mainly a mother" you can't be a strong female character...

You also can't be a strong female character if you die.


I knew there was something I didn't like about The Book Thief!
posted by nomadicink at 4:29 PM on October 12, 2010


Someone tries to tell me Ellen Ripley isn't a strong female character, I'll punch them in the face.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:39 PM on October 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I still think the Bechdel test is the gold standard. This flow chart is too loosey-goosey and made me go to tvtropes.org and so I won't go on to accomplish anything this evening.
posted by fuq at 4:42 PM on October 12, 2010


It'd be helpful if most of the examples weren't from works where all the characters are one-dimensional. It's easy to say Meg Griffin is a Punching Bag character, but every single character in Family Guy is a flat cliche; it's a feature of the genre.

Really, if Arwen, Sarah Connor, Harley Quinn, and Zoe Washburn aren't strong female characters, then I just have no fucking clue what a strong female character is. Show me examples. Since all four of the first boxes go to the same path, I don't know what the supposed flaw with Ripley is that makes her Not A Strong Female Character -- she fits all of those criteria the way I interpret them. Halp?
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:42 PM on October 12, 2010


Zoe Washburn was a strong character, but definitely one dimensional. She was never really developed, was just a stock charcter.
posted by nomadicink at 4:49 PM on October 12, 2010


Or more succinctly: It looks like you've made a fun chart categorizing various stereotypes, then slapped five boxes on top to make it look like you're presenting actionable analysis about "strong" female roles in the media. Would you like to separate your well-executed humor from your analysis of gender roles in popular media (Y/N)?
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:51 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Do you like flowcharts that tell you when to disapprove of things?"
posted by Artw at 4:53 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to know that according to both of these tests I have apparently written a feminist novel. I guess they forgot to add a test for all the titillating zombie rape stuff.
posted by localroger at 4:54 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it three dimensional?
posted by Artw at 4:54 PM on October 12, 2010


In the article, the authors put forth Kima's girlfriend from The Wire as an example of a strong female character. As far as I watched the series, her entire existence was about: 1) Having a cop girlfriend, 2) Being pregnant / a mother with her cop girlfriend, 3) Having a shitty relationship with her cop girlfriend. I don't think she could have carried a story on her own. I don't think she's three-dimensional. I don't even think she has any obvious flaws in the context she's presented in. It's hard to take their points seriously when a character who wouldn't even be recognized by her own name is taken to be "strong".

If I were making a flowchart for "Is a character strong?", there would probably be a box for "Do you have to refer to the character as X's girlfriend rather than by name?" with a 'no' path leading to "Of course not, you idiot".
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:02 PM on October 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


Zoe Washburn was a strong character, but definitely one dimensional. She was never really developed, was just a stock charcter.

To be fair, there weren't really enough episodes of Firefly for most of the characters to evolve from being stock characters.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:08 PM on October 12, 2010


The flowchart completely lost me when I found Yoko Ono listed as an end node.

Last time I checked, Yoko Ono is a real person - three-dimensional and non-fictional - but one about whom an awful lot of shit has been spread, for reasons that - some of which - one would have thought the authors of the flowchart might have been aware of or sensitive to. It is not necessary to be a fan of her work to realise that much of the excess negativity towards her comes from her being both a woman and Japanese.

I'm not sure how to take a lesson in 'not being sexist in fiction' from people who are quite happy to perpetuate blatant crass prejudice in the specific case of Yoko Ono.
posted by motty at 5:12 PM on October 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


I got into an infinite loop when testing the chart on Beatrix Kiddo. :(
posted by episteborg at 5:22 PM on October 12, 2010


In the article, the authors put forth Kima's girlfriend from The Wire as an example of a strong female character.

Heh. Yeah, I think I'll go with the twisty turny maze of characters that are actually fun over her.
posted by Artw at 5:29 PM on October 12, 2010


What the devil is "fridge stuffing"? I used teh google, but this is not helpful.
posted by valkyryn at 5:38 PM on October 12, 2010


Fridge stuffing == cheap pathos.
posted by Artw at 5:42 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kima's girlfriend was named Cheryl.
posted by nomadicink at 5:43 PM on October 12, 2010


Also: is there any reason to think that male characters, particularly in genre fiction, are any less stereotypical?

