June 18, 2015

Shadowcon Overviews- Buffy and the Strong Female Character, Part III

Is the “Strong Female Character” Inherently Bad?


“Starfleet captains don’t easily succumb to fear.”

-Captain Kathryn Janeway in “The Thaw”

The “strong female character” in principle is not a poor idea. The problem merely lies in how this is being handled in practice. Indeed, many people use the phrase “strong female character” to define many well-rounded, engaging, three-dimensional women characters, so it is not as if the phrase itself is in poor taste. Buffy has been labeled as this too, so to the public eye, this label is seen as endearing. I will admit that the label used in this way to address characters as complex as Buffy is problematic for me, because it means that the label is able to branch out and cover more superiorly written women characters than those presented above, and I think this threatens to clump them in with their poorly written sisters, and serves to make the poorly written women characters the mascots for the entire group. There are plenty of counterarguments to my claims made above, however, and my goal with this section is to address them to the best of my ability.

Arguments against my understanding of the “strong female character” up until now boil down to the following statement: Your argument and understanding of such a model precludes the very real idea that women do feel empowered by these women on television and film that you have criticized, that these characters are sometimes considered role models for women and that female audience members might find a woman punching a man in the face to be exciting and satisfying because that is something that most if not all women at one time or another have wanted to do. Maybe these “strong female characters” and their obviousness are needed to push against an equally obvious− and indeed far more developed− trend of having women there for male consumption. Other arguments assert that I am arguing a similar point to what self-proclaimed “equalists”­­­− a group I absolutely despise− say in the face of feminism, in that I am erasing woman empowerment by suggesting that writers focus on character first and gender second, as though representation should, according to some interpretations of my argument, be seen as something that we are past and do not need to address.  I will address these concerns after first analyzing some specific counterarguments with regards to the examples I have already discussed. Here, I will try to address criticism of my reading of Black Widow; I will also tackle the other women characters of Voyager, focusing on Janeway for the majority but also touching on Torres and Kes; and I will examine Peggy Carter under the lens of her own show.

My analysis of Black Widow has thus far obviously excluded her involvement in Captain America: The Winter SoldierThe Avengers: Age of Ultron; or any other films past Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe film franchise. Were I to include these films in analyzing Widow my analysis would likely be somewhat different in detail even if the same in conclusion. Winter Soldier has some decent development for this character giving her snappy dialogue and interactions with Steve Rogers, a personal dilemma at the tail end of the film, and generally creates a more fleshed out character. It is not nearly as complicated as other women characters on screen (not even amongst Marvel female characters), but Soldier does develop Widow further than how she was written in The AvengersUltron has her exhibit more emotion, giving us several hints of backstory, and a good romance with Bruce Banner. Ironically, some fans initially complained that this relationship actually detracted from Black Widow’s character, believing that a romance weakened her as a person. Some people were angry that her implied romance with Hawkeye was ruined, though I should mention that Hawkeye’s character was also put into a relationship with the surprise addition of his wife to the cast, and that was lauded as good character development... so y'know, what the hell. Personally, I found Widow and Bruce’s relationship to be a logical step forward for their characters; this gave the audience something other than just Widow’s body and physical strength to be interested in. In-universe, this does seem a bit out of left field; in the first film, Widow told Loki that “love is for children,” yet here, we see her being presented as having an active interest in pursuing a romantic relationship with another character. I find the romance to work for the same reasons I find Buffy’s display of physical strength to work in her show: while we first see Buffy as a human being and only after that is established do we see her Slayer strength at work, so, too, do we understand Black Widow as a warrior and a soldier first, with an established layer of physical strength, before seeing her as a romantic interest. It's an odd development to be sure, and not one that I would have seen coming, but it does work for me, and drawing criticism of it based on how it supposedly weakens Widow's character is rooted in a resistance to making women characters emotional, because God forbid they actually act like humans for a change.

However, I would still argue that she is not as powerful an example of a woman character who transcends the boundaries of the “strong female character” model as Buffy is. Many of her antics in Soldier and Ultron still reek of a need to point out how efficient and smart she is (lines like “I’m multitasking” and “I’m always picking up after you boys,” from either film respectively, highlight this need embarrassingly well), as though these traits are somehow special because she is a woman, or in Ultron’s case, as though she needs to actively point out that she is a woman by highlighting her teammates’ sexual identities, with the intent to make herself somehow more powerful or interesting. Which would be all well and good if it were not for the fact that this type of thing is so on-the-nose in these movies that you start to wonder if Widow's presence here is merely to e a token one-liner character. I think she is a good example of how to write a “strong female character” functionally well; she may be trapped in the box, if you will, but her character is making the most of it.

