Strong Female Characters: Sailor Moon

For those of you that don’t know, Sailor Moon is the heroine of a cartoon show that first aired in the 1990s. Based on a Japanese manga and anime series, the show was poorly dubbed over by some Americans and became an instantly hilarious classic. The show ran for four seasons (five in Japan), spawned a live-action version, a musical and another anime series, and is widely praised for its focus on building strong female characters. Sailor Moon herself remains a nostalgic favourite across the globe, and has been hailed as a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

NOTE: Sailor Moon has had many incarnations over the years, so for clarity’s sake, I’ll be focusing on the 1990s American dub – simply because it’s the one I’m most familiar with. I may reference the Japanese version from time to time, but if in doubt, assume I’m talking about the Americans.

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Right at the beginning of the series, ordinary schoolgirl Serena (Usagi, in the Japanese dub) learns that she is actually the legendary warrior Sailor Moon, destined to defend the universe from evil. Later on, she learns that she’s also the reincarnation of Moon Princess Serenity, is destined to be with her reincarnated lover, and at one point, actually meets her own future children.

Through most of the series, Sailor Moon is about 14-16 years old, and at first, she wants no part of this grand destiny that has been laid out for her. At various points in the series, she tries to reject her saving-the-universe duties and go back to being a normal teenage girl. This is, of course, impossible, because she is constantly being sought out by the bad guys and the people she cares about regularly get into trouble. Eventually, she comes to accept her destiny, and actively fights to protect the universe from evil, but this isn’t something she can walk away from. Much like Buffy, Sailor Moon is the Chosen One: she’s part of a wider destiny that means her life must flow down a specific path if she wants to live at all. She is never really in control of her situation, but she tries to make the best of it.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Sailor Moon’s goals, beliefs and hobbies have an interesting split. Her goals and beliefs are very much tied up with her identity as the super-heroine, Sailor Moon – she wants to defend the universe and protect her friends and family. Her hobbies, however, are completely separate from that: she enjoys playing video games, reading comic books, and going shopping – nothing that would suggest she has a super-powered alter-ego. There is a little bit of crossover between the two – she is consistently shown to have a very strong belief in the power of friendship, and she does have some more traditionally feminine goals (like getting married) – but as a general rule there isn’t much overlap, which adds a really interesting layer of duality to her character. Her goals, beliefs and hobbies come from the two separate parts to her identity, making for a really interesting combination.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Sailor Moon’s personality is pretty constant. On the surface, she is silly, frivolous, very innocent, doesn’t seem particularly intelligent and is given to snap judgements. Dig a little deeper and she reveals herself to be a committed friend, willing to go to any lengths for the people she cares about and always looking for the good in other people.

Her skills are another matter. While she’s consistently bad at traditionally feminine skills – like cooking, cleaning and sewing – her fighting skills fluctuate all over the place as the plot demands. When fighting her Monster of the Week, she can go from losing to winning in a matter of seconds, and most of it seems to depend on remembering to actually, y’know, USE HER SUPERPOWERS. This can make it quite frustrating, but is mainly a result of screenwriters needing to keep up the tension in the battle scenes, which can be a little repetitive. I’ll give her half the point.

I just love her grumpy face. (image: sailormoongifs.tumblr.com)
I just love her grumpy face. (image: sailormoongifs.tumblr.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A young girl discovers she is a legendary warrior, and must use her newfound powers to protect her family, her friends, and her entire planet.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Sailor Moon’s decisions are influenced by a huge range of things – some are influenced by her love life, but some are influenced by her friends, her family, her goals, her hobbies, or simply just by whatever she feels like doing that day or happens to see on the TV. This is really realistic, so she passes this round with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

At the beginning of the show, Sailor Moon is a bit of a crybaby who constantly dodges responsibility; by the end of the first series, she’s fully prepared to sacrifice herself to save the world. That’s one hell of a journey, but it also sums up one of the main problems with the show. While this is some very significant character development, this is essentially the only character development that Sailor Moon gets, and it’s an arc that repeats itself at the beginning of each new series. What this means is that this only holds water the first time we see it – she’s essentially learning the same lesson over and over again, which makes you wonder if she’s learnt it at all. That said, it’s quite a journey, so I can give it a half point.