I submit that if every character in your story is a two-dimensional cardboard cutout, you don't lose any extra points for writing weak female characters.
posted by valkyryn at 5:48 PM on October 12, 2010


Oh, the fridge crack was probably about this.
posted by nomadicink at 5:57 PM on October 12, 2010


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StuffedIntoTheFridge

There are a lot of characters on here they accused of being two-dimensional that weren't...

Also, not really complaining about this emergent problem, but there should be a gender-crossed test in place for certain movies like "Eat, Pray, Love" and "Sex in the City"

Actually, I found myself bothered by a few that didn't pass, and I think I have a solution that would make me happy with it. First, do a test to see if any two characters talk to each other about something other than another person before moving on to the regular Bechdel test.
posted by EtzHadaat at 6:10 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, everyone's criticisms of the chart are totally valid. For the record: I still think it's a fun chart, mostly as an infographic of TVtropes pages about stock female characters. I do think 0xFCAF nailed it. "It looks like you've made a fun chart categorizing various stereotypes, then slapped five boxes on top to make it look like you're presenting actionable analysis about "strong" female roles in the media. "

As for the Yoko Ono thing, Motty, I read it as a reference to popular myth of Yoko Ono rather than the woman herself. And yes, that myth is both a sexist and racist one. I guess it could be argued that continuing to use the myth as a trope is unfair to the real Yoko Ono, but she does not, in general, seem too fazed by it.
posted by 256 at 6:16 PM on October 12, 2010


Both Superman and Batman are strong characters yet they each represent an idea. Why hold female characters to a different standard?
posted by Blasdelb at 6:22 PM on October 12, 2010


I'm reading this chart a bit differently than some, I think. Not to say that it's flawless, by any means, but to give it a little credit:

1.) As I said above, I can't imagine the type of person who is conversant in all of the media they were pulling the images from who doesn't also love most of it. I don't think the authors' intent was to accuse these characters of being cliche so much as to show something indicative of the broad archetype that the cliche stems from.

What I mean by broad archetype vs. cliche is basically Jamie Lee Curtis's character in Halloween vs. all of the virginal women who survive in the end in Friday the 13th and the like. Laurie Strode is a strong female character by any definition, but some characteristics of her were copied by hacks afterwards to devise a meaningless cliche out of it - the one that fits the flowchart.

2.) Obviously, your your strong female character can exhibit many of the traits in the main body of the flowchart if she passes the tests at the top. That those tests are uselessly vague is the chart's biggest problem, of course. And of course there is wiggle room on all of them.

3.) Mainly, this was a cute idea executed well within poor framing. If it had been labeled "A Flowchart of Cliche Female Character Tropes" it would have worked much better, IMHO.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:40 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


To be fair, there weren't really enough episodes of Firefly for most of the characters to evolve from being stock characters.

Nah, there were 14 episodes, I don't think she was really supposed to be developed. Instead the character serves as an enforcement and multiplier of Mal: If she's bad ass and follows Mal so devoutly, then he has to be super bad ass, right?

I'd agree that Kima's girlfriend Cheryl was indeed a strong female character, despite being a minor one.
posted by nomadicink at 6:41 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Proud to say that the last two movies I saw - Rosetta and Doubt - passed the Bechdel test with flying colors. Also everyone should see Rosetta.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 6:55 PM on October 12, 2010


On the one hand, this manages to be both vague and facile simultaneously.

But on the other -- okay, I'm secretly happy that Agent Dana Scully passed the test. Not that the character didn't take a crazy stupid turn in the later years of the show, but I chalk that up to "writer burnout" than I do "character creation".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:20 PM on October 12, 2010


As far as I can see, the main criteria for being a stereotype on this chart is being written with a vagina.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:32 PM on October 12, 2010


Dear Yoko Ono: You shouldn't even be here.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:51 PM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also: is there any reason to think that male characters, particularly in genre fiction, are any less stereotypical?

Yes absolutely they are typically less stereotypical, and the fact that so many people don't get that is why this chart is apparently not making any sense. Most books, movies, and television shows have at least one strong male character. Many don't have ANY strong female characters.

I think sometimes people are blind to the stereotypical roles female characters are allowed to play, and the relative freedom for male characters.

