Emma Stone Fights Sexism with the Superpower of a Simple Question

Standing up against what you believe to be an incorrect idea can be tricky. I know I’ve royally botched up important conversations in myriad ways.

That’s why I love the awesome example Emma Stone set recently while being interviewed with her boyfriend and fellow The Amazing Spider-Man 2 actor Andrew Garfield. She showed incredible grace while confronting sexism, and thereby acknowledged how the seemingly innocuous comments we all say should be questioned and refined.

Watch the interview itself here: Emma Stone Calls Out Andrew Garfield’s Casual Sexism In The Most Perfect Way

Stone showed amazing centeredness in asking a simple question, whereas Garfield was decidedly off-center, defensive, and indignant while back-peddling, and yes, squirming a titch.

That doesn’t make him an idiot.

Some articles about this situation have stated that Emma attained some kind of ‘win’ but I don’t particularly like that view. While on paper I think it would have been better that he not try to save face so much as just say he was wrong–maybe kiss Emma on the spot for her amazingly good question–that kind of insta-humility takes a lot of practice as well. I don’t think most of us have it. In real-time, we might also have tried to save our point no matter how wrong it was, especially in front of a huge audience, before admitting we messed up.

But his idea about femininity was incorrect in my opinion, so thank goodness for an actress with the ability to ask an important question. You go, Emma!

While I love studying how to be a better communicator, I don’t believe in waiting until you are perfect at it to share your voice and opinion. I try to be considerate and centered, but at the end of the day, I’m a person who values being real and direct–which gets me into trouble from time to time.

Even when I’ve not stood up for my beliefs with as much finesse as Emma Stone showed here, I’m still glad I stood up and said something. But because ideas are important to me, I want to always get better at sharing mine more effectively. That’s why I need good examples like Emma Stone was in this situation.

Ultimately, learning to be both direct and centered takes a ton of practice which implies making mistakes. The point is to engage in conversations about difficult topics rather than sitting back, afraid to make those mistakes. It also implies developing the ability to sincerely and openly say you were wrong. Because we are all often wrong!

Plus, she pretty much rocked it on Jimmy Fallon:

Writing Characters Who Are Female, Not Females Who Are Characters

Characters I enjoy reading about are written for their personality and decisions first and foremost. On the other hand, I do not think I have ever fallen in love with characters who were described primarily by their gender stereotypes.

Maybe when I was five, watching Aurora, Snow White, and Cinderella as interpreted by Disney but I’ll get to that in a minute.

This is part of my series of posts on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters

Distinguishing Attributes from Character

Write someone with a good personality–which could be benevolent or evil!–and it doesn’t really matter whether they are male or female. Brunette or blonde. Gay or straight. Any race. You get the picture. Those are attributes and subsets of a character’s full self.

Thoughts. Conflicts. Experiences. Relationships. Quirks. Choices. Weaknesses. Inner philosophies. I mean, think of the most interesting person in your whole life. Would they be just as interesting if they were a different gender? Of course.

For that reason, I say if you want to write a vivid and well-rounded female character, don’t obsess over the fact that she’s female.

To my delight, the fabulous Neil Gaiman agrees. When asked about writing female characters he said the following as quoted on a site called The Mary Sue:

“I always feel like the wrong person to be asked when I get asked that question because people say, ‘Well how do you write such good female characters?’ And I go, ‘Well I write people.’ Approximately half of the people I know are female and they’re cool, and they’re interesting, and so, why wouldn’t I?”

And thus Mr. Gaiman deftly revealed himself to be, in my book, the perfect person to answer that question. Interestingly, though, Gaiman does believe books end up taking on a gender of their own. I’ll have to think about that one.

Assumptions Versus Articulation: Don’t Be Lazy!

While gender may inform aspects of the characters we write, my opinion is that the more it does, the less developed that character tends to be. Gender stereotypes allow an author to plaster the reader with assumptions about their character, rather than doing the work of articulating who this person is as a distinct individual.

That’s pretty much the lazy way out!

You have to earn the right to intrigue readers, by working to know a character’s inner workings. If you don’t know them, your reader won’t know them, and not knowing usually means not being intrigued enough to care about what happens to them.

A Poor Example from Among the Disney Ladies

Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty.  This character has been revisited in later works, but I’m referring to the first Disney movie.

Princess_aurora_disney

Promotional Image from Disney

She wore a pink dress. She was lovely and sang with birds. She was saved by a really good kiss. I feel Princess Aurora was written as a female and not much else. She’s a stock representative of prevailing feminine stereotypes.

What are her weaknesses? What’s going on in her head? She could be anyone in there! Would you want to eat lunch with her and have a conversation? Who knows?!

She’s a main character so why do we not know what makes her tick beyond the fact that she doesn’t like being locked up unable to talk to strangers and she has a thing for handsome princes? Hardly distinguishing traits.

A Better Example from Disney Characters

Mulan. Yes, I love that she was a more proactive personality who cross-dressed and got the job done! But she was also just written better.

