“In 30 seconds, tell me what character you wished you had but didn’t when you were growing up.”
I’ve been a fairly gluttonous consumer of pop culture my entire life. Despite being an extroverted and outgoing child, I distinctly remember having an affinity for fictional people more than most of the real people I knew.
So when the time came and one of my close friends asked me what character was missing from my life as part of a project she is working on, I thought I would be pretty stumped. Key word: stumped.
The answer to her question actually came sooner than I’d anticipated.
To be honest, I’ve grown up spoiled where fictional characters are involved. I had “Harry Potter,” “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Mulan” growing up. It wasn’t something I was actively seeking out as an eight or 10-year-old kid growing up in a Long Island suburb, but I was never short of feminist role models and icons.
But even then, even when I knew that I had it pretty good, there was something I was missing out on. There was something that, even when I look at myself now, I couldn’t relate to when I was admiring Buffy or Hermione Granger.
I needed a female character who didn’t have romantic relationships. Or, at the very least, a female character who made it okay to not be romantically involved with someone.
To be fair, most of the female characters I loved the most growing up reinforced the idea that they could get along without a romantic partner in their life; the duel between Buffy and Angelus in the second season finale of “Buffy” will forever be one of my favorite moments on television. But for all of the good that came from “Buffy,” the titular character was almost never without some romantic interest either by her side or waiting in the wings. Think about it: she settled for Riley.
The closest I’ve come to finding this character is in “Kill Bill” and, briefly, “The Newsroom.” Nothing disappoints me more though than how this works in “The Newsroom.” My two favorite characters in this show start off without that strong, romantic influence; they’re two women who are insanely good at what they do, and even more insanely dedicated to what they do.
But then they both find themselves within romantic triangles at some point. Good TV.
And that was the thing that none of the female characters I responded to as a kid could do for me. None of them could tell me that not being in a relationship, or not placing romance and intimate relationships anywhere on the priority spectrum, was okay.
Several of the women in my family met their husbands when they were very young and, at my current age, were either involved in very serious relationships or already engaged. None of them expect me to be exactly like them, but it’s tough to not ask yourself, “what’s wrong with you? What makes you different?” when it seems like everyone around you is able to find that special someone or whatever when you can’t.
Not to mention it’s almost embarrassing when, as someone who identifies as pansexual and has a much larger selection pool, you still come up with nothing.
But with my own insecurities aside, there is importance to showing female characters who aren’t romantically linked to other characters. We need to tell girls that it’s okay to not want a relationship in your life at a given time.
I’m at that point in my life where one “What are you doing after college?” incites an existential crisis. I don’t know where I’ll be working or if I’ll be working in two months. Honestly, I don’t even know what show to catch up on tomorrow in my post-production night Thursday haze. I couldn’t even begin to think about being in a relationship with someone.
That’s okay. It’s always been okay. It can’t be stressed enough to young girls that they are not breeding machines. They’re more than a plot device used to create character growth for male characters. It’s okay to not be romantically linked to someone and not have that be a major part of your life.
I need that character in my life.