The “Women Who Kick Ass” panel is turning into Comic-Con tradition, and for good reason. Female stars Jeri Ryan and Betty Gilpin, who were included in the panel, openly championed for more diverse female characters.
The panel featured Shoreh Aghdashloo, the lead of the Netflix series The Expanse, Cobie Smulders, an Avengers mainstay, Freema Agyeman, a Doctor Who alumna, Jeri Ryan, of the upcoming Star Trek: Picard and Betty Gilpin, of Netflix hit GLOW. Ryan and Gilpin’s comments on the state of female character writing speak for themselves.
Ryan, who won a Saturn award for her performance on Star Trek: Voyager, talked about the dangers of the “strong female character.”
For those that don’t know, this trope is what happens when male writers try to fix the misogyny in their world by introducing a “badass woman” to the cast. These women are flawless professionals without an inner life: skilled, dangerous, and emotionless. Ryan has played several of these characters. While she recognizes their power—women haven’t always been allowed to be dangerous—she wants a broader, more emotionally varied spectrum of kickass female characters.
“When I had my daughter, it became a lot more important for me that my roles were a positive representation of what a woman could be,” said Ryan. Not that they all have to be the same…I want all girls that are growing up now, I want them to see every possibility. I want them to know that everything is a possibility.”
Betty Gilpin, who famously said that her “brain is a room full of women who take turns at the wheel, added to Ryan’s point.
“I think for so long female roles were around the journey of ‘brunch,’ and right now I think that it’s been this illusion and lie that when we’re looking out the window, we’re thinking of things like brunch,” Gilpin said.
The “journey of brunch” and the “strong female character” may not look compatible, at least at first glance, yet Gilpin’s metaphor is something very close to the “inner life” criticisms Ryan levied against “strong female characters.” To flesh out female characters, Gilpin said to not start at minuscule topics like brunch, but to start at where these women feel turmoil.
When Gilpin looks out the window, she doesn’t think about brunch. She “think(s) of things like throwing a watermelon through a window or driving a van into a river, and I think people are starting to write for that now, and so I think that the thing that can join us all is to release the inner kraken for female characters.”
Media consumers are presented with a sea of badass male characters with that sort of turmoil. Take the original Avengers cast: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and especially the Hulk, all manage to have complicated inner lives and tons of turmoil while they kick ass. Black Widow does not. Ryan and Gilpin aren’t necessarily calling for an end to Black Widows, but they’d like to see some variety.
Let us be complicated, they’re saying. We’ll still be badass.