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Feminist Friday: What Are Strong Female Characters?

You may have noticed I’ve been blogging about female characters all week! Well, there’s a reason: I want to discuss the concept of “strong female characters” today. That phrase gets thrown around a lot, but people have widely varying ideas of a) what a strong female character is, and b) what a strong female character is supposed to accomplish in the real world. So, let’s compare notes.

We Are All Wonder Women
Prints available on Etsy.

In its most casual usage, the phrase seems to mean either a female warrior or a female character who gets a lot of “screentime” in the story. Both of these things can certainly be important. Women are traditionally not portrayed as warriors or physically/emotionally “strong,” and as we talked about two weeks ago, the Bechdel Test illustrates that women are often only present as token supporting characters in a male character’s story. (There’s nothing wrong with telling stories about men, but it becomes a problem when those are the only stories!)

I noticed the same thing while putting together those recommendations I’ve been posting… There aren’t very many female points of view, but there are a lot of female second-most-important characters. I can’t help but feel that when a book or a movie is all about men with only one woman, or only women who exist in support of the man, that I’m being “appeased.” That the creators sighed and said, “We better include a woman or we’ll get complaints… Give her a gun and make her feisty, I guess. And put her in a catsuit.” Or, “We need a female character… Give him a girlfriend.”

More at Hark! A Vagrant
More at Hark! A Vagrant

Do you understand why that might bother me? I, as a woman, am still being treated like a separate, lesser, person. “Women” as a group are still being treated as outsiders, not part of the audience or part of the group of creators. We’re being treated as people who are “over there” complaining, who have to be thrown a bone, and who will then hopefully shut up. It also implies that creators have no idea what women are like as a group, and that they can’t fathom women beyond their sex appeal.

That’s why for me, a strong female character simply means a realistic woman. Some of them may be warriors, and that’s awesome! But they should be people, too. Some women may be wives, and that’s great! But they should also be people. Tropes can be used to great effect, but slotting women into those stereotypes and not adding anything is a problem. It’s still creating distinct and limited roles for women that we feel we have to live up to, when really it’s those stereotypes that are by definition fictional. Real women have hopes and fears and preferences and backstories and senses of humor, they exist in all kinds of occupations and situations, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Real women are often attracted to people other than stereotypically masculine heroes, and they may even not be attracted to anyone for the entire time it takes to tell a story! Ideally a strong female character is one of several different women in a story, but the most important thing is that the woman has agency — a term that simply means they are in control of their own choices. It means that there’s a person in there, and that’s all I want from any character.

nichelleNICHOLS
Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)

What are strong female characters supposed to accomplish? Well, I think I just covered “realism…” In the real world, women are people. They are half the population, and they are intensely varied. The fact that they aren’t portrayed that way in fiction isn’t just happenstance — it comes from a history of marginalization, and it should be remedied.

To go one step further, the reason realism matters is that characters both reflect society’s perceptions and affect them. This is especially true for kids and adolescents, who use fiction to process the world. When Lt. Uhura walked onto the bridge of the Enterprise, she inspired a generation of black girls — and girls in general — to be more than maids or wives or secretaries. Characters give us examples, show us what’s possible, and make concepts seem desirable or undesirable. Feminism has been called the radical notion that women are people — the more they’re treated as people in the media, the easier that notion will be for people to understand.

What do you think?

  • What does “strong female character” mean to you?
  • Does it matter? Is media representation it a relevant way to address misogyny?
  • What effect does a trope have? Do you remember a particular character or type being held up as ideal, or a character that made a big cultural splash?
  • Any other thoughts?

For more information about the Friday gender equality discussions, go here.

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73 thoughts on “Feminist Friday: What Are Strong Female Characters?

  1. Real women have hopes and fears and preferences and backstories and senses of humor, they exist in all kinds of occupations and situations, and they come in all shapes and sizes.

    ^^This.
    I’m reminded of Vivica A. Fox aka Copperhead in Kill Bill V.1

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  2. I am horribly behind on my Feminist Friday reading, and for that I apologize! And, being behind, I’ll try not to mess with a weeks-old conversation thread (67 comments!) by stirring it up.

