By Dina Zipkin

Dina Zipkin is currently a graduate student in the field of Public Health at Hunter College.  She is in the Community Health Education track and feels passionately about health education. She is also working with four other Public Health students in creating a documentary focused on the SPARK Summit and young female activists.

The invisibility of strong female characters in the media has been something with which many females have had to struggle.  People turn to television programs and films for reassurance that they are not alone.  They seek characters with which they can identify.  Seeing strong female characters can reinforce a girl’s feeling of self-worth, making invisibility quite damaging.  

Over the past couple of decades there has been an increase in strong females on television; I would no longer classify it as invisibility, but rather as underrepresentation.  If someone were to ask me to list some strong female characters, I would respond with: Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Max Guevera (Dark Angel), Xena (Xena: Warrior Princess), Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars), Lucy Ricardo (I Love Lucy), and Sydney Bristow (Alias). While you might think, “Wow, that’s a great list of characters,” I say just the fact that I can list the characters is a problem. If someone were to ask me to list strong male characters I would not know where to begin.  This would be an overwhelming task because there are so many from which to choose.

In 2006 Joss Whedon (the creator and writer of the television programs Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, as well a writer for the films Serenity and Toy Story) was honored at an Equality Now benefit.  In his speech he told the audience that he has been asked hundreds of times by interviewers “Why do you always write these strong women characters?” He discussed his many responses to this question, but it’s his final response that I would like to bring to light.  He responded, “Why are you even asking me this?… How is it even possible that this is even a question?….Why aren’t you asking a hundred other guys why they don’t write strong women characters?… [I’m still writing these strong women characters] because you are still asking me that question.”

People ask this question because it’s something unique and something out of the norm in the entertainment industry. Most men are not creating strong female characters.  Until we get to a point when people no longer feel the need to point out specific strong female characters, we will not have equality. When there comes a time when strong female characters are the norm, the same way in which strong male characters are the norm, then we will be on the path to equality in female representation in the media.