I noticed something about my writing today. I have never in a script asked an artist to draw a woman as unattractive. Now, granted, I have never explicitly told an artist to draw a male character as unattractive as well. But if you look at all the comics I have had made there are unattractive men but their are not unattractive women.
This is can be traced down the heritage of comic artists. Modern artists being inspired by manga and superhero comics that were inspired by anime and Disney animation and so on back to a simplistic view of women’s roles. However, I can’t really really hide behind the excuse of “the artist did it” because I am aware of artists propensity to draw all women as attractive and all generic characters as men. If I am aware of the bias and don’t correct for it in my scripts then the fault is mine. After all I am paying for this, the artist has to do what I say.
To my recollection I have only once asked for an unattractive women (who was not a villain), a bit character by the name of Magnolia. This was back in my exiern days and I asked for and elderly, world weary, maid character. Even then I got something that looked like a young stripper wearing old woman makeup:
And yet I didn’t send the comic back saying “No, give her real wrinkles, a pot belly, and take out her 1000 cc breast implants”. I just said “meh, whatever” and when on with with the comic. I have often sent back comics when male character designs were even slightly flawed from my original vision. So why did I buckle when it came to Magnolia’s design.
Well, honestly, I like looking a pretty women. I didn’t send it back in the same way a child is distracted from a tantrum by jingling keys. I knew something was wrong but I just could not work up the emotional energy to to do anything about it because “Hey look! Boobs!”
So is this a problem? Is having no ugly women in media in general and in my writing in specific a problem? I would have to answer it that question “yes”. The reason this is a problem is simpler than some large cultural context. The answer is yes because it’s bad writing. Let me explain;
Good writing, in my opinion, is writing that makes a character feel like a real person with a history and wants and need of their own. When you do this it leads to richer interactions in the story and the character developing a voice in your head telling you what they want to do. But if you write all your female character as 20 something sex pots you have no richness and no unique voice to your characters. The more similar your character are the less interesting the story.
Also having characters that all look the same breaks the illusion of the fictional world. If women all look like they were built at a factory then it gives the world itself a factory sort of look to it. It breaks suspension of disbelief for those in your audience who are not distracted by the jingling keys of “hey look! Boobs!”
Ugly=Evil, Pretty=Good is also a horrible writing technique for the simple reason that if you telegraph your story like that there is no suspense to your story. Everyone’s allegiances are on their face for all to see. Sure it works for children because children are dumb when it comes to stories but after the age of 5 it ruins things for your reader.
The Good/Evil = Pretty/Ugly ratio also cheats you out of constructing a proper motivation for your characters. It instead leaves you with cardboard cutouts in the place of real people. If the answer to “why are they evil” is “because they are ugly” then you have not done the work for a proper story.
My writing Marigold was a joy for me when I was thinking of her as an surly old woman who was kind of an idiot but had a good heart. She was complex for just a bit character and I could think of a 1000 ways I could use her in the future and things that she wanted to do. When she came out stripperfied she lost a level of that complexity and went back to being just a bit character.
See the problem is not with making sexy women characters, the problem is not even with making the stereotypical sexy female victim character. The problem is with making them all sexy women. I, for example, could have made some of the monks women. I could have made some of the old monks women. That simple action would have added depth to the characters and realness to the world. But I didn’t because I was constantly thinking “I can’t put a woman in here, the boobs will distract from the character role” on a subconscious level at least.
Honestly I don’t know why I wrote this today. This is not something you need to hear and, in a sense, portrays me in a bad light. I guess its been something that has been bothering me but I have not been able to figure out what the problem was. It’s been this itch I could not scratch for a while now. I knew that sex was not wrong. I knew that having a sexy female character was not wrong. But I did know there was something wrong with my writing. It was not till I took a step back and said “Wait, this world is populated ONLY by men and a few sexy women” that I realize what the problem wa. It was something I wanted to share even if I get beaten up over it.