Monday, March 4, 2013

Alex Brown talks Joss Whedon's Female Characters

The wonderfully geeky blogger extraordinaire Alex Brown from A Novel Journey, whom I first bonded with over Fringe and Firefly on her blog, is visiting today to talk about a truly awesome subject--Joss Whedon. Welcome, Alex!

Thanks, Alli, for letting me guest post today!

I’m here to talk about one of my favorite storytellers ever. He’s brought us countless wonderful, awesome, I-hate-you-but-I’m-gonna-keep-watching-because-I-love-what-you-just-did things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, oh, and a little movie called The Avengers. Maybe you saw it last summer.

So, I’ve been a long time fan of Joss Whedon. One might even say I’m a Whedonite. They wouldn’t be wrong. And there are many things about his shows/movies/online miniseries that I love, but today I’m going to talk about what might be my favorite part (besides the witty banter and the breakaway pop hits).

Today I’m here to talk to you about strong female characters in the Whedon-verse. The idea for this came from an interview excerpt from a few years ago. Joss was asked why he writes so many strong female characters and replied:

“Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Holding for applause.


Right then. His answer pretty much made me love him even more – and not just because I’m also a writer who creates strong female characters. When I was growing up it was very difficult to find those strong female characters to identify with. Sure, there were a couple of females on the Power Rangers, but Kimberly (the Pink Ranger)’s arc mostly revolved around boys. Trina (the Yellow Ranger – who was also Asian, and I’m not jumping down that rabbit hole today) was given even less to do. There were also a bunch of Disney Princesses who did a lot of waiting for their Prince to come and have really only started to take charge of their own lives and hey, realize that they can be just as autonomous as their male counterparts.

So that’s why I love Joss Whedon. He has a variety of female characters who are all strong in their own ways.  Here’s my super-quick breakdown:

Zoe Washburne - Firefly

Zoe is the First Officer of Serenity.  She can kick ass, take names, and deliver a witty quip all before she’s eaten breakfast. She says what she wants, when she wants, and will call people out when they need it.  When I think of a “strong female” character, my mind immediately goes to Zoe because she’s tough but she’s also in touch with her emotions. Zoe is totally confident in who she is and what she wants, and won’t hesitate to protect any of her crew members.

She knows who she is, she gets everything done, and she isn’t so damaged or hurt that she can’t love or is angsty all the time (which is an unfortunate common occurrence in female characters that I’ve run across).

She has emotions (as do we all, no matter what gender you identify with), acknowledges them, uses them when she needs to, and can bottle them up when she needs to. She’s pretty much just in control of everything and I love her for it.

One of my favorite Zoe quotes is from an exchange she has with Serenity’s Captain, Mal Reynolds. When they swoop in and save the day in the nick of time:

Mal: Well, look at this! Appears we got here in the nick of time. What does that make us?

Zoe: Big damn heroes, sir!

(This might be my favorite Zoe quote ever)

I really don’t want to get super spoilery about what happens to Zoe, but Joss Whedon I’m still mad at you *shakes fist at Joss* - still, if I wanted to find someone to role model, it would be Zoe Washburne.

Buffy – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

(Spoilers in this one!)

There are SO MANY female characters I could have focused on from Buffy, but I figured if I was going to talk about this show, I should use Buffy Summers. I mean, she did save the world. A lot. Buffy literally went to hell and back and, out of all of Whedon’s heroines, probably had the most on her plate at any given time. Buffy had to deal with a boyfriend who turned evil (and the timing of said turning was quite perfect on Whedon’s part), had to then kill said boyfriend to save the world, had to quit college to raise a little sister, died twice, was an unwilling participant in a musical, and…I could keep going, but I’ll stop the list at the musical.

What I love about Buffy is that she didn’t always do the right thing. She screwed up, she isolated herself, she put everyone at a distance because she didn’t want them to get hurt and she didn’t want herself to get hurt. Buffy had so much to cope with, and, thinking back to when I was 16, she handled all of that pretty well.

One of my favorite Buffy quotes is from Restless. She’s talking to the Original Slayer, and Buffy’s pointing out the differences between them.

I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I'm gonna be a fireman when the floods roll back. There's trees in the desert since you moved out, and I don't sleep on a bed of bones.

This is seriously the epitome of Buffy.  She’s a normal teenage girl who walks, talks, shops, and sneezes, but she also wants to be a fireman when the floods roll back. Even when it doesn’t seem like people will need her, and that she’ll have outgrown her usefulness, she’s still ready to help people. She’ll wait during the calm periods, until everything dries out and catches fire again, and she’ll be there, ready to put them out.

Or, you know, save the world. A lot.

