Female character flowchart

// 13 October 2010

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SFCs.pngPenning a script for a movie/TV show/game? Writing a book? The folks at Overthinking It have put together a female character flowchart, representing the common stereotyping pitfalls of writing roles for girls and women that ultimately come across flat, two dimensional and token.

You might remember Overthinking It for their deconstruction of the “strong female character” trope, and why the shift from ‘damsel in distress’ to ‘badass cardboard cutout’ is ultimately not brilliant for women’s representation in culture.

mlawski, who put together the flowchart, has this caveat:

If you’re a writer and you find that one of your characters fits one of the categories on this chart, there’s no need to panic (or start yelling at me)! Two-dimensional characters are the backbone of fiction, especially fantasy fiction and most comedies.

However, if you find that all or most of your main male protagonists are well-developed and all or most of your female characters are not, you should probably start worrying a little.

Comments From You

Debi Linton // Posted 13 October 2010 at 12:18 pm

I’m not all that impressed by a flowchart that says Sarah Connor and Ripley aren’t three dimensional strong characters because *gasp* one had a son and one… made it to the end of the film?

The whole idea basically seems to be that not a single female character in the history of story telling is a good character, and that to me is a pretty misogynistic thing to say.

Susan // Posted 13 October 2010 at 12:22 pm

There are a number of problems with that chart. Possibly the most glaring, and the one that the other posts I’ve seen about it focus on, is that Yoko Ono is on it. She’s not a “character”, she’s a real person. Is that not three-dimensional enough for you? She was carrying her own story well before she took up with Lennon.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 October 2010 at 12:25 pm

@Debi Linton I’m not convinced the idea is that these are ‘bad’ characters, or not enjoyable, simply that they have become types.

@Susan I don’t think it’s meant to be literally Yoko Ono, surely that’s referencing the mythologised sexist bullshit about Yoko Ono rather than the woman herself. Michelle Rodriguez is also on there, despite being another real person not a character, but obviously that references the fact that she’s typecast repeatedly as Strong Female Character killed before the end of the movie.

spiralsheep // Posted 13 October 2010 at 3:02 pm

I would also like to draw attention to the dehumanisation of two women of colour as stereotyped “characters”.

bossymarmalade discusses the problem with dehumanising Yoko Ono here:

http://bossymarmalade.dreamwidth.org/508138.html

I’m sure googling would also bring up posts about Michele Rodriguez being a human being, and a potential role model for women of colour, and not a stereotype.

Jane // Posted 14 October 2010 at 1:20 am

For me, a female character’s importance rests on how she affects the plot. If you can take her out and the plot doesn’t change then you’ve got a one dimensional character. I think that applies to about 80% of female characters in Hollywood.

Jen // Posted 14 October 2010 at 7:44 am

As well as agreeing with the other commenters here (including, possibly, the invisible Susan), I would like to nitpick and point out that Mom in Futurama does in fact have a family: she has three sons, one by Professor Farnsworth and two by Professor Wernstrom. So this shit isn’t even factually accurate (factually, as in getting the fictional facts right, but well you know what I mean).

Also, referring to Chun Li from Street Fighter as a ‘vanilla’ action girl is somewhat racially problematic.

Finally, who’s the ‘badass waif’??? I could shave by her photo, it’s scary!

There is one area where I need some help, I’m not sure what ‘sexualised’ or ‘strong female character’ even mean, that last being a bit of a headache for understanding the point of the whole flowchart. I mean, it just kind of assumes that ‘strong female character’ (a) even means anything and (b) once you’ve worked out if it does, that it’s actually something desirable in a movie.

Seriously this thing’s awful, I feel like I’ve got one of those two-dimensional cynical coffee-obsessed bespectacled webcomic characters perching on my shoulder incorrectly applying the word ‘deconstruct’.

I mean, why not entirely question the whole notion of plot and character? It’s something that plagues a lot of women’s life expectations, and it’s also something very Western, bourgeois and capitalist, for instance if you watch Japanese movies, or even continental European ones, you’ll notice a distinctly different approach to those notions.

quiet riot girl // Posted 14 October 2010 at 10:30 am

and is there any critique of use of the term ‘female’? what about the hope there may be more trans women characters and trans men and gender queer people in narratives?

or maybe there already are, if we don’t insist on calling people male and female

soirore // Posted 14 October 2010 at 12:56 pm

I’m so glad people are critiquing this chart. It’s being recommended all over.

I too don’t understand why Ripley (actually a lot of the Sci Fi characters) are used as examples of one or two dimensional types. She is not comparable to, say, an un-named ‘mean girl’.

@quiet riot girl

It would be so great if films were made without the characters being clearly signified as male or female; as human. At the moment it only seems to happen in mainstream films with some child characters.