Someone says that Arwen from Lord of the Rings is a "strong female character" and isn't an example of "The Nymph" (magically beautiful lady sitting around waiting for a man). Really? I can name about 10 male characters from the series who are more well-rounded and play more significant roles. This is especially true of the books, but it's true of the movies as well. Arwen is there to provide a love interest for one of the primary male characters (and the daughter of another primary male character, providing depth and conflict for the two guys). How often does that happen the other way around? If a guy is just there to be the love interest with no life or desires separate from a female character, then it's relegated to chick lit/chick flick. Very rarely mainstream.

I mean, I may disagree with some examples but most of the tropes do exist. I also think you can love a character and still recognize that it's a trope. The problem is that far too many female characters are relegated to these tropes.

Yoko Ono is a real person deserving of respect for her person and accomplishments, but there is a cultural narrative and her characterization in that narrative is absolutely a sexist trope. Her accomplishments, her actual personality, her desires, strengths, interests -- all of these are rendered invisible in the broader narrative.

If real women weren't stereotyped in these ways, then writers wouldn't create fictional female stereotypes. This is also why identifying and subverting the stereotypes matters - it matters for real women and girls who are more than the sum of their parts or the roles they play in the life of a man.
posted by Danila at 7:54 PM on October 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


Haven't even clicked the chart...but I love "The Rule", and a 'big fuck' you to those who criticize the exacting science behind it.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:58 PM on October 12, 2010


seriously saying that ladies like Azula, Zoe Washburne, and Sarah Connor are all cardboard cutout stereotypes not worth taking seriously?

holy fuck Azula is the fucking greatest and these people have no idea what they're even talking about if they claim she's not a strong and interesting character

The Beach, The Beach, motherfuckers you need to watch The Beach
posted by Greg Nog at 8:17 PM on October 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


This chart does not show what it thinks it shows. Its initial battery of questions are fine for determining whether you've written a strong female protagonist (or a strong male one, really), but any secondary character could fail that battery and still be a fine secondary character. Most stories have secondary characters. I think I shouldn't have to say that, but here we are. If you'd like to complain that there aren't enough female protagonists in sf/f/horror (which genres would appear to be the chart's main concerns), then okay. That's true, particularly in sf/f (it's less true by far in horror, but of course women in horror = a whole other set of issues). But that's not what the chart's saying.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:18 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is the definition of a "strong character?" Are we in "no true Scotsman" territory here?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:18 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yoko Ono is a real person deserving of respect for her person and accomplishments, but there is a cultural narrative and her characterization in that narrative is absolutely a sexist trope. Her accomplishments, her actual personality, her desires, strengths, interests -- all of these are rendered invisible in the broader narrative.

No, Danila. That defence is bullshit. Yoko Ono's accomplishments are only rendered invisible if you choose to perpetuate that (bullshit) broader cultural narrative, as the chart did, and now, by defending it, as you are attempting to do.

This is a real person we are talking about, who is still alive, and is still running around doing stuff. Rendering that person's accomplishments and personality and so on invisible - whether directly, by insulting her, or indirectly, by repeating insults about her as if they were nothing more than a 'sexist trope' that can be played with oh-so ironically rather than actual real live insults directed actually at her, personally, as a person, is total fucking bullshit, and there isn't a defence for it.

Now read the link that Narrative Priorities posted above.
posted by motty at 8:18 PM on October 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


The makers of the chart just slapped some images onto these categories without bothering to pay attention. I went straight to the "villains" and right away we have Mystique (X-Men) as "sexy underling," which is definitely not the case, and "Has a family? -> No" goes to Mom of Futurama, who obviously does have a family.

Maybe the rest of the chart's better, but when your flowchart starts off wrong about X-Men and Futurama, you've lost me.
posted by explosion at 8:18 PM on October 12, 2010


I love the graph. Ripley and Sarah Connor do not belong there. Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween is a much better example of the Final Girl, as for Mama Bear. . .the woman in Stop or My Mom Will Shoot maybe?

