Thursday, 3 July 2014

Women In Film: My Favourite Female Character

So John over at Hitchcock's World is doing another great Blogathon and I thought I'd participate. The topic was Women In Film, and to write about a good, strong, female character that we love. Below are the rules laid out: 
  1. The female character in question should have qualities that make her strong. That doesn't necessarily mean better than the guys, just well-written; we're trying to promote equality here, not reverse misogyny.
  2. Unlike my previous blogathon, I'm going to be a bit stricter here and say that each entry should only focus on one character. However, if you like you can write multiple entries examining different characters.
  3. If you can, do try to find less obvious choices. There are a few that I can expect are likely to get picked: Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, etc. If you decide to write about any the "obvious" choices, I encourage you to at least try and find something new to say about them.
  4. You are allowed to pick characters from any film from genre or time period you like.

I definitely had a few people in mind before picking my choice. Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada immediately came to mind. Others like Katniss (too obvious a choice), Hermione Grainger (I love her, but movie-Hermione is not nearly as great as book-Hermione) and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice (I think I write about that movie too much). And as I recently did a similar post about my favourite films starring women, I selected a different one off the list, one I hope is not nearly as obvious. I chose Jenny Mellor from An Education

Those of you not familiar with An Education, Jenny Mellor is our main character. She's sixteen years old and fervantly studying to get into Oxford. She's obsessed with  the French; french films, french music and speaking french. She's also living in the 60's and is just trying to get through high school so she can be free of her parents and do what she pleases. Then she meets David, a much older man who takes a liking to her. Her father (who is the one pressing her to do everything she can to get into Oxford) is immediately taken with David, as is Jenny's mother. And while they want the best for her, in the end, you need a husband anyway, and what a better one than David? 

The 60's were an interesting time for women. While an education is valued, it's definitely not necessary and it definitely isn't frowned upon to do nothing past high school. So when David waltzes into her life, she finds she has found a ticket out of her education. Her parents who supported her studying and "joining" so strongly are very quickly taken by David and seem to be fine with the lack of studying and their interest in seeing Jenny go to University wanes very quickly. 

Jenny is an incredibly interesting female character to me. She's incredibly smart, incredibly driven, but she also is thrilled with everything David shows her. David takes her to parties, to art auctions and to Paris (the place of her dreams). Jenny is definitely not a stupid person, but she does make some poor decision, but they're all decisions we could potentially see ourselves making, in a similar situation. Jenny is incredibly relatable, or at least I thought so. She's quite innocent about most things, but does have a lot of passion about the things she loves. She's sixteen and can't wait to move away from home and to see the world. When Jenny meets David she is swept away... but is hesitant to miss band practice or class or studying to be with him, at first. Jenny seems the value in her education, into making a life for herself, until David shows her that you don't need an education to become rich, well-dressed and happy. 

Jenny learns a lot during her time dating David. Lots good and lots bad. Like the title suggestions, she has to learn the value of her education. Jenny lets herself become swept away by David, his friends and his world. It's "perfect" and Jenny stops questioning what's going on around her. She sees David and and his friend Danny steal art, but doesn't really question it too much. And when she does, David charms her right back. Jenny is not only swept away by David, but his two close friends Danny and Helen. Helen is also much older than Jenny but plays an interesting contrast. Helen has no education, is not all that smart, but is gorgeous and rich and happy. Helen convinces Jenny to wear better clothes and dresses (often lending Jenny clothes, which she ends up being able to keep), she loans her night clothes and does her hair for her. Helen also tells Jenny not to ever question what David or Danny do, but just to keep reading the magazines and talking about clothes and Paris. 

But once Jenny learns a secret about David (I won't spoil it!) Jenny must clean up this mess she's made for herself. She's been skipping school, not studying and missed taking her university tests. She won't get into Oxford, and her education is all she has left. 

What makes Jenny so wonderful is all the stages she goes through. She is complacent and naive to her "boring" life before David. Then she meets David and he shows her the world, she barely feels as if she lived at all before she met him. And after David, she brings great poise and grace while putting her life back together. Jenny comes full circle, going through all the stages and learning so many things that we all do learn, in all different ways. Jenny is just like us. 

After David, she has a lot of people to apologize to, a lot of work to make up, and a lot of sacrifices to make if she wants to go to University (Oxford, or anywhere!). Jenny's perfect life gets yanked away from her when she finally looks around and questions what's going on around her. It is when she dismisses her education is also when she stops looking around and just blindly accepting all that goes on around her. 

This may make Jenny sound weak, but on the contrary she is a great encapsulation of the average sixteen year old girl, and not a weak one. She has not been made "masculine" in any way, but is a girl who lets her fantasies run away with her for too long and she must now pay the price. She is smart, inquisitive and passionate. Jenny is someone who takes in everything around her and learns from it. Jenny may have made a lot of mistakes, but wouldn't we have made similar ones as well? Who needs to go to boring high school classes when you can go to French Art Auctions or Paris with a man you love and you think loves you too? Being in love is definitely not a weakness, if anything Jenny's experience made her much stronger and smarter than she was before this. 

To be a strong female character doesn't mean they have to be more macho, more impenetrable or cold. In actuality, Jenny is strong because of her ability to pick up the pieces. How could someone ever be strong if they never had to face a bad situation or any sort of problem? Jenny lets herself feel all the emotions she is capable of; love, hurt, anger, boredom, forgiveness, sadness and absolute happiness. Jenny is strong because she embraces it all, in good times and bad. She also knows there are always consequences to her actions, and she definitely learns this the hard way. Not that Jenny ever rushed into something like this. Jenny was initially quite hesitant with David, but he showed her a life better than she could've imagined, and who could resist?  

Jenny is an interesting character to me because I can relate to her. I remember being sixteen and being excited to finally leave school. Admittedly I was not nearly as driven as Jenny, but I definitely had a passion to experience life and travel and do what I want. And while I didn't make the same mistakes as Jenny did, I have made some of my own and have learned from them all the same. Jenny is so well-rounded and a complete person. She is incredibly believable and easy to relate to. This, to me, is what makes her such an awesome female character. 

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