There there. (image: sailormoongifs.tumblr.com)
There there. (image: sailormoongifs.tumblr.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Sailor Moon has plenty of weaknesses. She’s not very intelligent, she’s far too trusting and naïve, she’s prone to snap judgements, scares easily, can be very superficial, and often tries to dodge her responsibilities. That’s a wide range of weaknesses which affect her journey through the story, so she passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

The entire plot of the series revolves around Sailor Moon’s actions. Because she’s the Chosen One, trouble will always appear in her path, but this isn’t what fuels the plot. Most of the episodes are driven by Sailor Moon’s choices and more often than not, she’s actively leading the fight against whichever nefarious baddie is trying to destroy the universe that week. She drives the plot forward at every turn, so she passes this round with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Sailor Moon relates to gender stereotypes in a really interesting way. On the surface, she’s a typical teenage girl: she likes shopping, obsesses over boys, and doesn’t really give a lot of thought to more serious subjects. The superficial aspects of her personality are composed entirely of stereotypes: for many people, she’s the archetypal teenage girl, and the negative sides of this characterisation (such as wasting all her money at the arcade and not being particularly intelligent) are a very strong part of this.

However, this is only one aspect to her personality. She’s also got an incredible capacity for forgiveness and friendship, is fully prepared to sacrifice her own life it means saving other people, is regularly called upon to fight various supernatural/extra-terrestrial bad guys and is the leader of a group of girls destined to defend the universe. She does all of this while being unashamedly feminine, and it’s never once suggested that her femininity undermines her power – as opposed to many other Strong Female Characters, who often only demonstrate their strength through overtly aggressive, masculine behaviour and for whom femininity is a sign of vulnerability.

This is not the case with Sailor Moon at all. She may act like a typical teenage girl, but that doesn’t stop her from demonstrating admirable levels of kindness, mercy and strength. This is actually one of the things that I like most about her character. Sailor Moon isn’t given incredibly high levels of intelligence, or military skill, or physical strength, but she’s still capable of doing incredible things. This is one of the best messages that you can receive as a young girl: no matter how ordinary you think you are, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go out into the world and make a difference.

I've just got something in my eye... (image: giphy.com)
I’ve just got something in my eye… (image: giphy.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 7.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Sailor Moon has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of characters. She looks up to her mother, her teacher, and various celebrity role models (there seems to be a new one every week). She also ends up fighting a lot of female villains – most notably, Queen Beryl, She Of The Incredibly Pointy Shoulder Pads.

But most important of all, she has several very close female friends, some of whom know about her secret identity and help her on her quest. These friendships – particularly those with the other Sailor Scouts – go through the normal fluctuations that any teenage friendship goes through: sometimes they fight, sometimes they cry, sometimes they just get really silly and talk about crushes for hours on end. But there’s always a consistent depth of feeling and support in all these friendships – unlike some other media about teenage girls, which can often depict teenage female friendship as being fundamentally shallow and meaningless. That’s never the case in Sailor Moon – you know that these girls will be friends for literally millennia.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Sailor Moon is a young girl who struggles against her weaknesses, has a wide range of relationships with other female characters and who consistently drives the plot forwards through her actions and decisions. While she can be a little inconsistent and is never completely in control of her situation, she’s a character who represents strength on her own terms and, frankly, is one of the best role models that a young girl can have. She helped shape my childhood (although Sailor Jupiter was actually my favourite) and she’s certainly passed my test.

Next week, I’ll be looking at Avatar: The Last Airbender. Katara, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

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Strong Female Characters: Ramona Flowers

For those of you that don’t know, Ramona Flowers is the main love interest in the cult movie, Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Based on a (supposedly much better) series of comic books, the film deals with the titular loser’s attempts to win the girl of his dreams by beating up all her exes. While the film focuses on Scott’s bumbling nerdiness more than anything else, Ramona is a very strong character – she’s an iconic character with a look that’s been cosplayed more times than I can count. The film is really what catapulted her character into the spotlight, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on (for the time being – I haven’t ruled out looking at the comic book version of her character).

