​Why do we hate so many female characters so much?

​Why do we hate so many female characters so much?S

I seem to recall in 2013 there was a big deal about Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah coinciding. Well, since the post-apocalypse happened so soon after that, I guess that's why we kind of ended up merging Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas into a month-long celebration of gift-giving, drinking, and good cheer (because of the gift-giving and drinking). Anyways, we call it Kwanzaa.

By the way: I apologize, but today's PA is low on letters because I ran long on answers. Let me know in the comments if you mind.


Women's Issues

Darnell S.:

Postman,

Reading the recent online complaints about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., one of the biggest issues with the series is one I with which greatly agree: Skye adds nothing to the show. This seems to be an ongoing problem with series of the last few years. There's Chloe on SGU, Laurel Lance on Arrow (weirdly her sister Sara and Sara's sidekick Sin are much better characters after just four episodes), or Gwen on Torchwood. They're not like Skyler White or Andrea on The Walking Dead, who are fully fleshed out characters hated for their bad decision making.

These characters are unlikeable because of a combination of poor character development and weak acting. The writers seem bored with them too, giving them stories that are disconnected from the events. The classic example for me is SGU where Chloe, while being stuck on a derelict spaceship on the other side of the universe, is worried that all her friends back home are phony bitches. Or Laurel's drinking problem. Or everything about Skye.

So what gives? I get that society has historically written women as damsels or objects meant to be rescued by the dashing hero, but the days of Season 1 Counselor Troi have passed us by. For every Major Kira or Sarah Connor there seems to be two Charlie Mathesons. Is this a gender thing, or general, poor character writing? What would you recommend to TV showrunners about giving us women characters we can care about?

There are a ton of reasons why people find certain female characters problematic. You've already hit upon two of them, which is to say poor writing and poor acting. Skye in Agents of SHIELD is a prime example of this; she doesn't really have any defining characteristics, she's completely unconvincing as a brilliant hacker, and yet somehow the team is bringing her along everywhere and she's the audience's surrogate. It's a recipe for annoyance, if not disaster. But to be fair, all the characters on Agents of SHIELD are equally poorly written — Melinda May gets away with it for being mysterious and badass, while we have a long history with Agent Coulson, but imagine Coulson's "Tahiti" mystery applied to, say Ward and think how much of a shit you would not give.

Another problem is when storytellers create female characters to be love interests and nothing else — meaning they're one-dimensional (and completely boring if their on-screen relationship isn't clicking). This is Laurel Lance's problem on Arrow. She was fine as Oliver's object of affection, while she was dating his best friend, but in season two they had to cool off the relationship. This made sense storytelling-wise, but left Laurel with nothing to do. Now, I actually liked her drinking storyline, because 1) it gave her a dimension beyond her relationship with Ollie, and 2) it seemed to be to be a very reasonable response to all the horrible shit she'd so recently been through. But compare that to Felicity and Black Canary and Ollie' mom and the Huntress and even Thea, and all the interesting facets those women have beyond their relationships with male characters.

But sometimes the problem is the fans, who are often unwilling to give female characters slack that they seemingly give to male characters. This seems to me to be a pretty recent phenomenon, and it's kind of disturbing. Skyler White from Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones' Sansa Stark are the two most prominent examples of this. These characters are largely hated, despite being well-written and well-acted and three-dimensional, and as far as I can determine they're hated because of these reasons.

For instance, people seem to hate Skyler in Breaking Bad because she was "a bitch" to Walt in the beginning, then became a hypocrite for reaping the benefits of Walt's meth operation while disapproving of it (I'm only midway through season 2, so I'm using this excellent Esquire article for help here). First of all, Skyler was nagging Walt 1) when her husband was constantly and obviously hiding things from her, and 2) when she discovered her husband was running an illegal meth operation. As for the latter, why is Skyler spending Walt's meth money a bigger issue than Walt running a goddamn methlab in the first place? It seems to me that the problem people have with Skyler is that people see Walt as the protagonist, and somehow think that makes him a hero, and thus Walt's irritation with Skyler becomes the audience's, despite the fact that Walt is a goddamn monster.

