A Fictional Reality

Successful women are not superheroes

by Vanshita Verma

A Fictional Reality

Be it the Avengers fighting aliens, the Golden Trio navigating the wizarding world or Jurassic Park and its dinosaurs, there’s something about the fictional world which attracts us towards it. Fantasy or folklore, stories have always been the foundation of humanity.

Watching movies has always been one of my favourite pastimes, and I’m sure the same holds for many of you, too. I was brought up with fictional characters as much a part of my life as my actual friends and lived in fantasy worlds as much as I lived in the real world. From listening to bedtime stories from my mother to reading 600-page novels, my reality has always been intertwined with imaginary beings of other worlds.

I was 11 when I first saw Robin Hood, which had an intimidating introduction of the female lead named Marion. I was very excited about how the moviemakers approached her as a character because it felt like a refreshing take. A woman dressed in all black defeats Robin Hood in a swordfight? How very exciting! At that age, I had earned my black belt in taekwondo, so seeing a woman fighting on screen and disarming the male hero felt very empowering and relatable to me. But as the movie progressed, I felt disappointment seep into my bones when at the end of the story, Marion was reduced to a damsel in distress. She was dragged by her arm by the Sheriff of Nottingham while crying, “Robin!” as all of her fighting skills were seemingly forgotten.

In the article Problematic Badass Female Tropes #1, the author Jenn Zuko talks about something similar that happened with the female lead of the movie Indiana Jones, also named Marion. While introduced as a badass character who owns a tavern and helps Indiana Jones to fight with the Nazis at the start of the story, she is also reduced to a commodity of the male lead who needs to be rescued by the end. So, in the end, Marion Ravenwood becomes another character with the same name, that followed the same downward arc in terms of character development.

As a part of Gen Z, watching these movies, I couldn’t help but feel uneasiness settle into me. I wasn’t used to being told that I would need a boy to lean on, to be rescued by or to be helped by to stand up on my own. I grew up in a somewhat privileged household which didn’t hold me back and I didn’t understand what went wrong with these smart and strong women at the end of their respective stories. It felt outrageous that the badassness of these characters just vanished when the story needed some flavour and that flavour was given to the audience by turning these women into objects of rescue when they didn’t need to be rescued. Their previous introduction with distinct personalities is disregarded and this mistreatment of them as characters unsettled me. Some research led me to find the origin of what is known as the Marion effect.

The Marion effect is one of the problematic tropes in the entertainment industry. Strong female characters often get reduced to just an incentive for the male hero by the end of the story. Women are not seen as whole characters unless they are overly emotional or unless they are acquainted with the ‘damsel in distress’ situation where the ‘knight in shining armour’ rescues them. From what I see, women can be their own knights in shining armour. We need more content where there is consistency in how female characters are portrayed throughout the story. Introducing a strong woman who fights for herself, and then, by the end of the story gets reduced to a commodity of the hero defeats the whole point of making an impactful female lead.

A strong female character doesn’t necessarily mean that she knows how to use nunchucks or do karate; a strong female character is one that is in tune with her weaknesses and strengths, sure of herself and her abilities and who doesn’t allow herself to be only about or dependent on her male counterpart.

Many years have passed since I was a naive little girl of eleven and I have been exposed to a lot of content in these past years. Too many female characters are still not written properly with inconsistent backstories or loose motives that usually revolve around the male counterpart but while this has been prevalent, we have seen a lot of genuine female characters too; ones are relatable and make us think twice about what goes on in our own lives.

Fiction and reality are often interrelated. Fictional characters like Chloe Decker (Lucifer), Amy Santiago (B99) who are lead detectives in their respective shows, and Tara Khanna (Made in Heaven) who started up a business with her friend and proceeded to make it one of the leading names in the wedding planning business have finally broken some tropes of reducing women’s abilities for their male counterparts. They are strong women protagonists that have shown that women can be efficient in their jobs or businesses while dealing with personal and professional issues. Such women in the workforce have shown that their drive and commitment to their careers played a key role in helping them through the problems faced in their stories.

Aelin Galathynius (Throne of Glass) fought demon armies for her kingdom even while she was dismissed as a queen by the officials, Jude Duarte (Folk of the Air) worked tirelessly as a spy and seneschal for the kingdom of Elfhame while fighting racism from the people she worked with and Mare Barrow (Red Queen) who was the face of an uprising in her country where her people were held to a lower standard and faced prejudice. These are some names in the bookish world that ring true with strong female characters. All of them in their respective supernatural and fantasy worlds have led armies into battle while fighting with circumstances which would normally make a person give up on their goals. All three of them fought hard for their titles as queens or revolutionary leaders in their respective worlds.

Fiction is not far away from reality, while not a new take altogether, we can take home many lessons from the working women of the fictional/historical world and apply them to our (real) lives. What we watch, listen to or read has a lot of impact on how we are as people. We grow every time we experience a piece of art; may it be film or literature. When a little girl experiences such art, she also takes away a part of it and as content creators, people should be sensitive to the audience their work affects.

It is not a wild assumption that when we see a woman on-screen, defying norms and fighting for her beliefs, we feel empowered. We feel like we can do anything, and that no one can stop us. That is the power of art, it provides us with hope and, when we see something we relate to, then often with solutions too. We see that successful women who lead industries are not superheroes or it’s not like they don’t have problems in their personal lives, they are driven women and we can do that too if we put in the right amount of hard work.

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