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What I Mean When I Talk About Female Characters

04/04/2014 12:40 BST | Updated 04/06/2014 10:59 BST

Earlier this week, an article I wrote on the representation of women in True Detective went live on The Guardian. The comments (239 and counting) are predictably disheartening. And maybe that's my fault for not getting my point across well enough in the blog itself.

But a lot of the comments seemed to be the same things that I see on all articles about disappointing (or entirely absent) female characters. They expose some basic misunderstandings (or miscommunications) about what these writers mean when they talk about female characters.

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Picture copyright: HBO

I can't speak for anyone but myself, of course, but these are the answers I want to give to the comments that regularly lurk at the bottom of any article that bemoans the state of women in a TV show/film.

If you want female characters, go and watch [insert name of female-focused show, usually Sex and the City or Girls]

I have no interest in a show that's all about women, just as I have no interest in a show that's all about men. Neither of those represent the world I live in. I want to watch things that are about people.

The fact that Sex and the City is still getting dragged up in these arguments 10 years after it ended is a nice reminder that there are far fewer female-oriented programmes than male-oriented ones. And anyone who's ever seen Girls will know that Adam is the best character in it.

This is a show about cops/drug dealers/serial killers - do you really expect a female character in the lead in such male-dominated fields?

No, I don't always want women in the lead. But I do want them there, somewhere, and doing something interesting. Look at Mad Men - male lead, male-dominated field, excellent female characters. Or Breaking Bad - there aren't many female characters, true, but Skyler was a well-written supporting character with a rich internal life, and Lydia was just as morally corrupt as any of the male characters.

The male characters in this show are all horrible people too - no-one comes out of it well, not just the women.

Please, give me horrible, cruel, selfish, nihilistic female characters. Give me a female version of Rust Cohle. When I talk about good female characters I'm not asking for a paragon of virtue. That's the last thing I want. I'm complaining because while the male characters are actively going about being bastards, the women are usually in the background, doing nothing except playing into the male lead's arc. What is their goal? Are they trying to achieve something for themselves? What do they get up to when the male lead isn't there? What's going through their heads?

I don't mind if what's going through their head are nasty, mean thoughts, so long as they have some sort of internal, believable life. I don't need them to always be right, or always be the one who saves the day. I want them to be just as flawed, unpleasant, weak and fascinating as the male characters.

You're harming the cause of feminism by complaining about every little thing.

Oh, sorry, are we supposed to be conserving ammo for the important issues, just in case men get sick of hearing our whining and lose interest before we get round to the important stuff of stopping FGM or getting equal pay? Forgive me for thinking that people are smarter than that.

Besides, fiction isn't a 'little thing'. It shapes us and informs our view of the world. If it's still telling us that women are secondary to men, then how is the next generation supposed to grow up to be more equality-minded than our current one?

Are you ever happy with anything?!?

Yes. Game of Thrones, and its focus on those at the fringes of power, makes me very happy. The Walking Dead's shift from women washing the clothes to women at the centre of the action makes me happy. Mad Men, Utopia, Masters of Sex, Broadchurch, Parks and Recreation, Sleepy Hollow, New Girl, True Blood, Moone Boy - all boast mixed-gender ensembles, all make me very happy indeed. See, it's really not hard to make me happy.

This blog originally appeared on Abigail Chandler's blog here.