Jo Bristol has a tick ... she has visions of killing people. Los Angeles is under attack from cyber terrorists, and in an effort to stop them, the city uses spy drones to seek out civilians with brain abnormalities and adjusts their brains to remove any criminal tendencies. Jo has spent her life evading the drones and having her brain be manipulated by keeping her tick a secret, until a week before her seventeenth birthday her visions threaten to become reality.
Having always wanted to be a painter, Jo knows any adjustment to her brain could alter her artistic sense and she could lose all that makes her who she is. She must do everything she can to hide the darkness in her mind or lose her muse completely.
The first in a 3-Part series, TICK is the beginning of Jo's adventures, and will continue into two more books, VICE and MARK.
I’m thrilled to welcome Allison Rose here today with a guest post. I love Orange is the New Black and I love how it is featured to heavily in this post. OITNB has a ensemble female cast who’s stories are heartbreaking. They definitely fit the bill of Strong Female Character. However, Allison is here today to argue that we are thinking about it in entirely the wrong way.
Why ItÂ’s Time To Redefine Â“The Strong Female CharacterÂ”
I originally intended for this article to focus on the Strong Female Character in literatureÂ—as I am a novelist and currently promoting the first book of my YA seriesÂ—but the truth is, the discussion is not and should not be limited to one medium or another. Also, it may or may not be related to a recent TV-viewing Â“creative inspirationÂ” binge in which I caught up on the latest Orange is the New Black season. Okay, it is mostly because of that, but the argument stands that I dislike the current arbitrary rules that embody the Strong Female Character. Even though the trope is a growing one, it is still a largely misunderstood entity. This may explain why writers have used the cut-and-paste method in their own stories, taking a previously successful woman and repackaging her with little understanding of what made that original character unique in the first place. As Tasha Robinson says, weÂ’re losing all our strong female characters to the Trinity Syndrome.
There has been a lot of recent talk about the Â“rise of the Strong Female CharacterÂ” and whether weÂ’re doing it right or if we have completely missed the mark of exploitation. In the minds of many people, the Katniss EverdeenÂ’s and the Lisbeth SlanderÂ’s of the world already fill these roles, girls who kick ass and take names, and sometimes get a little dressed up to show off her feminine side because no one likes a decisive tomboy. Sex appeal is also a crucial element; her sexualized badassery serves to make sure men are paying attention, to make her someone women want to be and men want to be with. An unattractive girl with a gun is perceived as a chick with issues and no one wants to get in the middle of that mess. Or so weÂ’re led to believe. In the words of Taystee, aka Danielle Brooks in OITNB, Â“I call de bullshit.Â”
I do have faith that there are a lot of writers eager to tell the true stories of women, but what exactly does that mean?
First of all, it is important to remember that not all women are the same, nor do they share the same desires and motivations. Women, just like men, are complicated beings, and cramming them into a formula does more to stunt the character than help it. The use of these formulas is contingent on some misplaced fear that these characters will not be an amiable or engaging representation of women in general. So we strip down away the grit and make her up to be pretty and strong, sexy and motivated, and just frail enough to be relatable to the general population. But is that fair for the rest of us ladies who are eager to watch a story unfold onscreen or in a book that we can actually relate to?
The issue is not that we lack strong female charactersÂ—there are quite a lot of them cropping up in spandex jumpers and heeled bootsÂ—but that we lackstrong characters that are female. We are made to assume that the term is synonymous with Â“strong womenÂ”, meaning that at the end of the day these females are decidedly the heroes of their stories who fight against all odds (i.e., the patriarchy) and emerge with battle scars and a sense that they have got it all figured out. Simply putting a gun in a girlÂ’s hand (or an arrow, or a tattoo gun) does not make her a strong character; it makes her a character with a prop.