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

The only real agency that Ramona shows as a character is when she shows up in Toronto, right at the beginning of the movie. It’s revealed later in the movie that she came there in order to get away from a bad break-up – so bad that she had to cross international borders. But apart from that, she isn’t really in control of her own life, and that’s mainly down to the premise of the movie. Scott must defeat all of Ramona’s exes in battle if he wants to date her – the film says outright that she can’t fight any of them or else it ‘won’t count’. Instead of sending her exes packing by herself, she has to rely on her boyfriend to stop them interfering – no matter what she does, her life is always going to be under someone else’s control, and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s her boyfriend or one of her exes pulling the strings.

SCORE SO FAR: 0

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Not much is revealed about Ramona’s character. She’s an enigmatic and charismatic presence throughout the film, but nothing is revealed about the things she believes in, what she wants to do with her life, or what she likes to do for fun. She’s painfully cool throughout most of the film – so cool that we never see her enjoy herself and she doesn’t work towards anything more taxing than raising one sardonic eyebrow.

SCORE SO FAR: 0

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Ramona’s personality is largely consistent; throughout most of the film she’s aloof, sarcastic, and more than a little distant. The same cannot be said for her skills. While she uses Subspace (a space-time thingie that lets her get around quicker) in a pretty consistent manner, her fighting skills oscillate all over the place. Most of the time, while Scott is pummelling her ex-boyfriends she sits on the sidelines, which makes the audience think maybe she’s not such a good fighter. But of course, we’re all wrong.

Out of nowhere – and in the only fight that pits Scott against a girl – she reveals some incredible fighting skills, somehow managing to hold her own against a strangely sentient-looking chain belt with the help of a giant hammer. In this fight scene her opponent can barely land a punch on her and almost makes mincemeat out of Scott – but in the final fight, when they’re up against Ramona’s really evil ex-boyfriend, Gideon, all she manages to do is get one hit in before he sends her flying, even though she was holding off Scott’s ex-girlfriend Knives very well only seconds before. Now, this can be chalked up to the mind-control chip he implanted in her head (hey, I said he was the evil one) but that leaves me wondering how she would have been able to even attack Gideon in the first place. It’s much more likely that the movie producers wanted to watch some decent girl fights, and needed a reason to establish Gideon as the worst ex of them all – and they did this by making her fighting skills fluctuate depending on the demands of the plot.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

Actually, it’s impossible to describe Ramona’s character without mentioning her legion of exes. Much like Lizzie Bennet, her story is so tied up with her dating history that it’s impossible to separate it from her character. The best anyone can do is describe her personality, but that doesn’t cover her trajectory through the story or what she’s trying to achieve.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Ramona doesn’t really make any decisions at all, and those she does make are solely to do with her love life. She spends most of the film being moved through the plot like a piece on a chessboard; her own actions rarely move the plot along. There’s really only one moment when she influences the plot at all, but I’m saving that discussion for later – for now, it’s sufficient to focus on her motivation, which is always romantic.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Ramona’s character is pretty stagnant throughout most of the film. She doesn’t really change or develop during her time on screen – for most of the movie she remains as cool and mysterious as ever.

It sort of is, though. (image: giphy.com)
It sort of is, though. (image: giphy.com)

However, it’s implied that her character has changed and developed before the film starts. When she’s relaying her romantic history and describing her past relationships, it’s pretty clear that they have affected and changed her behaviour. But this isn’t really enough, because this is character growth that we’ve just been told about, not actually witnessed. Most of the behaviour we see doesn’t portray this kind of growth, so I’m forced to withhold the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Ramona does have a few weaknesses that affect the way she interacts with other characters, but these aren’t always addressed as weaknesses by the other characters. She can be cold and callous towards other characters – not just her exes, but also to Scott, who she really only seems to tolerate – and often pushes people away, preferring to play her cards close to her chest. These are never seen as weaknesses by the rest of the characters; instead, they are seen as aspects of her personality that only serve to make her cooler, more mysterious, and more interesting. In that respect, I can only give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Ramona can influence the plot simply by being in the story – all she has to do is wait for some guy to fall for her and the plot will happen around her. As I’ve already discussed, this doesn’t count as agency, because this is one of those scenarios where you could replace Ramona with a lamp and the story would continue as normal.

