Positive Portrayals of Females in our Writing

I attended Salt Lake Comic Con this last weekend and I had the opportunity to be a part of four different panels. I enjoyed each of them, but I think the one that stuck with me the most was the last one I attended. It was called Positive Portrayals of Women in Pop Culture.

I was the only writer on the panel, while the other women came from different podcasts. They were more into pop culture and the latest and greatest television shows, while I was involved because of the characters in my books. I worried that I wouldn’t fit in or have a clue what to say among them, but I found that we had a lot more common ground than I’d first expected.

One thing that stuck out to me the most was that we made sure to point out over and over again that a positive portrayal is not simply making the female the super tough heroine who needs  no one because she can win the battle herself. It was more about bringing depth to those characters and making them real.

As the different women spoke of their favorite shows and why they liked those female characters, I had time to reflect on the books I write. I thought of each of the main characters and why they were “strong” to me. I realized that it was their flaws and their need to get through their obstacles that made them who they were. Am I perfect at getting those characters down? Probably not, but I want to do my best to build someone who girls can relate to and want to be like.

Each of us have our own voice, our own likes and dislikes, our own backgrounds. We as writers need to make sure that we provide those same attributes for the characters in our stories.

So what does this have to do with portraying strong women? Or the girls in younger books? Everything. It’s not about making them tough enough to win a battle. It’s about making them strong enough to be the daughter or the best friend, or yes, the hero by showing who they really are. Give them a backstory, fears, and a reason to go on. Let’s make them strong by allowing them learn and be a better person than when the story began.

Think of your favorite villains who share their backstories. Maleficent’s movie showed her love turning on her and stealing her wings, causing her to lose everything. The stepmother in the new Cinderella movie only wanted love and comfort and watched the stepdaughter she’d tried to squash, get exactly what she wanted.

Think of your heroes. Hermione used her book smarts, her wit, and the strength of her friends to fight, but also to help Harry and Ron survive. Katniss was tough, yes, but she also stepped in to protect her family so her sister wouldn’t have to be part of the games. Aurora won Maleficent over by her love, her smile, and her kindness. Black Widow is a tough fighter who knew nothing else as she grew up, but when it comes down to it, kindness is what makes her the person I admire. The way she handles Hulk to calm him down, touches my heart every single time.

If you need tough females to make your story work, do it. But give her both the flaws and the strengths to make her the best person she can be.

About Jaclyn Weist

Jaclyn is an Idaho farm girl who grew up loving to read. She developed a love for writing as a senior in high school, when her dad jokingly said she was the next Dr. Seuss (not even close, but very sweet). She met her husband, Steve, at BYU, and they have six happy, crazy children who encourage her to keep writing. After owning a bookstore and running away to have adventures in Australia, they settled back down in their home in Utah. Jaclyn now spends her days herding her kids to various activities and trying to remember what she was supposed to do next. She has published six books in a year, and her mind is still reeling from the awesomeness. Her books include Endless: A Modern Cinderella Tale; The Princess and the Prom Queen; Magicians of the Deep; the Luck series--Stolen Luck, Twist of Luck, Best of Luck, and Just My Luck, a novella.

8 thoughts on “Positive Portrayals of Females in our Writing

  1. Thanks for such an important post. We absolutely need strong girls and positive women characters in our writing and they have to be real rather than the caricatures or stereotypes often seen in commercials, movies and comics.
    Did you find that the comic book and graphic book authors/artists you met at Comic Con get this?
    Great post!

    1. I was impressed with everyone on the panel. There were some of the artists that got this. I was actually between my booths and panels for most of the weekend so I didn’t get to see much of the other art. Next time I want to browse and look closer.

  2. YES!!!

    I remember seeing a trailer for a potential new Wonder Woman movie and being very disappointed because they had essentially made her a prettier version of the male action heroes. There was nothing about the strong character traits of women. Just muscular strength. Grit. Kill the bad guys. Blech. The 70’s TV version of Wonder Woman may have been a bit cheesey, but Lynda Carter showed a woman who’s real strength was that she believed in good, in truth, in the potential of women to make a difference in the world in every arena, the potential of people to change their evil ways. So, sure. It was fun to see her pick up a car to stop the Nazis or spies from getting away, but even cooler to see her encourage the best in others.

    Strength comes in so many shapes and sizes, and strong female characters have the luxury of exploring that!

    1. One of the things brought up in the panel was the new cast of Ghostbusters being all women with Chris Hemsworth as the secretary. It was asked if we thought it was okay to do these kinds of things. My response was that as long as they’re doing it right, I’m fine. To just give another excuse to objectify women or make crude jokes or whatever, I’m not okay with it.

  3. I totally agree with this sentiment, although I would like to point out that in my opinion Katniss standing up for her sister is part of what makes her strong. The strength of her feelings for her family is one facet of her strength and it gets her through the Hunger Games just as much as her abilities with a bow.

    Ohboy, now I am really excited for this last movie…

  4. Excellent post! As the father of two daughters who are grown now, I struggled trying to find worthy role models for them in popular culture. I ended up trying to write some myself with my first book.

    The flaws are what makes characters relatable. Superman is very popular, but most people have a hard time really relating to an omnipotent alien. Batman, on the other hand, is even more popular because he is deeply flawed and more relatable because of it. We want our heroes to do extraordinary things, but we also want to know that they, in some ways, struggle with some of the same problems that we all face in life.

  5. I agree. Our girls need strong role models. But more and more the popular male images out there are bumbling idiots, playboys, drunks, or overgrown kids. We need more strong, well-rounded men to hold up for our boys, too!

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