Strong Female Characters: Little Red Riding Hood

For those of you that don’t know, Little Red Riding Hood is the story of a small child trying not to get eaten by wolves while running her errands. Her elderly grandmother wants some snacks, and instead of ordering some takeout she gets her naïve little granddaughter to bring her food instead. When walking through the woods, she comes across a wolf – and instead of running for her life, she stops, has a bit of a chat, and tells him exactly where she’s going and what she’s doing. Old Wolfie runs along to grandma’s house, eats her, impersonates her, and gobbles up Red with the same enthusiasm that you or I would normally reserve for a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. In some versions, she’s rescued by a convenient woodcutter, but in others, she only escapes the wolf by the wrong end of its digestive tract.

Much like Cinderella, it’s difficult to pin down the origins of this tale. There are variants of the story all over the world, some going back many centuries – what tends to vary is the nature of the beastie that ends up eating poor old Red. It seems to be a standard cautionary tale, but there’s an interesting theory that the story’s prevalence in Medieval Europe may have been a reaction to the witchcraft trials, which were often closely intertwined with stories of lycanthropy, cannibalism and possession. The versions that’re most well-known are the ones told by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, which are heavily sanitised, but early versions tend to carry strong themes of seduction and sexual politics which tend to get left out, as bestiality doesn’t always go down well.

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I feel like I really shouldn’t have to explain this one. (image: giphy.com)

It’s almost as difficult to count the number of adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood as it is to pin down its origins. The story has been retold so often it’s difficult to know where to begin. It’s been made into movies, novels, TV shows, cartoons, songs, games, musicals and comics – and that’s not even mentioning the huge amount of visual references the story has generated, providing everything from 19th century political cartoons to lipstick shades.

But I’m not going to talk about lipstick. I’m going to talk about six different versions of the tale and look at how each one measures up – focussing on whether the many faces of Little Red Riding Hood can pass my Strong Female Characters test.

Let’s get started – but watch out for spoilers!

 

 

image: en.wikipedia.org

This version of the story is probably one of the most well-known, apart from the Brothers Grimm adaptation. It’s pretty straightforward version of the original tale – albeit with no woodcutter to save her this time – with an explicit moral added onto the end, which I’ll discuss later. Red is as good, kind, sweet and passive as most traditional fairy tale heroines, doing very little for herself – her mother sends her to visit her grandmother, the wolf tricks her into staying off the path and then into getting eaten. The only goal she has is to get to Grandma’s house, but aside from that she doesn’t have much in the way of motivation, hobbies or beliefs.

She’s consistently naïve, innocent and obedient, although we hear little about her personality. You actually can describe her without referencing her love life, appearance or the words ‘Strong Female Character’ – but only if you leave out her fancy cape. Red doesn’t have a love life to speak of, doesn’t develop, but she does have a weakness – she’s so gullible that it literally kills her. She doesn’t do a lot to influence the plot as most of her actions are guided by other characters, and we see the bare minimum of her relationship with her mother and grandmother.

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They’re just kind of there, like this cardboard Bradley Cooper. (image: jojowright.com)

What’s most interesting about this story is how it relates to gender stereotypes. Perrault adds a specific moral to his version of the story – he says in no uncertain terms that young ladies should not talk to strangers in case men take advantage of them. Red Riding Hood is in effect a cautionary tale about losing your virginity, where the wolf is a fictionalised version of a young man trying to talk his way into someone’s pants. This puts the whole story in a completely different light, making it much more conservative and dependent on outdated sexual morals.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

 

 

image: mubi.com

Red Hot Riding Hood is a 1943 cartoon made by Tex Avery. A deliberate jab at the sanitised versions of fairy tales being churned out by Disney, this is a modern re-telling of the story. The cartoon begins with the traditional Little Red Riding Hood set-up – but then the characters complain, and the story begins again with Red as a nightclub singer, the wolf as a patron who won’t leave her alone, and Grandma as a sexed-up old lady who takes a shine to the wolf. It’s a fun little cartoon that turns the original story on its head, so if you’ve got a spare five minutes I recommend you take a look.

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If only to figure out how this machine works. (image: giphy.com)

 

What’s interesting about this adaptation is that Red the character and Red the actress are two different people – the actress is the one who complains, wanting a different role, and in that respect she’s much more active than the character she ends up playing. Her hobbies aren’t really mentioned, it’s implied that her beliefs aren’t very traditional but she does have very explicit goals – to be left alone by the wolf and to get to Grandma’s place safely. She’s consistently shown as a talented singer but we don’t see too many defining character traits, and you can’t actually describe the cartoon without referencing how attractive she is. Her love life is pretty progressive in that she doesn’t want one, but she doesn’t develop or have much of a weakness.

Red is a real influence on the plot – it’s her decisions that drive it. We don’t see much of her relationship with Grandma, but as she goes there when she’s being chased it’s clear that’s where she feels safe. However, the most interesting thing is how she relates to gender stereotypes. Whereas the original tale was warning young women about the dangers of premarital sex, in this version the wolf is on the receiving end of the cautionary tale. Red is portrayed as a confident young woman who’s more than capable of giving the wolf a run for his money, and that’s actually really refreshing.

FINAL SCORE: 4.5/10

 

 

image: tiff.net

Originally published in her anthology, The Bloody Chamber, this re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood is one of Angela Carter’s famous feminist re-examination of female roles in fairy tales. Later made into a slightly confusing 80s film, this version starts off much like the original fairy tale, but takes a radically different turn after Red discovers that the (were)wolf has eaten her grandmother – instead of getting eaten too, Red seduces him, and the two of them become werewolves and live happily ever after, presumably managing to settle the whole ‘sorry I ate your family’ argument amicably.

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But what couple hasn’t had that argument? (image: andrewstoeten.com)

This Red is much more in control of her actions – she decides to go into the woods, to talk to the stranger, and to seduce the werewolf. She believes she’s safe from harm and aims to get to her grandmother’s house, as well as make out with her handsome werewolf pal for a bit. She’s a consistently fearless, innocent and in control throughout the story, but you can’t describe her without referencing her appearance or her sexuality. She does make some decisions that aren’t motivated by her love life but there aren’t many of them – when you take hot werewolf sex out of the equation all that really motivates her is the desire to get to Grandma’s. She does develop over the story, becoming less innocent as it progresses, but doesn’t have a weakness.