My biggest gripe is Faye from Cowboy Bebop. Faye's a brilliantly-written character, seemingly a shallow rogue/femme fatale* who is gradually revealed through the series to be an incredibly vulnerable, shaken, frightened girl whose abrasive dickishness is her way of dealing with a universe she truly doesn't belong in. There are so many wonderful scenes: funny ones of her selfishness and recklessness screwing up yet another bounty and beautifully touching ones where we see the cracks in the facade of her outward personality. Her final scene where Spike leaves the Bebop in the last episode is wrenching (the writers were just so damn good they made it meaningful without falling into the "female character is secretly in love with the protagonist! Surprise!" trap).

I LOVE me some Cowboy Bebop. Just typing that out that makes me want to watch the series again.


*Faye's ~1 minute introduction into the series is actually a wonderful femme-fatale spoof in and of itself. She throws open a creaky door to a dirty bar, says something vaguely badass, then whips out a machine gun and sprays the place in bullets. There is a moment's pause as the dust settles. To Faye's horror, she didn't hit a single person: her aim was that bad.
posted by Ndwright at 8:19 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The character of Ellen Ripley is an interesting case. WP:
In developing the story O'Bannon had focused on writing the Alien first, putting off developing the characters for a later draft. He and Shusett had therefore written all of the roles as generic males with a note in the script explicitly stating that "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women."
It looks like a genuinely strong female character only got through the system because she was originally a male character.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:05 PM on October 12, 2010


Its initial battery of questions are fine for determining whether you've written a strong female protagonist (or a strong male one, really), but any secondary character could fail that battery and still be a fine secondary character. Most stories have secondary characters.

There are female characters who can pass all of these questions but they are not protagonists. But all the ones I can think of at the moment were written by women. I'd agree that the line gets blurry, especially depending on how one interprets "can she carry her own story?" I still think the main strength of the chart is in revealing many of the ways in which female characters are given short shrift.

Yoko Ono's accomplishments are only rendered invisible if you choose to perpetuate that (bullshit) broader cultural narrative, as the chart did, and now, by defending it, as you are attempting to do.

I assume good-will on the part of the chart-makers because they exhibit more than a feminism 101 understanding of issues, which is more than I can say for a lot of the critics here (sorry, I admit that I find the men of Metafilter automatically suspect in any thread about any form of oppression against women). That being the case, I do not think they were making fun of Ono. I think my interpretation makes more sense because the entire chart is a critique of the marginalization of women.

I read that link, and flat out disagree that the chart is an attack on Ono as opposed to an attack on the people who marginalize the status and accomplishments of women like her. I think you'd have to ignore the context of Ono's inclusion on the chart in order to interpret it as just another attack on her as someone "unlikeable".

I can see how Ono's inclusion could be read as ironic sexism and racism, like the supposed progressives who tell racist and sexist jokes "ironically". There are quite a few fictional characters that have been assigned the "Yoko Ono" role, but most of them are parodies of the way Ono herself has been marginalized.

There should be a way to call out those tropes and this chart probably isn't the best way, since there isn't any way for it to show that Yoko herself is a strong woman but the character trope that is based on the role she has been assigned by sexist society is not that of a strong female character. I don't think the chart is saying that this is who Yoko Ono is, but that this is the only way the mainstream allows her to be portrayed. I make that argument because that is the entire point of the chart and all of the tropes and characters included on it. But with her being the only real person there and the fact that there is no additional commentary, I agree with the objection to her inclusion.
posted by Danila at 11:07 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sure Yoko Ono is crying herself to sleep over this chart in her giant mansion, dabbing tears with denominations of bills that have more zeroes than you and I can comfortably conceive, and tremendously glad that people on the internets take it upon themselves to defend her.

It's a joke. Chill.
posted by gern at 11:18 PM on October 12, 2010


When I consider most of the recent novels I've read and most of the recent films I've seen I have to say that I strongly suspect a similar chart for male characters would be around half the size of this one, or less.
posted by Decani at 1:59 AM on October 13, 2010


Most books, movies, and television shows have at least one strong male character.

I beg to differ. I read a lot of genre fiction, and I wouldn't call most of the characters, even the admittedly predominant leading men, "strong," if "strong" is taken to mean "well-developed to the point of being believable as a real person." A lot of other genre fiction is like that. The characters fill roles, mostly covered by TVTropes, regardless of their gender. The fact that the vast majority of protagonists are male is certainly an issue, but I don't think it's the issue the chart claims it's trying to address.