Discussing Seven of Nine of Voyager obviously raises several subconscious topics regarding her close ally and captain, Kathryn Janeway, as fans of the show gladly take both characters as representations of woman empowerment, and given that the two are the most developed female characters on the show, it does make sense to discuss them simultaneously. Does Janeway fall into the same “strong female character” box that Seven does? As a female captain, her catering to woman empowerment is obvious and admirable; she is the only captain of the four five Trek television shows to be female, and that in and of itself is a social victory, one which I will touch upon further below. Janeway is not reduced to being a prop for male audiences− her body is rarely presented as an object− and her being given the position of a science officer prior to being a captain places her in a male-dominated field even before taking command of her starship, so the audience is not presented with a woman who just transferred over to a male-dominated position who feels the need to prove herself; she is already well-acclimated to this gendered field, and is presented as someone who knows how to handle herself regarding that, and in contrast to Peggy Carter in First Avenger, Janeway’s experience in both her scientific field and captaincy are not displayed as being “against men” so much as being "pro woman", a common mistake made in writing many a "strong female character" make in their behavior. Indeed, just going by this, Janeway could be seen as another Carol Marcus-type science character− she's extremely smart, she has strong principles, which she sticks to, and she is never sexualized; by that, I mean that she is never put under the male gaze. The two characters even have smart romances tied to them: while Marcus is divorced from Kirk, this never overshadows her character or puts her in Kirk's shadow (however much Shatner's ego might insist otherwise); for Janeway, her romances are fleeting, and admittedly most are written very poorly, but her relationship with the antagonist Kashik in "Counterpoint" brought out a wonderful side to her character, one that was able to make her heart and emotions of love work in concert with her mind, which was mistrustful of this character yet also never set that against what she genuinely felt for him. (For more on that, and a good reading of women characters in the original Trek series, check out the podcast "Classic Trek Movies: The Undiscovered Women" by Women at Warp!)

That said, the way that Janeway's character was handled most of the time was indicative of how most of Voyager was written: the situations and debates that the crew had to deal with were surface-level at best or faux dilemmas at worst, and Janeway herself was almost never presented as being in the wrong, likely because the writers were afraid that any situation in which she was seen as weak would be taken by the audience as a strike against her gender (though admittedly this is conjecture; I’ve found little evidence to support my claim, but that is the impression I get when watching the show). Even the origins of the character are mired in wanting to appear progressive over wanting to write an engaging character. According to Rick Berman, executive producer on Voyager at the time, "the feeling was that... the best direction for us to go, in terms of trying new things, being socially responsible, which Star Trek has always been, was to go for a female captain." Kate Mulgrew herself attests to that, as she said the following in a 2011 interview on StarTrek.com:

"I think it was important.... I’ve always felt that Paramount was so very brave to do that because there was a lot of money on the line, and we could have really tanked. If men had chosen to turn me off altogether we could have tanked very quickly, and then they would have had to scramble and get a man to do the whole thing. But enough men said, 'Let’s give her a shot.' And that told me it was time, the right time, because that’s how you assess everything in a culture– if men can come along for the difficult part of the ride. And they did. They gave me a tough time for a season and a half, and then they said, 'She can do it.' But, definitely, it was time in the history of television and in the history of the world."

I would be negligent in my discussion of this section if I were to leave Mulgrew out of this. Much of the ire towards the character by fans has spilled over to the actress herself, and much like Johansson, Mulgrew deserves none of that; she seems to be a perfectly good person (I hear her upcoming memoir has some bite to it), and I am inclined to agree that, yes, it was time for a female captain to take center stage. The problem with this, however, is that having the character be female is all the writers were thinking about, and this type of trying to "[be] socially responsible" by the writers only hinders story and character possibilities, and actually aids in creating a problem related to gender, and it is one that Buffy thankfully avoids, as all of its characters, as mentioned previously, develop past their social objectives and obligations. And yes, Uhura of The Original Series remained largely undeveloped on that show as well, but the key difference there is that that was the 1960s, where symbolism was a key factor in the minds of the public. Indeed, The Original Series was more about symbolism and theme than it was about characters− one could apply my argument to Sulu and Chekov too, for example. (Man, I'm gonna have to bullet-proof the windows with the way I'm talking.) But that was the time; well-rounded characters were fairly rare in ‘60s television in general, not just TrekVoyager aired at a time when character development was taking center stage, and as I mentioned in my introduction, having a character specifically set up to be a representation for a social problem is fine, but leaving the character in that state throughout the show is not, and this is another area where Janeway is weak to me, seeing as how she was created at a time when representation and characterization were going hand-in-hand.