    I will say I just finished the book Among Others by Jo Walton, and this puts an interesting spin on Female Agency (and the idea of Agency in general) by dealing with magic. It’s amazing, and you should read it if you haven’t.

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  3. By the way, how does one volunteer to host the Feminist Friday discussions? I would be honoured to host one in November. I think I have a great topic idea. Please let me know, thank you.

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  4. I was very young when Star Trek was in re-runs. Lt. Uhura was a strong woman and since I was so young I never gave thought to gender or race. But I knew she had a strong position on the bridge with so many men! I loved Mary Tyler Moore growing up because she was an independent woman in a male dominated industry. And her friend Rhoda was an inspiration for me. Those were two influential shows for me. I am in the tech field, which is still male dominated. Slowly we are trying to get more women in the field and I believe we have a long way to go! I am not sure if feminism is as strong as it once was. It seems to be associated with a radical movement – though I do not believe it needs to be.

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  5. I very much agree with your post here, especially with your definition of a strong female character. Agency is absolutely necessary for a character, and if they don’t have agency — as in the character exists only to serve as plot points or relationship needs of the main character, then we have a problem.

    Though I’d have to say that due to non-binary people’s existence, the half of the population line isn’t entirely true because that implies that the other half is men. Which is a bit problematic as it leaves no room for the existence of non-binary people. If there is one representation I’ve been dying to see more of, it’s gender non-conforming characters and non-binary people. I can really only think of one — Kino’s Journey, where the main character goes by both pronouns and dresses androgynous. People still try to claim Kino is a woman because of the third or fourth episode, where you see how their origin story and how they started their journey. But that erases Kino’s androgynous nature and identity. Let me have my one story, okay world?

    It’s sadly natural for our society to paint someone as either man or woman, and then erase anyone who doesn’t fit those two categories. Then to add insult to injury, society next tries to erase women, glorifying only men. It’s highly problematic.

    Representation is hugely important, as you directly said in your article, especially this line: “Characters give us examples, show us what’s possible, and make concepts seem desirable or undesirable.”

    To add to what you said, positive (healthy) representation is desperately needed because it shows that there’s others like us out there. That we are not alone, that we do exist and others like us also exist. That we do have value and worth within ourselves, and our place in this world is valuable and worthwhile. When there is little to no representation (or that representation is only negative), that can cause people to wonder if they are a freak, where they start to internalize the message that they don’t belong, that they have no value or worth.

    It also affects our interactions with other people. Because there is little to no good representations of trans people, I have encountered people that think I am a freak, and are horrified that I’m allowed near children at all. They have othered me to the point of turning me into a monster in their mind. I do not belong anywhere according to them, and society and the lack of representation only reinforces that view.

    The same with women (trans or cis) if the representation provided is mostly made up of women being a token character, or only there in relation to men, and their existence and identity relies upon their relationship to men, then people will believe that and their views of that will be reinforced. That’s why men’s rights groups are so convinced that feminism is bad, because many of them believe that women who do not serve their interests are bad. Well, feminism teaches that women are people and gives women agency, which is in direct conflict to how they think women should be and what value they have in society. Negative and poor representation reinforced this notion in those particular groups of men that women aren’t people. They are objects for their whims and desires, and when they don’t act as such in real life, this is a threat to their manhood, their identity, and to their view of how society should work. This is why pushing for representation that is more diverse and healthy and positive is so threatening to these groups of people because it forces them to view these characters as people, when before they didn’t have to, they could write them off as objects. The entire story had always been only about them and people like them, where everyone else in the story exists to further their needs. When society has built them up and reinforced the notion that their identity depends on everyone else being objects to their whims and desires, the notion of breaking that idea and showing the diversity of humanity becomes a threat. And so these groups forms to try to fight against more positive and healthy representation of diversity. They don’t understand that their identity is more than what society has taught them, and that more diversity will only be healthy for everyone — including them.

    It’s not enough to have representation. We need positive and healthy representation, where people are shown to be people, where the value of them as a person is shown to be important, and where they have agency and are fully three dimensional. That is desperately needed not just for cis women but also for LGBTQ people in general and for those of different races and ethnicities. We need more diversity badly, and that diversity needs to be portrayed in a positive and healthy manner, where people are shown to have value and are shown to be important. Where they exist as they are and their existence is not dependent upon the male protagonist. Where they have agency. Where they are the protagonists of their own stories.