She’s a huge influence on the plot, whether that’s using her sexuality to stay alive, deciding to go to Grandma’s house or trying to deliberately lose a contest so she can make out with her werewolf friend. She’s much more progressive in terms of how she relates to gender stereotypes – while much is made of her innocence and beauty, she owns her sexuality, takes control of the situation and refuses to become a victim. We know she has relationships with her mother and grandmother, but we don’t see much of them, as a lot of it is told second-hand.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

 

image: hazelterry.blogspot.com

This collection of poems was written by Roald Dahl, so you know we’re in for a treat. Dahl took a selection of classic fairy stories and retold them in as tongue-in-cheek a way as possible, and all in rhyming verse. Red Riding Hood’s version is by far my favourite – when she gets home to find the wolf has eaten her grandmother, she pulls out a pistol and shoots him dead, and turns him into a coat. In another poem, we see her get called in to deal with the wolf menacing the Three Little Pigs – and she promptly gets a new wolfskin coat and a pigskin travelling case.

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She’s BRUTAL. (image: arcticenglishuit.blogspot.com)

She’s firmly in control of her own destiny – she dispatches not one but two wolves, and the remaining little pig just because she feels like it. She has clear hobbies (shooting and walking), clearly has no issue with skinning random animals and making them into accessories, and wants to get rid of as many wolves as possible. She’s consistently brave, unflappable and ruthless, and a real sharpshooter to boot, and isn’t completely defined by her love life or appearance. She doesn’t have a love life to speak of, but she also doesn’t have much character development or weaknesses either – unless you’re going to count her penchant to murder her friends/clients, which is a definite flaw in my book.

She’s the driving force on the plot – so much so that other characters call her in to sort out their problems. She turns the original fairy tale on its head in so many ways and she’s a calm, unflappable badass – a far cry from Perrault’s cautionary tale about the value of virginity. We don’t see a lot of her relationship with her grandmother, but as she kills the wolf to avenge her death, there’s clearly some good feelings there. All in all, it’s a great retelling as well as a hilarious little poem and I highly recommend it.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

 

image: rogerebert.com

And now we come to the obligatory edgy modern fairytale reboot. This one is a classic Twilight knock-off, complete with love triangle. Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, our Red Riding Hood for the evening, who lives in a non-specific woodland village being terrorised by a werewolf who may or may not be one of her possible boyfriends. She spends most of the film running about in the woods, getting in trouble with a creepy priest and moping like an absolute champion.

She’s not really in control of her life as she’s a victim of my Universal Monster Law – it’s the werewolf’s random attacks that are really dictating the plot. We don’t hear much about her hobbies or beliefs but her goals are clear: get out of her arranged marriage and don’t get turned into a werewolf. She’s consistently kind and good, but you can’t describe her story without referencing the werewolf love triangle that she gets caught up in. However, this isn’t what motivates all of her decisions, as she’s also trying to protect her family and not get sacrificed/eaten etc.

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Although the sacrifice does come with this nifty wolf mask. (image: agonybooth.com)

She doesn’t develop over the course of the story. She has no weaknesses whatsoever – in fact, one of the other characters quite literally describes her as being “too perfect”, so she’s a classic Mary Sue. She doesn’t influence the plot in any way other than just being there, and when it comes to gender stereotypes she’s absolutely useless – she’s the perfect damsel, the special and unique heroine who does nothing of substance and the object of pretty much everyone’s desires. However, she does actually have a very wide range of relationships with other female characters, so I can’t fault her there.

FINAL SCORE: 3/10

 

 

image: chickensmoothie.com

The version of Little Red Riding Hood from Once Upon A Time is a bit of a break from tradition – she’s the werewolf in this one, struggling to come to terms with her identity in between quests and waitressing. She’s not a main character for most of the show, and only comes into her own in the later seasons, but in recent episodes her character has been given a lot more screen time.

This has made her a much more active character, as she gets many more chances to shape her own destiny and takes full advantage of that. Her goals and beliefs are clear – she wants to find some other werewolves and believes that understanding her nature is important for her. She’s consistently feisty, brave, well-meaning and occasionally petulant, and you can definitely describe her without mentioning her appearance, love life or the words ‘Strong Female Character’. In fact, her love life doesn’t affect many of her decisions at all – what really motivates her is her desire to find and connect with other werewolves.

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Like a book club, but with more ravenous, slavering wolves. (image: wiseinkblog.com)

She develops over the course of her story by moving on from accidentally killing her boyfriend in a were-rage (which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘time of the month’). She has a weakness – she can be petulant and occasionally finds it difficult to express herself, although this doesn’t often hold her back for long. She’s a very active player in the plot and is pretty progressive when it comes to gender stereotypes – as she’s a woman struggling to come to terms with her super-dangerous murder powers – although this isn’t always explored in a lot of depth. She also has a wide range of relationships with other female characters, including a girlfriend: she’s one half of the first LGBT couple on the show. This is all development from the later seasons, but I think that’s a real testimony to how much a character can improve when writers put in the effort. Before she wasn’t really much more than a background player, but now she’s really come into her own.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

 

 

And there you have it – that’s my analysis of Little Red Riding Hood! In a nutshell, most of the adaptations have problems when the wolf is given too much power – it’s important to remember that this should never be done at the expense of character development. The original fairy tale doesn’t do a lot for her character beyond the obligatory ‘don’t have sex’ warning –

– but the more modern adaptations have taken this in a host of different directions. Where Red is allowed to take control of this herself, that’s where her development is strongest, but where the original victim flavour of the fairy tale remains, that’s often what makes her character development a bit sub-par.

Next week, it’s back to the usual format, and I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and bust some ghosts. Erin Gilbert, 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: Sophie

For those of you that don’t know, Sophie is the main character of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book, The BFG. The book begins when Sophie finds herself unable to sleep one night, and instead of getting a glass of water like a normal person, ends up getting kidnapped and taken to Giant Country by a Big Friendly Giant who goes around giving nice dreams to children. The other giants aren’t so friendly, preferring to eat the kids instead, and the rest of the book follows Sophie’s attempts to stay alive and stop the giants from eating everyone. The book has become a modern children’s classic, winning several awards and topping many charts, hasn’t really been out of print since it was first published, and has been made into two different adaptations – but that’s fairly standard for Roald Dahl. Sophie herself is at the centre of all this, becoming one of the most beloved characters in modern children’s fiction.