Susan // Posted 14 October 2010 at 1:05 pm

@Jess,

Your response has appeared in my RSS reader; so have the comments since. Why haven’t you published mine?

It was a quick comment while rushing off to something else and didn’t include references; Spiralsheep has included the main one. I hadn’t noticed (if I expand the graphic enough to make it legible, I can only see part of it at a time) that Michelle Rodriguez is also on there.

And is that Zoe Saldana as Uhura, being described as “useless”? She saves the world! She does it by using her leet linguistic skillz instead of by shooting people … so is the flowchart maker only looking for action figures?

Luke // Posted 14 October 2010 at 3:12 pm

Wouldn’t it be possible to make a very similar chart for male characters?

Rachel H-G // Posted 14 October 2010 at 3:24 pm

Soirore, your two points are more related than they seem.

I don’t know why Ripley (in the first Alien film anyway), one of the best female sci-fi characters there is, is described as two-dimensional. All of the human characters in Alien are somewhat cipherish. We don’t really spend long enough with them to get to know more than tantalising glimpses of their personalities.

It is also interesting to note that the original script and casting notes for Alien do not give the characters forenames; all characters were interchangeably male or female. Sigourney Weaver was originally cast as Captain Dallas, with Tom Skerritt as Ripley.

Jen // Posted 15 October 2010 at 11:25 am

Coming back to Chun Li, I really don’t see the point in having fighting games characters on this thing at all. All fighting games characters are two-dimensional or even one-dimensional. In Chun Li’s case she’s one of a series of two-dimensional characters in a 2D fighting game. That’s as it should be. No one gives a fuck about the characters in fighting games, unless their long biographies are also goofy (cf Tekken). They’re move sets, and taunts that are there for fun. The only relevant thing about her aren’t her childhood aspirations and whether she wants or has children, but her move set. If there’s anything gendered about that then bring it on, otherwise it’s utterly irrelevant.

As for indeterminate genders, remaining on the geeky side, I’ve noticed it’s often the case in Japanese RPGs and indeed other games that you can’t tell the gender of a whole bunch of characters. That’s cause they’re character models though and plot and character aren’t really relevant… but in Hollywood (which is what is being discussed here more or less, which the entirity of narrative and storytelling is being reduced to incidentally by this chart), whatever the characters look like and whatever their names, the plot and the narrative are often going to be so gendered it wouldn’t make any difference what the characters were like at all. Sometimes that’s a good thing even (Anatomy of a Murder springs to mind immediately), it depends what the movie is trying to do.

On the whole, though, I’ve always been disappointed by feminist websites that discuss female characters in this or that setting, because they usually object to every female character as a matter of principle, and then there are one or two I actually have serious reservations about (which is kind of rare for me, since I tend to see them as interesting and nothing to complain about on the whole) who are held up as stunning examples. I’m really sick, for instance, of seeing Joss Whedon held up as a fantastic writer of female characters. His X-Men comics are goofy and angsty, which, okay, they’re X-Men comics so it suits them. But they’re not particularly feminist, in fact he has a similar brand of anti-feminism to Tarantino on the whole – kick-ass women mystified to a high degree – yet the one gets canonised as a feminist dude whereas the other gets picket lines. I don’t really get it.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 October 2010 at 2:36 pm

@Susan errm, oops, thought I’d published it.

Jen // Posted 15 October 2010 at 4:06 pm

also puzzling is the inclusion of the Lucy Liu Bot. Surely she’s meant to be two-dimensional. I mean, she’s a robot onto which Fry downloads the voice and appearance of Lucy Liu.

On the whole this thing mixes up media and characters in a way that makes it quite nonsensical (movies, fighting games, comics, real people…), and seems to be following a kind of broad culturally hegemonic view of the narrative and the place of feminine characters within it. Doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Plus the fact that the author of it seems to have made herself into a kind of one-dimensional blogstress character is interesting, and that’s the other side of this: how do we write ourselves online? I mean, we narrate our lives to a certain extent and build ourselves as characters… sorry if that sounds wanky and all, but it’s probably more interesting to look at how women write themselves in a variety of roles, or how they have to in order to maintain their femininity, instead of just getting on with doing stuff and being people.

I mean, I’ve known plenty of women who see themselves as the central character of this massive family saga – cause they’ve got nothing else to live for. Or who have these postcard scenarios they think will take place then they’re really upset when they don’t.

And the big one: if this feminist blogger is doing it (writing herself as a one-dimensional character), how does that reflect on the feminist movement at large? How one-dimensional are feminist protests, how in thrall to a particular narrative, and how do participants cast themselves?

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