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  6. Thanks for your well-written and thought-provoking post. Thinking of a strong female character brings me right to Lieutenant Eve Dallas, the heroine of Nora Roberts J.D. Robb series. Eve works out of Cop Central in Manhattan of the future. Stories are set in 2059 and 2060. Yes, she has a gun (as well as lots of electronic toys for catching perps), is physically fit through running and swimming, and is the department’s best closer. In a total turnabout to the usual gender roles assigned by Hollywood, she is married to eye candy that makes women drool, and he happens to be not only sexy and gorgeous but a billionaire with a criminal past. Her partner is also a woman, whom Eve trains and who as part of the series passes the test to become a detective and get her shield. I nominate Nora Roberts as gender bender author who elevates women characters to smart accomplished human beings. Even some of the supporting characters are women, such as psychologist Dr. Mira and Rea, the female prosecutor. But there is balance with strong male supporting roles as well in Eve’s departmental mentors Whitney and Feeney. I’d love to see her series made into films!

    What about Helen Mirren in the BBC series Prime Suspect? A well-written dramatic series that showcases a flawed female inspector, fighting the old boys’ network, and doing a bang-up job of catching criminals. Strong female role models are out there, warts and all, if you know where to look. Of course, I agree with you that we need a lot more to counterbalance the Hollywood depictions of women young and old.

    I’d like to reblog, but I don’t see a reblog feature on your site. Can you advise me? Thanks.

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    1. Thank you for the recommendations! I admit I’ve always written Nora Roberts off as formulaic just based on the sheer number of books she’s written, but of course that’s not fair. 🙂

      The reblog feature should be there as normal… Usually there’s a button up in the black bar across the top, next to “Like” and “Follow,” and also one after the post next to the “Like” button there.

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  7. I’ve been reading/watching a lot of YA media (Song of the Lioness, Sabriel, Avatar: The Last Airbender, etc.), and I have to say for me there are a bunch of items I look/hope for.

    Baseline
    -Not being the only woman in the story
    -Not throwing other women under the bus (No “I’m not like OTHER girls ugh”)

    Preferred
    -Having a lot of different women of different professions, gender expressions, sexualities, attitudes, backgrounds
    -Queer characters and gender nonconforming characters (the latter is especially my jam)

    Lately, I can’t stop thinking about male-centered media but gender-swapped. What if Marty McFly were a masculine of center queer woman sent to the 1950s? What if Bilbo were a woman and so were the dwarfs (with big beards, of course)? What if Carrie Fisher had gotten to play Han Solo like she wanted? (Not that I dislike Princess Leia at all, but damn, that would have been so cool.) What would those alternate reality movies look like, and how would that change how we think about women and women characters?

    Thanks for hosting and for the great post!

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    1. (I should have prefaced this by saying that I am very into genderqueer/gender non-conforming characters and queer AFAB characters because I want some more representation in fiction. The older I get, the more heterogamous and straight relationships in my fiction stress me out because what if the author pulls some gender BS on me out of nowhere and ruins my story?)

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    2. I second the objection to “I’m not like the other girls ugh.” Hate that. I also find that at the moment, books with queer characters tend to be better about representation all around — more women and minorities.

      Oh my gosh yes! I would watch the heck out of those movies. I think that started for me with Robocop, when they removed the female partner’s character for the new movie. I mentioned in reviewing it that she could’ve been awesome as an updated character… and then realized how awesome she could’ve been AS ROBOCOP.

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  8. For me, it’s a character who is well-written. It’s a women who isn’t a big ball of cliches and stereotypes. It’s a female character with an actual personality, strengths, weaknesses and motivations that make her compelling. It’s someone who is more than 2-dimmensional. it’s alright to tap into some stereotypes as long as it’s not overdone, because some stereotypes aren’t without merit; the same could be said about male stereotypes.

