Terry Dresbach

Outlander Costume Designer

Reply To: On the TV portrayal of the "Strong Woman"


I’ve started and deleted a response to this thread about a dozen times. But here goes… I don’t care one bit if a show/book/movie has a “strong” female charcater. There, I’ve said it. What I care about is if the character is interesting and complex and demonstrates a full range of human emotions, thought processes, and behaviors. Classifying certain traits as “feminine” or “masculine” seems harmful to me, and perpetuating antiquated cultural norms and stereotypes. For example, there’s been some criticism of shows/characters in which the woman behaves in a way that might traditionally been seen as masculine, perhaps being blunt and assertive. I’m bothered by the assumption that the only reason this character would be doing so is to mimic masuline behavior, rather than this simply being her personality. Or that to be a woman, one must be outwardly emotional, empathetic, builds concensus, etc. Any human being can be any combination of these things. I tend to enjoy characters that have contradictory and ambiguous elements to their personalities.

To me one of the most compelling characters on TV right now is Cookie from Empire, mostly because she defies being boxed in by anyone or anything. In one 60 minute episode, she can be a devoted mother to one son, walk away with dignity from another son who treats her poorly, call in a hit on someone who is threatening her, manage a PR issue for a client, and show her talents in the music business both on the creative and marketing sides of things. Minute by minute she goes from being aggressive to vulnerable, conniving and back-stabbing to fiercely protective, watching out for her own interests to cooperating, asking for help to doing things herself. Its a pretty new show, so for those not familiar with it, this article gives a good overview: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/empire-cookie-is-best-part-taraji-henson-tv-show-feminism-review