The only real time she influences the plot by making a decision is seriously undermined. After the fourth battle, Ramona and Scott fight – he makes a pretty nasty comment about her sexual history and she dumps him, saying that he’s just another evil ex waiting to happen. This isn’t a bad call on Ramona’s part. Seeing as she’s been in an abusive relationship – and that according to domestic abuse experts, abuse can often start with verbal stuff before it escalates – it’s actually very laudable for her to decide to put her own interests first and get out of a relationship which may have the potential to turn nasty. Except that’s all undermined when she does this:

Side note - she's got some EXCELLENT hair. (image: giphy.com)
Side note – she’s got some EXCELLENT hair. (image: giphy.com)

Just before she breaks up with Scott, she rubs the back of her neck and a high, metallic whine can be heard (if you listen carefully). We find out later in the movie that Gideon – the evilest of all the evil exes – has implanted a chip in the back of Ramona’s head that controls her behaviour. It’s implied in the scene – and outright stated in the director’s commentary – that this is the moment when Gideon activates the chip and begins controlling Ramona. What this means is that the only moment when she really takes control of her own life – and the plot – is ACTUALLY NOT EVEN HER AT ALL. GODDAMMIT, PILGRIM.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

The movie version of Ramona is a conglomerate of stereotypes. She’s a fickle young woman who spends a lot of time on her looks (come on, you know that hair dye must take ages to fix up properly), she has absolutely no interests or goals outside her love life and the way the film ends implies that the only way for her to find true happiness is to settle down with a nice young man. However, there’s one cliché that she embodies almost to the letter: Ramona is a variation on the now-infamous Manic Pixie Dream Girl. For the uninitiated, this means that her sole purpose in the story is to garner the hero’s romantic interest, get him out of whatever rut he was stuck in and inspire him to live life to the fullest.

This is exactly what she does. She has no real purpose outside her relationships, no goals or beliefs that give her another function in the story than ‘designated love interest’. The only difference between her and other Manic Pixie Dream Girls is that they are usually brimming with energy and insufferably twee: Ramona is far too cool for any of that nonsense, so she contents herself with cryptic statements and sardonic eyebrow-raising. She’s never a character in her own right – she may be central to the story, but she functions like a satellite through the whole film, orbiting around the male characters like a moon with interesting hair.

This actually has some really unfortunate implications to it. It implies that relationships are the be-all and end-all for both men and women, that women exist only to make men’s lives better, and that men are projects that can be fixed if you love them enough. None of these stereotypes are relevant or helpful to anyone, so she fails this round SO HARD.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Ramona doesn’t relate to many other female characters. The only relationships we see are her animosity with her ex-girlfriend, Roxie, and Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Knives, and neither of these are given any real depth. Roxie is treated just like the rest of Ramona’s exes, and the tension with Knives is brushed aside very quickly at the end of the movie, even though Knives has aggressively hated Ramona through most of the film. Neither of this relationships are realistic or fleshed out, so I’m withholding the point.

FINAL SCORE: 1/10

 

Ramona is an engaging presence on film, but when you get right down to it, a lot of the basic development necessary to build a good, strong character just isn’t there. She doesn’t influence the plot, her story arc revolves completely around her relationships with various guys, and there isn’t really an element to her character that sets her apart from her status as ‘the cool girl that everyone wants’. She’s pretty, she’s cool, she’s mysterious, but she isn’t a properly developed character.

Part of this may well be because of the limitations of the traditional movie adaptation – if a character isn’t the main focus of a story, and if there’s a limited running time, it’s always going to be more difficult to develop that character to the same extent as you could in a book series. It looks like this might be what’s happened with Ramona’s character here – from what I’ve heard about the comics, it seems like the film adaptation didn’t really do her character justice.