What about those other women, the ones who are not fighting wars or preserving their innocence for the sake of personal sacrifice during the climactic moment of the plotline? A womanÂ’s strength is not defined by her physical dominance or thirst for revenge. She does not need to be superior to the other female characters; she does not need to be equal to her male counterparts. She does not need to be a superhero or a badass warrior or a feminist advocate. More than anything, the female character must be human, a complex individual whose agency moves the plot forward separate from any other character in her story (man or woman), equally capable of failing and succeeding, equally capable of dishing love and pain, a woman who can both fight for herself (literally and metaphorically), but will also forfeit in a sob storm when she doesnÂ’t feel strong enough Â… and sometimes in the same scene. That is what makes her a strong character.
Which brings me to Orange is the New Black. This story shows us that the identity of a characterÂ’s strength is more amorphous than a definitive physical embodiment. We canÂ’t deny that we want to see more of Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon on-screen because they are attractive and charismatic, but that is not the reason why they are there. Schilling, for example, spends most of the series sans-makeup as the main protagonist Piper Chapman, and instead of focusing our attention on how beautiful she is we are made (forced?) to pay attention to her character.
Is Piper considered a strong female character? If I were writing this article after the completion of the first season, I may have said that while I appreciated her ability to navigate the idiosyncrasies of the prison system as a formerly pampered New York socialite, I honestly didnÂ’t have any real enthusiasm for her revelation. Sure, the character is brilliantly portrayed in a way that gives the character depth to a very complicated story. Is that what we define as a Â“strong female characterÂ”, someone who traverses the plotline in the way that we as viewers can consider morally successful because it leaves us with all the warm fuzzies?
In a way, a pleasant conclusion of arc is what we expect from our strong female characters, because any other representation of the female population could potentially be damaging to our collective respect. As a woman myself, I have on several occasions argued against the misconception that women are weak, less intelligent, poor leaders, or only bold and fierce while PMSing, but the reality is some of the most fascinating women I have ever known do not fit in perfectly squared boxes, nor do they possess the potential to save the world from impending doom. The women I know are less like Piper Chapman of OITNBÂ season one, but rather season three.
And therein lies the conundrum: many viewers have moved against Piper Ã la season three. She becomes brash, selfish, manipulative, and downright spiteful in a way that makes her former drug-smuggling girlfriend look like a saint. The twist in character exhibition is unsettling. Piper changes from hero (season one), to antihero (season two), to virtually the antagonist (season three). We agree less with her life choices, relate less to her change from female ally to prison kingpin. As a result, we are less willing for her to be a representative of what we expect of the strong female character.
Meanwhile, Alex (played by Prepon), catches the attention of the audience because we finally get to see a more emotional side of her. EmotionÂ—and most specifically, painÂ—is a more relatable sentiment to women than revenge or manipulative schemes. While both of these women are the same characters they were in the beginning of the series, we empathize with one character more and loathe the other by the end of the third season.
Why is this? For one, the masculine-feminine roles reverse. Is Piper less of a strong female character simply because she no longer represents what we expect of the trope? The issue lies less in Piper herself, and more in our own definition of Â“The Strong Female CharacterÂ”. There are predefined characteristics that must be fulfilled in order for a woman to fit the bill: Beautiful? Check. Intelligent? Check. Driven? Check. Morally sound? Check. Inconsistently asexual? Check. Any deviation of the blueprint and suddenly we find ourselves in dangerous, uncharted waters. We find our characters perched on the edge of the Â“strong female characterÂ” and the Â“unlikable female characterÂ”. The reason why may have less to do with our retained interest in the character, but rather our fear that men wonÂ’t like her either. If men donÂ’t like a dynamically messy female character, then it looks poorly on the rest of us. The opinion is that women arenÂ’t meant to get their hands dirty, even if that woman is fictional.
