Save ‘JourneyQuest’! In Defense of Morally Ambiguous Female Characters

Today I welcome guest actress Emilie Shimkus, who plays Wren on the fan-funded, fan-favorite show JourneyQuest, which is currently in its last day on Kickstarter! She lets us know why this show is important to the genre, and why it’s important that it succeed.

The JourneyQuest Season 3 Kickstarter ends TONIGHT, Friday 2/19 at 12am EST.
If it doesn’t get its funding by the end of Friday, this wildly popular, nerd-friendly, fan-favorite show is over. As geek, a mom, and an actor in the show, let me propose why you should care.

I think we’ve all had it up to here with “strong” women characters. Yes, of course, we want a strong woman over a week and agentless one, but somewhere along the way, “strong” became the “nice” of character descriptors for women, the adjective that would make our 2nd grade teacher kneel down by our desk and say, “Okay, but what do you mean by ‘strong?’ Can you give me some examples? What are other good words?”

Strong seems like a good thing… but what does it mean? Whether it’s a badass, asskicking woman fighting injustices or maybe a weakened, but ultimately resilient woman who finds her strength in success/love/family/adventure… strong has just become a bizarrely conflicting synonym for “unmovable” or “good.” And frankly… neither is very interesting.

Personally, as an audience member, and as a mom looking for shows to share with my kids, I’d rather see a morally ambiguous character–someone who is still developing their moral compass, a character who is conflicted, struggling with issues and decisions. Someone with room to grow, or room to deteriorate.

Photo: JourneyQuest/ZOE
Photo: JourneyQuest/ZOE

And–as an actor–I would MUCH rather play a smart, engaged, funny, seeking, struggling character than one whose description begins and ends with, “she is beautiful and strong, late 20s-early 30s.” (YES, this is often all there is to go on, and you’re lucky if you get “strong.”)

And this is why JourneyQuest matters. This is why a nerdy, fantasy realm, comedic web-series produced in the Pacific Northwest and totally fan-funded by hordes of engaged, enthusiastic geeks matters.

There are several main women characters. That’s a big starting place. In seasons 1 and 2, writer and creator Matt Vancil wrote a script where nearly half the main characters are women, there are more about to be introduced in Season 3, and all of them have room to grow. And every one of them breaks the mold of damn near every script I’ve read in the last 7 years for the following reasons.

They are funny. The women are not relegated to being the subject of, or reactor to jokes about and by the men characters. They get their own zingers and pratfalls and running gags.

They have their own goals and agendas. And–like in real life–said agendas do not always jive with the other main characters’ actions and desires, creating some great conflict and tensions.

They get to make decisions, and they are not always good decisions. These women have their own secrets and motivations, which affect their reasoning and actions, for good, bad, and all shades of grey in between.

They are not all proven good. Good is a silly word, and boring, and needs a better example for your 2nd grade teacher. Some of these women are trying to help others, some are trying to help themselves. Even the normally apparent “villains” have sympathetic qualities and backstories revealed that makes you wonder, but doesn’t tell you what to think, not just yet. Most of them do not do as they are advised, and that spells trouble as often as courage and adventure.

And most importantly, the women characters are integral to the plot. You could not simply pull them out of the story and continue. Without these women and their story arcs, their jokes, their goals and decisions and fallout, their shifting markers of morality, the entire story would stop cold.

And it will. The story will stop if we don’t get funding in less than two days. So please, help the Women of JourneyQuest keep telling their stories!

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