Next week, I’ll be looking at one of my childhood favourites. Sailor Moon, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

Strong Female Characters: Tris Prior

For those of you that don’t know, Tris Prior is the main character of Veronica Roth’s Divergence trilogy. The novels are set in a dystopian society divided into factions based on personality types – which is only slightly reminiscent of a Buzzfeed quiz – and chronicle Tris’s attempts to bring that society down. With a movie adaptation of the first novel already released and a second one out soon, the novels have been praised as a second Hunger Games, and Tris has been hailed as a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Much like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Tris’s ability to influence her own life is severely limited by the fact that she lives in a repressive state. When we’re first introduced to her world, it becomes pretty clear that the behaviour of everyone in it is dictated by whichever faction they live in – and in order to be accepted into a particular faction, you must display the particular trait it represents to its fullest extent. Tris isn’t happy with this system, but she doesn’t do a lot about it until she falls in with a group of people who want to bring it down – but even then, she’s pretty much absorbed into their pre-existing plan rather than forming one of her own. She does get moments when she’s allowed to influence her own life, but rather worryingly, many of these moments only happen when she isn’t with her boyfriend.

Where she really comes into her own is in the last novel, Allegiant – and there’s going to be some pretty serious spoilers in this paragraph, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. She takes an active role in scuppering a plot to overthrow the faction experiment, infiltrates the government organisation controlling the experiment, changes her mind and comes up with a plan to bring them down, and leads the whole thing herself. What’s really nice about this is that her boyfriend, Four/Tobias, is involved with some of her plans and doesn’t completely overshadow the role she has in making them, which is a refreshing departure from the earlier two novels. That doesn’t completely let her off the hook, though, so I’m giving her a half point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Tris doesn’t really have many distinct hobbies that aren’t affected by her surroundings. When she’s a member of Abnegation – the selfless faction – she doesn’t really get leisure time, because they deem time spent not helping others as an unnecessary luxury. Similarly, when she’s in Dauntless – Gryffindor the brave faction – she engages in a lot of thrill-seeking, ‘dangerous’ activities, like getting tattoos and going ziplining, but her internal monologue makes it pretty clear that she’s doing it to fit in with the rest of the Dauntless, who encourage this kind of behaviour. These aren’t activities she’d seek out if she was on her own; she’s doing it because everyone else is.

Her goals and beliefs are a little harder to pin down, mainly because they fluctuate so much over the course of the trilogy. At first, she wants to fit in with the factions while keeping her Divergence (the ability to fit to more than one faction) a secret, then she wants to bring some of them down, then she changes her mind; in the last novel alone she wants to leave the city, stay in the city, stay with the government organisation controlling the factions experiment, help support said experiment, then bring down said experiment…you get the idea. Her beliefs go through a similar fluctuation, and the upshot of all of this is that she doesn’t really come across as a particularly permanent kind of character. While aspects of her personality are consistent, her beliefs, goals and even her pastimes are always reactions to her environment; there’s nothing that really sticks with her as she goes through the series and this really works against her.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

For most of the trilogy, Tris displays a pretty consistent level of skill. She’s hailed as one of the best fighters and leaders in the series, and for the most part this remains constant throughout the books. How she gets to this level is completely unrealistic. At the beginning of the first book, she has absolutely no physical strength or military training, yet in a matter of a few chapters, she becomes one of the best. While her training is mentioned in the book, the timescale makes it completely unbelievable. She gets to be one of the best initiates in her group in a matter of weeks, but we rarely see her improve in training, and we certainly don’t see her put in the kind of gym hours that would result in a drastic improvement in that time scale. She seems to get fit mainly through ziplining and moping over boys, and I don’t know about you but that certainly didn’t make me lose weight. Her personality suffers from similar problems. Like many other YA protagonists, Tris displays elements of an informed personality – what I like to call ‘Bella Swan Syndrome’.

