When the “Girl Geek Week” channel was started in the Geeks Under Grace staff chat , I literally cringed. “Seriously?” I asked myself. “Why? Why do we have to make a big deal of girl geeks? Why is this even a thing? They exist, and they’re regular people. It’s really not that complicated. Do we have to make an entire week out of it?” My mind drifted immediately to the likes of Joss Whedon, who when asked why he writes such strong female leads replied with “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Another of my favorite sarcastic responses was given by George RR Martin when asked a similar question: “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” And then I started meditating on this topic more seriously.
Women make up approximately 49.6% of the total global population. And yet, there is a serious disconnect in the quantity and roles in which women are presented in media. This honestly puzzles me, which is why I didn’t understand the concept of “Girl Geek Week” at first. One of my past girlfriends used to beat me at arm wrestling without even trying. I took karate classes in high school and our sensei was a woman. I’ve had bosses that were women, I’ve seen women that can play circles around me on every instrument, and if you’re a woman reading this there’s a really good chance that you know more about cars than I do.
And yet, somehow, the entertainment industry has missed this memo. Somehow it seems like women are often secondary characters who exist only to fall in love with the hero and/or be rescued. They’re cast as either hopelessly romantic “manic pixie dream girls” or as heartless witches who really just want a man to break through the walls and love them. On the rare occasions that women are the main character, somehow developers in the video game industry and directors in Hollywood still seems to miss something critical. Either their sex appeal is exaggerated or they’re somehow broken. They always seem to need love–specifically eros with a man; agape, philia, and storge never apply–to fix them, and I don’t get it. Why can’t a single woman exist on her own terms without needing a guy? Why can’t she be attractive without being a sex object? Why she can’t be smart and quick on her feet for her own benefit?
When I first started watching Doctor Who, I saw an episode where the character Rose ends up by herself in a basement. Within seconds she realizes that she’s not where she meant to be and picks up a nearby weapon of opportunity—a large two by four. I literally cheered in my apartment. This was such a small detail, but too many writers don’t get it. Rather than be a ditzy blonde who’s too stupid to tell the difference between the basement and a regular floor, or too dumb to exercise caution and later needing rescue by the male hero, she immediately recognizes that something is up and takes reasonable precautions. Many of the Doctor’s companions, in fact, have been strong, independent, quick-witted, and not paraded around in half-torn shirts. That’s one of the contributing factors to its success. The women on the show are people.
Another stellar example of solid female writing is Leslie Knope from Parks And Recreation. She’s strong willed, smart, charismatic, and devoted. Eventually she does fall in love and gets married, but that marriage is a far cry from the stereotypical, “I need a man in my life to fix me.” Rather it was a much healthier, “I recognize and appreciate the way this person compliments and grows me and I want them in my life.” The entertainment industry is slowly starting to give us more Roses and Leslies, but we’re not quite there yet. Right now we’ve still got far too many Suicide Squad Harley Quinns–who seems to have been chosen purely on her character’s ability to wear shorts and tight shirts—or Elizabeths from Bioshock: Infinite, a classic damsel in distress.