January 13, 2017

Taylor Carre-Riddell

The ‘Strong Female Lead’ has now become a genre in its own right. And it should be. It’s about time we enjoy the joys and spoils of writing, directing, and portraying female protagonists. The genre comprises of any film or TV show that has at least one or more female protagonists who are given significant screen time and character metamorphosis.

While this may sound like an obvious definition, it’s taken us a hell of a long time to get here. But now, we need to take it further.

We, as the public, can show an interest and need to see the ever-growing expansion and movement of the genre. While it’s very progressive, it’s clear we still have a lot of work to do in helping our film makers and writers produce content that show men and women as unique yet complementing who are completely equal. One way to see whether a film does this is to see whether or not it passes the Bechdel Test. You should be able to place any male in a female protagonist’s role as it stands, and the physical and interpersonal social expectations of the character should stay the same.

Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. This is because there are still a few critical flaws in the Strong Female Lead genre that are yet to be remedied on a macro scale. To help you notice these flaws, we’ve put together a list of them.

Most female protagonists are still expected to entertain a love interest, even if it’s not successful

However, it’s perfectly acceptable for a male protagonist in ‘all-action’ movies to glide through the film as the ‘sole survivor’. They often have no purposeful love interest, usually just a woman who is there for a heated hook up. It’s very hard to find this situation in reverse. It’s even harder to find a female protagonist with no leading or minor supporting male character, who doesn’t influence her decision-making or autonomy in some way.

If women are considered ‘undesirable’ by conventional social standards, then their character is usually considered the villain or the butt of every joke

We only love ‘undesirable’ female characters if they somehow serve us. Whether that be by making us laugh, or by being a turning point in the plot. If she is an undesirable protagonist, she must be altered in some way before we can start rooting for her without having any inhibitions.

Compared to their male counterparts, female protagonists only ever seem to face a very small array of personal challenges while defeating the ‘greater bad’

It seem there is only a small range of ‘perfect’ problems that female characters can deal with, for example, losing somebody, a break up, or moving away from home. Unless it plays into the theme of the film, other problems to do with the female body or mind are deemed ‘unaesthetically pleasing’ and are never mentioned or seen on screen. Perhaps this is why cancer is so often used in creative avenues. It’s a terrifying disease (that deserves all the attention it gets), but at the same time, most of the physical appearances we expect of both genders do stay intact. Female protagonists must also be exceptional in their field in order to be deemed a leader.

Cases of micro aggression are becoming more prominent in movies

It often appears in action or slapstick comedies, often in the form of subtle one liners or other sly pop-culture references. Micro aggression is commonplace behaviour which intentionally or unintentionally aims to insult a minority group. It often occurs in films when a character attempts to belittle, reassure, or talk sense into a feminist character. This can also include something as sneaky as a woman telling a man she is not like other girls.

So, in light of these realities, we’ve put together a list of TV shows and films which aim to address, reconcile, and provide solutions for the above areas that need improvement.

The Wild Thornberrys (G)












You might remember this one from your younger years. The action-adventure cartoon proves that women don’t need love interests, with protagonist Eliza, and sister Debbie, focusing on boys as no more than another curiosity in the wider ambitions they hold for themselves.

Doctor Who (PG)










Not only does the sci-fi have an array of aliens and beings of both genders, it has many female villains who are slimy and spiky not just for the sake of being the villain or the butt of a joke. While the majority of the Doctor’s sidekicks are women, they usually play just as big of a role in saving the day as does the male protagonist.

Game of Thrones (R18+)









You’ve probably heard of (and seen) this one before. It’s got a large cast of actors, a lot of which are women. Not only this, but a lot of the women play powerful and significant characters, including Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister.

The 100 (MA15+)









This post-apocalyptic sci-fi teen TV drama features strong female leads and other female characters in typically ‘male’ roles, such as mechanics. The show does a really great job at treating both men and women as equally valuable assets.


– Taylor Carre-Riddell

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