hayley lawson-smith: fly


A great session for our sixth dinner and a show with Hayley Lawson-Smith and her latest work, Fly.

Strong women don’t come from other planets.

Okay, to be honest, I had to Google the backstory of Wonder Woman to double-check where on earth, (if it was earth?), she came from, and I sincerely apologise for the lovers of this fictional heroine for perverting the canon.

I then Googled ‘Wonder Woman imperfections’, which of course showed me reviews of the most recent film, but a little scrolling down and there we were discussing Wonder Woman’s thighs.

Wonder Thighs.

Like any writer trying to earn their salt and be worth it, (because we’re worth it), I want to be able to write SFCs.

Scary Fearsome Chicks.

Strong Female Characters.

An SFC is a fictional character who – and I only say fictional because the word ‘character’ to me implies they’re a name on a page – takes no nonsense stands up for herself stands up for others can throw a punch can smash through glass ceilings can fight inequality does not take issues lightly does fight the patriarchy is a WONDER WOMAN!

Ching ching.

(That’s the sound of her kick-arse bracelets deflecting attacks).

The SFC does not, it seems, ask permission second-guess herself ever lose argue back make poor choices exploit her sistas insult her sistas ever fail.

Or does she?

Personally, I think the shallow SFC could be counteractive to writing complicated and fallible characters who are strong because they either live with their weaknesses or fumble, stumble and bash their way through their imperfections.

And I’m pleased to say I’ve seen some examples of the FFC in recent times.

The Fucked-up Funny Chick.

The Faulty Female Character.

Complexity is hard. (I whine). A carefully crafted and layered character is not two dimensional. We’ve moved past the days of the melodrama in which the Villain twirls is awesome moustache while the Damsel kicks weakly as he ties her to the train tracks.

The Hero flexes his muscles and everything is right in the end.

We’re now aiming to create fictional women who can take care of themselves, who can survive without no man and who reflect actual real human women.

So what worried me was this trend in the focus on the SFC who presumably had no faults.

Because that simply doesn’t reflect humanity.

Or hu-womanity.

TBH, it also worried me because I just didn’t think I was up to it. Ultimately, writing a SFC in one of my plays would lead me to writing a woman more powerful than her creator, and I just didn’t want that kind of Frankenstein-esque issue on my hands, thank you very much Mary Shelley who just so happens to have been a woman and maybe even a strong one.

But I need not worry. A little scratching at the surface and we see proof that not all SFCs are without fault, not all of them are simply perfection personified.

The best Strong Female Characters are also Faulty Female Characters

As an example, I would like to talk about Merida from the most excellent Disney movie Brave and compare her to Elsa from the movie I don’t think I even have to name because #LetItGo.

Yeah, please really, let’s let it go.

Essentially, Princess Merida has a massive fight with her Mum The Queen because her Mum The Queen wants her to get married to Random Prince Guy so that the various Not Real Kingdoms In Scotland will be all peaceful and loving.

Mum Queen’s intentions are fairly honourable, and when we realise that she was most likely taught by her own mother and eventually married off to King Fergus it’s pretty easy to sympathise with her. On the other hand, you’d have to be a complete expletive deleted to not be able to see Merida’s point of view.

So it’s only understandable that the Wilful Teenager Princess barely hesitates when offered a Mysterious Unnamed Spell by a Random Witch which is supposed to change her Mum The Queen’s Mind, thereby cancelling the Competition of Who Gets to Marry Merida.

I love that Merida does this. I love that she’s all like, ‘I don’t know what this potion does but I’m an angry young woman and I’m going to do this thing and not think about the fact that it might kill me mam.’

I love how we see the vulnerability of both these Female Characters and that to find a happy ending they’re forced to go on a quest through the woods together.

It’s a heroine’s journey with minimal male influence.

Virtually no MIs.

The Let It Go movie though?

We have one FFC who is essentially punished for loving a man by being locked in a room by said man and left alone to die.

We have a SFC whose only foible seems to be the fact she can’t control her unexplained magical powers. Except she does leave an entire Kingdom to freeze to death, but that’s okay because we’re celebrating her newfound emancipation and freedom to create living snowmen in an icy wasteland, so you go girl.

And therein lies the problem with such an SFC.

I don’t take issue with her finding herself and enjoying her own company. I’m just not sure the Let It Go movie is a great example of an empowering, feminist film. It seems too easy, somehow, to symbolise inner strength by having your protagonist literally change into a sexy outfit and letting their hair down.

Give me the awkward, oops, I just turned me mam into a bear, now I have to give her back her svelte figure all while making her understand why I was so angry in the first place and get her to see my point of view storyline any day.

A lot of writing the perfect SFC who is also a FFC is self-reflective. Making mistakes, losing the argument, not getting your chihuahua into Harvard – thanks Legally Blonde – doesn’t make us less strong, it just makes us more human.

And that’s what we should want for our fictional characters.

More humanity.

Hash tag, hu-womanity.

Ching ching.

Hayley holds a Masters of Writing for Performance from The Victorian College of the Arts. Earlier this year she was granted a Fellowship with Twelve Angry Theatre where she received professional dramaturgy from Fiona Spitzkowsky while writing a full-length script for the stage. She is a current participant in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s NEON HATCH program, and has had several short and long-form plays performed by various theatre companies around Australia and the United States.