I was working with a film crew today, and after the day’s shooting, we were hanging out to eat. The conversation turned to gender discrimination in Hollywood and the barriers against female leads, and the reaction to recent examples of strong female leads. I put forward my continued struggle to identify what constitutes, or should constitute, a strong female character, and my dissatisfaction with the current model, which is to cast a female to play a character who is essentially written like a strong man.
I tried to point out that she is really just a woman who is out-of-touch with her feelings, just like a man.
No, he countered, and he described the scene in which The Bride and Vernita Green agree to hide their fight from the daughter.
I didn’t have an answer, and the conversation strayed from there, but I’ve been thinking about it since.
First of all, was that an emotion? Not really. It was an action. A sympathetic, ethical choice. Strong male characters do that all the time, even the ones who are out of touch with their feelings.
I thought about all the points throughout the film in which she expresses emotion and the audience is allowed to see her weakness. There is plenty of it, actually. She breaks down in the coffin after being buried alive. There is the flashback to her training, in which she is broken down by her teacher. There is her affection for the girl she learns is her child, and before that her motherly instinct toward her unborn child. Not to mention her conflicted feelings toward Bill.
On the other hand, she lives a life that requires her to suppress and internalize her feelings. We see that she is about to marry a man who knows nothing about her, not what she does, or even her real name. Would a woman really make such a sacrifice to her feelings? Hmm. Maybe, if she was forced to. She has no support structure of friends, no one with whom to discuss her feelings. Would a woman really create and maintain a life for herself like that? Again, perhaps so, if it was somehow necessary. So if we can accept that her past lead her to this awful situation, which it did, then we can accept these as reasonable choices. However, she must suffer terribly for it, even more than a man would.
Overall, I guess it works. We see her experiencing emotions and reacting to obstacles the way a woman would. Yes, there are a few loose ends, but these aren’t necessarily wrong; they are merely unexplained. We can’t explain everything in a film, even a four hour, two part film. We wouldn’t explain everything about a male character. So yes, Beatrix Kiddo is fairly good example of a strong female character.