What makes a great story? Plenty of action? A little mystery? A secret romance come to life?
A little of all of it?
The greatest stories of all times, the stories that defy time and please generations, know the true art of the story. They know how to mix a little of everything to bring everyone into the story. We like to see the hero come out on top. We like to see a fight between good and evil where good always wins.
But what if we switched some of the most loved shows around, replacing the male character for a female lead? What would that do to our senses?
What if Captain Kirk became Captain Kate?
What if Jason Bourne became Jessica Bourne?
What if instead of glorifying the facts of the past – Don Draper – we highlighted the accomplishments of things to come? Danielle Draper could knock the socks off of many high level executives with her cunning business abilities.
Eighty percent of media consumed worldwide is made in the US. That means we establish what’s acceptable behavior for both men and women around the world.
Our movies show how men and women act together. Our television shows lead us to believe what’s proper behavior. But what if we changed what we make? What if we showed what men and women are truly capable of becoming, together.
We need more movies like Wonder Woman. We need more realistic expectations, such as making 50 percent of the police force in a crime show female. Or creating more movies where women are entrepreneurs or scientists and achieve great things. Not just focusing on all they had to overcome to be in that position, but being there because they’re smart and deserve to be there.
Yet we still live in a world where top rated television series are male driven with male characters that are out solving world problems while the “little wife” sits at home. I’m not suggesting that these female characters aren’t rich characters in their own rights. But in many cases, they are bumped off due to cancer or a car accident, and within a few episodes the male lead is back on the market with a much younger female interest that may or may not survive a few episodes.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media tracks and analyzes gender repression in today’s media. Fewer top grossing films have female leads. When they do, they’re more likely to share on-screen time with a male lead. And the differences become even more apparent with speaking times.
Some would argue we need stronger women characters. I would argue we need stronger female stories instead.
It doesn’t have to be about looks
Looking back through time, female strength is usually not a problem. It’s how female strength has been portrayed that’s the issue. Men solve crimes, invent amazing technology, and save the world. Women show their strength through sex. No matter what they do behind the scenes – off camera and out of sight – they are always ready to stand tall and be there looking their best, pearls on, of course, when their man gets home at the end of their busy days. We support. We stay behind the scenes. We help – never do for ourselves.
How about working together?
I raised my daughter on Harry Potter. She was reading chapter books by the age of 3, so Harry Potter became a part of our lives early in elementary school. I adored the strong characters, the ability of Harry and Ron and Hermione to work together as friends and as equals throughout their lives. Their portrayal wove real world issues together as they aged, changed and grew.
I’m not one to leave out sexual tension – it’s a part of the human experience. When we move through puberty, we’ve attracted to other people. It’s a fact that will never change – and if it does it will be the end of humankind. Showcasing this on an equal basis shows we can both be vulnerable as well as strong. Ask and receive what we deserve as people, not just one sex over the other.
Change the stories
In order to change perspectives and stereotypes, we need to create real role models people can identify with. Men aren’t always violent; they can’t survive being beaten dozens of times only to pop up and act like everything’s okay. Women aren’t always the perfectly quiet nurturer ready and willing to wait on everyone else for their needs.
Most women have a “normal” life. We work. We’re married. We have families. We have responsibilities. And we try and fit in personal time too.
Most men have “normal” lives too. 9 to 5. Marriages. Families. Responsibilities. And a little bit of personal time too.
We can’t fly. We can’t be used as punching bags. We aren’t invincible. And we can’t do whatever the hell we want. (Although that last point could be debated on so many levels.)
It’s not action that gives us a memorable story. It’s the characters. They need to have interesting personalities. They need to have rich stories to share. They need to have flaws to overcome on their road to discovery. Male or female doesn’t matter. Interaction matters. Complexity matters. Emotion matters. That strong interpersonal connection that makes you fall in love with the character matters.
And if the character can’t leave your head, that’s when you have something good.