Let's run with your Tolkien example. Tolkien, self-admittedly, couldn't write female characters worth a damn. But he couldn't write male characters either. He couldn't even write male characters to the point that the female ciphers even made any sense at all. Seriously, we've got a centuries-old elf who is going to live forever who falls for Aragorn... why exactly? "Just because" is as close as I can get. And to figure out that Aragorn is motivated by this in the slightest you have to dig pretty deep into the appendices and background material in The Silmarillion. Widening the scope a bit, there doesn't seem to be a single character in the entire book that has a single sexual thought. I'm not talking about romance and love scenes, but maybe the fact that Sam is kind of sweet on Rosie Cotton could have been introduced before the last couple of dozen pages of the book.

All the characters of the Fellowship are pretty one dimensional when you look at 'em closely. I just reread The Lord of the Rings and was actually struck by how bad the characterization really is. Merry and Pippin are more or less interchangeable, Sam's your basic trusty sidekick, Frodo is so melodramatic it's embarrassing, etc.

Again, the issue of why there aren't more female protagonists is interesting, but you could make an almost identical chart of stereotypes for male characters in genre fiction and get something just as hilarious.
posted by valkyryn at 4:45 AM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree it's oversimplified. Having said that, in fairness to the piece, it's not true that if you're "mainly a mother" you can't be a strong character. You only wind up down in the flow chart if you flunk one of the questions at the top. Unless you're dealing with a woman who can't carry her own story, isn't three-dimensional, is there to represent an idea, has no flaws, or dies early, you're never in that flow chart to start with. The top row of questions is what qualifies strong characters; the flow chart just sorts the non-strong characters into types.

So an otherwise strong character (by those terms) could certainly be "mainly a mother." I don't necessarily agree with all of those threshold questions in the top row (the "idea" one is particularly hard for me to parse), but they are making an interesting point.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:12 AM on October 13, 2010


Can we discuss how to write female characters without dismissing the importance and worthiness of a huge swath of them? And are they creators of this chart seriously saying that ladies like Azula, Zoe Washburne, and Sarah Connor are all cardboard cutout stereotypes not worth taking seriously? REALLY?

No, no, and no. All of which would have been answered had you actually bothered to read the introduction to the chart.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:20 AM on October 13, 2010


In the article, the authors put forth Kima's girlfriend from The Wire as an example of a strong female character.

Actually, trying to walk Kima's girlfriend through the chart, I got stuck at the previously-unnoticed-by-me heteronormativity of "Is she only interested in her man?"

Anyway, one could maybe make a useful chart that's not straight-up incorrect like a lot of the nodes on this one are, but this is most definitely not it. It's a shame that it's presented in tandem with the Bechdel Test, which -- like most of Dykes To Watch For -- is straightforward, interesting, and smart as hell.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:25 AM on October 13, 2010


Actually, trying to walk Kima's girlfriend through the chart, I got stuck at the previously-unnoticed-by-me heteronormativity of "Is she only interested in her man?"

She clearly isn't, as in she wants a family and "normal" life, where she doesn't have to worry about Kima getting killed.

the Bechdel Test, which -- like most of Dykes To Watch For -- is straightforward, interesting, and smart as hell.

Does The Wire pass the Bechdel Test? Does it even work on long run tv shows?
posted by nomadicink at 5:36 AM on October 13, 2010


Well, the Bechdel Test isn't exactly without flaws - it breaks down to the point of arbitaryness with short stories and anything with a small cast. At the end of the day these things are only a bit of fun to be used as a bit of mental excercise, and you should use your own bloody brain to judge if something is good or not - so really it's all cool as long as people realize that.
posted by Artw at 5:39 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and you should use your own bloody brain to judge if something is good or not...

Huh, what do you mean?
posted by nomadicink at 5:41 AM on October 13, 2010


Well, it looks like everyone is flying off the handle without reading any of the caveats that went with it. In particular I'll point you to "Two-dimensional characters are the backbone of fiction, especially fantasy fiction and most comedies." and "Obviously, this chart in no way applies (sic) that there aren’t male stereotypes out there in the pop culture ether. There are. Obviously. " (emphasis in original.)