Character-wise, Janeway is someone who is firmly set in her beliefs and in her principles, but very seldom looks at the consequences of her actions that she believes uphold those principles, and this is a symptom of the poor writing on the show. Chuck Sonnenburg, an internet science fiction television and film critic (with a particular focus on Star Trek), brought up a good comparison between Janeway and Captain Sisko of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in his review of “The Omega Directive”, pointing out that Sisko was only the commander, and later the captain, of the station, and the point person during the Dominion War. He was not the black captain of the station− his most distinguishing feature for me, actually, has always been his badass goatee. Racial representation is its own separate topic and one that I will happily save for when I am properly sober and aware of what I'm talking about, but suffice it to say Sisko's race was acknowledged in-universe, but few scenes revolved around him being an African American figurehead, and fewer still had the script bend to his will just to satisfy that representation box. Sonnenburg put this to words very well, I think:

"Sisko was not written with 'black' as a character trait. It was a characteristic, that's different. It means that it informs his tastes, his views of history, but he didn't walk around with that label on him. Sisko is likewise a widower and a single parent, and those were never seen in how he operated as an officer either…. It's not that he ceased being black; it's that it only matters− just like being a widower, just like being a single parent− when it matters, and the rest of the time, he's just a person, no adjective in front."

I like this comparison a lot because it highlights the thought processes behind which the two shows operated: Deep Space Nine was built around engaging characters, world-building, and that multi-season-long arc that was all the buzz as something new in the mid- to late-‘90s, and had its representational material treated as a natural element of the show. Voyager was focused on being the new Star Trek show, so invested in Star Trek’s ideals that it rarely recognized how those ideals functioned within each episode of the previous series’; it also had the problem of not treating "woman" as a characteristic, instead treating it as a character trait.

Sisko’s character is the most human out of the five captains, and his crew gravitate to that, unafraid to take multiple sides of an issue and explore it− often with Sisko changing his view or even sometimes being presented as having the minority/”wrong” viewpoint− whereas with Janeway it was often the other way around, with her morals and principles being the only way forward for any given situation, so much so that the script twisted itself into knots several times throughout the show’s run in order to justify Janeway’s being correct. Her uncompromising character is contradictory with itself even regarding a single debatable point (not making an alliance with the Kazon versus making one with the Borg, for example); she plays both sides of the argument, but unlike Buffy, who regularly made mistakes and acknowledged and learned from them (or had the aid of her friends to help steer her back on track), this comes off less as clever and more so as demonstrative of the inconsistency of Janeway's character. The script will follow her lead even if the audience knows that, logically, hers is the wrong decision in the end and has her own past decisions to back that opinion up. All of this makes me very suspicious that the writers thought the audience would be scrutinizing Janeway because of her gender, and if that type of excuse is used both as a defense of a character and as a platform from which she operates, then the writers have unwittingly created a dull character that is not only poorly written, but also manages to draw more attention to her gender than if they had simply decided to focus on her character first and gender second. To quote Sonnenburg from the end of his aforementioned review:

"The writers seemed unable to divorce [being a woman as a character trait] from Janeway, so her personality became ill-defined. Because when your character traits include something that applies to 3.5 billion people, and a range from a submissive who will literally let men crap on her, to the leader of the most economically powerful nation in Europe, then that seems like you’ve put down something more useless than her astrological sign."

