Disclaimer: No, I’m not going to talk about current events. Maybe I’ll reference them, but if you’re anything like me, all you want right now is a distraction, so let’s get right to it.
I do not consider myself a righteous man. In brutal honesty, I am a straight man who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and thus, I was a sexist bigot well into my 20’s. An idiot who made bad jokes until events in his life taught him to do better. As a result, I exist in a strange, semi-objective limbo. I am a straight man who often hates straight men, but I am also a feminist who occasionally hates feminists. I do not like or make jokes about women being stupid, but I also hate the extremely common “dumb husband” commercials. It’s a strange, contentious limbo I live in, but I like it because it allows me to be fair. More fair, I feel, than bigots or extreme feminists ever want me to be.
My point is . . . when I see something that I think is problematic, I usually give it time before speaking up about it, because I want to be sure I’m being fair first. I don’t want to start flame wars, and I don’t want to sound like a pandering jackass.
So, please, understand that it’s after serious consideration that I say . . .
Rogue One . . .
and the recent remake of Resident Evil 3 . . .
. . . both of which are framed as empowering for women . . .
. . . are actually pretty misogynistic.
“What the fuck even are you talking about?” you might have just asked, to which I say, “Hear me out.”
This post is split into two parts. If you’re already pissed about one of your favorite things being criticized, you can scroll down to the heading for said thing now.
For everyone else . . .
In the 90’s, the Tough Princess was a thing. Princess Vespa, from Space Balls, stands out as an example, but I remember seeing strong princesses everywhere, picking up weapons, refusing help. For sure, they were a step in a better direction . . . but they also needed saving just like normal princesses; if you could play as Princess Peach in one Mario game, it did not mean you wouldn’t be saving her in the next Mario game. Ultimately, it was just a half-measure–the kind I’ve grown to hate (because, as I’ve always said, the way to change a stereotype is not to put a twist on it, but to avoid using the stereotype at all).
In this way, what I’m calling the Strong Female Damsel has been around for a long time. A female character who presents as strong and independent but ultimately needs a ton of saving by men, the Strong Female Damsel is a common trope and an obviously lacking, half-hearted attempt at being progressive.
Less obvious, however, is the the Damsel’s prevalence in modern, feminist genre films and games; in an age where there’s a much more pronounced attempt to cater to and empower female audiences, it always blows my mind when I see the ideals of those audiences either undermined (with the Damsel) or flat out violated (with the Object, which I’ll define a bit later).
For now, let’s start with the Damsel:
The Strong Female Damsel in Rogue One
This is something that has bothered me since the first time I watched Rogue One, but it’s also something I haven’t written about because, again, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being contentious for no reason.
But now, having rewatched it, let me present the actual stats:
- (07:18) Starting off almost immediately here; after Jyn watches her mother get murdered, she goes and hides in a hole. She stays there until she’s found and helped by Saw Gerrera.
- (13:00) Jyn Erso, in prison, is rescued by a group of all-male Rebellion troopers. She fights them, which is cool, but still loses–because the best character in the entire movie, K-2SO, catches her.
- (31:58) During the firefight on Jedha, Jyn saves a child, which is dope. She then stands in place while a tank rolls up so Cassian can first shout for her to “Get out of there!” and then shoot the gunner who might see and target her.
- (32:09) A rebel on a walkway above the tank then pulls out a grenade, which he’s going to throw down into the area where Jyn is hiding, probably hurting her, but Cassian shoots him before he can throw it. The moment is complete with a little “I got your back” nod from Cassian.
- (33:09) This doesn’t count as her being saved, but here, Jyn beats the shit out of some stormtroopers and it’s cool, but, weirdly, we still get the “Whoa–that girl is fighting all of them and I actually don’t need to help???” reaction from Cassian.
I’ll try to keep these sidebars to a minimum, but the framing of that moment was a little strange.
- (33:40) Arguable one here: K-2SO catches a grenade that could kill all three characters in this scene, but effortlessly tosses it behind himself, saving everyone and killing a bunch of stormtroopers at the same time.
- (34:40) Jyn and Cassian are apprehended by stormtroopers, but are saved by Chirrut Îmwe.
- (48:20) This one is so weird.
Saw Gerrera’s rebel base is crumbing, but Jyn is in some kind of . . . trauma trance? Like, she’s so distraught by what her father said that she literally just drops to her knees and sits there . . . until Cassian comes in and literally grabs her, telling her “We gotta go. I know where your father is,” at which point she snaps out of it? It’s just a very strange moment for a protagonist. When the hologram cut, why did Jyn not turn around to Saw, and ask, “Where was this recorded? I have to find him!”?
