Ah, the tricky matter of love. In real life, we all aspire to find that one person who, in the romantic tradition of Jerry Maguire, “completes us.” And yet, it’s not that we’re incomplete without a significant other, no. It’s that we want a partner to face life with, someone we can left us carry our burdens, and someone who, might not solve all our problems, but will certainly be there to bounce ideas off, or, in the worst of times, to hear us complain.
In fiction, however, we get a little more …demanding. We want out leading ladies to be strong and brave, smart and resourceful. We want them to be independent, to save themselves, to depend on no one. We want them to be these pillars of strength, these elusive and perfect role models.
In short, we want them to be all the things we’re not. And we judge them harshly if they ever, in our opinion, fall short.
The “in our opinion” caveat is really important here. We are, after all, judges and executioners in this matter. It doesn’t matter what the author intended, some people might say – it only matters what comes across.
And I would be tempted to agree, except we don’t always really see eye to eye on what comes across, either.
You might see Emma Swan as a woman who was bad-ass when she was just the Savior. I, however, see an even stronger woman now that she tore down her walls and opened herself up to love. You might think Felicity Smoak was better when she wasn’t letting inconvenient feelings and/or issues get in the way of the job Team Arrow does, but I see her as more real, more relatable, better.
And I still see both of them as role models.
For some reason that probably has to do more with misogyny than a lot of people want to admit, there seems to be a prevalent notion in some subsections of fandom that a female character can’t be both a love interest and a strong, nuanced woman. Or, worse yet, that she can’t be the main character and have any part of her life revolve around another person – especially if that person’s a man.
That it somehow makes her less strong.
Isn’t it strange? The thing we want the most in real life – a partner – is one of the things some sections of fandom seem to revile the most.
To be fair, not all relationships are well written. Not every two characters who get together in TV, books, movies (or real life, for that matter), end up having a healthy, mature relationship. In fact, no one enters into one and does things perfectly one hundred percent of the time, for many reasons, first of them the fact that no one does anything perfectly one hundred percent of the time.
We all make mistakes. We all mess up. Every relationship is a journey.
Every life is one.
But, and here’s the important part: You can be a badass woman/character and be in love. You can make sacrifices for your partner and still be a feminist. In fact, you can be your own hero and still be rescued from time to time. Life is not black and white.
The fact that Emma loves Hook doesn’t make her any less the Savior. The fact that she was willing to go to hell – literally – to save him, doesn’t make her a pushover or a woman who only cares about a man. It makes her real.
What would we give up for the chance to save a loved one?
Same goes for Felicity Smoak, who had the nerve to actually display negative feelings after the man she was about to marry lied to her about having a child. In real life, that would be hailed as the right thing to do. Dump the idiot, her friends would say. Don’t look back. On TV, though, she was expected to process her feelings quickly, get over them and still find a way to continue working for Team Arrow.
Anything else was taken as a sign of weakness.
But women having emotions is not a weakness, any more than men having them is.
Not that we ever consider shows of male emotion to be a weakness, no. We hail those as a guy being sensitive and caring. There’s a huge double standard, one we continue to perpetuate by asking different things from female characters than we ask of male ones.
This about love, not equality, some people will say. And yet, it’s about both things. The whole idea behind feminism is that men and women can be equal partners in life, that you can lift each other up, make each other better. That no one’s keeping score because no one needs to come out on top.
We’re not there yet, of course. We’re far from that goal. In fact, we’re so far that sometimes it seems like we’ll never get there. But that doesn’t mean we get to stop fighting for it. And though it seems like a small thing, we can help the battle by changing the way we see and react to something as simple as the love lives of our favorite fictional characters.
Don’t hold women to impossible standards. Don’t equate love to a dirty word or assume that feeling one way, putting themselves first and/or making a sacrifice for their significant other makes these characters less.
Recognize that it makes them more. It makes them like us. Not perfect, not saintly, but real. And isn’t that what we want out of our role models?