Have to say -- I'm giddy that there are people talking about female protagonists, how to write them, and how to introduce them in a script. However, I want to weigh in on something that continues to irk me every time I see it. Namely, that if you don't know how to write a female protagonist, just 'flip the gender' and voila! Kick ass female protagonist.
I liken this strategy to those ridiculous pantsuits with shoulder pads from the 1970s in corporate America. Besides being oddly fugly, they just ring false.
Women are women. Not men. Women have a unique set of traits, abilities, mannerisms and a perspective on life and relationships that is unique to their gender. This is not to say that there isn't some cross-over, but in most cases, growing up female in a male dominated culture puts women in a position to see things differently... we learn different coping mechanisms, different strategies to get what we want. We also have different brains, different bodies, different physiological reactions to stress... this has all been proven scientifically.
So, no. You can't just give your male protagonist a vagina and call it a day. Compelling female characters do not need to be "kick ass" in order to be heroic. They don't need to pull a pistol out of a shoulder holster to solve a problem, nor do they need to have masculine personality traits in order to be respected.
And, just to be clear -- making your female characters androgynous as a way of making them heroic, is actually very insulting to women. The underlying message of this technique (Hello Star Wars) is that in order to be heroic, a woman must denounce her feminine nature. Rubbish I say!
SIDENOTE: Acknowledging a woman's femininity does not just mean accentuating her sexuality (which is fine to do as well, but a woman's sexuality is only ONE facet of her feminine nature).
In my opinion, if you want to craft a solid female protagonist, you must take her unique personality and also add in her uniquely female traits. Sure, we all like to see a woman train in martial arts and then go out and lay waste to a band of child predators, but I personally want to see more female protagonists who use their cooperative social skills, their intellect, their ability to move through a crowd of men unnoticed (guys... this happens more than you know!), conspire brilliantly, out-argue, solve a problem through peacekeeping and negotiation, and sometimes, yeah, sure, she can certainly lay waste to evil-doers with semi-automatic weapons and flame throwers from time to time. Just don't make that your fallback for the trait "strong." She can be emotionally strong, intellectually fierce, or maybe she's a kick ass villain, and her super-strength is political deception or financial smoke and mirrors.
Historically, we are the child-bearers of the world, the mothers of all persons alive and dead, and our evolutionary heredity includes adaptions to being smaller in physical stature... which may be why we have twice the neural pathways connecting our left and right brains. Always vigilant to the slightest rustle in the woods, keenly observant, we are the protectors of the children, the caretakers of the sick, and the diplomatic problem solvers of the tribe. The industrial and technological revolutions have shaken things up, and women are moving out into previously male dominated areas and competing for resources, making us leaders in new scientific discoveries, new corporate communications structures and much more, yes. But you cannot deny the legacy of our evolution and our modern adaptations to a changing society.
We are devilishly complicated, empathetic, capable of laying waste to a band of evil doers with the stroke of a pen, the tip of a stylish hat at the right meeting, and many, many other things. Underneath our "pretty" and "attractive" and "seductive" and "broken" are women who -- if you look closer -- are actually "sullen" "misunderstood" "seething" "generous" "kindhearted" "competitive" and thousands upon thousands of other things. Yes, of course, there is cross over between the genders on many traits, but a woman's "competitive" will most likely show up and express itself differently than a man's "competitive." When a man is jealous, the strategies he employs to possess his lover are (usually) a bit different than those employed by a woman. And yeah, yeah, I know I can't make sweeping generalizations on those points either, but you know what I mean. A woman who behaves like a man 100% of the time just doesn't exist.
Nature AND nurture conspire to make us who we are, and women's equality is not so much about turning women INTO men as it is about celebrating women for who they are, and treating them with respect in all areas of society, including media and entertainment.
When I watch films where women are carbon copies of men, they come across as strange, mutant he-women of the dark ages, and I'll admit, I'm amused. I'm entertained. But mostly because it's so odd. And now, it's growing tiresome.
Can you imagine what it would look like if we took all the female protagonists out there written by women and just "flipped their gender" to male? What would THAT look like? Ridiculous, right?
So. Please don't man-wash us. Because. Just ewwww.
If you're going to wash us, please use lavender soaps. We like those.