WANTED for crimes against literature. (image: fanpop.com)
WANTED: for crimes against literature. (image: fanpop.com)

I touched on this in my post about Clara Oswald, but I’ll explain it again here: this is when other characters in a novel describe the protagonist as one thing, but they actually spend most of the novel doing almost the complete opposite. In Tris’s case it isn’t quite so pronounced, but it is nevertheless there. She’s often described as being very brave, but the kind of bravery she exhibits is often confined to grand gestures like leading rebellions and storming buildings – when she’s confronted with situations like standing up to a teacher abusing their power, she does nothing because she’s afraid of the consequences. She’s supposed to show an aptitude for Erudite (the ‘intelligence’ faction), but she often takes ages to put two and two together – most notably, when it takes her the entirety of the first novel to recognise a boy from her own faction when LITERALLY EVERYBODY IN THE CITY KNOWS WHO THIS GUY IS BECAUSE HE’S IN THE PAPER ALL THE TIME. You’d think she’d catch on a bit quicker, seeing there’s supposed to be a family resemblance. However, there are elements of consistency in her personality and narration – particularly her suspicious nature and strong self-preservation instincts – so I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A young girl trying to resist the conventions of the dystopian society she lives in.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Throughout most of the story Tris’s decisions are influenced by whatever is going on around her; she usually ends up reacting to other characters’ decisions than making them herself. Most of these reactions are influenced by a desire to protect the people she loves or the things she believes in, and since not all of them are her boyfriend, she passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Unlike The Hunger Games, Tris doesn’t have a clear goal that takes her through the series – what this means in practice is that she doesn’t have a clear development arc and that the books are much more like individual stories rather than three parts of a larger tale. Her character changes over the course of the books, but the links between the novels are pretty shaky, so you don’t always get a sense that these character changes are consistent. That’s not to say her character is static. Over the course of the novels, Tris goes through a lot of stuff. She loses both her parents, almost gets executed, witnesses several of her friends getting injured or killed, shoots a friend who was trying to kill her while under mind control and finds out that the entire society she grew up in was just an experiment controlled by a vague yet menacing government agency.

No, not that one. (image: wordpress.com)
No, not that one. (image: wordpress.com)

That’s a lot to deal with, but the thing is, we don’t always see her dealing with it. She feels very guilty about shooting her friend and has to come to terms with it, but takes the deaths of her parents remarkably well, hardly seeming to struggle with it at all. She agonises over not being able to save her friends, but when she finds out that she’s been watched like a lab rat her entire life, she barely bats an eyelid. Most tellingly of all, we don’t see her affected by any of the PTSD that going through these kinds of experiences would trigger, and in places, this makes the reader wonder if these experiences had any effect on her at all. The things that she does deal with are handled pretty well – for instance, after she shoots her friend Will she has to repair a friendship with his girlfriend, and get over the fear of firing a gun she has developed since – but she’s just got so much to deal with that it’s impossible to see it all through, and this really hinders her progression as a character.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Tris has a few really interesting weaknesses thrown into the mix, some of which are addressed by the novel and some of which are not. She’s very suspicious, prone to making snap decisions without thinking the consequences through, and finds it difficult to forgive people easily. These are all weaknesses acknowledged in the text, but there are more subtle flaws that are put across in the tone of her narration and the implications of her actions – namely, her desperation to fit in, the insidious self-loathing in her narration, and her tendency to overlook her boyfriend’s flaws even when she feels that he doesn’t respect her. These flaws aren’t really addressed in the text – particularly the ones surrounding her relationship with Four, but I think that’s part of a wider trend in portraying YA relationships – but they do affect her decisions and relationships, so I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Tris does influence the plot without getting captured or killed, but it’s worth noting that it’s still one of the biggest ways she influences the plot. Tris has to be rescued from difficult situations a lot – more than once she turns herself over to the bad guys in order to save other people – and it takes a while for her to start making her own decisions and actively leading the story. I’ll be generous and give her a half point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

In many ways, Tris breaks down a lot of stereotypes surrounding teenage girls. She’s a capable leader, good in a fight, willing to face her fears and she doesn’t buckle under adversity – all things that teenage girls are rarely credited with.

However, in other ways she does uphold stereotypes, and this is primarily seen in her relationship with Four. Tris outright says in the last novel that she feels that Four doesn’t respect her or listen to her decisions, and the consequences of his actions directly led to people being injured and killed. It’s implied that she’s felt this way for a while, so you would think this would be grounds for a dumping, yet within a couple of chapters she’s attached to his mouth like a limpet again.