But does she measure up to the hype? 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?

You might think that in a story like The BFG, it would be very difficult for Sophie to have much control over her own destiny. Aside from the fact that she is only eight years old, the story begins when she’s kidnapped by a giant – something which by its very definition, she cannot control. Add to that the fact that she doesn’t come up much higher than her kidnapper’s ankles, and it’s easy to see why she might be powerless.

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Because you know, being kidnapped by a huge giant isn’t exactly known for its equality. (image: giphy.com)

However, this isn’t really the case. While she may have been kidnapped in order to stop her from telling everyone about the giant she saw, the BFG doesn’t intend to treat her like a prisoner. In fact, if you look at their relationship it’s pretty clear that intellectually, Sophie has the upper hand. This is where she is allowed to exercise some control over her life – by keeping herself safe from other giants and coming up with a plan to be rid of them once and for all. Even though he kidnapped her, the BFG is more than happy to let Sophie take the lead – and she does so, and does it well.

I’m going to give Sophie the full point here. Even though she was kidnapped, she still manages to take back some control over her life, and the story as a larger whole. She gets to decide where she goes and what she does (to a certain extent – let’s not forget the flesh-eating giants). The BFG is the one who ends up doing most of the legwork, but it’s Sophie’s orders he’s following.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

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

We don’t hear a lot about Sophie’s hobbies. She grew up in a pretty grim orphanage, and it’s implied that she simply wasn’t allowed to have fun for much of her life. Her goals and beliefs are much more clearly defined. At first, she wants to get away from the BFG, but then she wants to stay with him, explore Dream Country, and bring down the horrible man-eating giants. She’s not a bystander – she believes very strongly in doing something to fix things instead of letting them slide – is very patriotic, and is clearly quite attached to the concept of politeness. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

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

Sophie is a remarkably consistent character. She’s curious, self-possessed, polite, resourceful, brave and intelligent, and she remains this way throughout the book. We don’t see much of her skills, unless you’re going to count her ability to adapt to situations, but that’s pretty consistent too.

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 level-headed, curious and brave little girl hatches a plan to stop a cabal of cannibalistic giants.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Sophie is eight years old, and so doesn’t have a love life. Most of her decisions are influenced by her desire to stop the giants or just keep on staying alive, so she passes this round.

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Oh COME ON Travolta, you know that’s not what I meant (image: giphy.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

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

Sophie doesn’t develop a lot over the story. She’s a pretty static character, finishing the story in much the same way that she began it. The only real difference we see is her ability to build relationships. She never had friends at the orphanage, but managed to develop quite a close bond with the BFG – in fact, her saying goodbye to him is the only time she really gets upset during the book. But this isn’t really explored properly, especially as we don’t really see any of Sophie’s friendships outside the BFG. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Sophie doesn’t have a weakness. She has no flaws whatsoever, always remaining brave, stoic, level-headed and self-possessed no matter what happens to her. This is really unrealistic – especially when you consider her upbringing, which was rife with neglect. It’s also a real shame, as it would have really helped to flesh her out as a character.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

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

Sophie is a huge influence on the plot. She might not do a lot of physical things, but it’s her ideas that drive the story forward. She comes up with plans, persuades the BFG to carry them out, talks around the Queen of England when she’s trying to tell her about the giants, and also stabs a giant with a brooch when things go wrong. She’s the driving force behind the story, so there’s no way she’d fail this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Sophie doesn’t really relate to gender stereotypes very much. She’s a young girl who gets kidnapped in the middle of the night by a big scary giant – but the giant turns out to be friendly, and does whatever Sophie says. She takes control of the situation, masterminds the plan to bring the rest of the giants down, and creates a better life for herself – not exactly what you would expect from the typical ‘kidnap’ story. The only thing I can really think of is her predilection for good manners, but as it’s quite a small part of her character I don’t think that’s really enough to mark her down. I’m giving her the full point.

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BB-8 approves, so we’re onto a winner here. (image: giphy.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 7.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

We only know about two relationships Sophie has with other female characters – the Queen of England and Mrs Clonkers, who runs the orphanage. We don’t see a lot of Mrs Clonkers, but we know that she’s very cruel, and Sophie is a little scared of her. We see a lot more of the Queen, who treats Sophie with respect and kindness, despite the strangeness of their meeting. It’s pretty clear that Sophie thinks very highly of the Queen – when the BFG asks who could stop the man-eating giants, the Queen is the first person she thinks of – and they go on to have a cordial relationship. That’s not really enough to let her ace this round, but I’ll be generous and give her half a point.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

Sophie is a consistent, active character with a range of clearly-defined goals and beliefs who isn’t completely defined by her love life or gender stereotypes. She may not develop or have any weaknesses, but she’s certainly passed my test!

Next week, it’s the eightieth post on Strong Female Characters! How time flies. I’ll be doing another comparison post and this time, it’s on another classic fairy tale character. Little Red Riding Hood, 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: Harley Quinn 

For those of you that don’t know, Harley Quinn is one of the most popular supervillains in DC’s Batman franchise. Originally a licensed psychiatrist named Harleen Quinzel (hey, this is comics), she was driven mad by her obsessive love for Batman’s nemesis, The Joker, and became his accomplice. She’s been a feature of the Batman universe for over twenty years – albeit in various different forms – and has become a real fan favourite. While critics have certainly had their fair share of complaints, Harley remains popular, with her own comic series and a starring role in the upcoming film, Suicide Squad – and has also been hailed as one of the most complex and sympathetic villains in the whole extended universe.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

NOTE: I’ll be focusing my review on the version of Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series, as that’s the one I’m most familiar with. I’ll probably end up referencing other versions of her from time to time, but they won’t be the main focus of this post.

 

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

A huge part of Harley’s life has been influenced by The Joker. Quick backstory: she met him when she was working in Arkham Asylum and he was a patient. She became fascinated with his criminal mind and wanted to psycho-analyse him, but over the course of their sessions he seduced her (and manipulated her insecurities like, A TON) until she fell in love with him, and packed in psychiatry to become his partner in life, and in crime.