    The Bechdel Test isn’t a bad concept and a decent starting point, but it doesn’t really go deep enough to explore the real problem. In the right hands, a good story could be written about a women completely surrounded by men and never having a chance to speak to another woman. A better test would be to take the story’s most vital male character and female character, and take say, 3-5 minutes each to jot down as much about their personalities as you can from memory. If the male character’s list of traits is significantly longer than the female character’s list, you have a problem; a problem common with the vast majority of movies, games and a good number of TV shows.

    With the series I’m writing I’m trying to have not only a number of important female characters, but ones with different types of personalities. The series main character is a woman who likes cracking jokes, is a fairly sociable person and absolutely hates shopping. She is generally patient but has anger problems, so don’t screw with her family or friends. Among the other major female characters there’s also a master manipulator who is both hero and villain (depending on the book and circumstances), a pacifist with a psychology degree who enjoys farming, a kid who discovers her love of storytelling and writing at the age of 10 and a fun-loving young woman who is sensitive about the fact that her skin is permanently blood red. I’m sure there will be more to come once I get into the second half of the series.

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  9. I think media representation absolutely matters. Seeing people who look like you; hearing people who sound like you; those aren’t always quantifiable, but they matter even in just images. They matter even more when those images walk and talk. We call it “representation.” The term is important because, among other things, we use it to talk about the way one person or idea can stand as a speaker or substitute for some other person(s) or idea(s).

    And in that respect, who controls the representations that are created, published, marketed, and sold has great effect on what we see reflected. For instance, according to this study of 100 films from 2013, just above 74% of speaking roles in those films were filled by white actors. Only 5 of those 100 films were directed by a non-white director, none of who were women. http://annenberg.usc.edu/pages/~/media/MDSCI/Racial%20Inequality%20in%20Film%202007-2013%20Final.ashx

    Similarly, only 93 of of 3200 children’s books published in the U.S. in 2013 were about black people. Taking into account all minority groups listed here, there were only 253 of those books published about non-white groups, and only 224 non-white authors are represented. http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

    There are also huge problems with representation in the world of fiction, especially genre fiction, where women account for, often, well less than half of published authors, and if the stats were also broken down by race I suspect they’d be as abysmal as the film industry stats. http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/connolly_06_14/

    Add to all the shortages of representation for people who aren’t white male cis-gendered that those representations we do see are often skewed, and the importance of the strong women, the strong characters of color, the strong LGBT characters becomes clear. They’re glimpses of what real representation might look like, even when they’re not superhero-strong. I have my own issues with the term “strong,” because I think “well-rounded” is more important, but that would take a whole lot more explaining in this big ol’ comment. lol

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    1. Totally agree. Thanks for the links!

      I do like “well-rounded” although for me it conjures up more of a personality thing. Like talking about women being “accomplished” in Pride & Prejudice. But it’s no worse in that regard than “strong.”

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      1. Yes, I tend to agree.

        I don’t think a character has to be physically or emotionally strong to be well-rendered. And perhaps that’s a better term than any I’ve found so far, “well-rendered.” I like weak and strong women, falling-apart-women and everything in-between, so long as what I see is a fully drawn character who actually acts in a way that makes sense.

        I just there were more representations to go around that weren’t the average, white, cis-gendered roles.

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  10. For me, a strong female character is more about mental toughness. I’m drawn to these types of characters. One that comes to mind is Carrie from Homeland. She is the main character. She has some very serious flaws, but she is tenacious. And even when people doubt her theories (because of her mental illness) she tends to be right. I’m completely drawing a blank on more examples. I think someone on one of your other posts mentioned The Help. And while not central characters at this point, I will say the Vikings series portrays women as valued members of society. At least, the main character and members of his tribe view women as such.

    I absolutely think it’s important for media to be conscious and aware of the stereotypes and make an effort to have women featured as strong characters. House of Cards is another. Claire is an amazing character… I love that my daughter gets to read books and see movies focused on strong female characters, Hunger Games and Divergent. The popularity of these two series is a big deal for girls of this generation.Their popularity crosses gender. Boys are reading the books and seeing the movies and I think that is huge.

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    1. Good recommendations — the only one I’m at all familiar with other than The Hunger Games is House of Cards, which I’ve barely started, but am enjoying. 🙂

      Those crossover-appeal stories are definitely huge. It makes me happy every time my coworker’s little boys talk about Frozen. 🙂 It’s great because it’s so natural. People like an awesome character.

