There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the importance of “strong female characters.” As a woman, and a mother, and a writer, I wholeheartedly agree. I want my daughter to grow up surrounded by stories of people she can identify with who go out and accomplish great things.
And as a reader, there’s nothing I find more annoying than a female character who does nothing but sit around fretting, waiting to be rescued!
But when I dig a little deeper into this idea of “strong female characters” I’m left with more questions than answers. What makes a female character strong? Is there a difference between feminine strength and masculine strength? Should there be a difference?
In my own reading, I’ve come across a few strong female character types that didn’t ring true for me:
- Rambo-in-a-Skirt – The character who acts and talks like a guy, but who happens to wear (very little) female clothing and answer to a feminine name. Pretty much every female superhero ever.
- Hillary – A variation on Rambo-in-a-Skirt. She’s wealthy and powerful and she’ll crush her enemies under 4-inch heels.
- Velma – The know-it-all who can never be wrong. About anything. Ever.
All of these types bother me because they’re caricatures that don’t really capture the complexity of a strong, intelligent, successful woman. The fact is, we’re far more interesting than that.
It’s not difficult to see where the caricatures came from:
Somewhere along the line, humans came up with the crazy idea that men are supposed to be strong and women are somehow the “weaker sex.” And this assumption is rooted in the idea that women are inherently weak and stupid. So when women finally stood up and laughed at this nonsense, the answer was obvious: if you want to be considered strong, you have to act like a man. Be tough like a man. Be aggressive like a man. Be smart like a man.
I guess it’s better than nothing, but….we’re not men. And this assumption is rooted in the idea that women are inherently weak and stupid. If we want to be considered strong and intelligent, we have to act like something we’re not. We have to fake it.
I like to believe that most of us have moved beyond this simplistic interpretation in real life, but it seems to persist in literature and movies. And when it comes down to it, our stories reflect our deepest truths.
I got tired of reading about female characters who didn’t ring true, so I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I made one up. Brianna, the title character in my first Faelands novel, Daughter of Oreveille, doesn’t have all the answers. She isn’t enough of a warrior to wade through a dozen monsters with nary a scratch. And yet, I’d hold her up as a truly strong female character. She knows what she believes in, and what she’s willing to fight for. She does what she has to do to create a life of her own choosing.
To me, those are the hallmarks of a truly strong character – male or female.
What do you think? What are some of your favorite – or most cringe-worthy! – characters?
Tricia Ballad is the author of Daughter of Oreveille and Lady of Gaia, as well as the upcoming Defender of Oreveille. She never really grew out of playing pretend or sitting cross-legged on the rug for story time. And she drinks absurd amounts of coffee.