I was asked what I felt a strong female character should look like. None of the traits I listed were physical. Intelligence and emotional fortitude were the front runners - the willingness to persevere in the face of adversity. The individual who plods forward despite fear is a strong person, and those traits do not differ between the sexes.
Strength in women, just as with strength in men, does not equate to perfection. In fact, the more adversity the character faces, whether it be in illness, disability, or environmental challenges, the more opportunity the author has to showcase the character's strength. To be honest, there are times I feel bad for my characters because I like to stack the deck against them and watch what happens. Yes, you may picture me cackling at my laptop as I drop another bomb on the battlefield that is my story line.
I have to wonder why there is so much focus on building a believable female character. It's not hard to break from the archetype of ditzy, battered Barbara and her lack of self worth. Make your women people. Give them dreams, strengths, and weaknesses. Just don't let the weaknesses outnumber all else. Give her a brain. Let her be the one to walk along her journey without a man guiding her in the right direction.
I look at strong women in the workplace and how people respond to them. Women are expected to temper their opinions. Intuitive and compassionate behavior is favored over strict rationality and assertiveness. If facts are baldly stated, they are met with resistance. Here's a great article on the phenomenon. Do people question how to construct a strong female character because they don't want her to come across as "bitchy"? Perhaps taking male traits - a straight shooter with quick wit and brutish strength - doesn't translate directly. Put those same traits in a female character and suddenly you're looking at someone who's "bossy" and "difficult."
I'm afraid I have more questions in this post than answers. What do you think makes a strong female character? Why do you think there has been so much focus on creating believable female characters? What do you feel has been lacking?