Thursday, May 9, 2013

Strong Female Characters

I grew up in England in the 1970s...but most of those wonderful 70s era shows were exported to my little island. My father loved all of them, and I grew up learning to appreciate them. The A-Team was his personal favorite, but we watched them all. The Six Billion Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman...

We also watched older shows. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The Avengers. The Saint.

What did most of these shows have in common? They starred men. I'm currently re-watching "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and the women in the show, while often strong (and sometimes villainous) take a second seat to the men. (Also, why are all the blondes good and the brunettes evil? That's discrimination!)

The A-Team did eventually acquire Amy Allen, for one season, and she was there to look pretty. Of course, the concept of the show doesn't really allow for females in prominent roles.

The Saint, of course, was Roger Moore at his best. And The Incredible Hulk focused entirely on Mr. Banner. (Changing his first name from the comics for no reason that I've ever found out).

Ah, but there's Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman. Right?

Well, let's see.

Wonder Woman changes the trope around. Diana's the most powerful individual in the show and the MEN take the supporting role, existing only to hand her things and be love interests. No better, really.

The Bionic Woman? An inferior spin-off of The Six Billion Dollar Man clearly written to try and satisfy those demanding a girl as the lead. Or maybe to trademark the name. I watched it for the dog.

But then there's The Avengers. The original, not the crappy spin-off. The first season starred two men - David Keel and John Steed. Then Keel's actor quit. From then on, the formula changed. John Steed and a female "assistant" - first Cathy Gale, then Emma Peel, and last Tara King.

Oddly, I don't remember Cathy Gale or Tara King at all. Nor do I have any memory of Venus Smith, who was there for only six episodes, and was there to look good and, no kidding, sing.

I remember Emma Peel. She might have technically been Steed's assistant, but dammit, that woman kicked butt in the leather catsuit. They also may or may not have been lovers - it was still the 1960s and people had to be careful what they showed. Emma Peel was not just an assistant. She kicked butt as an *equal* to the men...not their superior, but somebody who stood with her man as partner...without any loss of femininity.

Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman, was probably the first true female action hero, but Emma is the one I remember. She's the one who showed me that a woman could be like that...strong, witty *and* sexy...and with there being nothing wrong with being sexy. Femininity as strength, not weakness.

She could only have come out of the sixties. And since there have been some amazing "strong female" characters on the small screen - Buffy Summers, Max Guevara, Echo, many of the recent Companions, I adore the Warehouse 13 girls. But there's a difference, somehow. There's more of a consciousness that we "need" to write a strong female, instead of it just happening.

Besides. As a recent Dr Who episode proved, the actress who played and to many people was Emma (It was her first significant role), the wonderful and gorgeous Diana Rigg, still kicks every bit as much butt as ever and still has the same utter self-confidence as a woman. There's a scene in there that not many actresses could do without blushing, and she carries it off. As does her equally gorgeous daughter.

Thank you, Ms. Rigg. You were, and are, amazing.