At a writing masterclass or workshop, Avengers’ writer-director Joss Whedon was asked “Why do you write strong female characters?” His answer: Because you’re still asking that question.
I will admit, I am still crushing a bit on the 50-year old Whedon just for that statement, never mind his incredible body of work that includes every single TV show that shaped my childhood and adolescence. Whedon created the most iconic female hero in TV in Buffy Summers, the blond asskicking vampire hunter who also suffered boy problems, manicure destruction and bad hair days just like every single t(w)eenager in the world.
She also saved the world. A lot.
Whedon understands genre writing. That much is clear from the crisp writing in Buffy, Angel (to a very less extent) Firefly all of which have their own cult following due to their storylines and amazing characters. In the Avengers’ ensemble movies (yes, even Ultron) this is evident with the attention to detail that is paid to character-interaction as much as the incredible set pieces that form the backbone of the cinematic marvels the movies are.
But Whedon is simply brilliant because he takes it all one step further.
Whedon understands women. He understands their vulnerabilities, their secret need to be EVERYTHING and at the same time the way they feel misunderstood and marginalized either through societal preconditioning or because it is prevalent in their home environment. His lesser known TV series Dollhouse explores this concept of people being who you want them to be, aka ‘dolls’, especially women. It’s a damned shame that the series only had two taut seasons before being taken off air. Oh, well. Such is life.
If y’all are wondering why I am going on about Whedon so much, it’s because of that answer he gave in his masterclass.
Imagine. A man gets that we all need to ACCEPT the idea of a strong, female character as fact, axiomatic and until that happens he will keep shoving it in our faces. And make billions on his way to the bank, of course, but that is his due.
A very dear friend of mine recently said that patriarchy is a system while feminism is still a movement. And movements as such require a number of things: A leader, followers, a tenet code but most of all movements become revolutions which overturn existing systems when they reach a critical mass of awareness. Joss Whedon, Justin Trudeau and many others like him are the forerunners in the feminism-as-a-movement reaching this critical mass of awareness.
Now how does this all tie into me, a single 29 year old woman living and working in India?
For one, when I was 13 I saw a blond, five-foot something girl called Buffy kicking vampires into dust and being a leader even in the face of catastrophic personal tragedy. And I figured, well if Buffy can do it, why can’t I?
Whether consciously or not, writers like Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, JK Rowling and Whedon himself have influenced what I write and how I think and perceive things to a large extent. It’s one of the reasons why I too write “strong, stubborn characters” in my books. Be they vengeance-obsessed estate managers in Kashmir, intrepid foreign correspondents on a worldwide chase or a ballerina on the verge of a breakdown.
It’s why I cheered when Senator Hillary Clinton brought down the warehouse in Brooklyn on June 7, 2016 after she was named as the presumptive Presidential nominee for a major political party. And why I believe that domestic abuse is one of the pervasive evils in Indian society that needs talking about every single day, if not more because someone HAS to listen and make the change.
Everyone and their mother has taken to social media and taken sides on the feminism debate and ironically, it’s the women who are reluctant to call themselves feminists. Because bra-burning, extremist feminism is not what our society requires. But the only reason why we don’t have to burn our bras anymore is because Gloria Steinem and her peers did it for us and made it possible for us to use hashtags like #FreeTheNipple and flaunt our lingerie in public if we so wish to.
Let’s all get one thing straight: We are all women, we fifty-two percent of the global population. We all should be standing up for equal rights. Period. If that makes us feminists, so be it.
A while back, my loving, well-meaning parents sat me down and told me they were worried about my future and how I am a girl and still unmarried. Their very valid concern: I’d be all alone once they were, god forbid, not around to take care of me. As if marriage was a magic guarantee against loneliness in the world.
And I asked them WHY was it so important for them that I get married, apart from this whole ‘only girl being alone in the world thing.’ Was it to have kids? I have a functioning uterus last time I checked. I could have one right now if I want to with the plethora of medical facilities and treatments available to me.
Was it for financial security, as one kindly aunty was tactless enough to suggest eons ago? I earn my own way in the world, thanks to you Mom and Dad.
As for me not being alone after marriage, adopting a pet, a sweet golden Labrador named Yippee makes more sense. Chances are, Yippee will be the only one to love me unconditionally and slobber me with kisses, even if he expects me to feed him and clean up after him.
I could have argued and ranted and gotten all defensive (and I have tons of times!) but the truth of the matter is, their hearts are in the right place. But finding a partner is a bit like feminism. A movement that needs to crest before it finds an acceptable kind of resolution.
And for someone who grew up watching a feminist like Joss Whedon create cinema and real-world magic, the bar for finding love is set a bit too high, isn’t it? Then again, who says the bar can’t be cleared.
I hope Whedon 2.0 is out there and paying attention.
Till next time,
Aarti V Raman
Aarti V Raman is a romance writer from Mumbai, whose third romance “With You I Dance” (Fingerprint! Publishing) debuted in the Amazon India Bestseller (Romance) category when it released in April 2016. Her other two books are romantic thrillers called “White Knight” (Leadstart Publishing, 2013/) and “Kingdom Come” (Harlequin MIRA, 2014).
She also dabbles in content marketing, conducts creative writing workshops and holds a journalism degree that she puts to good use in her other career. She has appeared as a speaker at literature fests in India and is represented by RED INK Literary Agency.
Happy ever after are her three favorite words, even when she is attempting to write Young Adult Urban Fantasy.