The point of calling out stock characters, stereotypes, and tropes isn't to say that people are bad writers for using them, only that you probably will use them and you should own it if you do.

"Stuffed in a fridge" is a reference to Gail Simone's Women in Refridgerators Syndrome which suggested that DC and Marvel comics were making a cliche of killing, maiming, and depowering its few female supeheroes in order to develop drama. It's named after a Green Lantern episode where Hal Jordan finds a body in the fridge, goes crazy, and almost destroys the multiverse. Since then it's become something of a catchphrase criticism for just about every female character tragedy that seems to only serve the purpose of creating angst for the male protagonist. See James Bond and Wolverine for characters who are primarily developed this way, and there's probably a subset there for women who practically live in the fridge like Illyana Rasputin and Jean Grey.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:44 AM on October 13, 2010


In context, the Bechdel test never struck me as more than a punchline that lesbians are better off entertaining each other than going to see Rambo. I'm not certain is was ever intended to be a general heuristic.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:51 AM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


there's probably a subset there for women who practically live in the fridge like Illyana Rasputin and Jean Grey.

Ouch. Horribly, horribly true there.
posted by Artw at 5:54 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh, what do you mean?

That you should neither use a flowchart off the Internet as a substitute for good judgement or assume that it's presence means that others are rigidly bound to use it as a substitute for good judgement.
posted by Artw at 5:58 AM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


But...but...it's a flowchart!
posted by nomadicink at 6:03 AM on October 13, 2010


Well, it looks like everyone is flying off the handle without reading any of the caveats that went with it.

But then the caveats are essentially saying "This chart is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be used for making substantial inferences about gender". In which case, whatever.

Given the initial criteria, it's just a gym for exercising the reader's confirmation bias, which is fine. What's annoying is the idea that it's supposed to represent anything more significant than that.

It's quite colourful, though. That has to be a plus.
posted by Grangousier at 6:03 AM on October 13, 2010


Oh, and referring to the chart, it appears that Lady Macbeth is Fridge Stuffing. Who knew?
posted by Grangousier at 6:05 AM on October 13, 2010


It's a PRETTY flowchart! How can you deny its power?!
posted by nomadicink at 6:05 AM on October 13, 2010


No, no, and no. All of which would have been answered had you actually bothered to read the introduction to the chart.

also,

Well, it looks like everyone is flying off the handle without reading any of the caveats that went with it.

Actually, as I'd already seen this chart before the FPP, I HAD read all the introductory text and the caveats you mention. Which I'll address in a moment.

But first: that chart is not going to circulate with its introduction intact. That's why Overthinking It put that link to their website in the corner. Because this is going to be reblogged all over Tumblr, and pasted into chat windows, and emailed as a direct link, and generally distributed as a stand-alone image for weeks or months or possibly years. The Bechdel Test has become almost completely divorced from the comic that inspired it, and even when that comic IS posted it's very rarely put in any kind of context.

This flowchart is probably going to be linked to as part of conversations about writing female characters for quite some time, and no one's gong to care about the caveats originally attached to it. The chart will essentially stand alone. And alone, it's insultingly misguided and unhelpful.

As for that original context: as I said, I did read it, and I'm not impressed nor persuaded by it. First of all, I'm fairly certain that list of caveats was a LOT shorter when the Overthinking It post originally went up, and has presumably been edited in response to user comments and discussions like this one.

Second, she explicitly says, "This flowchart focuses on the one- and two-dimensional female characters we see over and over again in modern fiction." Part of the motivation behind my original comment is that I disagree with her assessment of many characters she put on her chart, including but not limited to the ones I mentioned. I'm not really sure what metric she's even using for what makes a character three-dimensional. Maybe only characters in novels?

And ultimately, my problem is with the very concept of a chart like this. She's explicitly trotting out a long list of well-loved characters and saying, "These women are lame and two-dimensional. I guess you can enjoy them or write characters like them if you REALLY WANT, but if you were a REAL writer who wants to write REAL women, you'll understand that every one of these ladies is a lesson in fail."

