Today we’ve invited back one of our favorite fellow bloggers, Natacha Guyot. I met Natacha over a year ago and I just adore her upbeat attitude and can-do spirit. She publishes books in her native French and in English, and this year has created an impressive list of publications in fiction and nonfiction. More on that below in her bio.
Please give her a warm Write On Sister welcome!
The Wise Woman by Natacha Guyot
One thing I find important about Strong Women characters is they don’t all need to rely on physical force to display strength. Strength can take numerous forms. Sometimes the media likes to focus exclusively on the kickass / physical resilience aspect. This very physical persona is often combined with an emotionless personality. It is damaging to all women when the portrayal of women risks confining them to another box full of male-lens-based clichés. Because this stereotype dominates, it makes the Strong Woman archetype look problematic and limiting. I have no problem with physically strong women, but not when it’s their only skill. I love Sarah Connor, Aeryn Sun, Katniss Everdeen and many more, because these kickass women are three-dimensional and show strength in multiple ways.
Women who aren’t seen in combat or related activities can still be amazingly strong.
In the vast landscape of Strong Women, another archetype can be found: the Wise Woman. Regardless of her actions or role in a narrative, a Wise Woman is a Strong Woman to me. Her experience and her problem solving approach are testimonies to her strength of character and importance to the plot.
Here are five examples of the wise woman archetype in action.
She believes in negotiations and tries to avoid armed conflict and violence. She is set on retaining peace unless there is no other choice left. She is normally a talented speaker and listener. She is willing to find compromise but it doesn’t mean that she will give up on her values. In STARGATE UNIVERSE, Camile Wray is a huge supporter of civilian leadership, although it doesn’t always make for good decisions. A representative of the International Oversight Advisory, she is a figure of diplomacy from the opening of the show and is seen standing up to military and form alliances with several civilian members of the Destiny’s crew during the two seasons.
The Agent of the Law:
She can be seen relying on physical force more often than other Wise Women, due to field experience and conflict. Yet the Agent of the Law’s work is to ensure the security of the people she works for, most often her country, though it can be a planet or even a group of planets depending on the settings of the fictional universe she lives in. The Agent of the Law is a versatile figure with many tools to solve problems, depending on her background. In THE X-FILES, Dana Scully’s medical formation and experience are what she uses to analyze cases. She looks at things through the scientific lens. Even when the system proves to have flaws, she still does her best to work within the law, to change things from the inside.
This character has many angles, but her calling is to find solutions through science. It is common to see her confronted by problems that look impossible to resolve. This hardship can take many forms: an incurable illness, an unusual patient who doesn’t respond like others did to a certain treatment, a pandemic strikes. Not all scientists/doctors deal with such situations but it remains a common pattern. In THE LAST SHIP, Doctor Rachel Scott is literally given the task to save human kind, by finding a cure to a virus which has been killing most of human kind. Even when supplies and equipment diminish and with the clock ticking, she has no choice but achieve her goal.
Mentor figures can be a role of choice for a grown up Wise Woman. The teacher most often helps younger characters as they grow up during the story. She can also work side-by-side with her peers. She understands that education involves many aspects, both formal teaching but also field experience. She can lead by example. In STAR WARS, Jedi Master Luminara Unduli was introduced in Attack of the Clones with her apprentice, Barriss Offee. The two often appeared together in subsequent material, whether novels or television episodes, but not always. Luminara sought to make people think and see them learn by doing, including from their mistakes.
The Wise Woman as Mother is normally a benevolent maternal figure. She has more life experience and offers advice and support. Even when they disagree, she wants her children to be happy and eventually become accomplished adults. In BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, Joyce Summers is a central figure in Buffy’s development. Finding out and accepting that her daughter is the Slayer isn’t an easy feat for the older Summers, but the two have a strong relationship and Joyce is Buffy’s rock and one of her strongest anchors to normalcy, despite how special her role and duty are.
While these archetypes can exist on their own, a Wise Woman can easily be several of them, depending on what role she plays in the story. She can also have different roles towards different characters. Archetypes help build a character, but including more than one can bring greater complexity to the character. The Wise Woman archetypes make a fantastic addition to many plots as primary or secondary characters.
What about you? Which Wise Women characters do you find compelling? Do you think that the media industries should include more diverse types of strength in the presented female characters?
Natacha Guyot is a French author, scholar and public speaker. She works on Science Fiction, Transmedia, Gender Studies, Children’s Media and Fan Studies. She is a feminist, a fangirl, a bookworm, a vidder, a gamer and a cat lover. 2015 is a busy year for her, with A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars, and Feminist Bloggers: The 2014 Collection (editor), both self-published. She also published her first work of fiction, a Sci-Fi novella for kids (in French), La Cité de Sharianth. She is currently working on several Fantasy and Science Fiction short stories.
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11 thoughts on “Writing Archetypes: The Wise Woman”
A Wise Woman is the best of all, indeed. However, it doesn’t hurt if she can also defend herself. Nothing makes a woman look weak — mind, body, or spirit — then when she has to call on a man to get her out of trouble. Great post for Mother’s Day!
Glad you liked the post! I am fine with characters, regardless of gender, age, role, to get rescued at times; but I wholeheartedly agree that women always rescued by men annoys me to no end!
Great post, Natacha. I loved your examples, and I definitely think there should be more diversity in terms of strength when it comes to great female characters. I really like Uhura from Star Trek. I also think – bravery and physical strength aside – Ripley is a wise woman worthy of any list 🙂
Thank you, Melissa! I am not too familiar with Star Trek but they have some great characters. I hope to watch more of the franchise within the next year, and Uhura is one of the reasons I want to do it. Agreed about Ripley too! I’m curious about the new Alien movie (and also about the Prometheus sequel). 🙂
I loved this analysis and immediately tried to fit my main character (Rhe Brewster of the Rhe Brewster mystery series) into one of the categories – but can’t since she is, as you mentioned, an amalgam of several – part mother, part agent of the law, part medical professional, part negotiator. Fun post!
I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Your character Rhe sounds like a fascinating woman.
The moment I read this piece I thought of Eve, from The Librarians TV show, for the Agent of the Law. She saw herself as only warrior strong until she’s made a Guardian. That’s when she realizes she’s a wise woman, her diplomatic training and ability to think fast on her feet become even more important to keeping her team safe.
A great post!
Thank you, Robin! I have meant to watch the Librarians and it’s on my insane to watch list. I love character development like what you describe about Eve!
Madame Secretary is a great diplomatic character. I love Leoni. She is a great actress. And, of course, Sigourney, as mother warrior in Aliens.
I didn’t see any episode of Madame Secretary but heard good things about it. Ripley is for sure an interesting mother warrior. The pattern of the mother warrior is one I plan to study in depth in the future.