Monday, March 13, 2006

SB Day: I’d Much Rather Be a Murderous Old Lady

It’s Smart Bitches Day again and that means ranting and raving, so let’s go back, waaaaay back to the days when I once considered acting to be the Coolest. Thing. Evar. And the idea of starving for my art was just that, an idea, because the truth was three wonderful meals a day and full refrigerator at the house.

Sigh. Those were the days. Glorious prepared for me food, I miss you.

Anyway back in the teen angst soaked days of high school I did a lot of theatre in a department that was actually pretty good (comparatively speaking, there are some baaaaad high school productions out there and we’ve all had to sit through them), and managed to land significant roles in almost all the plays of Junior and Senior years, the last of which was the role of Martha in Arsenic and Old Lace. She was the second of the sweet, old, murderous lady leads, if you’re unfamiliar with the play. Not that she thought of herself as murderous. Oh, no.

We’re just providing them with rest, dear.

During the audition process, though, I was also up for the female romantic lead. The ingénue, Elaine. It would have been my first romantic lead, something I’d managed to avoid in my years of playing supporting characters—flighty moms, best friends, doctors—and something most young actresses would kill for. Only I didn’t want to be Elaine, despite my ability to horror movie scream with the best of them; Elaine was the sweet little innocent, she didn’t make things happen, they just happened to her.

She definitely didn’t poison little old men.

“You’re not trying,” my director would yell at me during the Elaine auditions. “You could have this if you would just try.”

No can do, bucko, I’m just not the girl who needs saving, and I don’t have a lot of respect for the girl who does.

This attitude pretty much sums up my relationship with the heroines in romance novels. If she’s strong, take charge (even if it’s a limited take charge because of the era she lives in), and doesn’t wait around for some man to save her butt, I’m with her all the way. I cheer her choices, and support her decisions. Hell, I’ll even support her if the decision is slightly TSTL (too stupid too live) as long as it is within her character to make that decisions (as if she viewed it as not TSTL given the information she had).

I long ago realized that I judged the heroine on the same scale that I judge myself, and if I wouldn’t have made that decision then missy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do.

It’s not that I don’t expect characters to make mistakes. If they don’t they are a little too perfect to be carrying a whole novel. And it’s not that those mistakes can’t be stupid, we all make stupid decisions from time to time. We just have to be strong enough to look back and realize that they were stupid, and maybe even celebrate their stupidity. Hey, that was dumb, but I survived, let’s make a mental note to never do this again.

Is this a harder scale than what I subject the male characters to? Possibly. I’m not a guy, and I never plan on being one. Can I judge him based on my own life experiences? Sure, but at the end of the day I’m still missing the requisite Y chromosome and the bits between my legs.

Now one could argue that since these male characters are written by women, I should be able to still apply my code of decision making to their actions. Some have even gone as far to say that some women writers go out of their way to feminize the male character/psyche. I don’t know if I believe that—I know that it doesn’t apply in all, or even most, cases—and even if I did, I can’t say that it would make me judge the male character any harsher.

Because at the end of the day I’m still female, I’m still take-charge, and I’d still rather play (and play with) a murderous old lady than a pretty little girl who runs up the stairs instead of running out the door. Call it a personal quirk or the result of the life I’ve led.

Whatever you call it, I would suggest it not be over a serving of my famous Elderberry wine.

But what about y’all? What decisions/personality quirks can you take (or not) from the female protagonists in books? Does it depend on the character, or the voice narrating the character? Are you willing to let the character that shares your sex get away with more or less?


Beth said...

I dunno if my limits are gender-based. Generally, if I hate a trait in a female character, I hate it in a male character, too.

But I am TOTALLY with you on the murderous old lady thing. Actually, I saw Auntie Mame when I was about 10 years old, and that was the first time I can remember ever deciding I wanted to be like a fictional character. Not any of the cutesy sweet pretty girls I was reading or watching on TV, the ones who fell in love with the prettyboy. I wanted to be kooky Aunt Mame. Because, ya know - life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death. Et cetera.

christine fletcher said...

By the time I was 15 (or thereabouts) I was already sick to death of the "beautiful and bright" female character. These are always secondary characters, almost always written by men. "Bright” came to mean "smart enough to understand the male protagonist's solutions when he explains them, but not smart enough to think up any herself."

Passivity, more than anything, makes me want to hurl the book. Male or female. Ashley Wilkes wasn’t fit to lick Scarlett’s boots. (Melanie’s either, for that matter.)

lady t said...

I tend to not like stupid in either male or female characters but then again,I've always had a fascination with villians.

For example,one of my all time favorite films from childhood has been Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,not because of Snow and D-men but the Wicked Queen. Snow is basically boring,with her laid back"O save me!" singalong self. The Wicked Queen,however,is one twisted mama-demanding Snow's heart in a box,stomping on skeletons as she makes her way down to her lair to brew up some poison and that whole transformation scene-Tell me who's more interesting here!

Eileen said...

Hey I was Rizzo from Grease in highschool- although it would fall under the catagory of REALLY bad high school theatre. I dislike women characters who are stunning except for one tiny flaw (chipped front tooth etc) that is supposed to make me relate to them. I also can't stand female characters who are wimpy. Cowboy up ladies.

Ms. Librarian said...

The most challenging acting I ever did was as "Nun 6" in The Sound of Music. (Nope, didn't even have a name!)

I do find female characters written by men unrealistic. Especially the futuristic Amazonian societies where men are treated like scum. Now, would REAL women do that?