I'm being slightly hyperbolic here, but that's honestly what this chart says to me. It's climbing up a mountain of fictional women it's dismissed, belittled and mocked (some of those labels are pretty misogynistic) in order to make a point about how to treat women. And I really, really, hate that. A conversation about women that summarily dismisses other women in the process is not a helpful one, and not one I want to participate in.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:11 AM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a flowchart it seems like it's desperatly crying out to be two flowcharts.
posted by Artw at 6:11 AM on October 13, 2010


Yeah, it does seem over thought.
posted by nomadicink at 6:18 AM on October 13, 2010


But then the caveats are essentially saying "This chart is for entertainment purposes only, and should not be used for making substantial inferences about gender". In which case, whatever.

I think it's quite possible to be entertaining, critical, and informative. Which I think this chart is while most of the reactions to it are the typical fanboy/girl bullshit of "how dare you criticize one of my favorite characters." Quite a few characters I like happen to be on the chart, and I see no problem with identifying them as members of that particular trope.

Certainly Shakespeare made heavy use of those tropes and stereotypes for both protagonists and secondary characters. I won't call Lady Macbeth fridge stuffing, because Macbeth really only gets weepy over Duncan and needing to kill Banquo. Lavinia and Ophelia are probably better examples of fridge stuffing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:30 AM on October 13, 2010


there's probably a subset there for women who practically live in the fridge like Illyana Rasputin and Jean Grey.

"Hello, the Xavier School for Gifted Muties, how can I help you? ... I'm sorry, Ms Grey is dead at the moment. Would you like her to call you back?"
posted by Grangousier at 6:48 AM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Part of the motivation behind my original comment is that I disagree with her assessment of many characters she put on her chart, including but not limited to the ones I mentioned.

Which makes your disagreement little more than petty nerdrage. Someone identified your favorite character as part of a trope. Oh boo, hoo, hoo.

And ultimately, my problem is with the very concept of a chart like this. She's explicitly trotting out a long list of well-loved characters and saying,... [nonsense cut for brevity.]

So what if a well-loved character appears on the chart? It doesn't make them bad characters or the people who created them bad writers for having developed them.

I'm being slightly hyperbolic here, but that's honestly what this chart says to me

A little more than slightly, but since I read such snarky and humorous criticism from writers and within fandom on a regular basis, I see this as a humorous take on character-development tropes. I suspect both the creator and I are both fans of Marge Simpson, but "suffering wife" is certainly a fair description.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:52 AM on October 13, 2010


Which makes your disagreement little more than petty nerdrage. Someone identified your favorite character as part of a trope. Oh boo, hoo, hoo.

Well, you do get to the trope identification chart via the "IS THIS CHARACTER WORTHLESS?" line at the top, I suspect that's where people have a problem with it.

As I say, the trope identification part of the chart needs to be off on it's own... the problem then is the "IS THIS CHARACTER WORTHLESS?" part of the chart is awful thin on it's own, and let's face it doesn't contain anything that can be translated into worthwhile non obvious advice for anyone ("make your character flawed, 3 dimensional and immortal!"), so that needs some work - probably starting with changes to eliminate as much of that list of caveats as possible.
posted by Artw at 7:04 AM on October 13, 2010


[nonsense cut for brevity.]

In case it wasn't clear, I'm a woman. And the dismissiveness and condescension you've displayed in all of your comments on this post, particularly those directed at me, are pretty emblematic of the underlying problem here. That if a women has a problem with how female characters are portrayed in fiction or discussed in meta, she's spouting nonsense and overreacting; that if a woman is pissed off by misogynistic humor or commentary she's uptight and can't take a joke; that women, in general, are taken seriously only when their opinions are convenient and line up with those of snarky, cynical, patronizing gentlemen such as yourself.

I'm also not sure how having a differing opinion about fictional characters means that I'm motivated entirely by "nerdrage." I'd like to think my username might suggest I take fiction a little more seriously than that.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:05 AM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


FWIW KirkJobSluder is like that with pretty much everyone.
posted by Artw at 7:08 AM on October 13, 2010


Good to know. I'll reserve the rest of my feminist fangirl nonsense for another day and another dude, perhaps. One should be economical about these things, after all.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:12 AM on October 13, 2010


But the flowchart had pink in it, isn't that cool?!
posted by nomadicink at 7:16 AM on October 13, 2010


I have overanalysed the chart which I have said is just a starting place for thought far too much! Do not try to lure me back into Further discussion with your graphic designer talk of "color" and whatnot.
posted by Artw at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2010


Artw: Well, you do get to the trope identification chart via the "IS THIS CHARACTER WORTHLESS?" line at the top, I suspect that's where people have a problem with it.

