After some thought, I’ve decided on a word or label for what irks me about the female halves of male/female relationships.
An inferiority complex.
I think that’s really what it is. It’s like the Napoleonic complex where (we thought) short Napoleon needed to prove himself and so he set out to conquer. The female inferiority complex hopefully isn’t that drastic, but time and time again we see “strong female protagonists” who aggressively defend their strengths in their words and actions instead of being relaxed and comfortable in doing what they do best.
Take the movie Thor. (If you haven’t seen it I will try to prove my point without the use of too many spoilers.) Sif, the only female warrior in Thor’s group of friends, I think is a good example of how this inferiority complex can filter into modern female characters. In the scene where we meet the group, Thor brags to his friends about his backstory successes to show how they can trust him to lead them on their quest. When he got to Sif, he said,
The example he used to get her on his side was directly about her warrior skills in a man’s world. The script writers even spun the wordplay on its head to give her a one-liner joke which showed her independence. Up until that point the answer to all of his leading questions was always that Thor had done [insert story here].
Then, later in an actual battle, after a daring move that gets her injured, Sif and Thor have a short conversation about how she does not need to fight to the death, better to save herself to fight later.
Thor: Sif, you’ve done all you could.
Sif: [wounded from fighting the Destroyer] NO! I’ll die a warrior’s death! Stories will be told of this day!
Thor: Live, and tell those stories yourself! (Quotes are from IMDB)
In other words, she is portrayed as a warrior woman in a man’s world who is independent and who is unsteady enough about her own life and worth that it felt like she had something she needed to prove to herself or those around her. (Perhaps if you have not seen the movie, I may not be able to prove these points well. It came across more in the delivery and the integration to the rest of the story and plot.)
I am going to contrast this with the game Prince of Persia: Prodigy which came out in 2008. In the opening sequence our light-hearted Prince has a chance encounter with a princess Elika who introduces him to the game’s story and becomes his travel and fighting companion. When they meet, she is being pursued by men who wish to overtake her. Instead of telling the Prince, “I don’t need you to fight my battles, get out of my way, leave me alone, go back to whatever it was you were doing” she warns him about becoming involved in her story because he could get himself killed. The men pursuing her will try to kill him. These are words motivated by compassion, not from a need to prove to him that she is capable of taking care of herself. She also doesn’t brag about how she can fight but just quietly goes behind his back and steps in and does so. No fanfare, no need to be acknowledged by him.
True, she doesn’t like being carried, (but what man would, either?) She almost faints when she uses her powers to save him the first time. Her skills are acrobatic, light, and healing-oriented. So she is still grounded in female archetypes, but she does not have an inferiority complex. She fights–especially in later gameplay, interacts, and converses as his equal.
This is what I would rather see more of. Elika inspires me far more than Sif does.
If you are unfamiliar with the game, here is the opening sequence.
(Note: There are two youtube videos embedded in this post. This is also the last of the pet peeve post week. You may all breathe a sigh of relief!)