DC May Have Gotten the Strong Female Character Thing Right Just This One Time…
Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. A DC property may have gotten it right just this one time. And by “this one time,” I mean the character of Felicity Smoak.
Those of you with whom I watch, and discuss, Arrow, may be surprised by this revelation given that, after the recent episode in which Felicity tells Oliver, “I don’t want to be a woman you love,” I bitched about her naiveté. Her inability, even three years in, to see the moral ambiguity inherent in Oliver’s mission. In his need to protect his last living blood relative from being slaughtered by Ra’s al Ghul the way his mother was by Slade Wilson via the any means necessary clause. That she was still sorting actions and people by absolutes rather than by shades of gray.
I regret nothing and I hold to the above. If Felicity can’t learn to cope with existing in the shadowlands, she should either move to Central City and join team, “Save the old lady, run into burning buildings,” Flash or go full-monty for/with Ray Palmer. Because both of those gents are superheroes and fit neatly into the “good” box. Oliver and Roy, even Dig and Laurel, are vigilantes which slots them into any one of several confusing, oddly shaped, intermediary slots (superhero vs vigilante is an issue I explore in the upcoming Hero Handlers. FYI. Yes, I totally just plugged myself). Vigilantes are, by their very nature, are morally ambiguous. They are, by their very nature, disruptive, contentious, and dangerously uninhibited.
Felicity’s inability to come to terms with that ambiguity is clearly giving here some serious heartburn.
Here’s the thing, though: despite the every progressive ulcers, Felicity is the only truly strong female character in the Arrow universe. Every other major female character has been/is an ass-kicker, sure, but strong characters? Not so much.
I’ve discussed the “strong female character” concept in previous entries, but I’ll sum up for the uninitiated: being able to kick someone’s ass doesn’t make you a strong character (male, female, or other); what makes a character strong is a fully realized personality and a complete sense of self, accompanied by an undisputed, indisputable independent agency. Sarah was at the mercy of the League, Nyssa to Ra’s’ pleasure. Laurel lives in the shadow of addictions that continue to control her and that of her dead sister. Huntress is chained to the memory of a dead fiancee, Thea to Malcolm Merlyn, Shado to Slade and to Ollie. Moira was a slave to an ancient error in judgment. Amanda Waller is a bad ass, but as hard as she pretends, she is not her own woman. Tatsuo/Katana is a prisoner to Masuo’s past, to Waller, and to her obligation to Oliver.
Who does that leave us?
Stay with me here.
No, she cannot, nor will she likely ever be able, or want, to kick anyone’s ass. The few attempts she’s made at training have been complete and utter failures and she likes big jewelry too much to ever be super effective in a fight. She throws a punch that’s more likely to break her wrist than someone else’s face. I cannot forsee her ever making it to the top of the Salmon Ladder.
Felicity Smoak, however, answers to no one but herself and her own conscience. Shooting down Ray when he asked her to work with him as the ATOM? Her decision. Her change of heart had absolutely nothing to do with him and everything to do with her reconciling her own mind to the reality of the situation. Her refusal to be another casualty of Oliver Queen’s mission? No one else has been able to say no, not Sarah, despite the Lian Yu story line or her girlfriend, nor Laurel, on whom he cheated with her sister, nor Tatsuo, whose life he destroyed. Leaving Team Arrow and then deciding to return? Only when she realized the team’s mission was now her mission independent of Oliver, Roy, Diggle, or Laurel.
Do I agree with Felicity? I think I demonstrated above I don’t (I’m a writer. I argue with fictional characters for fun and, hopefully someday, for profit). I do, however, hold her up as the only female, truly independent, female agent in the Arrow world. Felicity proves you can be strong without being physically powerful, that a female character can be fully realized on her own, rather than in her relationship to the men in her life. And, wonder of wonders, she is establishing a friendship with Laurel instead of being jealous or snarky or gloating; their relationship, in fact, has absolutely no Oliver in it whatsoever.
Well, damn, it can be done.
This is a VERY BIG DEAL. The only other comparable character on this season’s small screen is Peggy Carter and that is some august company for Miss Smoak.
Felicity will need to grow up a little it at some point. She’ll need to understand that the world isn’t as pretty or neat as shiny machines and lines of code. Despite her nice little, bubble, however, she is fierce and kind, and she isn’t going to take crap from Oliver Queen or anyone else. She does what she thinks is right, where her heart and conscience lead her and she doesn’t need anyone, male or female, to influence her, guide her, or nudge her. She accepts the consequences, if not gracefully, then with a sense of pride and honor.
That, my friends, is a strong female character.
Here’s hoping we can add to the pantheon in the not too distant future.