While 2016 was a great year for me on a personal level, it’s been a horrible year world- and society-wide. When times have been bad, frightening, or all-out facepalm-inducing, I’ve found myself turning even more frequently to good stories about fighting baddies and resisting evil. Now it’s 2017, and we’re in a period of history where we need those good stories, and good representation of marginalised characters in stories, more than ever. Stories have immense power, and good representation in fiction can go a very long way to combating lazy stereotyping in the tabloids and demonisation in political rhetoric (and vice versa).
I’ve spent a lot of the Christmas period thinking about these good characters, good stories and good reps, and this led me to make up a silly-fun-but-also-pretty-serious award, which I’m calling the Granny Weatherwax Award for Awesomely Written Women (or GWAAWW for short. And yes, that is pronounced like an angry dinosaur charging). The criteria for this award are as follows:
- The woman can be a strong female character – as in strongly-written, strongly-characterised, with a strong and memorable impact on the reader. She must, however, not be a Strong Female Character.
- She can be good, or right, or kind, or a combination of all three – but she must not be “nice”. (For a bit of background on Granny Weatherwax and “niceness”, read The Sea and Little Fishes)
- She can be a character you might like if you hung around with her, but she should not be “likeable“. Instead, she should be interesting, compelling, and engaging.
- She can be from any example of fiction – novels, comics, TV, film, podcasts, anything.
The winner of this inaugural GWAAWW is probably very predictable if you know what I’ve been binge-watching lately, and I am proud to announce that the award goes to (insert drumroll here):
Carol from the TV version of The Walking Dead.
(spoilers below, for anyone who started watching this show even later than I did)
Carol starts out as a frightened, abused woman who is barely visible in her terrible husband’s shadow, but she has the greatest development of any character in the show, becoming one of the most competent, decisive, and downright badass figures in TWD’s dystopian world. She’s a woman who can fight, at one point single-handedly rescuing the group from a townful of cannibals, but she defies the Strong Female Character stereotype in so many ways – by carrying on caring, by using her femininity as a weapon, and even by choosing not to fight. Carol also defies “niceness” and “likeability” – she suffers fools not at all, and greets any threat to her group with steel, both metaphorically and literally. (And I would still happily hang out with her, talk tactics and eat cookies). It’s also wonderful to have a story where a grey-haired, middle-aged woman has such a significant role, and is treated with such respect by the people around her – shamefully, this isn’t something that happens often.
Carol was one of the factors that made me carry on watching The Walking Dead, which, let’s admit it, started out with some truly dreadful representations of women (it’s got a lot better, both with Carol’s development and the arrival of characters such as Sasha, Tara and Michonne). She shows that women can be spiky, angry, deadpan, can make the tough decisions and occasionally the wrong decisions, and don’t have to be soft, sweet and nice to deserve attention and respect. Most importantly, she shows that women aren’t there to complement the men around them, but are significant in their own right. I can’t wait to see how her current storyline develops – and if the world goes to hell in 2017, the first thing I’m going to ask myself is ‘What Would Carol Do?’