Feminism has been enjoying something of a trendy moment for the last few years. This is evident in how celebrities present themselves (think Beyonce using feminism heavily in her music and tour, and Taylor Swift collecting women for her girl squad photos), how clothing brands slap the word all over t-shirts to make a sale, and how movies and TV shows have tried to give us more strong female characters. On the one hand, it’s great that feminism is such a buzzy word, because it gives representation to women who deserve it. One the other hand, it can easily turn into a major fail – everyone wants to capitalize on feminism, but if it’s not done right, it can do more harm than good.
Take, for example, all of the “feminist” fictional characters out there. Some of them are truly great role models – I always think of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights, Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation, and Aria from Game Of Thrones. But a lot of them fall short of the feminist values they are supposed to embody. A lot of “feminist” characters aren’t actually feminist at all, which is disappointing, and can also end up painting the movement in a negative way. A recent Ask Reddit thread brought up this issue, asking users about the characters who are supposed to be feminist but who ultimately fall short – and the list was too good not to share. Check it out, and let us know if you disagree:
Cinderella in the 2015 MovieThere is a lot to criticize when it comes to Disney princesses, but it's also worth noting that a lot of them actually do embody feminism. One princess who doesn't usually get that credit? Cinderella. And, according to one Reddit user, the Cinderella character in the 2015 movie, played by Lily James, was exceptionally problematic. Yelesa says, "Cinderella in the 2015 live action adaption. Somehow she managed to be even worse than the original Disney version, and in that version she is pretty bad, because she was a product of its time. The main difference between the Cinderellas that supposedly makes her the better version is that she reads books, which inspires little girls; and rides horses, which is a male activity, because in order for a female character to be strong is be more male-like. However, when it comes to actually facing obstacles, the new Cinderella just sat down and cried when locked into the room by the evil stepmother, while the old one was angry and started banging on the door, tried looking for ways to get out. The old Cinderella was determined to make her wishes come true when opportunity arose, the new Cinderella just gave up. That's a serious character flaw." I never thought of it that way, but it makes sense. In the 2015 version of the story, Cinderella is only seen as a feminist because she comes off as smart and does activities men did at that time - but that's not what makes someone a feminist. She was a little helpless.
Hermione GrangerA lot of Harry Potter fans were disappointed with the movie portrayal of Hermione Granger, myself included. User EnjoyKnope says, "Movie Hermione is so one dimensional in comparison to book Hermione. I love Emma Watson but I will forever be disappointed by that character in the films (and don't even get me started on Ron)." Agreed! In the books, Hermione is strong-willed, independent, and complex. She does so much that is so, so important for the plot. I the movies, she is supposed to come off as strong-willed and independent, and in some ways she does, but in a lot of ways, she falls short. Her character isn't as complex, and a lot of the movies focus too much on her love life - something that was secondary to the real story in the books.
Buffy from Buffy The Vampire SlayerI've personally never watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but I constantly read about how Buffy is a feminist character. One girl disagrees. User JediKnight1 says, "I say this with an extremely heavy heart, but Buffy. I kind of hated how they made her want to be just a normal girl, even though the slayer powers gave her protection from all the demons. Also, her relationships were pretty screwed up and I am really tired of women always having screwed up relationships as a trope."
Sookie Stackhouse from True BloodIf you've ever seen True Blood, then you probably know that Sookie is supposed to come off as tough, strong-willed, and someone who can take care of herself. And in the beginning, she kind of does... but then that quickly falls apart. User rhapsodytwelve explains, "Although I love the character, I'd have to say Sookie Stackhouse (both in the books and in HBO series). She's strong willed, funny, and has some amazing abilities. The character could easily stand alone in any story you put her into .... but for some reason her story always revolves around men. And when she's alone, she's thinking about various different men. I guess what I'm saying is, the books are mystery stories (not love stories). Sookie's character was interesting enough, and the stories themselves were usually interesting enough, that there didn't need to be a relationship aspect to them ... yet there always was. And it somehow always made Sookie look less strong - relying on Eric or pining over Bill - it was unnecessary and diminished her as a character. IMO." It's not that being in a relationship or liking men makes you less of a feminist, it's just that her character would have been a stronger feminist if she wasn't constantly discussing men.