And . . . I mean, would she have stood there, doing nothing, until the building collapsed on her?
- (49:36) I have to count this one because, once again, Jyn is being literally saved by men.
To escape the fallout from the Death Star, everyone jumps into a ship piloted by K-2SO and . . . Cassian! It’s almost like this movie is about him, not Jyn.
And, to be clear, I am not arguing for self-insert levels of competency here; I think it would’ve been stupid if Jyn saved everyone, always got herself out of danger, and shoved people aside so she could fly the ship. All I’m saying is, in the past 50 minutes, she has beaten up two groups of people and been saved by men 8 times.
Absolutely nothing would’ve been wrong with her getting out in front, hopping onto the controls first, or shouting to K-2SO to get them in the air. As is, she just hops on, helps pull someone in, and looks out the window.
- (1:09:04) On Eadu, there’s the group of scenes that made me realize Jyn was a damsel in the first place. The time stamp is for the exact moment, but I have to preface it so you feel how I felt the first time I watched this.
Okay. To kick us off, Jyn does find her father.
But she does not save him.
She doesn’t even engage the stromtroopers around him, even though he’s in pretty clear danger, on his knees, with an Imperial General standing over him. Instead, X-Wings show up, kill the stormtroopers, and knock everyone to the ground. Jyn only manages to shout, “Father!” before all of this happens, because her ability to create drama is more important than her ability to have agency over the plot.
Okay. That said, at 1:09:04, Jyn is kneeling over her father, who just died, and that moment is completely cut short by stormtroopers running up behind her. Again, like on Jedha, Jyn is too emotionally distraught to care about anything–she doesn’t even realize they’re there–and only survives . . . because Cassian fucking Andor saves her, complete with a scene where he has to pull her off of her father and the other male side characters have to fight off the stormtroopers chasing them, including the ex-Imperial pilot.
And this after a close up shot at 1:05:59 of Cassian Andor saying, “Jyn! No!” when he realizes she’s in danger.
- (1:18:33) Okay. Just another sidebar.
Jyn gives her “rebellions are built on hope” speech, and I was totally ready to concede that she influenced the plot in a huge way by convincing the rebels to attack Scarif . . . because I totally forgot that, no, actually, she doesn’t. She does plant a seed here that eventually gets the rebels to show up and help.
But that is only because the protagonists go to Scarif anyway, which only becomes possible . . . because Casian fucking Andor rounds up a bunch of troops willing to volunteer themselves. And I’m sure an argument could be made that Casian only rounded up those troops because of her speech, but Casian’s character arc was already in effect since Eadu, when he decided not to kill Jyn’s dad. I’d argue he would’ve gone to Scarif even if the council scene was just rebel leaders arguing that it was too dangerous.
- (1:24:49) The Imperial shuttle the characters are flying into Scarif is about to get shot out of the air, killing everyone, bu-u-u-u-u-ut luckily, the ex-Imperial pilot and K-2SO–both male–manage to fool flight control. Phew!
Also, Jyn looks at a crystal in this scene. It’s probably meant to send over serious Force-vibes (what with “kyber crystals” being a talking point in this movie), but if the idea here is that the Force influenced flight control, through her or because of her, then that’s a pre-e-e-e-etty lame attempt at giving her agency.
Again, I’m not saying she should have every skill and save every day; it would’ve been stupid if she and she alone jumped on comms, shoving aside all the male characters (i.e. every single other person on the ship). However, it is 100% within reason to expect her to have some way to hack a new code, or some reference for gaining the current code after the years she spent fighting her way through the galaxy as a space-orphan. She could’ve taken out a custom cipher she bought somewhere and told K-2SO and the pilot the current code. Maybe they both could’ve doubted her but punched it in anyway cause they decided to believe, and when it works, they all would’ve done something together. And we would’ve gotten some Jyn Erso characterization from her lone wolf years. Aside from “she fights good sometimes.”
- (1:47:11) Worst scene of the movie: K-2SO sacrifices himself to keep Jyn and Cassian safe. This happens while Cassian retrieves the data file for the Death Star and Jyn watches.
- (1:50:06) Another sidebar: We have a moment where it seems like Jyn and Jyn alone is going to do something amazing. She jumps out onto the data tower to retrieve the Death Star plans, but no, forget it; Cassian jumps onto it with her. Cause of course he does.