The most romantic mollusc of them all. (image:fungalpunknature.co.uk)
The most romantic mollusc of them all. (image:fungalpunknature.co.uk)

This is a problem right from the beginning of the novel – when she first meets Four, she sees his behaviour as hostile, and even though it’s interspersed with some friendlier moments she’s still convinced he hates her right up until the point where they start making out. This buys into a worrying stereotype often present in YA fiction: that young girls will put up with all kinds of behaviour from their boyfriends if they’re good looking. This is a much more dangerous belief than it would first seem, especially given the current lack of relationship education in schools and the ways that the media tries to package every YA romance as ‘THE MOST ROMANTIC LOVE STORY EVAH’. We should be discouraging young girls from accepting bad behaviour in their relationships, and although Tris makes a half-hearted stab at this, it isn’t anywhere near enough.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Tris interacts with a wide range of female characters throughout the series. She loves (but does not understand) her mother, drifts away from her female friends in Abnegation, has a wary respect for the female politician, Johanna Reyes, outright despites the leader of Erudite, Jeanine Matthews, and makes numerous female friends in Dauntless – most notably a girl called Christina. Christina becomes Tris’s best friend and their relationship is by far the most interesting; they get on well, but at the end of the first novel Tris kills Christina’s boyfriend, and she must overcome her guilt and loss and attempt to rebuild their friendship. It’s a wide range of relationships with a wide range of characters, so she certainly passes this round.

FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10

 

Tris is a character marked by inconsistency. While she does have some consistent personality traits (most notably her weaknesses) and an impressive array of relationships with other female characters, her development, agency and skills are in flux throughout most of the trilogy, frequently at the plot’s demand. She doesn’t come across as a character distinct from her surroundings – she blends into the background of her story so seamlessly that, at times, I was wondering why the heroine of the Divergence trilogy couldn’t be Christina, instead. That said, she does have some good points, and although she hasn’t passed my test she’s clearly had a hell of an impact on YA publishing, if the movie deal is anything to go by.

Next week, I’ll be looking at the Scott Pilgrim universe. Ramona Flowers, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for the rest of my Strong Female Characters posts, you can find them here.

Strong Female Characters: Granny Weatherwax

HOLD UP A SECOND GUYS. Just so you know, there’s now a page where you can easily access all of my ‘Strong Female Characters’ posts and compare their scores. It’s here; don’t say I never did anything nice for you. Now – blogging time!

For those of you that don’t know, Granny Weatherwax is one of the principal characters in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. A very powerful witch, (some of) the novels cover her various attempts to knock some sense into everyone she comes across, whether they’re kings, trolls or murderous elves trying to brainwash and enslave an entire country. Appearing in almost a dozen novels, she’s become one of Pratchett’s most popular characters – and her books pretty much defined my adolescence.

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Granny Weatherwax is very firmly in control of her own destiny, and makes it her business to be in control of everyone else’s, too. Aside from being thoroughly involved in both the political life of her homeland, Lancre, and in the personal lives of her neighbours, she’s also one of the most powerful characters in the entire Discworld series (with the possible exception of Death), so she’s more than capable of making an impact.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Granny Weatherwax has a very firm sense of right and wrong, which largely stems from an awareness of the prejudices around witches, the temptation to use her considerable powers, and watching her sister’s questionable activities while she was growing up. Her goals vary between each book, but she can be broadly described as always wanting to protect the kingdom of Lancre and its inhabitants, both from outside threats and their own stupidity. As far as her hobbies go, they do tend to overlap with her goals a little – she’s very good at slipping into the minds of animals and looking through their eyes, a practice she calls Borrowing.

Which, I imagine, looks something like this. (image: buzzfeed.com)
Which, I imagine, looks something like this. (image: buzzfeed.com)

This is a skill she has an interest in maintaining, as she often uses it both as a form of surveillance and to defeat various supernatural entities, and the same can be said of many of her other pastimes. However, she has been shown to be an adept player of a card game called Cripple Mr. Onion, and her beliefs and goals are very much her own, so she passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Throughout most of the books, Granny Weatherwax is consistently rude to almost everyone she meets, which is actually very refreshing. Her acerbic personality remains a feature of the books, but so does her willingness to help and protect people. Her skills are also consistent – not only is she always acknowledged to be one of the most powerful characters in the series, she also demonstrates a constantly crafty way of looking at things that frequently gives her the edge over her enemies.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A powerful witch who has devoted her life to protecting her country, her friends and anyone else who happens to have annoyed a supernatural entity.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Granny doesn’t have a love life.

