I mentioned in my last blog post that I am currently in a devised production where we explore female historic figures whose lives have somehow intersected with the infamous Henry VIII. We are an all female cast dealing (mostly) with all female issues– (but how can we say what those qualify as, in all honesty).
Admittedly, I spent a major part of the creation process writing for myself and other characters in our play. I repeated my mantra to myself: “I will write to serve this story, I will write to serve this story”.
The generation process is completed. We are finishing up staging. Soon our production will be on its feet and then we will have an audience there to tell us how effective our work was.
Regardless of how this show is received, there is one aspect of this process that I am exceedingly proud of.
Not once did I say, “Hey. I need to write some strong female characters”.
I mean, what the hell does that mean anyway? A strong female character? As if putting those words together is an unspoken cultural anomaly.
What constitutes as a strong female character? A woman who can argue? A woman who has an opinion? A woman who can kick box her way out of situations?
Okay, so what constitutes a strong male character?
In Sophia McDougall’s online article, she states that “No one ever asks if a male character is ‘strong’. Nor if he’s ‘fiesty’, or ‘kick-ass’…The obvious thing to say here is that this is because he’s assumed to be ‘strong’ by default.”
Specifically in “Women of Henry VIII”; or, “WOHV” (woah-v) as it has been fondly dubbed, I can guarantee that there was never a conversation about making our characters strong. There was never a time in this rehearsal process when I thought, “how can I make my character the most unshakably strong figure in the whole of history” because, guess what, she was that way to begin with.
I had a great starting point, women who were people who were affected by their surroundings. There were emotionally complex. They have fascinating stories. That is what makes them engaging and exciting and relatable. If you were to say that makes them strong too, well then, fine– but I would challenge you to use different vocabulary and to put these characters into a different context.
You see, “strong” is generic. “Strong” is picking heavy things up and putting heavy things down.
So let’s try and change the way we frame things. What about “smart”, what about “complex”, what about “cunning” what about any other adjective in the dictionary–positive or negative. At least that way, these characters would have the same dramatic dynamics as a true human being. We are holding up the mirror to society, aren’t we?
The tagline to McDougall’s article excellently argues: “Sherlock Homes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong”.