Brooding Females, a Recent Trend Imitating the “Brooding Male” Cliche?

I was watching old episodes of Daria recently and it got me thinking about the introduction and continuing low-level trend of the brooding female teenager character in television shows and movies. Dark, brooding characters are a perennial favorite for screenwriters. Characters in the media who spend a lot of time in their own heads thinking about the negative aspects of life can range all the way from the classical “strong, silent type” to the more recent semi-angsty goth. From the protagonists in the pre WWII westerns and noir films to those in modern crime shows and action movies, brooding male characters have always been around. But brooding females (which aren’t quite the same as angsty females, although one often becomes the other) didn’t start to become popular in mass media until the 1980s. This still hasn’t become a particularly noticeable trend, and some examples are related to the most recent incarnation of the goth/vampire trend, but it still interesting to note as an occasional contender in the world of character types. As far as I can recall, one of the earlier examples of the brooding teenage girl was the Mary Stuart Masterson’s character in the 1987 movie Some Kind of Wonderful. This character was somewhat transitional, as she was also fairly angsty, but she had more to be grumpy about than just a boy. This is as opposed to Bella from Twilight, who started out as a brooding teenager and became angsty after meeting Edward, the sparkly faux-vampire. A character somewhere in the middle of this range would be Julia Stiles’ character from the 1999 movie 10 Things I Hate About You. Admittedly, she was grumpy because of a past relationship with a boy, but I would still describe it more as brooding than angst.

There are also a few brooding female characters that were not teenagers. Take, for example, Marg Helgenberger’s character (Catherine Willows), who originally served as second banana to William Petersen’s character (Gil Grissom) on the TV show CSI. Like Gil, Catherine had a tendency to work through personal problems by doing lab work, trying to ignore the problem, or just plain old sitting and brooding in a dark room – not that any of the rooms on CSI were actually well-lit in the first place. This also provided direct contrast to the angsty female on the show, Jorja Fox’s character (Sara Sidle, a name that I always thought was a play on the word “suicidal”).

The consummate example of the brooding female character, as is the case with the male variety, appears in action movies. The best brooding female in all of action moviedom so far would have to be Sarah Conner from Terminator 2: Judgment Day – after she left the asylum, that is. Nothing says brooding like dreaming about a nuclear apocalypse and watching your son play with a repurposed death machine while you quietly sit and ponder the upcoming war with the machines.

So, what does the recent appearance of the brooding female in the mass media mean for the future of female characters? On the one hand, this could be seen as a somewhat positive influence, as more pronounced examples of these characters tend to be more self-sufficient and independent (since one cannot brood if one is not a loner). On the other hand, it could be seen as negative as well, since (like the early examples of the male variety) many of these characters are also relatively socially inept and have poor relationships with everyone around them. Also, the combination of being alone so much and being all grumpy about it sometimes leads to the character descend into madness.

Will this trend continue? Even increase? I’m guessing it will. With the onset of so-called “mumblecore” films and an increasing affinity among filmmakers to blend prevalent male and female gender stereotypes, it seems likely that more female characters will start spending considerable screen time sitting alone (or, at least being mentally alone while in a crowd) and thinking deep, pessimistic thoughts.

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