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Friday, June 17, 2011

Personality Is Personality: Making Gender "Irrelevant" In Characterisation

Bang2write's fab intern, the mighty Eleanor Ball has decided to tackle a BIG subject for her first official blog post - and why not? Please direct any questions, comments, etc to her here in the relevant section or over at Bang2writers. Enjoy!

My script is about a group of girlies. People keep asking me if that would eliminate the male half of the audience. No, damnit!

It's an interesting challenge, trying to make a sitcom with mainly female characters appeal to all chromosomes, but it's a shame I took it for granted that it would indeed BE a challenge. It shouldn't be a challenge.

Both men and women watched The IT Crowd and Black Books, two sitcoms with predominantly male characters. And if basement-bound geek Roy or glowering book-seller Bernard had been female (I think Jessica Hynes could've played them both magnificently), surely the audience would've remained roughly the same. Unless we're just talking about fancying Dylan Moran.

So what's the challenge? Is it simply trying to make both genders feel represented? But I feel represented by plenty of characters, regardless of what gender they are. I actually feel more represented by male characters in TV and film, because often female characters are led by a mysterious personality trait known only as "Woman".

Besides, an all-female group in TV is pretty similar to an all-male group. Personality is personality. Take Sex and the City (all female) and Mad Dogs (all male). Sensible one, slutty one, innocent one, aggressive one...

It's the same in Desperate Housewives, another famous all-female group. Creator Marc Cherry once said the show is supposed to represent stereotypical women from old soap operas, but even that is outweighed by the fun drama of the show. I was talking to a classmate yesterday -- an action movie obsessed cagefighter who drinks those high protein meal replacement thingies -- and he shiftily mentioned that he loves Desperate Housewives. Men watch Desperate Housewives, I'm pretty sure everyone knows that. Desperate Housewives is not about women's issues, it's about revenge and lies and friendship and family and peer pressure and mob culture and unbridled entertainment so undiluted that you might as well inject it.

See, fun for all the family. Boys and girls alike. Being female isn't a "hook" or a "twist", and it's not "PC" to have female characters. Groups of female characters are just as likely and default as groups of male characters. I'd love to see a coincidentally all-female group of characters somewhere. But if that happened, they'd be marketed as "female con artists" or "female pirates" or "female Christian abseilers", as if 51% of the world's population is a minority.

So I'm going to get back to the challennnnnnnge of writing an all-female group of characters for a mixed-gender audience, by making it completely irrelevant that they're female.
Eleanor is on the MA Scriptwriting degree at Goldsmith's, specialising in comedy drama. Join her on Facebook here and read her own blog, here.


Unknown said...

I think it was Lindy West, looking at the publicity for Bridesmaids, who got depressed with boasts from the producers and journalists that the writers and performers were "smart and funny" because when the f*ck did you ever hear anyone say that about male comedy writers and performers? If they're not smart and funny WHY THE HELL ARE THEY MAKING A COMEDY? Didn't it used to be a GIVEN?

And no doubt some beard stroking asshole will come out with "but can women be funny?" and I'll have to be physically restrained.

Because they seem not to have noticed any of the following;

Joyce Grenfell
Fanny Brice
Birds of a feather (written by men, but performed by and about women)
Tina Fey
Half the Carry on team
Lucille Ball
Gracie Allen
Diane Keaton
Bette Middler
Victoria Wood

... and on and on.

Lucy V said...

Amen to that, Pedro! ; )

I'm always perturbed by the amount of times I'm described as "funny", as in:

"Oh you're so funny (titter titter)", subtext being:

"BUT YOU'RE FEMALE, DARLING! We *both know* this can't really be true! Besides which, even if you were, there's a fine line between "being funny" and being OBNOXIOUS and as we all know, "funny women" *always* tip towards the "obnoxious" end of the scale, what with your ISSUES!!!"

A fella with issues, swearing, insulting his audience, etc etc though? BRING IT ON.

ElectroGirl said...

I totally agree - it also seems to be the case that female characters (mostly in films) are the love interest and therefore 'must' be the stereotypical stunning woman - it's perfectly normal for them to fall in love with pretty average looking male leads (who are hilarious and have great personalities) but you never get the 'hero' falling for a brilliantly witty, individual woman who doesn't also happen to look like they've stepped off the cover of Vogue. I hope that makes sense and didn't sound too ranty!

I do think things are on the up though. I was recently involved with the first all-female, comedy short commissioned by Film 4. So I think things are starting to balance out!

Ellie said...

Pete and Lucy -- well said! And, on the topic of funny women, female stand-up comedians are often expected to talk mainly about hubbies and babies and doing the dishes.

ElectroGirl -- I totally agree! The female love interests in films often end up being the proud owners of that aforementioned personality trait known only as "Woman". Some writers think it's satisfying to have a clever and lovable male protagonist fall for Woman just because she has a big smile or purdy hair.

I love the Muriel/David pairing in Muriel's Wedding. Gorgeous shallow athlete falls for awkward "ugly duckling" Muriel. Because he's really impressed by her. :)

Helenolderbutwiser said...

Thought this article was relevant to this discussion:

I have also heard that if women are assertive in business situations and talk like men they get characterised as ball-breakers... Can't win!

Sandy Nicholson said...

Exactly the right attitude. There's just no point in worrying about it. Write your characters and make them interesting and everything else will follow.

The thing is, even if men were the horrific creatures TV seems to insist they are, let's assume that your audience genuinely are high fiving shallow drecktoids...

Where did the idea come from that those people don't like watching women? Kindof seems like watching men would be the pointless thing.