So Harley wouldn’t be the character she is without The Joker. She spends most of her appearances working on his plans – so usually, she does what he tells her to do and goes where he tells her to go. She’s happy to do it, because she’s crazy in love with him (literally), even though he treats her terribly.

Where she starts having more control over her life is when she gets fed up with him. This happens pretty regularly in the Batman universe. It’s pretty widely acknowledged that The Joker and Harley have an abusive relationship – although this is taken to very different lengths depending on which Batman you look at. She usually accepts his frankly appalling behaviour and tries to be better to prevent it, but occasionally she has enough and leaves him, and that’s where she comes into her own. When she’s away from The Joker she’s in control of her own life – still a crazy supervillain robbing banks and such, but she’s doing it because she wants to and she comes up with the plans herself.

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Er…progress? (image: giphy.com)

Unfortunately, this rarely lasts. Harley usually ends up going back to The Joker and getting back under his thumb, but in some of her more recent incarnations she ditches him altogether and is a much more independent character as a result. However, given that he was the one who basically turned her into a supervillain in pretty much every version of the story, it’s hard to separate Harley from The Joker. I’ll give her half a point, and talk about this more later on.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

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

Harley doesn’t really have a specific hobby, but she tends to indulge in a lot of weird and ‘quirky’ pastimes (such as pogoing all over the place), which are usually used to show how ‘crazy’ she is. Her goals are pretty simple – she wants to live happily with The Joker, steal things, and not get caught by Batman. Her beliefs tend to vary pretty wildly depending on her various incarnation, but in Batman: The Animated Series she clearly has something of a moral code. She doesn’t betray her friends, hates the thought of leaving them behind and clearly thinks that The Joker should be faithful to her and put her above everyone else. It can be a little patchy, but she’s got something for every category, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

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

For the most part, Harley is a pretty consistent character. She’s quirky, fun-loving, immature, a hopeless romantic, and a borderline homicidal maniac. She’s intelligent enough to come up with her own criminal schemes, but also has a desperate need to be loved that often bypasses intelligence altogether. As far as her skills go, she’s an accomplished acrobat, thief, and is comfortable with a wide range of weapons. This does pretty much materialise out of nowhere the second she becomes a supervillain – we don’t see much of her straight-laced psychiatrist self backflipping about the place – but as this isn’t the main focus of her story, I’ll allow it.

SCORE SO FAR: 2.5

 

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

A quirky, fun-loving and psychotic villain with an affinity for practical jokes and serious dependency issues.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

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

Harley’s love life really underpins her character – it’s a very important part of who she is. As I mentioned earlier, she falls in love with The Joker and becomes his criminal accomplice, sacking off psychiatry for kleptomania and elaborate plots to murder Batman. She spends the majority of her appearances doing whatever The Joker tells her to, and she does it all out of love.

However, it’s made incredibly clear that The Joker and Harley’s relationship is very far from healthy. Part of the reason she fell for him – aside from her fascination with his criminal mind – is that The Joker exploited her insecurities and manipulated her until she saw him as the real victim. Leaving that aside, their relationship is textbook abuse: he screams at her, belittles her, thinks it’s funny to make her uncomfortable and is often physically violent.

Most of the time, Harley puts up with this, and it’s difficult to tell whether she’s doing this out of genuine love or self-preservation. Honestly, it’s probably both. But it is made very clear that Harley is not a mentally stable woman: her obsessive love for The Joker has quite literally driven her crazy. Much like V and Evey, The Joker made Harley in his own image – and that’s a terrifying, psychotic, killer-clown image that comes with a whole range of mental health issues.

jared-leto-joker
YOU DON’T SAY. (image: screencrush.com)

The upshot of all this is that Harley’s motivations are often pretty tangled. It’s difficult to say for certain if her decisions are motivated by her feelings for The Joker, her own mental instability, or a sense of self-preservation that has come about as a result of the climate of fear their very violent relationship has produced. It’s probably a mix of all three. I can’t even begin to untangle that mess, so I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Most of the time Harley is a pretty static character. After her one big character change she doesn’t really develop. She stays in her terrible relationship with The Joker, she stays a psychotic, clownish criminal, and she stays unstable. She occasionally has episodes (or issues) where she appears to have reformed and is released back into society – but almost all of these end with her going back to her old ways and going on a massive crime spree. In other media she does get a chance at development – becoming slightly more well-adjusted in some of the later issues – but as those aren’t the main focus of this review, I’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Harley has plenty of weaknesses, and that’s what makes her such a compelling character. She’s impulsive and has a desperate need to please, but the biggest one is definitely her inability to break out of her abusive relationship with The Joker. She romanticises everything he does, no matter how terrible it is – when it comes to him, she can’t see him for what he really is. She’s firmly trapped in the cycle of abuse, to the point where no matter what he does to her, she’ll always end up going back to him. She simply can’t conceive of a life without him – even though she’d be much better off.

giphy harley
Even the other villains know this. (image: giphy.com)

It’s tragic, but it’s part of what makes Harley a compelling character. She has very human problems, which is unusual for a world where you see space aliens and villains made out of living rock on a regular basis. She makes mistakes regularly, and they’re mistakes that hurt her, but she’s allowed to make them. When you compare her to, for example, Wonder Woman – who rarely makes mistakes at all – she’s far more relatable. She’s not idealised, she’s not superpowered, and she’s very far from perfect. She’s just human. I’ll talk about this more later, but for now I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

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

Harley’s usually a pretty big influence on the plot. She commits a lot of the crimes that Batman investigates, so without her there wouldn’t always be a plot. She’s very active in the story – even if a lot of the time, she is following The Joker’s orders – so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Harley is a very complicated character when it comes to gender stereotypes. On the one hand, it’s easy to draw certain parallels to very old clichés: she’s a brilliant young woman who packed in her career for love, she’s completely blind to the flaws of her boyfriend, and can never stay away from him despite what he does to her. The idea that a woman will do terrible things if she’s in love with a man that does them too is as old as the hills, and Harley falls right into that trap.

