Monday, March 14, 2011

Where's Our Luke Skywalker?

There seems to be a trend among epic fantasy/sci-fi sagas in the last few decades: for the most part, all the protagonists are men, and women assume secondary roles, and are often mere love interests of the supporting male sidekick.

Lord of the Rings: Frodo Baggins is the protagonist, and the entire Fellowship of the Ring - Sam, Merry, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Boromir - are all men. There are very few women in the movie: there's Lady Galadriel, who appears once and gives the men guidance and gifts, and her wisdom is heard later throughout the trilogy. Then there's Arwen, who hardly serves much purpose other than Aragorn's love intetrest. Finally, there's Eowyn, who actually kicks a good bit of ass and kills the Witch King (yaaay!), and we need to give her credit for that. But in the three huge books, three long movies, tons of epic battles, only one woman kicks ass? And she's hardly a major character. And of course, all three of these women are slender and hot, two of them become objects of Aragorn's desire, and Galadriel is desired by all men who look upon her.

Pirates of the Carribean: The movies center around two men: Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner. Jack is arguably the more prominent character, as he's still in the movies after Will has settled down with Elizabeth. While Elizabeth does occasionally cross dress and kicks a good bit of ass, she's still only a secondary character, and Will's love interest.

Star Wars: Luke Skywalker, a guy, is the protagonist. Throughout the series there is but one significant female character: Princess Lea. Again, very sexy, the object of every geeky guy's desire since the 1970's. Luke falls in love with her, then realizes she's his sister, and that love interests fizzles pretty quickly. Han Solo ends up with her in the end.

Harry Potter: Yet another male protagonist, Harry Potter. He has two best friends, Ron and Hermione, possibly one of the most awesome young women in mainstream fantasy literature. Hermione is the object of Ron's affection towards the end of the series, but is seriously awesome in other ways. There's also Ginny, another arguably powerful female figure, who ends up with Harry. It's important to note that the romantic storylines are significant, but only secondary to the main plotline.

It's interesting to note that in many of these movies, the male protagonist either doesn't have a love interest, or he does but doesn't end up with her, OR he does but it's not the main storyline. Women, on the other hand, are always objects of at least one man's affection, and usually end up with a guy in the end. And of course, the women are almost always thin and beautiful, objects created for the male gaze.

Again, there have been some pretty strong female characters in these movie sagas, you can't deny that. The problem is that they're always secondary characters, and pretty much always end up with one of the more significant male characters, either the protagonist or the male best friend.

So what do women have? Men have Frodo, Captain Jack Sparrow, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter, there has to be ONE mainstream fantasy saga with a female protagonist, right? Well, as of 2009, there is!

Problem is, it's Twilight. Bella Swan, the protagonist, is a one-dimensional character, a prime example of a Mary Sue - "a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader." Rather than have a realistic relationship with a real person, she falls in love with a vampire who sparkles in the sunlight, and who is a creepy, controlling asshole who watches her sleep and sabotages her car so she can't see her friend, Jacob, a werewolf/shape-shifter who's also in love with her. The only way the gender roles are flipped is that the guys are unbelievably gorgeous, and Bella is merely plain (but in an attractive way . . .). Both guys serve to protect her from evil vampires throughout the series, because being human, she's too weak to fight them off herself. She has to be protected all the time, and when she runs off on her own, she ends up needing to be rescued. How much ass does she kick? None, she even breaks her hand trying to punch Jacob. She's nothing without Edward. Where Hermione kept being awesome long after the love of her life left her, when Edward left Bella all she did was curl up in the fetal position, went numb for months, and kept risking her life just to hallucinate and see Edward - who's always trying to tell her to stop being reckless. And of course, this emotionally abusive behavior is lauded as being romantic, he's the best boyfriend ever. I fear for the future.

And of course, while sagas like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are universally beloved by the nerd community, Twilight is snubbed by most nerds - male and female - and its fan base is made up of mostly teenage girls. It barely counts.

That's all we get, girls. We're either ass-kicking love interests or lovesick protagonists with the strength and personality of a noodle. Take your pick. Or better yet, if you can write and tell a good story, write your own epic saga with a notable female protagonist who's actually worth reading about. Just an idea.

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