Sansa is hated even more, and it just boggles me. This is a girl who was fed stories of beautiful princesses and brave knights all her life, gets told she's going to marry the prince of the whole damn country, and then had her beliefs and her entire life slowly, methodically destroyed. Who wouldn't be upset by that? What teenager wouldn't be devastated by this, male or female? People compare Sansa to Arya, who seemingly holds up "better" than Sansa, but the amount of danger Arya is in never comes close to Sansa's. Arya was never beaten in front of the court by the knights she had always been told protect people. Arya is trying survive on the run, but Sansa is the most vulnerable pawn in the Game of Thrones, which is way more dangerous than serving Tywin Lannister wine at night. I understand all of Sansa's anguish, and that she's still holding it together, playing the game and even just surviving at this point only shows her immense strength.

Two other female characters I know of who were so hated were The Walking Dead's Lori and Andrea. Now, I'd say Lori was written terribly, because I can't imagine that any decent writer would intentionally make a character that unlikeable and inconsistent. Andrea just turned really preachy. But these characters are loathed with a passion that the male characters just don't get, and I'm as guilty of that as anybody. And now I wonder why I was so passionate about hating them, along with so many other people, because Dale, Shane and even Rick were also pretty annoying, but no one hated them like they did Lori and Andrea. (In retrospect, I think Lori's turn in season three as a woman who knew she fucked up badly was pretty good, but I understand it was too little, too late for most viewers after her previous shenanigans.) It actually makes me a bit uncomfortable now.

So there are problems behind the scenes, in the scenes, and out in the audience. Writers should always refer to the Bechdel test, to make sure that their female characters are more than their romantic relationships. Audiences should try to step back and make sure they're cutting female characters the same slack as male characters. And actors… take acting lessons, or something, I guess.


​Why do we hate so many female characters so much?

Book Smarts

John K.H.:

Dear Mr. Postman,
While I'm not thrilled with the practice, Marvel seems more than willing to try to have it's comics mirror a fair amount of it's cinematic universe. Around the time Marvel's The Avengers was released, Marvel put out Avengers Assemble, an in-continuity title featuring the film's roster. Agent Coulson has been introduced into the comics. The Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury has also been introduced. Iron Man tends to be written as Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark. Hawkeye's costume has changed, etc, etc.

Obviously, this is done in the hopes that some part of the film's massive audience will come into a comic book shop looking to read more of the adventures of those characters. Making those characters as easy to find as possible just makes sense. The comics industry is in terrible shape, and anything that brings in new readers has to be viewed as desirable.

So.... why doesn't DC do the same? Green Arrow has known about five incarnations on the small screen. The JLU Green Arrow, the Smallville Green Arrow, the Brave and the Bold Green Arrow, the Young Justice Green Arrow, and finally, the Arrow Green Arrow. Were I to be a huge fan of one of those incarnations of Green Arrow (hey, it's possible), I'd be hard pressed to find any of them in my local comic shop. So, again I ask why? Why isn't DC capitalizing on the potential audience the media versions of it's characters could bring to it's publications? Don't they, like Marvel, want new readers?

I have long since stopped trying to figure out what DC is trying to do, and their possible motivations for doing it. But to be fair, the Avengers shared movie-verse is a big, constantly growing advertisement for all of Marvel comics, and Marvel's tried to ease the transition for new readers by making them match up a little better. The Christopher Nolan Bat-universe, on the other hand, is its own weird, Elseworlds tale, and thus it doesn't really make sense for the comics to try and match it — and Man of Steel, done in the Nolan-style, has the same issue. Additionally, the Marvel movie-verse is based on the Marvel comic universe more than DC's movies are, so it's easy for Marvel to retranslate it back to the comics, but DC's live-action entertainment has always been its own thing. I mean, DC won't even call their show about Green Arrow Green Arrow, for goodness sake.

So it's more like DC can't reap the same benefits that Marvel has. This is most likely due to Warner Bros. not caring at all how their movies affect DC at all, and not trusting the comic book source material either. I imagine the fact that two different companies control the comics and the live-action entertainment is a major part of the problem too, unlike Marvel, which basically controls all its creative output, no matter the medium.