However, that’s not all there is to her character. Harley’s relationship with The Joker – which is unequivocally abusive – is presented as such, in pretty much every single medium. This is usually explored in a pretty realistic way, complete with showing the highs and lows of the cycle of abuse. It’s implied quite strongly that even despite the abuse she goes through, Harley gets a lot out of their relationship – namely, an escape from the pressure she gets put under. Even though it is a terribly abusive relationship which leaves her hospitalised, Harley isn’t painted as a victim, or a broken woman who needs to be rescued, but as someone who chooses to stay.

This is part of what makes her and her story so compelling. She’s a far cry from the type of woman you usually see in abuse stories, but that doesn’t make what she’s going through any less appalling. Her quirky, bubbly personality makes her entertaining to watch, but that also makes the abuse she goes through seem that much worse. She does terrible things and has terrible things done to her at the same time, and she doesn’t always know how she feels about them.

When this is handled properly, it can be very engaging. Done right, Harley’s story illustrates the dangerous of abusive relationships, and that no-one is really immune to them. It can be a real insight into why people stay in these situations, as opposed to the more traditional stories we usually see. Done wrong, Harley’s story can romanticise abusive relationships, fetishise the idea of two people hurting each other and provide excuses for real-life abusive behaviour.

It’s a fine line to walk. For the most part, Batman: The Animated Series handles it well – Harley is allowed to be fun and quirky, but she still makes some truly terrible choices and her relationship with The Joker is just all-round terrible. But there’s a lot of different versions of Harley’s story, and some of them handle it much better than others.

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Jury’s still out on this one. (image: nerdreactor.com)

I can’t say I’m fully behind all the choices the creative team made. Some of them work, some of them don’t. Whether Harley is a genuinely tragic character or just generically ‘edgy’ really depends on the adaptation, but I think for the most part, Batman: The Animated Series tried hard to work with some difficult material. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

We don’t see Harley interact with female characters a lot in Batman: The Animated Series, as most of the time she’s hanging around with The Joker. However, she does still have a few interesting relationships. She hates Mercy Graves, Lex Luthor’s assistant, and tries to kill her frequently. She runs into Catwoman a few times and oscillates between trying to kill her and working with her, but doesn’t seem to bear her any grudge. We occasionally see her interact with The Joker’s other female henchmen – who don’t usually last long, because Harley gets jealous. But her most interesting relationship by far is with her fellow supervillain, Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy and Harley start working together and eventually become good friends – although Ivy can’t understand Harley’s obsession with The Joker at all. Ivy often gets frustrated with Harley running back to The Joker all the time, as she sees right through him, but is still there for Harley despite all of this. It’s strongly implied – and later confirmed in other Batman media – that this is because Ivy actually has feelings for her, and in other versions of Harley’s story they do actually start dating. That’s a wide range of different relationships, so I’ll give her the point.

FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10

 

Harley is an interesting and well-developed character, but she still hasn’t passed my test. She has a range of relationships with other female characters, she’s very active, she has clear goals and beliefs and weaknesses that actively hold her back – but what really hampers her as an independent character is her relationship with The Joker.

You simply can’t look at Harley in isolation, because so much of who she is and what she does is dictated by what The Joker wants her to do. She is the way she is because he made her that way. He has such influence over her that it’s extremely difficult to see exactly which parts of her personality are really hers, and which parts are there for The Joker’s benefit. Everything she does, she does because of him – whether that’s breaking him out of Arkham or just breaking and entering. Their relationship is the defining element of her personality, and it’s super unhealthy.

Of course, other versions of her story have tried to address this. Some romanticise this twisted ‘us against the world’ dynamic and remove her agency entirely, some take The Joker out of the picture entirely and allow Harley to develop on her own. It really depends on who’s writing the story, and who they’re trying to cater to. It certainly doesn’t help that Harley is one of those characters who are a) routinely used for fanservice and b) often used to ‘push boundaries’. Just look at the worst PR stunt ever, where DC encouraged the fans to draw Harley in various suicide scenarios – tactfully timed so that the announcement was made right before National Suicide Prevention Week. When that’s how the parent company treats a character, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get a nuanced, well-thought out development of her agency and personality as a human being.

But that’s not the only version of Harley. From what I understand, more recent versions of Harley’s story have really done a lot to let her character develop on its own, and put her relationship with The Joker way in the background, and perhaps that version of Harley would have done better on my test. But that’s a post for when I have way more time on my hands.

Next week, I’ll be looking at a character from one of my favourite childhood books – The BFG. Sophie, 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: Offred

For those of you that don’t know, Offred is the main character of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. Set in a dystopian future where a Christian theocracy has taken over America, the plot follows various events from the life of Offred, a woman forced to become a concubine/surrogate mother to a high-ranking official and his wife. The book, which deals frankly with themes such as religious fundamentalism, female subjugation and variations on the theme of freedom, has become a modern classic and been studied and banned in equal measure. The Handmaid’s Tale cemented Margaret Atwood as one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers, became a feminist classic, and is increasingly heralded as a warning of what might come to pass. Offred herself is at the centre of all this, although whether she is a feminist heroine or a part of the system that oppresses her is still up for debate.

But does she measure up to the hype? 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?

One of the overriding themes of the novel is how Offred is not in control of her own life. When the dystopian government took over, and began slowly depriving women of their jobs and income, Offred tried to escape with her husband and child. However, she was captured, sent to a re-education centre and trained to be a Handmaid: a woman assigned to an official and his wife as what amounts to an extra womb on legs. Because her husband was married before he met her, she is now classified as ‘impure’ and forced into sexual slavery to give the official an extra chance at conceiving a child. As such, her every moment is subjected to a wide range of restrictions – whether that’s where she goes, what she does, or what she eats or drinks. She has nothing that has not been carefully monitored and regulated. Even her name is not her own: she’s assigned a new one that literally denotes her as a possession – Of-Fred. It’s every bit as disgusting as it sounds.

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Would you, Sir Ian? (image: giphy.com)

So as you can imagine, the deck is stacked against her. It’s very difficult for Offred to go where she wants and do what she wants, both because of her social position and the constant presence of violent secret police. But, like other characters in dystopian novels, she still has a choice: to obey or disobey.