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  11. Since I pretty much exclusively write female MC’s (I have a few male MCs floating around, but the males I write tend to be in the supporting roles), I’ve been thinking today about the ways in which my character are (or aren’t) “Strong female characters.” At this point the ones I’m spending the most time with, and know the best, are the ladies of Disparate Threads…. and it’s interesting to think of them from within the “strong female character” concept.

    I like the definition of this being a character that is fully fleshes out. A STRONG character, not necessarily physically strong, but complex and “real.”

    … I wrote a whole long exploration of this more, but realized it was more story-development than anything… Which is awesome (it’s nice being reminded the whole POINT of a story you’re working on), but fairly tangential to this conversation 🙂

    What it got me thinking about, though, is how the conversation about strong female characters can create a challenge (a GOOD challenge, I think), because (at least for this writer) it makes you look at the characters you have and think about how I might be playing into tropes, and if I’m okay with that. I have one character, for instance, that a beta reader asked me about, noting that she was turning into a “princess from another land with special powers” cliche… and I decided that it was okay, because she is, but she isn’t. And just because she is a princess with special powers doesn’t mean she can’t be a complete person, a strong character in her own right.
    Think I’ve hit my “rambling time”…

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    1. I’m glad it was helpful!

      I have female MCs in other projects, but the one I’m actually writing has a male MC… and some extremely tropey women. So it’s interesting to find new ways to explore them and make them more three-dimensional. 🙂

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  12. I like to see a strong female character play to her strengths. Unless she is imbued with supernatural power, it’s a bit shallow to have her pick up a heavy sword and chop down a bunch of male warriors twice her size. Those sequences can be rousing in the moment, but ultimately they are hollow. My WiP features three female protagonists, each of whom brings different qualities that can help or hurt them depending on the circumstances. Their strengths will be subtle, in some ways, and only apparent upon analysis after the story has been read, but I’m OK wih some people not seeing it.

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  13. Hannah, I blog about Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey. There are quite a number of folktales that follow the Monomyth pattern, where women are the protagonist/heroes. I have noted that feminism has studied this in quite a bit of detail.

    Here’s what I’ve got:
    http://jaklumen.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/the-female-heros-journey/
    http://jaklumen.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/the-female-heros-journey-vasilisa-the-beautiful/

    My dear wife is passionate about storytelling and was very kind to let me record her telling the story of Vasilisa the Beautiful.

    I’ll leave my comment here for now as there’s so much more I could say in that vein of the discussion; I hope and trust you are quite familiar with a lot of it. I’m interested in all of your thoughts.

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  14. Reblogged this on Part Time Monster and commented:
    This is an awesome way for Hannah to wrap up a week of blogging about the representation of female characters in media. If you haven’t stopped by to check it out yet, you should definitely put it on your weekend social media schedule.

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  15. http://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/badass-women-in-literature-antigone/

    I recently did a blog post on a strong woman character in Greek literature: Antigone, in case anyone is interested.

    I think this has already been covered, but for me a strong woman character is not necessarily a warrior or someone who wins all her battles. For me a strong woman character is someone who is complex, just like real life women! She is someone who is interesting in her own right, not just as somebody’s wife/girlfriend/mother/friend. She can be flawed, but worth getting to know anyway. Basically, she is a full-fledged human being.

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    1. I think it tells something about our culture that female characters were more nuanced in the past — Sophocles, Chaucer and Shakespeare were all able to see women as people. Even the Victorians wrote better female characters. I am not entirely sure when we started to write women out of popular culture.

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  16. Excellent post! When I look for “strong” female characters I’m looking for those in which I feel the writing was strong, that she is a fully-fledged 3-dimensional character. I believe that it’s important to have female role models who are kick-ass and can more than hold their own alongside male characters but I think it’s also important to show flaws and weaknesses in these characters too. For example, She-Hulk tries to hide the softer side of herself and throws herself into the sexy, strong warrior stereotype but still can’t help waking up as Jennifer Walters.
    However, I agree that sometimes it seems that writers think that vulnerability must be shown in relationship to male characters and a love story, and I think that it’s an easy-out. Yes, love stories can be brilliant but they are not the be all and end all for female characters.
    Thank you for this post! It was really thought-provoking!