I read a very thorough and thoughtful review of my debut book Tick in which the reader stated she did not like the main character Jo because she was not relatable. To be honest, I expected more people to say this about Jo because her view of the world and her approach to life is often aggressive and selfish. She is neither a damsel in distress nor the martyr of the free world, but does that make her an unlikable character? What if she were a guy? Does JoÂ’s lack of conviction to protect someone other than herself make her a weak character? Or does it simply make her human? I canÂ’t really speak on that in an unbiased way as I created the character, but the purpose of portraying Jo in that manner was to reveal a depth and a conflict of self that maybe doesnÂ’t fit the schematic of what we have grown to expect of female characters in young adult novels. I set out to reveal all the nasty and dirty parts of being human, even if that sometimes makes us not relate to her. The journey from inciting incident to climax does not always have to follow the same lineage as everything else. Eventhe worst of us have the potential to succeed and win over hearts.
There is a scene in OITNBÂ’s first episode of the second season where Piper is overcome with the realization of her capacity for violence that closely resembles a scene in my book Tick. The scene and the event that led up to it was a marked change in Piper, and I do wish the writers had spent a little more time delving into the revelation, as that could have been used to better explain her more brash attitude later on. In general, a personÂ’s capacity for violence exists in all of us, and for woman is often tucked in some dark corner of her mind, locked behind the fear of pain and our inherent assumption that someone will be there to rescue us should the smack-down time come. Yet again, that is another false assumption. Women have just as much the capacity for violence as men, and it isnÂ’t confined to war or that sacrificial Â“I only did it to surviveÂ” trope. Resilience is certainly an element to the strong female character, but so is apathy, as long as the reaction has a character developmental purpose to it.
I enjoy all the discussions about Piper being a dynamic and compelling character, because she is. She grows from being lost in a world unfamiliar to her, and becomes someone determined to be in control of her own fate. That is a strong expansion of character, even if we begin to like her a little less because of it.
Alex, on the other hand, has an arc in the opposite direction. At the beginning of the series, Alex fills the masculine role in such a way that a man could have replaced her in her relationship with Piper (interestingly, PiperÂ’s fiancÃ© Larry actually fits the feminine role). Alex is the dominant, sexually confident, power hungry, pleasure-giving femme fatale; remove the boobs and eyeliner and she is essentially a man. But the addition of masculine characteristics does not make her a strong female character, it makes her a man in a womanÂ’s body. Once Alex shows some vulnerability, some emotion, some true connection to Piper andthe other characters around her while still managing to maintain that former skull-cracking dominance, Alex becomes more rounded, more complex, layered and nuanced, and yet we get the sense that both sides of her were in there all along. It is this dichotomy of personality traits that make her a compelling female character.
And, when you think about it, Piper is just as compelling a female character; just because her arc moves in a way that makes us cringe occasionally doesnÂ’t mean her character isnÂ’t any less important. In fact, PiperÂ’s arc is more significant because it demonstrates growth in a more aggressive sense; the sum of her dark and painful personal experiences is what adds depth to her character and fuels a more powerful revelation in the end. When we replace Â“strongÂ” with Â“complexÂ” and remove the expectation that the main character is meant to always be the heroine throughout the entire story, she becomes a far more important and realistic person.
It is time to break the boundaries of what we expect from our female characters. It is time to take those risks and write characters that some people may not always like. What it all comes down to is not whether a character meets a certain criteria or passes the Bechdel Test, but whether the character meets the criteria of being human. She should not be designed. She does not need to check all the boxes. She can be strong and weak, selfless and proud, intelligent and downright idiotic. What makes a character strong is the integration of all things that make us human. Once that is accomplished, make her a woman, and voilÃ , you have yourself a true Strong Female Character.
Allison Rose is an author and screenwriter from Pasadena where she lives with her husband, one endearing cat and one not so endearing cat. Her debut novel titled Tick, part of a three-part series, is an Orwellian-type tale that takes place in a near-future LA. Her life mission is to bring to life stigma-bending female characters.
Amazon Author Page:Â http://www.amazon.com/Allison-Rose/e/B00TOO9AA4?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060
Youtube Trailer:Â https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHL_edsrzrM