Wash and Zoe’s marriage in Firefly/Serenity has GOT to be one of the best marriages around. They’re equals, they often do mundane everyday things, many of their fights are professional, not personal. So here’s Scarlett’s guide to How to Write Good Ship That Doesn’t Demean the Woman:
#1 Introduce her as a strong, capable character with an important – and platonic – backstory with at least one other character (in this case, Mal). Maintain her existence as a strong, capable character forevermore.
#2 Show her with a life outside her relationship with her husband – in this case, the 2IC of a pirate ship. Show her as being damn good at what she does. Show her husband as having a life outside their relationship – as the extremely talented pilot of that ship.
#3 Show them doing everyday, mundane things. Bonus points for showing them in bed sleeping. No, Scarlett didn’t accidentally drop off the word together. Kudos to Whedon for being able to show a couple could share the same bed without being at it whenever such occasion arose (so to speak).
#4 Despite the fact they don’t feel the urge to rip each other’s clothes off all the time, show they are nonetheless passionate and stimulated by one another. Do something revolutionary and illustrate that there’s a middle ground between initial animal attraction and the contempt that familiarity supposedly breeds.
#5 When they fight, have them fight over a variety of issues – whose turn it is to maintain the living quarters, weather or not to have a baby, what tactic they should take in their latest mission, who has the greater power in the relationship. Bonus points if ship-related fights come across more as colleagues arguing rather then lovers arguing.
#6 On at least one occasion, demonstrate that, while they’re faithful, they’re still tempted. THEY’RE NOT BLOODY EUNUCHS JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE MARRIED! Have that temptation play so it could easily be rewritten for the other.
#7 When he dies, have her distraught with grief, but not crazed because her only reason for living is gone.
In other words, portray your married couple as passionate, faithful and loving, who disagree at times but are committed enough to find a compromise. Have them have fulfilling lives outside each other – remember, a partner is supposed to COMPLEMENT you, not COMPLETE you, as if you weren’t whole to start with. But Wash and Zoe hold particularly true because, while it’s fairly common for men to be granted this realism, it’s far rarer for women.
Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and says a lot about the people who are running our film and television industry.