Offred is very aware of what disobedience will mean for her: arrest, a beating, and being shipped off to ‘the Colonies’ to be worked to death. So on the outside, she does what she’s told. She makes a point of acting just as pious as she should be and never putting a foot wrong. She obeys every instruction her Commander gives her – even those which are, strictly speaking, illegal – because to disobey would be far too dangerous for her.

But unlike other characters in dystopian novels, what really marks Offred’s character is the small acts of disobedience she uses as a way of defying the society that enslaved her. She doesn’t orchestrate elaborate plots to blow up government buildings, but instead she steals small trifles that only matter to her. She meets a man’s eyes in public, when she’s not supposed to look at them. She steals butter and uses it as face and hand cream.

What’s more, as the novel goes on Offred is presented with more power. Her Commander wants to start an illicit relationship with her – treating her like a full-blown mistress, when the role of Handmaid is supposed to be centred around procreation and nothing else – so she uses this to her advantage, getting the Commander to give her black market goods. The Commander’s Wife wants her to give birth to a child, so arranges for her to sleep with their chauffeur – in return, Offred asks for a picture of her little girl, who was taken away from her when she was forced to become a Handmaid. Sleeping with the chauffeur becomes, in itself, an act of rebellion, because instead of feeling like a vessel that is only good for childbirth, Offred’s relationship with him is remarkably sensual, and she can finally meet her own sexual needs rather than being used for someone else’s. It’s this that also leads to her possible escape at the end of the novel, although this isn’t really made clear.

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A bit like this. (image: giphy.com)

Even the act of her telling her own story is quietly subversive: in the ‘Historical Notes’ tacked onto the end of the novel, a professor from several hundred years in the future gives a lecture about her story. The reader is told that Offred’s story was secretly recorded on cassette tapes linked to a resistance movement, which would not have been allowed to happen. In telling her own story, she’s committing another small act of defiance – one that allows her to remain an individual, and not just a possession of another man.

In short, when you talk about the question of Offred’s wider destiny you have to look at it in a slightly different way. With her every move monitored so closely, she can’t just slip off into the woods like Katniss Everdeen – but just because she isn’t blowing up government buildings, that doesn’t mean she’s accepted her fate. Offred tries to reclaim her own destiny through small acts, made profound by the fact that she’s not allowed to do them, and in doing so she stops being a womb on legs and remains a person. That’s powerful stuff that shouldn’t be underestimated, so I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

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

Offred’s goals are simple: stay alive. Ideally, she’d also like to find out what happened to her husband and daughter, but seeing as she last saw them being taken away by the secret police, she’s understandably a bit apprehensive of what she might find. She also wants to have a baby as well – if only so she won’t get carted off to a labour camp on suspicion that she’s barren.

Her hobbies are a little hard to define. Offred, like all other Handmaids, is not supposed to have hobbies – she’s supposed to occupy her time by being chaste, devout and obedient. What she has instead are behaviours she indulges in to make things more bearable for her, such as stealing small objects. Her beliefs are much more clearly defined. She believes that she is more than just a Handmaid, wishes that she appreciated her freedom more when she had it, and considers suicide an acceptable way out of her situation more than once.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

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

Offred’s character is pretty consistent. She’s perceptive, intelligent, compassionate, but with a dark sense of humour, and she can be quite self-serving and is occasionally given to bouts of despair. She values small things, and spends a lot of time imagining how things might have turned out, often allowing her mind to wander.

What’s interesting about Offred’s character is that, much like many other characters finding their way through unfamiliar worlds, she is something of an Everyman – or in this case, Everywoman. She has her own personality, but it often takes a back seat to what she’s experiencing. This allows the reader to put themselves in her shoes much more easily. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, but Atwood does it very well, so I’m giving her the point.

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’?

An intelligent, perceptive woman is forced into sexual slavery in a dystopian theocracy, and must hold on to her individuality in any way she can.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Offred is another one of those characters whose love life isn’t just a question of romantic feelings. For her, the ability to bear children is the only thing that’s stopping her from being sent to a labour camp. Her sexual power is the only power she has – whether that’s power over the Commander or his wife, both of whom depend on her to give them a child. When you consider that this is pretty much the only thing that’s stopping her from being literally worked to death, that sets it in a completely different light.

One of the key things to remember is that Offred is not a willing participant in this arrangement. While she did sign up to be a Handmaid, she wasn’t left with any viable alternatives, and it’s made abundantly clear that the whole thing is making her borderline suicidal. As such, her feelings towards the Commander are very complex: she’s aware that he literally has her life in his hands, and she hates him for what he’s done to her, but his desire to have a more intimate relationship with her gives her a power she’s been deprived of for years and actively makes her life better. She doesn’t love him at all, but she does depend on him.

And then there’s Nick, the Commander’s chauffeur. Offred is incredibly attracted to him, and when their relationship becomes sexual all her boundaries come crashing down at once. She tells him her real name, and about her life before she was forced into becoming a Handmaid, and completely forgets about the burgeoning contacts she has made in the shadowy resistance movement she becomes involved with. This could be love – Offred isn’t sure, and neither am I – but it’s worth remembering that what matters to Offred the most is that Nick treats her like a human being. He doesn’t patronise her, he listens to her, and pays attention to her sexual needs, which no-one has done for a very long time. After years of being used, Nick reminds Offred of what her life used to be like when people thought that she mattered. It’s very easy to link Offred’s feelings for Nick with the freedom he represents.