What I don't understand is why DC doesn't try to use the brand awareness of these movies to lure more comic readers in. When The Dark Knight came out in 2008, I'm sure there were a bunch of potential new fans who tried to pick up their first Batman comic, discovered that the original Bruce Wayne was currently dead but also running around as a pilgrim in the past, and immediately gave up in frustration. Marvel's no better; when the Captain America movie was released in 2011, in the comics Steve Rogers was running SHIELD while someone else was Cap. Why comics companies don't try to plan out stories that are accessible for new readers during these movie premieres baffles me.


​Why do we hate so many female characters so much?S

Lex Addict

A.J.:

Dear Postman

First I would like to give you my thanks for what you do every week delivering news and stuff around this wasteland.

I would like to ask your opinion on my third favourite superhero and why he hates Superman so much.

Let me start my point by saying that I don't see Lex Luthor as a villain but as a misunderstood hero. Ok, I admit that he doesn't always take the right path but his intentions are good deep down. Please bear in mind that I don't particularly like superpowered heroes, my top three are Green Arrow, Batman and Lex Luthor because they are the ones that for me have the true makings of a hero, they are simply humans that not only excel but went above what would be top human form, Green Arrow physically, Lex Luthor in intelligence and Batman in both. Obviously having a massive fortune helps. But, hey! Kudos to them, for not being rich brats and spending their days indulging in drugs and hookers.

Thank you and greetings from Portugal. Can you do a postal run here also?

P.s. It's a country across the Atlantic ;)

When Lex Luthor was first introduced in 1940, he was pretty much focused on gaining power through any means (also, he was originally a mad scientist, not a business tycoon) and hated Superman because Superman kept stopping him.

Over time, Luthor's hate for Superman turned more philosophical. Superman is supposed to be an ideal for humanity to strive for, that by being the best human — a super man, if you will — he inspires us to reach those same heights. But Luthor believes that Superman is having the exact opposite effect: By taking care of all these threats and constantly saving the day, humanity is becoming reliant on Superman, and failing to strive for anything because we know if we have any problems Superman will take care of it. It's a completely valid thought. Of course, Luthor's solution is to kill Superman, and he doesn't particularly care about innocent bystanders when he does this, which is why he keeps getting thrown in jail.

As for a Portugal run, sure, no problem. I'll just hop on the internet and book a flight on Orbitz and then Google Map the best route OH WAIT I LIVE IN THE POST APOCALYPSE AND ALL TECHNOLOGY NO LONGER EXISTS.


​Why do we hate so many female characters so much?S

Thor Sore

Tony G.:

Dear Man of Post,

I remember reading that the director of Thor: The Dark World was upset by the post credits scene that Marvel added. I finally got to see the movie the other day, and the scene was fine. And the guy had to know it was coming — Marvel's added scenes like this to all their movies, and Guardians of the Galaxy is coming up soon. And it didn't affect the rest of the movie at all. What's this guy's problem? Is he just being an "artiste" about it?

Well, I agree with you that director Alan Taylor (who, for my money, knocked the movie out of the park) probably had to have known that Marvel would be adding one of its traditional post-credits scenes, and that it would be tied to Guardians of the Galaxy (since that needs a lot more linking to the Marvel movie-verse than Captain America: The Winter Soldier at this point). And I also think it was a bit churlish of him to complain about the scene in public like that.

But on the other hand, Taylor worked his ass off for two years trying to make an epic movie, which was the result of meticulous planning and direction, which took a bunch of disparate elements and the work of literally hundreds of people and merged it into a single, fun, action-packed, entertaining whole. And when he completed this opus, Marvel came along and stuck this scene at the end that is wildly different from the rest of the movie in content and tone and pretty much everything. I can see how it would rankle him, even if he knew it was coming — he probably would have enjoyed something that was more organic with the rest of the movie he made.

Think of it this way: Say Monet is finishing a painting of water lilies he's worked on for a year. Finally, as soon as he paints that last stroke and finishes his masterpiece, a dude wanders by and paints a cartoon turtle wearing a hat and bowtie in the lower left corner. Even if Monet knew that dude was going to add something, it would piss him off. Now imagine that instead of a cartoon turtle, that dude painted Benicio del Toro as some kind of albino space Elvis. I get where Taylor is coming from, is what I'm saying.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!

281