This is in contrast to how other female characters in the various Star Trek shows were written, actually, and how they were thought of amongst the cast and crew (rarely was anyone so critical of their show as Robert Beltran was of Voyager, in fact). In the March, 1987 issue of the magazine Starlog, noted for its feminist and historic slant on Star Trek, Grace Lee Whitney, who played Lieutenant Rand, said of women in Trek:

"Women were given great roles on Star Trek. I mean, you couldn’t have gotten a more dramatic, more meaty role than the one Jeanne Bal had in ‘Man Trap.’ Kim Darby’s part in ‘Miri’ was about a real issue, about the fear women have about aging and how men look at them. And look at Joan Collins’ role in 'City on the Edge of Forever,’ which is one of my favourite episodes. Some of the parts that women had were wonderful, highly dramatic, very colorful and interesting. I didn’t feel they were slighted at all."

This came out a good eight years prior to Voyager, and indeed highlights just how far that show had veered from Star Trek’s original intent and meaning, having so embraced the original concepts’ ideals and morals that Voyager took those as impregnable dogma. The points that Whitney brings up about how women’s roles were used to discuss real female and feminine issues is also in direct contrast to what Seven of Nine’s character was for on her show− rarely were real issues brought up with her character, and when they were, they were presented in only the most basic of ways, lacking intersection or even any particular angle. And Janeway’s character was seldom seen as a human being and instead solely a role model for women. The original Trek series displayed its own sexist views too the uniforms for the women on that show are proof of that− but I find it odd how Voyager, again airing roughly thirty years after The Original Series, continued to trap its breakout character, Seven of Nine, in a male gaze; and its captain, Janeway, in a role that, while explored and struggled with by previous captains, she took up with a confidence bordering on arrogance. And it could be argued that that arrogance was needed in order for the audience to take a woman captain seriously… but I doubt many gender studies classes would be quick to embrace that idea.

The characters on Voyager who were presented as people far better than Janeway or Seven to me were B’Elanna Torres and, of all people, Kes. Torres is a half-Klingon, half-human character, and this actually led to some decent storytelling. Not great, by any means, and as many if not more complaints are lauded against her as Seven and Janeway (specifically regarding her only having so many plots surrounding her character− she's the engineer, so a good chunk of her stories are going to be about that as much as they are going to be about her character as a person). I would argue, though, that her character at least roots these trite storylines in with her character. She was seen first as a character who struggled with her mixed race heritage and an internal conflict, and was later married to Tom Paris, the relationship of which grew naturally and developed both characters reasonably well. While she could be seen as a stand-in for Worf from Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (one character-focussed episode for her, "Barge of the Dead", was actually meant for Worf), her character to me is actually better than Worf’s, for two important reasons. First, Torres has the interesting conflict of not only being mixed race, but of also being a dropout from Starfleet, being an engineer, and having an interesting relationship with both her mother in the afterlife and with her husband, Tom Paris (which, let's face it, was a million times better than the awful one between Worf and Jadzia). Second, she is female, and while my argument may appear to butt heads with this mere fact, Torres manages to steer clear of becoming “strong” because her anger and her rage are rooted in her character’s development− she is not just angry for the sake of it; she is angry because of her heritage, because of her feeling like an outsider, and because of her washed up career. These points don't get touched upon very often, but there's just enough material here for me to be okay with it.

Kes, meanwhile, is a member of the Ocampa, a species content to live out there lives in isolation and in a state of inactivity. Kes, in contrast, was presented as curious, observant about the world, and eager to explore new things. Her relationship with Neelix, while certainly odd, demonstrated too a sense of compassion for others that did not diminish Kes as a person. Indeed, this is one of her strengths, and certainly while the writers often diminished this so as to play around with her psychic abilities much like Torres and her technobabble, she also got a few chances to shine through; we got to see how those psychic abilities were affecting her as a person who didn't necessarily know how to control those powers, and on the flip side of that we got to see her grow into a more confident and solid individual. And while her character did rely on the male members of the ship more oft than not (Tuvok was her guide in exercising her mental abilities, Neelix her overbearing and controlling boyfriend, the Doctor her teacher in medicine), those relationships were rarely taken by the audience as a sign that she was submissive, or that her being a student of these more capable people was in some way related to her gender, and in turn helped make that spunk, drive to explore, and her curiosity all the more powerful.

And again, the writers managed to pack emotion into this− from a frustrated Torres struggling to figure out who she is and where she belongs, to a sad and worried Torres regarding her baby, Tom being in mortal danger, and so forth; from a charming and warm Kes who approaches situations with optimism (and indeed perhaps a bit of naïveté), to one of spiteful anger at the thought of being caged, or a Kes who demonstrates solid determination not to become a slave to the Caretaker (or any other powerful force that wishes to subdue her)− all without making either character sacrifice much of her own identity in the face of trying to be a symbol for something.