- (1:51:08) I feel like I’m losing my mind. I honestly don’t remember it being this bad. Here, there’s a scene where the Imperials get into the data vault, open a door, and Jyn’s right there where they can easily shoot her. Cassian shouts, “Jyn!” shoots at them, and stops them from killing her while she literally dangles off of the tower for suspense.
Cassian proceeds to kill all the Stormtroopers, by the way, and Jyn watches.
- (1:59:10) Here, finally, the moment that got a loud, “Are you fucking serious?” from me in the theater.
Jyn Erso is finally confronting Krennic, the man who killed her mother and forced her father into slavery. The man who ruined her life.
A man who has a blaster aimed right at her . . . which means that when fucking Cassian goddamn Andor shoots him in the back, he not only absolutely robs her of catharsis, he saves Jyn again while doing it.
I mean, for fuck’s sake.
Cassian even stops her from making sure Krennic is dead. Like, “Honey, I know you’ve got your entire life’s worth of comeuppance and everything, but, like, my leg is hurt?”
By my count, that is 12 times Jyn Erso’s life was saved over the course of the film. Out of those 12 times, she was saved by a man 12 times. One could absolutely go through and count how many times she saved herself or others and compare. Nothing’s stopping you. But it would not change the fact that a protagonist being helped out of life-threatening danger twelve times instead of helping themselves is way too many times.
Now, of course, I am not saying that a strong female protagonist can’t be saved by a man–obviously, that’s not the case, and having female-driven stories where the men aren’t helpful at all is also something I hate.
The point I am trying to make . . . is that the strong female protagonist who constantly needs to be saved by her cast of male-only side characters . . . is not a strong female protagonist.
She is, quite literally, a Strong Female Damsel. A female protagonist who looks strong, walks strong, but is repeatedly presented in peril so that men can save her.
I’m not sure how this kind of character happens, but I have to assume it wasn’t intentional. Maybe the result of a writer’s room determined not to make Jyn a Mary Sue? Different saves from different characters in different drafts that got snowballed into the final product? I’m not sure, but the thing that’s oddly, depressingly clear: if they wanted to make her less threatening to men . . .
. . . it worked.
Have you ever wondered why none of the men who hated Rey also hated Jyn Erso? Why they loved Rogue One . . . but also never walk around wearing Jyn Erso, “Rebel” t-shirts?
It’s because none of them actually respect her. They love the movie–the script that constantly made her need help from Cassian (who’s getting his own Disney + show, cause of course he is)–but they do not love her.
My recommendation about all of this: if you’re writing a story that you want to be progressive, with a strong female lead, please make sure that she isn’t just a damsel in disguise.
That said, okay, we’re on to something worse:
The Strong Female Object in Resident Evil 3: Remake
This one is going to be a lot quicker, because I don’t have to replay the entire game.
But, first, a definition: the Strong Female Object is a female protagonist who is presented as strong, decisive, and capable, but who is clandestinely fetishized in spite of that. Almost like the artists behind the character knew that she needed to be strong . . . but just couldn’t help sexualizing her because she was so hot. It doesn’t matter that it completely undermines the strength they felt obligated to give her–there just needed to be a scene where she got deepthroated by tentacles.
Resident Evil 3: Remake is the entire reason I made this classification, because it is absolutely obnoxious in that game and, having loved Jill since the very first RE in 1996, I hated it.
Really quickly, we’re going to run down some events that happen in the game, with links if I have them:
- The game opens up with a nightmare sequence where Jill, in pajamas for no reason whatsoever (she wakes up afterward in her normal clothes), starts turning into a zombie. In the nightmare, she’s in her bathroom, where there’s a loaded gun on the sink. She picks it up, wincing as she puts it to her head and pulls the trigger.
What a great start for a strong female protagonist.
I already hated it.
- In her apartment, you can find a note from Brad, talking about how Jill has been suspended by the chief of police. The note was slipped to a pizza deliver guy, so in the postscript, Brad says, “Enjoy the extra large Mega Meat Supreme! It’s on me and the guys.”
Yes. Of course. The “extra large” pizza pie you had delivered. Because “extra large” is totally a normal size for a pizza pie to be.
- When you first meet up with Carlos Oliviera, he is unrealistically flirtatious in the middle of a zombie outbreak. It’s posed as gross, which would make it fine . . .