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  17. in the interest of comparing notes, I’m going try and answer them all.

    1. What does “strong female character” mean to you?

    You make a good point about the use of tropes here, and I think talking about agency is a good way to get at it. When I think about “strong female characters,” I’m thinking more about whether the women in a story are “strong characters” in the literary sense than about whether they’re tough. By which I mean: Are they fully-fleshed-out and do they have their own motivations? The two problems I notice most with female characters (and with characters that are in other traditionally marginalized categories) is that they’re mostly flat characters while the men are fully-fleshed-out; or, they’re defined entirely in terms of either a role or a relationship with another character. So, for example, wives tend to think and act ONLY as wives rather than as married women with independent egos and motivations.

    Does it matter? Is media representation it a relevant way to address misogyny?

    Yes, it matters because media affects our attitudes and behaviors. If you don’t believe me, go without television for six months and take note of how it changes your thought patterns and your daily routine. You answered this one, actually: “Characters give us examples, show us what’s possible, and make concepts seem desirable or undesirable.”

    What effect does a trope have? Do you remember a particular character or type being held up as ideal, or a character that made a big cultural splash?

    I can’t think of a particular character at the moment, but tropes can have several different effects. They can normalize particular stereotypes and ways of thinking. They can also be valuable tools for deconstruction be cause they can be inverted and they can be used in very literal ways to point out how ridiculous the underlying stereotypes are, for example.

    Any other thoughts?

    I can’t think of any right this second, except to say this is a marvelous post, and I’m glad you wrote those strong character posts earlier in the week 🙂

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    1. Thanks. 🙂

      Yeah, I tend to think in literary “strong character” terms too. I think it’s a natural failing when writing a character of another group to make that character obsessed with their membership in that group, I’m prone to it too, but it’s still a PROBLEM to do it that way, both socially and literarily (new word I just made up).

      A woman doesn’t think about the fact that she’s a woman all day every day, for instance, but I notice that in fantasy novels and older superhero comics all the time. It happens on TV when the token gay character never appears without saying “Well, I’m gay, so blah blah blah.” It just signifies that the writer hasn’t thought very deeply about the group being portrayed, and is still thinking of them as some “other” group rather than complex human beings.

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  18. I’d like to move past the idea of strong female characters being warriors. Those characters tend to be guys that happen to look like women or women that are there mostly for the male gaze — characters clothed in the values of patriarchy but retaining a female form. The strongest female characters don’t need to use violence or coercion as a first resort but her wit and compassion to solve problems — real problems that ordinary people have to figure out. Yeah, I know that doesn’t sound very sexy but it is a revolutionary way of looking at conflict. I guess what I am saying is that our popular culture is saturated with patriarchial narratives. The problem goes beyond not including female characters. It also ignores female conflicts and female solutions.

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    1. Yes… I like to think with a variety of female characters there will also be a variety of problems and problem-solving methods. Devaluing traditionally “feminine” attitudes is a problem for both men and women.

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  19. I’m all for realism, but even realism can sometimes be a trope that excludes certain groups. For example, I LOVE the strong warrior woman trope. She doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks, she isn’t held back by emotions, and she kicks ass. But when you say “that’s a stereotype!” and give her a romantic interest, you’ve immediately told me “real women always feel emotion; real women always need romance of some sort”. For a mostly aromantic asexual like me, that takes away someone I would normally look up to. So sometimes things that look like stereotypes to one group are a rare gift to another.

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    1. That’s good to know!

      I would never argue that a warrior woman needs a love interest (or suppressed gooey emotions in general) to make her realistic, or that a character in a romance novel needs a gun to be strong. One of the things that bothers me about these warrior women characters is that they’re so hypersexualized, even while insisting they “don’t need no man.” That’s what’s unrealistic to me.

      I think what makes me happiest is just to have variety, and for that to be okay. If a warrior woman, a cupcake baker, an artist, a mommy, and a businesswoman are all on the same show and treated with equal respect, then none of them create that “THIS is the ideal woman!” feeling, and each of them can inspire someone, and it illustrates that women are all different.

