How Rita Wulf came to be: A strong female character?
As an aspiring writer (and a feminist) the issue of how to write a strong female character is something I have thought about multiple times. My go-to female character for my stories is Rita Wulf, a character I created in a time of deep personal need, so be warned that this post will cover personal issues as well as the topic at hand.
I will admit this is a very “Holy bandwagon, Batman!” topic. Female portrayal in popular culture, perhaps focusing especially on videogames and gamer culture lately, is a hot topic right now, and while I considered dropping the subject because of that, I ultimately decided to go ahead anyway, so call me populist if you wish.
I will probably not cover the topic any better than anyone before me, and since I am a man and not a woman, I’m not sure how much worth my insights actually have, but as usual this blog is for braindumps. I will also not use any images for this post since holding up a titillating picture and going “that’s how you don’t do it” still smacks of pandering, though I do understand those who do it. I could try to actively search out images I deem respectable, but unless I feel they directly relate to what I wrote, I’ll skip that too.
I will not claim to have any special insight into this issue, but I will share my experiences, and maybe someone will find them helpful or at least a decent read. Nor can I claim that I know what women go through when worrying about rape and violence in everyday life. I have never been raped. I have felt violence, and even had several years as a kid where I felt terror at the thought of leaving my house because of who I might run into, but since I don’t have to really deal with that any longer, I don’t see how it can compare.
I feel largely safe walking alone, even in big cities, so long as it’s not too late at night. I have the white man’s privilege. I recognise that. I’ve used it. Even abused it, probably. I know what it’s like to feel vulnerable and helpless (to a degree), so perhaps I appreciate it more than most? I don’t know, I won’t claim to speak for anyone else.
I have at times hated myself. Wanted to be someone else. Anyone else. And so Rita came to be. My opposite. My other half, if you will. Confident, strong, outgoing, always in charge, and female. I poured a lot of myself into her, made her into my reflection, my ideal, what I hoped I could be. She started out male, but changed herself into female, which is probably a metaphor for my own desires at the time. She has since grown, and so have I, though I still feel like she’s a part of me. The other side of the coin.
I got into a roleplaying community where I could lose myself in the illusion of being her. I acted, I acted out, I reacted, I imagined. Slowly but surely she became more solid. I gave her a big family, something I myself have, but made her the leader of that family, something I don’t really aspire to myself. I injected the notion that for all her physical toughness and apparent sanity, she might be broken underneath it all. Not a ruin, but not put together quite right. A little skewed. Something I’ve often felt about myself as well. We function, but there’s this thought that maybe we don’t see the world as most people do. Though while I suspect it, Rita does not, it’s only the people around her that are left wondering.
Whether or not I have succeeded in making a strong, female character I am not sure. I have just tried my best to keep her consistent, write her as a person with her own motivations and moral compass, but still tried to keep her feminine, as best as I understand the concept. She is not above playing on her sexuality or femininity to get her way, but I like to think that’s not her main focus.
In the end I’m just a guy who sometimes tries to think like a woman. Probably not a recipe for success, but there you are. I tend to say that my personality feels like a 50-50 split between male and female, and I wouldn’t mind inhabiting either body, but ultimately I feel like that’s more of a hindrance to interaction than a help, since it just means I don’t really understand men or women.
I’m not really sure I have a conclusion to this, so I’ll end with a message to the guys. Don’t be so afraid of women. Just treat them like people and you’ll probably find they’re not as different as you think. Recognise that you have a certain unspoken privilege (especially if you’re also white), but don’t worry so much about it. It doesn’t automatically make you a bad person, and it’s not that hard being a good person. Just treat people like people. Treat them like you want them to treat you, and remember: Life is not a game. You can’t reload, and you often won’t get a retry. There is no walkthrough. We just have to help eachother through it.
Okay, I’m signing off there, since I don’t want to be too preachy.
~John Erik aka Rita aka Wulf