The Cast of Sucker PunchBefore it came out, Sucker Punch seemed like it was going to be an amazing movie full of strong women. And then it came out, and the reviews were beyond awful. User fullmoonhermit says, "Sucker Punch, ostensibly about tough ladies getting revenge on their abusers, actually about barely legal girls stripping in hot pants." Now, of course you can be a feminist and still wear revealing clothing, but that wasn't the only reason the ladies in this movie fell short of showing feminism in a positive light. Other users pointed out that the characters weren't strong, they didn't have their own personalities or even come across as anything other than women in tight clothing. And THAT is a problem.
Halle Berry's CatwomanHalle Berry's version of Catwoman was another movie that was highly anticipated, and then a huge disappointment. I haven't seen the movie, so I'll let Girlwithasling sum it up: "Halle Berry's Catwoman. It's pretty clear she was supposed to be strong and independent, owning her sexuality, etc. (so the usual "empowered woman" trope) but there's just so much wrong with that movie. From the enemy being the beauty industry (I get what they're going for, but it's just so trite that that's the only possible enemy a woman could have) to the villain being a woman obsessed with youth (really, again?) to the bonkers acting and hyper sexualization. It's been a long time since I saw it last, so I might be misremembering some things, but I remember when I first saw it not being sure if I should feel pandered to, insulted, or just angry that I'd wasted my money on an objectively terrible movie."
Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte from Sex and The CitySex and The City gets a lot of criticism and also a lot of love, which can get confusing. Some people find it to be super feminist, while others think it's a total fail. User PM_ME_KITTENS_PLEASE explains why she doesn't think the main cast is feminist: "Not sure if she was supposed to "embody feminist values" but the first thing that came to mind was Carrie Bradshaw and her cronies from Sex & the City. They're supposed to be all wild and single and independent (granted I have only seen a handful of episodes) but it's another case of we-can't-have-an-ending-unless-there's-a-man-involved." User funsizedaisy adds, "They literally never talked about anything other than men. It's a show that features 4 independent and successful women but I think they hardly pass the Bechdel Test. When they do pass it's probably because they stopped talking about men for 5 seconds so they can talk about shoes and clothes." I think it's worth pointing out, though, that SATC was one of the first popular TV shows to be about four strong women who openly discussed sex and sexuality, which is really important! It wasn't perfect, but there were still some positive things about the show's message.
Emma from Once Upon A TimeI've never seen the show Once Upon A Time and I'm not familiar with it, so I'll let user ga_to_ca explain: "Emma from Once Upon a Time. She starts out so awesome and badass but with real flaws. But by last season, everything she was doing was to prop up a man. Makes me so sad. :( The sad part is, I think the writers still really think they're writing a great feminist character."
Lois Lane in the 90sLois Lane is another character who is supposed to embody feminist values, but doesn't always do so. The Superman film in the '90s is an example of that. User 360Saturn says, "Actually on that point, the 90s Superman show was pretty bad for that too. Lois Lane believed she could do anything but every time she tried to be independent would end up getting kidnapped or something and episodes would end up with the message that she might think she was independent, but she actually wasn't."
All Feminist CharactersThere are also some users who think that any fictional character, once they're advertised as feminist characters, immediately falls short. User machiavellicopter says, "All of them. As soon as a female character is made solely to "embody feminist values", she stops being a deep and complex human character. We see this so often with cinema and television these days - creators were thinking of a spin on the 'strong independent woman' cliche, not a realistic human being who happens to be a woman." I agree with this in a way - so many times, Hollywood gets feminism wrong, instead relying on stereotypes and cliches that make feminism look bad. This is especially true when they're trying to capitalize on the movement and they try too hard. I think some of the most feminist characters I've seen haven't been packaged that way, and they don't throw it in your face at every opportunity.
Which one of these characters do you think is actually a feminist? Did we forget to add anyone else? Share in the comments!