Can't imagine why. (image: wikipedia.org)
Can’t imagine why. (image: wikipedia.org)

It’s implied she had a brief romance in her youth with Mustrum Ridcully, but this never amounted to anything. The two reconnected in Lords and Ladies, and she still keeps all his old love letters, but this is a very minor sub-plot which is only really used to illustrate her character further. Her decisions are usually influenced by her need to do what she sees as Right (with a capital R) and to protect anyone who needs protecting.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Granny’s character remains pretty constant over the course of her appearances in the Discworld novels, but there are subtle changes that take place as the books progress. Over the course of the books, she opens up a little – but only to a select few characters that she has deemed worthy. One of the most crucial developments is her taking on a more active role in teaching the younger witches – most notably Tiffany Aching, with whom she forms a very strong bond. I mean, Tiffany gives her a kitten – how could you not be friends after that?

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Granny actually has several negative character traits that operate on different levels. On the surface, she is short-tempered, acerbic, and seems to have little regard for other people’s feelings, and this can often make her relationships with friends a little prickly. She also has a tendency to be so introspective that she can read much more into a situation than there really is, and this, combined with her awareness of clichés – which she often uses as an indicator of what ‘ought’ to be, particularly in matters of witchcraft – often causes a lot of problems for her.

However, one of her most interesting weaknesses is her constant temptation to over-use her power. She knows full well that she is a very powerful witch – in one book, she uses her abilities to freeze a country in time for fifteen years – and all throughout the books, she has to struggle against the temptation to fix her problems with magic. This may seem unusual for a witch, but Granny is very aware that if she gives in too often, she won’t just be fixing her problems with magic, she’ll end up fixing other people. This is a fascinating weakness that sheds so much light on her character, and it’s also one that is very rarely found in female characters.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

In the novels that give her a main role, she drives the plot forward through her own investigations and actions. When she’s a member of the supporting cast, she’s still an active player, often acting as a source of advice (or exasperation) for the main character. Either way, she drives the plot forward without getting captured or killed in the process.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Granny pretty much smashes a lot of stereotypes about gender. She’s an old woman – her age is never explicitly stated, but most readers reckon she’s probably in her seventies – but she is consistently shown to be one of the most powerful characters in the series and a regular defender of her country. This goes against all the tropes that make up the ‘little old lady’ – she’s about as far away from this particular stereotype as it’s possible to get. She is by no means weak or frail in any sense of the words; the woman has a glare that makes bears run for cover.

They learned quickly. (image: adventure-journal.com)
They learned quickly. (image: adventure-journal.com)

This, combined with her total lack of love life – aside from her brief fling with Ridcully, she’s never had a romantic partner – and the level of political influence she has, means that she pretty much smashes every age- and gender-related stereotype right out of the park.

SCORE SO FAR: 9

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Granny has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of characters. She has a hilarious friendship with Nanny Ogg, looks down on Magrat and Agnes in a vaguely friendly way, forms a spiky friendship with Tiffany Aching, outright despises the Queen of the Elves and has a very complex relationship with her sister, Lily, that’s a mix of rivalry, jealousy, hatred and the last traces of sisterly love. And that’s only her most important relationships – throughout the series she comes into contact with a range of female characters and reacts to each one differently. She passes this round with flying colours.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

 

Congratulations, Terry Pratchett! Granny is the only female character I’ve looked at so far that has completely aced my test, and it’s not difficult to see why. She’s a well-rounded character with a host of strengths and weaknesses, is totally independent of gender (and age) stereotypes, has a range of relationships with a range of female characters, and is very firmly in control of her progression through the story. She displays a level of depth and intricacy that’s not often seen in female characters and it’s just WONDERFUL.

Next week, I’ll be looking at the Divergence trilogy. Tris, I’m coming for you.