In contrast to Janeway and especially to Seven of Nine, Torres seems like a model more in tune with how the writers tried to write women characters on that show− she has that symbolism with regards to her character, but her being defined by that is balanced out by her being able to explore that in a human (and Klingon) way. Kes too demonstrates strength, but she sees fit to anchor that in emotional warmth, an active mind, and a sense of curiosity and compassion for others. Her thirst for exploration and knowledge drives her, certainly, and this is never diminished by putting a gender label on it. Much like Janeway's love and appreciation for science, Kes was not built around being a "non male" in this area of interest, but just a curious young woman who wanted to learn, and indeed was giddy at the prospect of doing so surrounded by the crew of Voyager. Unfortunately, both characters were also relegated to the background for most of the show’s run (Kes left in Season Four). As Beltran said, the writers put much of the focus on Janeway and Seven, and did very little with the rest of the cast. The writers leaned heavily on not wanting to appear sexist… and they wound up putting their breakout character in a cat suit.

A final point (I know this seems like a Janeway-bashing session, but I do want to try to nail what I want to say here, so bear with me): Women at Warp had a segment in their first podcast episode, "Favorite Female Characters", that discussed Captain Janeway, bringing up several points that I agree with− saying how she was an inspiration to young women, how she was the first female captain, et cetera. But one point that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was this:

"I was on a panel at DragonCon this year, and somebody made the comment that they didn't like Janeway because she never really broke down. And I said 'wait a minute. Time out. I understand what you're saying as an overall thing, but remember that this is like the mid- to late-'90s, this is the first woman captain. If she broke down when her ship got lost in the Delta Quadrant or when they encountered the Borg, you're immediately gonna lose all your viewers'.... [The writers] literally could not do that at the time because it would be too big a risk."

My response to this should be obvious. I don't think that would have happened. At all. Buffy had plenty of breakdowns. She had a breakdown in Season One! To relate this back to Trek, Major Kira had plenty of breakdowns; Saavik in Star Trek II was able to come across as strong-willed and intelligent, and we also saw her in crying silently during Spock's funeral... and she was a Vulcan; to lampshade my own reading of it, Seven of Nine had a few emotional breakdowns in the show ("Dark Frontier" and "The Raven", for example). That's why I liked episodes like "Night" and "Counterpoint", because they pushed Janeway's character a little bit in that emotional direction. Making your lead woman emotional and have emotional breakdowns at this time was not something that was seen as disempowering. Interesting, to be sure− and the crew of Warp does go on to say that Voyager's main demographic probably would have left− but character-wise and even and especially social-wise, it is of paramount importance to show your characters as flawed people, and that does mean making them vulnerable at times. Otherwise, they come across as flat. Having said all of this, I will admit that this is a case of Janeway being a weak character, but is certainly nothing more than that; the closest she comes to crossing into the “strong female character” box is when she is in a combat situation, and even then her actions are rarely presented as “male” or “masculine". But even so, this highlights the problem that the "strong female character" buys into wholesale, of crafting characters around characteristics and nothing more.

Aliens manages to pick up its lackluster origins for its lead by challenging the social understanding of equating motherhood to weakness quite well. Ripley’s care over Newt in Aliens is palpable and adds dimension to the otherwise “strong female character” formula with which she is infused. Feminist and author Susan Faludi notes that “[the] tough-talking space engineer who saves an orphan child in Aliens is sympathetically portrayed, but her willfulness, too, is maternal; she is protecting the child - who calls her 'Mommy' - from female monsters.” While this does make Ripley more relatable, her use as an example of Inness’ “Tough Woman” standard is still in play: “Ripley displays little fear even when confronted by alien monsters that would like nothing better than to have her for breakfast… Along with showing little fear, the Tough Woman must appear competent and in control.” Even Ripley, it seems, cannot escape the trend of facing impending death with a shrug of her shoulder and a roll of her eyes before expertly handling herself and her situation.

