Emilia Clarke is more than happy to talk to reporters about the characters she plays—just please don’t ask her what it’s like to play a “strong woman.”
“How about I just tell you how to play a woman? The end,” Clarke said during an interview at Cannes, after eye-rolling real hard even before the phrase finished crossing the male reporter’s lips. (In his defence, he seemed to be bringing it up in a ‘Hey, are you bothered by this?’ way).
Clarke, who stars in Game of Thrones and the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story, continues:
“Take the strong out of it! Find another adjective, damn it! I’m just playing women. Because if it’s not strong, what is it? Is there a ‘weak’ option? Do you think a lead in a movie is going to be a weak woman? It just doesn’t even bear having the conversation. Enough with the strong women.”
Clarke goes on to say that she’d prefer being asked what it’s like to, “play a female lead in a big blockbuster movie” or “someone with power” before calling out the real reason this line of questioning bothers her: It’s sexist.
“I’m very frustrated with this in particular because you don’t get ‘strong men’, unless they’re like, physically strong men. So unless I’m packing guns I don’t know about, let’s change [the question].”
All excellent points, Emilia, and we’d just like to add: Not only is this a sexist line of questioning, it’s also a bit… lazy. If every time a woman appears on screen and shows any measure of agency at all—oh, and dares to be intelligent, proactive, physically capable—but the best analysis you can come up with is ‘strong,’ well, you need to engage with the story a bit harder, mate. It’s a special, insidious kind of misogyny when you can’t be bothered to come up with more than two categories into which a female lead might fall: Strong and… Love Interest? Victim? Not worth your time to think about?
Not only is it dismissive of the complexity of the female experience, it also limits what “strength” can look like (for both genders). Clarke has fielded a lot of those ‘strong woman’ questions when it comes to characters like army-commanding, Dragon Mothering-ing Daenerys Targaryen on GoT, who has all the characteristics people are generally referring to when they use that catch-all ‘strong woman’ phrase: she’s feisty, powerful, takes-no-prisoners. We don’t imagine, however, that Clarke got asked about “strength” when playing someone like gentle, quirky Louisa Clarke in Me Before You—although you could easily argue that the character displays an equal amount strength in caring for those around her, and in being a kind, bright human being living an ordinary life. Or wait… that’s the “weak” option right?
Clarke finished her schooling with one final suggestion that we’d like to co-sign. We can stop asking the question entirely or we can, “ask boys how it feels to be strong.”
Over to you lads.