Fred – Angel

Okay.  So, Fred.  Fred is an interesting character, in that when she first arrives on Angel, she’s very much the stereotype of the “weak female.” She’s very timid, and frightened, and develops a super-fast-crush on a character, and can’t seem to make her own decisions, deferring to other people’s opinions.

But then the show digs a little deeper into Fred’s past, and the viewers discover why she’s this way. To keep a long story short, a jealous guy sent her into an alternate dimension where she became a slave and slowly started to doubt her life in our world had ever happened. So, again, a female character who had to deal with some pretty heavy stuff.

Fred’s also brilliant. She becomes a very good strategist and already had skills in physics and advanced math stuff (and I obviously don’t share said skill). Fred becomes her own person again when she comes back to our world, and I think she’s the best example of the “Sleeper” strong female character. Surface-wise, when she first gets on the series she seems so weak and helpless. But then, if you take a second to look at everything she went through (getting sucked to another dimension that happens to be filled with demons, having to wear a shock collar, starting to doubt the existence of her real life, getting rescued by a vampire) she coped in the best way she could.

But what makes her a “Sleeper” strong female character isn’t that she coped relatively well.  It’s that she didn’t let it hold her back. She came back to the real world, took a bit of time to adjust, but was able to heal and use her intelligence to help her friends. She acknowledged her pain but fought through it and…well, I’m not going to discuss Season 5. Just know that Fred is awesome.

There are so many more characters I could discuss, but I’m a little terrified that I’ve already droned on for quite some time!  I think I’ll call it a day for now, but if anyone wants to discuss strong female characters and the issues that face people who try to create them (like if people have said: your character is too in touch with her emotions, she needs to man up! Or, I think your character is a manipulative cold B****, or doesn’t your character need to wear a dress all the time and want to have a husband/kids/a family) then you can find me on my blog, or on Twitter!

Or if you want to discuss Joss Whedon (and/or any of his characters) I’d be more than happy to do that, too!

Alex Brown isn't really a fan of speaking in third person, so she's about to switch POV in the next sentence. I'm a grad student in Tennessee but originally I hail from the coast of Virginia, where I hung out with a lot of Canadian tourists during the summers of my youth. *waves to Canadian friends* I'm an aspiring YA writer who mostly sticks to sci-fi but sometimes ventures into fantasy and magical realism. I write characters with a lot of snark, even more heart, and who run the gamut when it comes to diversity. I'm a very big fan of stories with diverse characters in them. I'm a constant user of the Bechdel Test and can never turn my brain off (which is terrible when I'm trying to sleep). You can find me on Twitter or on my blog, where I try my best to be entertaining!


  1. You had me at Joss. I am also a fellow Whedonite.

    So I love this post and "Big damn heroes, sir!" is one of my favorite Zoe quotes too, but it's actually one of my life goals to play the role of Buffy in a performance of Once More With Feeling.

    1. Wooooo! Yay for finding fellow Whedonites :)

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post! I'm totally on-board with that life goal - Once More With Feeling is probably my favorite Buffy episode ever :D

    2. I don't know if it's my favourite because there are SO many good Zoe lines. It's a top one, though!

  2. Joss Whedon can do no wrong.
    Don't forget Black Widow. No one is messing with her, either.

    1. Totally true! And I didn't intentionally leave Black Widow out, I just didn't want to drone on and on about all of his female characters ('cause honestly I could have done that quite easily :P). Maybe Alli will invite me back to write about more of them :)

    2. Ooh, Part 2? I like it. I vote for an Echo mention, too!

  3. I LOVE Joss Whedon. Buffy was such an amazing series, although Willow was always my favourite. Bad Willow was such a great twist and seeing her struggle to stay off the magic was compelling. Whedon just gets how to write strong female characters.

    1. YES! I LOVED Dark Willow (and the whole series!). Probably one of the best shows out there!

    2. Buffy wasn't my favourite character. Actually, she kinda annoyed me a lot :P I did like Willow better!

  4. Part of Joss Whedon's eternal appeal is his amazing insight into women. There are so few well-written whole people kind of women characters in popular culture.

    1. I know! That definitely is a big part of the reason that I love him :) Hopefully there can be more Whedon-esque writers in the future (or now. Now works too haha)

  5. I can't say I like -everything- Whedon's ever done, but he's usually on the mark and can write great characters.

    Firefly, of course, is awesome!

  6. I really need to watch all of those shows again. I'm sure I've forgotten half of what happened in Angel!

  7. Joss Whedon can do no wrong! :)

  8. Agreed; Joss can write a brilliant strong female who isn't strong for the sake of ticking off a demographic. His characters feel real and believable, and Zoe especially kicks a hell of a lot of ass.

    Well met, Alex!

    Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom

  9. Love Joss Whedon, mainly because of Buffy! And I love that he creates strong female characters, I can't stand weak ones.