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Captain America approves of this. (image: giphy.com)

The upshot of all this is that Offred’s love life is pretty central to the story, but love isn’t always the right word for it. It’s conflated with a lot of complicated feelings about oppression, power and freedom, and it’s rarely clear exactly what Offred really feels about the men she’s involved with. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

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

Offred’s character development is made very clear over the course of the novel. Before the story starts, she has grown accustomed to her position as a Handmaid, and is still struggling to deal with the grief and uncertainty over the unknown fates of her husband and daughter. As the story progresses, she becomes more defiant (albeit in small ways) and less cautious, finally realising that she has nothing left to lose. It’s some solid and well-thought out development, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Offred’s biggest weakness is her own cowardice, and she admits this herself. Her fear holds her back at every turn, whether she’s trying to get information from Ofglen or planning to steal something from the Commander’s Wife. Interestingly, this plays into another weakness of Offred’s: her self-loathing. She’s frequently disgusted by the choices she’s made, often haranguing herself from inside her own head – to the extent that there’s no other character in The Handmaid’s Tale who says nastier things about Offred than Offred herself. In turn, this feeds into her cowardice, as her self-loathing often leads her to go along with things she’s uncomfortable with, but isn’t brave enough to turn down – she just doesn’t think highly enough of herself to take the risk of saying no. The way these two weaknesses feed into each other is very realistic and very well done, so she passes this round with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

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

It has to be said that Offred isn’t really a huge influence on the plot. She’s a very passive character, and while part of this is due to the totalitarian state that’s oppressing her, a much larger part is due to Offred’s tendency to just go along with things in the hope that she’ll be all right. Most of the time, her actions don’t influence the plot – what usually happens is she thinks about doing something, but often doesn’t. In fact, she rarely acts at all: every morsel of her day is carefully regulated, and every action that she does has already been approved by someone else.

This is reflective of her position in society – like all other women in the novel, Offred is seen as not responsible enough to act of her own accord, so all the opportunities she has to do so are taken away from her. She does try and make her own decisions – such as stealing a match, beginning an affair with her Commander, and starting a secret relationship with his chauffeur – but these are all set up for her by other characters. The Commander’s Wife gives her the match, and she decides not to use it, but to hide it away. The Commander is the one who instigates the affair, and Offred knows that turning it down would be a dangerous thing. The Commander’s Wife is the one who sets her up with the chauffeur, as she’s so desperate for a child that she’ll do pretty much anything. Offred makes these actions her own through the way she thinks about them, but she literally wouldn’t be able to do anything if she didn’t have the co-operation of the other characters. I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

What’s really interesting about Offred is how much gender stereotypes define her character within the context of the novel. The leaders of the Republic of Gilead – aka. the former United States of America – have clearly been working with gender stereotypes of Biblical proportions. Before she became Offred, she was married to a man who left his first wife for her after they had an affair. Therefore, she has been cast as a full-blown ‘shameless hussy’ and not fit to have the same preferential treatment as women who are ‘pure’.

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Come back, nope-rocket! TAKE ME WITH YOU! (image: photobucket.com)

But what about the gender stereotypes that implicitly influence her character – the ones that aren’t talked about in the text? To be perfectly honest, there aren’t many that apply to Offred. She desperately wants to have a child – but that’s because her own child has been stolen from her, she’s been brainwashed to want one, and she knows that having a baby is her ticket out of a labour camp. She’s quite passive, and is too afraid of the repercussions to change her position in society – but she is aware of that, she hates it, and resists their attempts to break her with small acts of defiance, even though she knows she’s not capable of heroics. She’s a woman socially defined by her sexuality – but she rarely gets an opportunity to define this herself, even though she knows that this is what keeps her alive and gives her a chance at freedom. She agreed to become a sex slave, but can’t decide whether her interactions with the Commander could be called rape, struggling to make sense of this all through the novel.

In short, Offred is a very complex character. Gender stereotypes have a very profound impact on her life – and, indeed, on the lives of everyone in the novel. However, they are not the cornerstone of her character. This is what makes the Handmaid’s Tale so well-written: the reader is allowed to see exactly how harmful gender stereotypes have destroyed Offred’s life, but the stereotypes themselves are not the building blocks of Offred’s character. They are external, rather than internal – so she definitely passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 7.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Offred has plenty of complicated relationships with other female characters. There’s the Commander’s Wife, a former TV personality instrumental to bringing about the Republic of Gilead: Offred can’t decide whether she pities her or hates her. There’s her fellow handmaid, Ofglen, a secret revolutionary: Offred is suspicious of her at first, but then comes into her confidence, and pulls away again at the end of the book. There are Rita and Cora, who are unpaid domestic servants called Marthas: Offred wants to befriend them despite their different social standings, and eventually develops a rapport with Cora, who might have been a Handmaid herself if she was still able to have children. There’s Janine, aka. Ofwarren: another Handmaid who almost disgusts Offred with her need to be accepted and desire to conform – even as she envies her for becoming pregnant, and occasionally pities her. There’s Offred’s mother, who we only ever see in flashback: a former feminist, they used to disagree before the Republic took over, but now Offred just misses her. And finally, there’s Moira, Offred’s best friend: she admires her, expects much from her, and wants her to be the hero that she isn’t – but ultimately, Moira can’t do that. That’s a wide range of different relationships which develop over the story, so she smashes this round.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Offred is a well-developed, consistent character with a range of strengths and weaknesses. She’s very complex in almost every aspect of her character – including her love life, relationship to the plot and autonomy – and she’s got a nuanced relationship with gender stereotypes and a wide range of different relationships. The Handmaid’s Tale certainly deserves to be called a classic with a character like her as the lead – she’s certainly passed my test!

Next week, I’ll be looking at another character who made it in comics. Harley Quinn, 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: Evelyn O’Connell

For those of you that don’t know, Evelyn O’Connell is the leading lady of the Universal reboot of its classic film, The Mummy. Set in 1920s Egypt, the film follows the various misadventures of Evelyn, her brother, and her future husband as they accidentally resurrect a millennia-old, vengeance-driven mummy bent on destroying them and probably conquering the world (as you do). While not a huge critical success, the film became hugely popular – enough to warrant a couple of misguided sequels, a TV series and a handful of rollercoasters. Evelyn herself is at the centre of all this, whether she’s resurrecting mummies or just punching them in the face.

But does she measure up to the hype? 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?

Whether Evie shapes her own destiny or not depends largely on the film she’s in. In The Mummy, she’s very much the one in control. Even though most of the plot is generated by her efforts to stop the evil mummy, Imhotep, which you would think would put him in charge, it’s Evie who actually resurrects him in the first place. She’s the one who decides to stop him – before she finds out that he’s weirdly fixated on her and wants to kill her to bring his dead ex back to life. She’s actively involved in the attempts to bring down Imhotep and comes up with a lot of their plans.

