Hi! It’s Annie!
Through my reviews of K-Dramas and books on this blog, I have often used the phrase “perfect boyfriend syndrome” to describe when a guy in a romance is written to have no flaws at all. It isn’t usually something that I like because it makes these guys feel completely un-relatable and when they are flawed, the narrative will never admit to it. Flawed characters are human characters! And while I was thinking about these perfect boyfriends often written from female perspectives, I was suddenly struck with the thought that perfect girlfriend syndrome is also a thing and is way more prevalent. Why, you ask? Because most media for years and years has been written by men, and because of that women have been seen largely from the male perspective in media. But more and more we’re seeing women written from the female perspective and the more content I watch, the more the difference between women written by men or other women becomes such a stark contrast for me. One of my favorite shows ever is Sailor Moon, which is a superhero show written about women by a woman, and is a great positive example to use here. So I’m going to compare some of the “perfect girlfriends” to the absolutely wonderful characters in Sailor Moon!
Perfect Girlfriend Syndrome:
I think some of the best characters to pull for this for me personally, are characters from video games. I’ve found quite a few that are more obvious, but I also don’t exactly want to use this post to talk about all of the problems that face female characters from video games. There’s a history of poor decisions when it comes to the way female characters in games act and specifically the way that they’re designed. But specifically, I want to talk about characters that are created to look relatable on the surface but in reality have little to no flaws. Characters that at first seem to be great before you realize that they are completely unattainable to either be with or be like. And because this is very specific, it means that we have to look for very specific kinds of characters. I know this might be controversial, but when I hear that I usually turn to ‘Final Fantasy’ games. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Square Enix. I grew up on ‘Kingdom Hearts’. But I always found the male characters to be better than the female characters. This was partially because, for a lot of the games, the female characters aren’t really allowed to fight. Or when they are it isn’t much and they don’t really know how to do it. (Ahem, Kairi.) But lately I’ve been really liking the characters of Aerith and Tifa specifically in the new ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’ games. And while we have only gotten one of what is supposed to eventually be three games; it is already so much better than the original games at establishing the characters of Aerith and Tifa.
Aerith had almost no character development at all in the original game and what Tifa got seemed to be very little. But at the same time, these characters don’t seem to have any flaws whatsoever. Aerith is an adorable character, but I can’t think of one flaw that she has. And this is something that hit me while watching scenes from ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’ recently after I had finished re-watching all of ‘Sailor Moon Crystal’ and ‘Sailor Moon Eternal’. Aerith is just the right amount of everything. She’s gorgeous, extremely sweet, never clumsy, innocent but not naive, and just the right amount of flirtatious but also a little shy. The more I thought about all of these things together, the more I wondered how much I really relate to this character. She’s too perfect. She’s lovely and likable but the more I found myself comparing myself to her, as a lot of people do with fictional characters, the more I found myself to be lacking in comparison. And then I remembered that I’m a human being and that’s a character rewritten primarily by men. I still like her, but despite sharing a love for the same colors and flowers, I couldn’t find much else we had in common. Tifa isn’t much better off with her badass nature, mothering qualities, and complete lack of any sort of rage that many of the other people in the resistance have. The game will also sometimes suffer from the use of performative feminism. This is when a female character says something feminist in order for the work to seem feminist, but will then land herself in one or several situations that are decidedly not. For example, Aerith telling Cloud she can take care of herself right before Cloud has to save her. Maybe we’ll get some better development in upcoming games, but right now they strike me as being “perfect girlfriends” for Cloud, or the player.
From the moment we are introduced to the character of Usagi Tsukino, we know that she’s flawed. She struggles with schoolwork, often because she can’t find the motivation to study. She is known for letting her emotions run away with her, often to the point that she bursts into tears. On top of this, she can be really clumsy and is often teased for it. Despite this, Usagi is a badass on the battle field, able to take care of herself, and often self sacrificial. But she still has insecurities and has a ways to go, which also makes sense because of her age. As someone who is also overly emotional at times and definitely clumsy, I found her relatable from the get go. Also add in the hopeless romanticism and she’s basically me. All of the Inner Senshi are written to be relatable so that young girls can find themselves in them. Ami is extremely smart but isn’t very confident in herself, Minako has a lot of confidence but can sometimes be egotistical, Makoto is very laid back but she constantly compares herself to other people, and Rei is extremely competent and badass but can often have a short temper. When the Outer Senshi are introduced, they are also flawed. While they have more of a sense of self, they are still unsure of their methods and don’t always go about things compassionately. And these flaws add to their characters and by making them relatable made them even more likable to the audience.
This is largely because the creator, Naoko Takeuchi, created these characters to be like women for women. She didn’t like that there was a serious lack of female superheroes from the female perspective, so she created her own. She wanted them to feel real. And she completely succeeded! Naoko Takeuchi was extremely progressive in her portrayal of women with flaws, just as she was extremely progressive in her unabashed portrayal of queerness without ever fetishizing it. The show even gets as relatable as showing many characters questioning their sexuality. Something that a lot of young people go through despite shows being discouraged by parents from presenting these ideas. In fact, the original international dubs for ‘Sailor Moon’ are well known for having this queer exploration taken out. Thankfully, with the new international dubs that have been needed for a while, it has been rightfully restored. This is what we get when a woman writes women specifically for representation and for the sake of women being able to find themselves in a heroic story. It’s not difficult to find flaws in these characters, but it’s also not difficult to find characteristics and personality traits to relate to. The women are progressive, badass, and relatable at the same time. This is what female representation should look like!
I’ve made a post before about the difference between female writers and directors and male writers and directors in movies. But I’ve never looked at the faults with portraying women as too perfect and pure to the point that they must be protected at all costs. Women do not get anything from being portrayed as absolutely perfect delicate flowers either. And this is made even more clear when you look at the difference between characters written with the male perspective in mind versus characters written with the female perspective in mind. Women written by women are allowed to be human and beautiful because of it. They are allowed to be messy, and muscular, and beautiful no matter how they define being feminine. I can’t stress how important this is. And being human also means being flawed. Just like I’ve talked about how writing perfect boyfriends isn’t good, it’s also problematic to write perfect girlfriends. Humans need to be allowed to be humans, we can’t keep telling people that there’s something inherently wrong with them when they’re flawed. People are flawed. And the most precious kind of love, is loving someone exactly the way they are and accepting them with their flaws and all. Personally, I wouldn’t want a perfect boyfriend. How would I relate to him? The same can be said for representation in media. Women need to be able to see themselves in media. And that means flawed characters. I’m so excited to be seeing ONEUS tomorrow so look out for our next posts about that!
See you across the pond!