Strong Female Characters

There’s this thing all around the internet. Advice paired with a general outcry–write strong female characters.

I’ve had multiple conversations about this in the last few weeks, and I thought we could continue chatting about it here. People want Strong Female Characters (from here on SFC) to the point where they come down really hard on any female character who doesn’t fall into that mould.

Hell, I do it too. There’s a trend in YA where many of the protagonists are really whiney, woe-is-me characters. It often feels like the plot is happening at them and it’s the ensemble cast has to save the day, or motivate the protag to lift her butt and do it. But more on this later.

I think the need for the SFC is so great because fewer female characters featured in novels in the past. You could have an enormous cast and have only two or three women in the entire book, often with only a line or two dialogue, or they were present only so the Strong Manly Man (SMM) had someone to save. Think of LOTR. There are three major female characters, Galadriel, Arwen, and Eowyn. Shelob is female, Rosie Cotton, Goldberry, and later Elanor Gamgee. One or two others are mentioned, like Belladonna Took, but this is about it in terms of ovaries. The dudes, though, are legion. And that’s fine. I still adore this book and all the guys in it. 🙂 Also, I think the guys have varied enough personalities that the SMM thing isn’t that overpowering.

Somewhere along the line, people started to write women who can kick arse, bend their knees to no man, and hold their hysterical female emotions at bay. (Insert eye roll at that last part here.) And people want more.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love reading about these Amazonian women and I’ve written a few kick arse females too. But guess what–they still have hysterical female emotions.

The truth is, I want to read about women. Women who are strong, women who are weak, women who cry over every little thing, women who are stoic, women who need a partner to feel whole, women who face the world alone. After some introspection, I realised I even want the whiney, woe-is-me teenage protagonist. I want all of them.

If they fall in love with the first person they meet, if they never fall in love, or if they have multiple partners before they find The One–I want to read about them. Nurturing? Hates the thought of having kids? Mothers everyone because she can’t have kids? I want to read about them. The more varied the better.

And you know what? I’m sick of the SMM. I want to read about male characters who cry. Those who need a partner as much as the stereotypical female one always does. I want to read male characters who are in touch with their feelings, who struggle with mental health, who care deeply, who get hurt. Why are there so few of these out there?

The truth is, even the strongest of us are weak sometimes, and even the weakest of us are strong sometimes. Why do we need the Rambo-prototype of whatever gender when we could ask for realistic characters? People who don’t always do the right thing. People who don’t always shove down their emotions to get the job done. People, you know?

I’ve learned to love a character who isn’t right for the drama they’re facing. They don’t have the leadership skill, they don’t have the answers or knowledge or personality, but they learn. They evolve and adapt until they can solve the problem.

There’s a place for the character who is openly scared, the one who mistrusts, the one who has to be assured constantly they’re not alone. Sometimes this character is received as a weak one, but these characters often prove to have the greatest levels of endurance of all. No matter what happens, they survive.

I also love the character who does have the knowledge and skill and personality, but has been hurled into a set of circumstances that they can’t quite navigate. Sometimes they have to let go of the lone-wolf thing and call in the cavalry. Sometimes they must allow someone else to be the hero.

No matter who the character is, I love when they learn from failure. It’s fantastic when you can see how far they’ve come at the end of a book (or series or film).

Isn’t that what being human is all about?

Maybe we should stop writing strong female characters and strong manly men, and write humans instead. Or non-humans who are interesting and rounded. Let’s write people who break stereotypes, people who shatter moulds and stigmas. People who spread a little empathy in the world. Maybe if we do this, people IRL will be more tolerant.

Until next time.



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