. . . if Carlos hadn’t been as gross in the original game. Not sure why they broke this dynamic when it was already fixed, but okay.
- Here’s a link to a group of male let’s players laughing at an absolutely bizarre poster you find on a door (which happens in the first 20 seconds of this video).
One of those let’s players, Alex Faciane, calls it “egregious,” and yep.
Now, hey, maybe this is a reference to the enormous boxes you find in safe rooms in-game. Considering how things are going so far though, I highly doubt it.
- And here is the moment that made me want to write about this game in the first place.
Everything that came before this was a little weird but passable.
Not this though.
I’ve linked to a video of the Game Grumps getting to the moment because one of them, Arin, outright says, “This is for the fetishists,” because, yeah, it is that bad (although if you want to skip ahead, the actual moment happens at 32:06 [and if you’d rather not watch it, just skip right over this link]): https://youtu.be/VEqmgvWCdvQ?t=1848.
In case you did skip, tentacle stuff happens. And, while it’s not super gratuitous in the cutscene that introduces the tentacle monsters to you, it is really bad when they catch you in-game. You lose control and the camera focuses on the action for wa-a-a-a-ay too long.
I tried . . . to return the game at this point, because, already, it was clear that shit wasn’t right. Initially, I was excited that Jill didn’t have her impractical, miniskirt and tube top outfit from the original, but the tentacle monsters made it clear that, somehow, the remake was actually less respectful to her.
- And that lack of respect is made clearer as the game progresses, and you “get to play” Carlos for long sections of it, a thing literally no one asked for. As if the game couldn’t continue being just Jill’s story, it’s now Carlos and Jill’s, with over an hour cut out for Carlos-time. And, to be clear, that’s beefcake, remake Carlos who is a super jacked commando, totally different from Carlos in the original: a young guy who Jill literally slaps in the face at one point to make him come to his senses.
- To top of it off, (spoilers) Jill gets infected with the T-Virus at one point. And guess who brings her to a hospital and runs around it for an hour looking for a cure?
No, not Cassian Andor. Carlos. Carlos literally saves Jill when she’s in distress.
Cause of course he does.
- The moment that made me second-angriest: we “get to” see a nightmare Jill is having, where Carlos is infected and she has to shoot him . . . but she just can’t bring herself to do it.
And that perfectly sums up what’s going on here. The “extra large Mega Meat Supreme” from “the guys,” the ad for an “Enormous Box,” the tentacle monsters, and Carlos being initially gross but ultimately so important to Jill that she’d rather die than hurt him–it all feeds into Jill being a sexual object for male gazers, chuckling to each other behind her back.
And a tsundere . . . for Carlos to win over.
Only, not just a tsundere. A protagonist that needed to be strong . . . made by men who are probably wondering what color panties she’s wearing. A hot, smart, capable woman . . . who’s just so hot that, I mean . . .
“. . . what do her pajamas look like?”
“What kind of dude is she into?”
“Big dudes like Chris?”
“Nemesis hasn’t killed her, so, like, he’s gotta have a crush on her, right?”
“Do you think she’ll bang Carlos?”
All of these questions coming with the one, absolutely intended hook: “Do you think Carlos will win her over?”
None of these questions were there in the original. None of them needed to be in the remake.
But, unfortunately, the people in charge made Jill Valentine look stronger . . . while forcing her into the role of the hot object, lusted over, grossly hit on, and ultimately liking it.
I can’t suggest that someone writing a Strong Female Object takes them out of their story, because that suggestion would fall on completely deaf ears–writing the Object is intentional. However, I have to acknowledge that there are people who love stories with Strong Female Objects (like Heavy Metal) and take influence from them.
So, with that in mind, I’ll say this: In the same way ethnic characters in media need to be protagonists (not side-characters or villains), the Strong Female Protagonist needs to be a protagonist, not a perpetual damsel, and not the sexualized object of a determined, male gaze.
This turned into a novella of 3,500+ words, and if you sat through the whole thing, thank you so much.
I’m just not a frequent uploader, but I felt pretty strongly about this one (especially because it’s May the 4th and I just stumbled on one of the RE3 videos I linked [with Arin from the Game Grumps saying the one moment was for the fetishists]).
I do have other posts that I’ve found on here, some of which I’ve soured on (arguments that I don’t feel strongly about anymore), but others of which hold up. I’m in the process of editing them, and I’ll be posting them in the coming weeks.
Until then, please stay safe. And, as always, write well.