The producers of the TV show Doctor Who recently revealed that the next incarnation of The Doctor would be female. This led some to make comments such as ‘about time,’ as if this is some great leap forward in the feminist cause, the next step in equality for women. Some are suggesting that the next James Bond movie should also star a female in the title role – Jane Bond – and for the same reasons. Call me a bad feminist, but I don’t see this as necessarily good for gender equality.
Other movie franchises have recently been rebooted with female characters in the lead – Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight both take an old format in a new direction by using a predominantly female cast. However, they don’t take male characters and make them female. From a writer’s point of view, I can see the allure of writing a character in a completely new way, from a completely different perspective or perhaps trying to find the old character within that new context. However, it can’t be ignored that often a character and their behaviour is governed by their gender. In the case of James Bond, his being a slightly misogynistic lothario is part of his charm. And take the character Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise. The line ‘get away from her you bitch’ is so much more powerful having a female protagonist take on a female alien menacing a small girl. The fight is not just human vs alien but taps into deep primal maternal instincts.
Agatha Christie’s characters Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple are both excellent sleuths, Poirot using psychology and ‘the little grey cells’ and Miss Marple using her experience of human nature as observed in the tiny village of St Mary Mead to solve crimes. One could argue that Poirot, as a character and detective could work equally well if portrayed by a female. There is nothing about the character that makes it essential that it be male. However, Miss Marple only works as a female character. An innocuous old person, quietly observing, gleaning information from parlour maids and butcher’s boys and being let into secrets and gossip, would never work if portrayed by a male. Her insights are gathered from the female world, from the female perspective, even from female intuition. And here lies the answer to equality. Creating female characters that work only as female characters.
There would surely be outrage if Ellen Ripley from the Alien movie franchise became Alan Ripley, if Mary Poppins became Martin Poppins, if Dane Prince were Wonder Man and Nathan Romanov became the Black Widower, but changing male characters to female seems to be acceptable, and all in the cause of gender equality.
George Miller could easily have made a Mad Maxine movie in Fury Road but didn’t. He kept his male lead and added a female, Furiosa, who was easily his equal and could only have worked as a female character. And surely that’s the key to gender equality. It’s not just about taking male characters and roles and making them female, but creating female characters that can only work as female and are every bit as engaging and interesting as their male counterparts.