You do know that you don't need to quote things that are your own interpretation, right? I'll agree that the top line needs to be rewritten, but I don't agree that it says that all the other aspects of character development are worthless.

Narrative Priorities: I don't see a fair interpretation of the FPP that leads to the extreme conclusions you're making, and most of the objections in this discussion is nerdrage that the author of the FPP has identified a trope as influential to the development of a favorite character.

Where a lot of people are seeing "worthless" I'm just seeing identification of genre conventions. I love Avatar: The Last Airbender, Alien, Firefly, and early episodes of The Simpsons but yep, the screenwriters make extremely heavy use of stock genre characters and there's no harm or shame in pointing it out.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:50 AM on October 13, 2010


Apparently this chart was created by Queen Victoria as lesbians don't seem to exist... but then they don't seem to in Hollywood either*. Zing!

*Well apart from fanboy pandering lezzing up**

**Not that there's anything wrong with that***

***... OK... what level or irony am I at now?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:59 AM on October 13, 2010


"Stuffed in a fridge" is a reference to Gail Simone's Women in Refridgerators Syndrome which suggested that DC and Marvel comics were making a cliche of killing, maiming, and depowering its few female supeheroes in order to develop drama. It's named after a Green Lantern episode where Hal Jordan finds a body in the fridge, goes crazy, and almost destroys the multiverse.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I am afraid you have flunked Green Lantern.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:09 AM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I am afraid you have flunked Green Lantern.

Yeah, well, I never could keep them straight.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:12 AM on October 13, 2010


I have never understand the allure of Green Lantern. The ring gives the wearer God like powers, which is interesting, but seems to have been consistently poorly handled by writers and editors.
posted by nomadicink at 8:29 AM on October 13, 2010


At least in my view, Azula is cut from the same cloth as Darth Vader. She replaces Admiral Zhao as the ambitious evil zealot and serves as a foil for Zuko's growing doubt and compassion. Not a bad thing by any means.

Zoe Washburn is a classic Number Two, again, a character type with a very rich and admirable tradition.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:07 AM on October 13, 2010


I don't see a negative judgment implied by the chart, but my own tone was out of line. I apologize and will bail out of the discussion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2010


Lady MacBeth is absolutely "fridge stuffing" if we only mean that by her death, MacBeth finally goes completely off-balance and crazy. He doesn't get weepy? "Out, out brief candle"? You've been seeing some odd productions if you don't think her death shatters him.

She's still a very strong, complicated, flawed and awesome character though. Far more so, for my money, than Ophelia. The real "fridge stuffing" in that play is Lady MacDuff.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:36 AM on October 13, 2010


"Is she only interested in her man?"

She clearly isn't, as in she wants a family and "normal" life, where she doesn't have to worry about Kima getting killed.


Her only place in the story is her disapproval toward Kima's career, introducing conflict for Kima. FAIL.

But the fact of the matter is that her story is not the story of The Wire, so the only part we see of it is that part (the conflict between Kima and her) that intersects with The Wire. When you tell a story, you have to leave parts of it out, otherwise you'll spend your entire life detailing the back story of the first ten minutes. So even though, in the fictional world of The Wire, she has an offscreen life, her only onscreen role is "the disapproving spouse."
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:58 PM on October 13, 2010


One woman's suggestion for a revised chart.

Thoughts?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:56 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thoughts?

Well, it has a picture of Katniss, so I am 100% on board.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:42 PM on October 13, 2010


Thoughts?

Heh, I actually like this one quite a lot. It manages to nicely raise the issue of a lack of well-written female characters without being as divisive, exclusionary and just plain inaccurate as the original chart. Thanks for posting it.
posted by fearthehat at 9:46 PM on October 13, 2010


Says more of it's maker than it's subjects.
posted by wobh at 5:40 AM on October 14, 2010


Yay! Just caught up with The latest Venture Bros. And we get about 5 seconds of Girl Hitler in it. I love that character.
posted by Artw at 6:37 PM on October 14, 2010


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