However, in the other two films, she’s just kind of there.

giphy eh
Just, you know, chilling or something. (image: giphy.com)

In The Mummy Returns, it’s revealed that she’s actually the reincarnation of a badass Egyptian warrior princess, and it’s heavily implied that everything she does in that film is due to the forces of ~*Destiny*~ rather than her own agency. But even leaving that aside, she still doesn’t really get to decide where she goes or what she does – most of that is driven by the actions of her son, Alex, and the same can be said of the third film, too. I’ll give her half a 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?

Evie’s goals are pretty clear. She wants to find mummies, get accepted by the Bembridge scholars and stop the mummy she accidentally raised from the dead from taking over the world (twice). Her beliefs are also pretty clear – she clearly finds preserving and sharing knowledge important, doesn’t let the limitations other people put on her get in her way, and tends to be very factual and pragmatic, without setting much store by superstition. Her hobbies aren’t as clear, as her love of books and Egypt is heavily linked with her profession, but I’ll allow it. She can have the full point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

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

Evie’s personality is pretty consistent. She’s intelligent, adaptable, determined, brave, and keeps her head in a crisis. This remains the case for all three films.

Her skills, however, are another matter. She’s consistently shown to be skilled at ancient languages, which is fine, but in the first film, she’s also terrible in a fight. She has no fighting skills whatsoever and spends most of the film’s climax running away rather than fighting. But in the second film, she transforms into a competent badass who flips and kicks her way through scores of enemies, and even she admits that she doesn’t know how she does it.

This is wildly inconsistent – Evie transforms from a clumsy librarian into a badass who can use any weapon she touches like a professional. The film attempts to play this off as a part of her reincarnation: the Egyptian princess that she was in a past life was also a backflipping stuntwoman, so obviously Evie is too. Clearly, spending an entire lifetime poring over dusty old papyri is just as good as going to the gym.

bigstock-Closeup-of-a-brawny-man-holdin-33894551
Seriously, look at this one massive arm. (image: smartbitchestrashybooks.com)

This explanation is just silly. Stop and think about it and it immediately unravels, but it also takes away from Evie’s character in the first film. In The Mummy, she was pretty much the only character who wouldn’t resort to fighting to solve her problems, but in The Mummy Returns she solves her problems just like the rest of the cast: by punching people in the face. I’ll give her half a point for personality, but I’m still not impressed.

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 brave, intelligent young librarian accidentally awakens a long-dead monster and must fight to stop him from taking over the world, multiple times.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

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

Most of Evie’s decisions aren’t really influenced by her love life – she’s much more preoccupied with trying to stop a vengeful, all-powerful, life-sucking mummy from taking over the world. Amazingly, she does find time to get a boyfriend while she’s doing this, but that’s more of a testament to her impeccable time management. Her love life is a feature, certainly, but it’s not what motivates her.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Evie doesn’t really develop over the course of her films. She doesn’t really learn anything new or change in any significant way. This is actually very unrealistic, especially when you consider that in the second film she literally dies and is brought back to life. She’s exactly the same person in all three films, despite the fact that the films span about twenty years and Evie goes through a hell of a lot. I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Evie doesn’t really have much of a weakness, either. She makes mistakes, and some of them are quite significant ones – her excessive curiosity leads her to accidentally resurrect a creepy desiccated bald guy – but these don’t really stem from a significant character flaw. Her curiosity is sold as a part of her charm, or as something entirely justified, rather than something that causes trouble for her, and the same can be said of her occasional skittish or stubborn behaviour. I’m withholding the point.

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I’m in trouble. (image: tumblr.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

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

Evie does influence the plot, but how much depends on the film she’s in. In The Mummy, she’s the catalyst for the whole film – she awakens the mummy, she decides to stop him and the others follow suit. In The Mummy Returns and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, she’s not such an important player – her actions do impact the plot but they’re very much led by other characters. She also gets captured quite a few times, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Evie is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to gender stereotypes. On the one hand, she can be quite progressive – she’s clearly the brains of the outfit, she can take care of herself in a fight, she’s very independent, intelligent and persistent, and she’s a woman who breaks into a very male-dominated field to pursue her life’s passion. These are all very positive traits that should not be underestimated, and these are only enhanced by the fact that Evie is technically a biracial character who isn’t exoticised because of that (although the actress that plays her is white).

On the other hand, she gets kidnapped a few times and needs to be rescued and her role is very much that of ‘designated love interest’. It’s not as bad in the first film because she has a lot more agency, but there’s no getting away from the fact that she’s so clearly set up as Rick’s future girlfriend. It’s even worse in the second and third films, where she doesn’t really get to do a lot apart from be Rick’s wife and Alex’s mother. She’s firmly set in a secondary role, and despite all her newly-found backflipping skills she doesn’t really have enough to do to get away from this. Scenes like this aren’t really enough to redeem her:

Evie’s personality and goals are pretty progressive in themselves, but if you examine her in the context of the script that gets undermined, particularly in the later films. I’m going to give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Evie doesn’t really relate to many other female characters. She meets Anck-Su-Namun in the first and second films and hates her on principle, because she’s trying to take over the world. In the third film we see her interact with more female characters – the sorceress, Zi Juan, and her daughter Lin. Her relationship with Zi Juan isn’t particularly significant, but her relationship with Lin is much more so, as Lin begins a relationship with her grown-up son. At first, she disapproves (especially seeing as Lin is technically two thousand years old) but eventually warms up to her. Even though this relationship does develop over time, it still isn’t explored in any real depth and draws on a few mother-in-law stereotypes that I could go without. I’ll be generous and give her half a point.

FINAL SCORE: 5.5/10

 

Evelyn is a character with her own goals and beliefs who isn’t motivated by her love life, but aside from that she exhibits half-hearted character development on all fronts. She doesn’t change, doesn’t have a weakness, is pushed to the back in the second and third films and cast firmly in the role of ‘love interest’. But her biggest weakness as a character is her inconsistency. If I was looking at the first film alone, she’d probably pass my test, but she changes so much (and becomes so useless) over the following two films that all of that is undermined.

It’s a real shame that what made Evie such a great character in the first film isn’t carried over to the other films in the franchise. But despite all of this, I still really enjoy The Mummy. They have their flaws – huge, gaping flaws – but they’re still really fun films. (I’m on the fence about the last one and I draw the line at The Scorpion King because hey, I have my pride.)

Next week, I’ll be looking at a modern classic: The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred, I’m coming for you.

 

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