      So, thanks for the input, and I hope that clarifies my statement about warrior women not being realistic. 🙂

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      1. Oh, totally. I wasn’t arguing with you, just sharing my two cents. Though to be honest, some of the hyper sexualized warrior ladies are still pretty good role models. For example, I really enjoy the Red Sonja comics because she’s so fierce and a champion of women’s rights. And yes, also because she still kicks ass even when she’s drunk in a tavern and someone tries to manhandle her. 😉

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        1. That is excellent. 😀 I’ve been really wanting to read those, the library just hasn’t bought them yet.

          I always like to hear about the kinds of characters people identify with, and I wouldn’t have thought of warrior women that way. 🙂 I struggled with this whole post because no one stereotype really bothers me — not warrior women, not women being sexy, or whatever. It’s the aggregate.

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  20. Great post. I agree with everything you said. But allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment – as a YA author, I see an opposite trend in YA literature. The VAST majority of YA books feature young women as the MC. The reason I know this is my current WIP’s MC is a young man, and I wanted to see other YA’s with male MCs to get an idea of what’s out there. After searching over 200 titles on Goodreads, I found 7 with male MCs. I’m not saying the prevalence of female MCs is a bad thing – in fact, it could be a sign of a cultural shift! But as the mother of sons, it concerns me.

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    1. That is a good point — the trends are different in some subgenres, like YA. I didn’t mention anything about the romance genre either, because that’s its own beast. “Women’s” genres can be an interesting study of what’s supposed to appeal to which demographics, and even though the numbers are better there for women, there are still a lot of stereotypical characters.

      I do agree though — it’s concerning that boys aren’t expected to read at that age, and I think it’s connected to how being “manly” is associated with not experiencing emotions or empathy. I’d like to see the ratio even up there for male characters, as well as elsewhere for female characters.

      (Psst… Have you read Anna Dressed in Blood? Super awesome YA book with a male protagonist.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I teen librarian, I’ve noticed this trend as well. Off the top of my head I can name only four MG/YA series were the main character is a boy and it’s told from their point of view. Five if you count Riordan’s Kane Chronicles which switches between a brother and sister. Their seem to be an abundance of female leads, and plenty of them could be considered strong female characters, but their needs to be more male characters to encourage boys to read more.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Aha! That might actually be the answer to some of my own confusion. For a long time much of my reading has been in the YA (or even younger) category — so I’ve been sitting here wondering what I missed, since I hadn’t seen a lack of female MCs… If I think about when I’ve stepped out of YA, though, I can see it.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Check out Lirael by Garth Nix, too. It’s the sequel to Sabriel, and there are two protagonists, a girl and a boy. (In addition to a cast with a lot of badass women who have different personalities, jobs, worldviews, and talents.) Lirael is a great character, and Sameth (Sam) is particularly interesting to me as a male character in YA fiction.

      He’s not good at his jobs (prince and Abhorsen in training) but he’s not unintelligent or bumbling; he has a lot of emotional depth and spends a lot of time working through being scared and lonely. I was really surprised by him, and I think he’s more human and well-rounded than most male characters in YA fiction. He has weaknesses to overcome and strengths to develop, doesn’t get romantically entangled with the main female character, and tries to do the right thing even though he’s unsure of himself. (He also doesn’t become Batman over the course of the book, like many sort of nerdy and nervous male characters do, and hopefully does not do that in the sequel.) Lirael, Sabriel, and Ellimere, the main cast of women, are equally well developed characters. It’s fantastic.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. “We’re being treated as people who are ‘over there’ complaining, who have to be thrown a bone, and who will then hopefully shut up.”
    That really hit me–this is exactly the issue with people who complain that feminists are annoying. Don’t throw us a bone, fix the whole doghouse!
    I agree that the term “strong female character” often implies a superhero-like woman…basically a male role in women’s clothes. But I agree that the strongest female characters are those who make their own choices, are good people, and–like you said–are realistic. I know a lot of strong females, but not a lot of strong female characters, proving that some realism is perhaps all a character needs to be powerful.

    Liked by 3 people

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