Strong fictional women. Everyone wants them, but few know how to create them correctly. I don’t know if Hollywood is influencing authors, or authors are influencing Hollywood, but I absolutely can’t relate to the majority of fictional female characters billed as “strong.”
I had one of those days yesterday when I had zero motivation to do anything constructive. Television isn’t something I normally use to relieve boredom (or, in this case, excessive laziness) but one of the cable channels shows NCIS reruns on certain days, and yesterday was one of those days. Now, I love NCIS. Correction: I used to love NCIS. I pretty much loathe it these days since they lost Tony and killed off Ziva, and brought on Fez from That 70s Show to replace them. The poor guy still can’t act. He’s still Fez. I keep expecting him to croon “I’m going to doooo eeet!” every five seconds. But I digress. Big time. Anyway, one of the reasons I used to love NCIS was its mix of characters, including some great strong women. What’s funny is that it’s had its share of awful “strong” women, too. Whiplash city. Were the writers on magic mushrooms or something?
TIMES THEY GOT IT RIGHT
The best strong woman the show ever had was Ziva David. Former Mossad, she could (and did) kick ass without a strand of her ponytail falling out of place. She was tough, she was committed, and she took no shit. But she was likeable. Ziva was very likeable. And that’s because the writers showed her soft side. She was feminine without being princessy, vulnerable without being helpless, sexy without being desperate, humorous without being mean. Her blunders with English slang were hilarious (“They’re in the middle of a smurf war.”), she brought me to tears when her father was killed and she sat cradling his lifeless body with tears running down her cheeks as she screamed “Abba! Abba!”, and her chemistry with Tony DiNozzo was off the charts. Here’s my all time favorite Ziva moment:
Jenny Shepard was another really good strong woman portrayed on NCIS. As Director of NCIS she had to be tough, unfeeling, and cool as a cucumber while working, but again, the writers showed her softer side. She had layers, and the character was likeable. I hated it when they killed her off.
So with such great role models as Ziva and Jenny (and that Coast Guard chick whose name I can’t remember, but she totally should have stayed on the show and ended up with Gibbs), how did NCIS get it so catastrophically wrong with their other “strong” women?
TIMES THEY TOTALLY GOT IT WRONG
The attorney played by Rena Sofer (can’t remember her name, either, and don’t care) and a special agent named E.J. something-or-other were everything that’s wrong with Hollywood’s portrayal of strong women. Both were abrasive, arrogant, swaggering, unbending, and rude. In other words, the stereotypical broad. A dame, hard as nails, and just as unlikeable. In all of their scenes they’d come in with narrowed eyes, a nasty smirk, and a chip on their shoulders, intent on nothing but screwing up everyone’s lives. One-dimensional and boring. No one likes male characters like that, so why the hell would Hollywood think it okay to saddle a female character with those traits? Neither lasted long, hallelujah.
And just for the record, I never considered Kate to be a strong woman. I liked her character, but “strong” never came to mind as a description. Abby was strong in the beginning, but you’d never know it now. Watch some of the early seasons and you’ll see. But she’s been watered down to a whiny child-like character who turns up sad eyes at someone in every other episode and whimpers, “They have to come back.” And don’t even get me started on Ellie Bishop. Talk about single-handedly ruining a series!
WHAT ABOUT BOOKS?
Television (and movies) aren’t the only ones who get it wrong. One of my favorite television shows ever was based off a series of books that has great stories, but terrible characters. I’m talking about Tess Gerritson’s Rizzoli and Isles series.
I loved the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles portrayed on the television series. (A series, I might add, that TNT canceled because the new head of programming said (to paraphrase) that he wasn’t interested in shows that attracted older women viewers. (Older meaning over 30. Again, I digress.) But when I bought and read some of Ms. Gerritson’s Rizzoli and Isles books I was left sorely disappointed. The Jane Rizzoli in the books is a sad, angry, dispirited frump of a woman who is bullied at work and is hated by her family. As a result, she tries to be one of those “strong” women like Sofer’s character on NCIS: all swagger and bite. I hated her. The Maura Isles in the books is just nuts. She has no friends (not even Jane) and hates herself because she’s in love with a priest. Y’all, this is one of the only times I’ll ever recommend a television show or movie over the book or books on which it was based. Seriously, if you liked the show then pass on the books. The book characters are just plain unlikeable.
I don’t know where the idea came about that strong women have to be cold, unfeeling bitches. But I do know that’s not the case. Write about women like Ziva David and the television version of Jane Rizzoli!
Enough with the broads and dames. We hate men who act like that and we hate women like that, too. Strong does not equal asshole.
If you want to read about a strong, feminine woman who’s discovering her strength, be sure to pre-order Heart of Gold, the second book in the Illicit Series. Rhett Davis has hidden her inner strength for a long time, but she began to let it out in the Book 1, Sister Golden Hair (which, I might add, is only 99¢ for just a few more weeks.) In Heart of Gold she finally embraces it. October 24th is release day!
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