If there was any doubt that Marvel is incapable of writing
well-written women characters, Carter has squashed it!
Peggy Carter presents me with a scenario where a “strong female character” evolves past that label despite being firmly entrenched in that camp for her introductory film. Her original role of “strong female character”/love interest to Steve Rogers as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger is quickly built upon and developed in her own series Agent Carter, the first season of which aired in 2015 on ABC, resulting in a fully three-dimensional character. Observe this excerpt from a January 2015 article on Tom and Lorenzo: Fabulous and Opinionated:

"You could argue that Peggy’s cross to bear is Steve’s death, but we’d argue right back that she’s mourning him in a more or less normal, human way and her grief seems to be following a healthy evolution. No vows to dress like a flying rat over his grave or anything…. No, her cross is even more basic than that. In order to protect her mission from her co-workers, Peggy has to become the bumbling, ineffective Clark Kent/Peter Parker type, hiding her victories and strength from the very people she so desperately wants to notice them. And because this show is using the patriarchal and chauvinistic attitudes of the day as a backdrop for this story, Peggy’s sacrifice becomes all that much more poignant. She has to pretend to be dumber than she is and take no credit for her work in front of a group of men who already think it’s an insult that she be allowed to work alongside them at all. Peggy Carter’s kryptonite IS the patriarchy."

This quote captures to me why Agent Carter works whereas The Avengers does not with respect to developing their female characters. Because of the time in which the show is set, Carter is able to get away with more obvious displays of female empowerment; this is not to say that women behaving violently is not warranted today, but merely that such overt displays of violence that pervade Carter are recognized as being symptoms of late ‘40s America; the time in which the show is set helps excuse what excess “strong female character” habits Peggy may display. Furthermore, Carter rarely shows that violence outright. As with Buffy, much of the strengths of the show come from the moments where Peggy does not display violence but instead shows intellect and emotion, and seeing her navigate the male-dominated workplace with dialogue instead of fists means that the action scenes can punctuate the story and make her emotions that much bolder.

With the development of Peggy’s character on her own show, we can definitely see that the “strong female character” can and sometimes is in fact used as a base from which to launch− Buffy does this exceptionally well− instead of a default state, certainly. But I think a more important point that the show makes is that it takes the “strong female character” in interesting new directions without wholeheartedly abandoning the label, unlike Buffy which had its characters veer far from it. This is similar to what Black Widow has been doing in Phase Two of the Marvel films, but I think this show succeeds far better because Carter’s dilemma and situation are more engaging and compelling, and because of the condensed nature of the series, the character is both able to be anchored to the "strong female character" model (not having time to abandon it), while also putting that label through a press of three-dimensionality and character development in a great way. If ever there were an appropriate use of the "strong female character", this would be it.

Coming back to the two counterarguments to my topic, I certainly cannot and would not presume to argue against what a person finds empowering or not, but I think to hold up one-note characters whose mission statement is to be the woman of the cast is to sell audiences short. The idea that these characters who are specifically designed to fulfill that empowerment role and do nothing else besides that is what I find problematic. Labels deemed progressive do not automatically make the characters that display them in the right or even well-written, after all. An all-female team of superheroes is all well and good provided that the stories and the characters themselves are interesting. (For the record, A-Force, the all-female superhero team alluded to here, was received well by critics. Tony Guerrero of Comicvine.com even addressed the argument that having an all-female team is itself a gimmick, stating that, “it all simply works here…. There’s just a wonderful vibe going on.” And yeah, the story's pretty awesome!)

As for the second argument, I have already addressed how the “strong female character” still caters to the male gaze, but in terms of doing something for the women’s movement and making women more representative in film and television despite that, then I will concede that, yes, this has, if nothing else, made women more ubiquitous in roles normally held by men, and has demonstrated that women can do more than what male writers thought of when they were writing traditional female characters. This has been lauded as something great and important by the various feminist/gender studies/film studies groups out there, and it is; as Jane Espenson said, "if we can't write diversity into sci-fi, then what's the point? You don't create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones." But doing something without a clear goal of what that something is means that the "strong female character" flounders for direction, and we see that it is in fact lending itself to the practices of those old limits that Espenson mentioned. My point with all of this is that I feel that we can do more, and I feel that we have done more in the past. If this admittedly long (and I have no doubt controversial) section has not alienated you in coming back, then stick around, because next week I begin my look at how Buffy the Vampire Slayer avoids or solves many of my problems with the "strong female character" stereotype.

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