Promotional Image from Disney

Promotional Image from Disney

We know oodles about this rad character from seeing her family interactions, her reaction to cultural expectations, her problem-solving, her motivation to save her family’s honor (and China!), what she says no to, what she says yes to, what scares her, what impresses her, and on and on.

Writing the What, Why, and How

The point is, maybe a particular character should be written as a more passive personality like Aurora. The problem isn’t the character, it’s how the character is written. With Aurora, we hardly get the ‘what’ of who she is let alone the ‘why’ she is that way or ‘how’ her personality manifests itself. Instead, we see manifestation after manifestation that Aurora is female.

It’s odd, really!

As I’ve composed this, I’ve really tried to think of a situation when you would want to write a nondescript female main character (or a male one for that matter). In art I feel there are always exceptions so I have to be open to that but I couldn’t concoct one. If you have or if you have anything else to say about all this, please leave a comment!

This is part of my series of posts on How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters

How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters in Speculative Fiction

I was recently on a few Comic Con panels about women in speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and other genres). One of my favorites was titled, “Women Warriors and Female Shamans—How to Avoid Stereotypes in Writing”. I loved hearing from my fellow-panelists as well as audience members. It was super cool!

This week, I’m publishing a series of blog posts about how to write whole or well-rounded female characters in speculative fiction.

Yes, I will get sassy on this topic. But I do realize it is a point of real concern for some writers. To that I say, good on ya. This is a really important topic not only for writing but for life!

In fact, I’d like to just start out sassy.

Women Aren’t Flat

If you immediately thought I was talking about boobs, this exercise might be for you! (Okay, actually I would have thought the same thing).

The next time you look at the people living in your house, take notice. Are the men three-dimensional, thinking, emotional, decision-making beings while the women act like flat pieces of paper? No? Interesting.

If the women in real life aren’t one-dimensional, why would you write female characters in science fiction or fantasy that way? It’s so weird how often this happens. No human should be written as a paper doll!

fairytale-paperdoll-graphicsfairy009c

Women Aren’t Easy

Again, if you immediately thought. . .The next time you are at a bus stop and start imagining life stories written on all the people around you, take notice of how you do so.

Are the men covered with words belying the fully-developed, complex stories of their upbringing, financial situation, health concerns, temptations, obstacles, and responsibilities, while the women get only easy, terse labels? Gorgeous. Bitter. Young. Old. Desperate. Sweet.

Art reflects life. Your art reflects your inner life. Please tell me you don’t think of women so simply.

Women Aren’t All Things Nice

The next time you are in a conversation, take notice. Are the men’s statements showing a range of emotions, motivations, complex outlooks, and life decisions while the women are focused on the approval of the men, making the men feel good about what they’ve said, or being sweet at all costs?

If so, you might consider finding some more interesting female friends! Or at least honest ones. Because even those women who behave as if they are all things nice (or all things relative to men!) are actually whole characters and will manifest themselves as such at some point even if they bottle it up now.

And by the way, being a whole character makes women authentically human, not broken versions of what some people have decided women should be.

Most if not all readers have experienced well-rounded female personalities in their real lives, so mere sugar and spice will not a believable female character make.

You don’t want your readers having the same reaction I hope you have to this 1902 poster I found in the Library of Congress:

02926r

For That Matter, Women Aren’t Missing Entirely

The next evening you find yourself thinking about your day, take notice. How many women did you see? Was there one token female arbitrarily placed somewhere in your day with very few lines and even fewer distinguishing character traits? And yes, she was unbelievably smokin’ hot. Naturally!

Even if some scenes in your novel are comprised mostly of men, the overall story should reflect the reality that people generally see a more equal distribution of women to men in a given day. Some stories are exceptions to this based on plot, but not many. Especially in genres as progressive as sci fi or fantasy!

For example, marketing for the 1953 work “The Space Pioneers” invited girls along, but the actual story itself did not reflect their presence. Sound familiar?

The Space Pioneers

Calling All Boys and Girls

How to Write Well-Rounded Female Characters

So I’ve had my little rant, that after thousands upon thousands of years, humans are still having trouble with what to do with women as a concept. Oy vay!

But ultimately, you may still find it elusive to write well-rounded female characters and that’s a legitimate quest.

As a quick aside, notice I did not say ‘strong female characters’ because even though I personally favor ‘strong female characters’, I do not think every well-written female personality has to be a kick-butt man-with-boobs.

To the contrary, I think a lot of ‘traditionally feminine’ qualities are super strong. I personally subscribe to the idea that a man or woman can expand their life by embracing both the ‘traditionally masculine’ and ‘traditionally feminine’ qualities.

But whatever your personal philosophy or taste, you know what your female characters can’t be? Written flat as paper, with simple labels you lazily slapped on rather than getting to know them, and devoid of realistic depth of motivation. Or non-existent.

As always, feel free to comment!

More on writing female characters: