by Camela Thompson
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?
3/16/2015 04:55:29 am
I think the emphasis right now seems to be on physical strength. Sure, it's nice when Buffy can kick the vampires' butts. A woman who can hold her own in a fight is cool, but physical strength and prowess is just one aspect of "strong" and not the most important one.
3/17/2015 02:30:20 am
Very well put. I would argue that Buffy had her character strengths, but they varied season to season (I wish I had stopped at five). I did appreciate Riley's conflict with the reversal in gender roles - at least it was baldly stated.
3/16/2015 05:35:43 am
I think there's been focus on creating believable female characters because it's simply not what people are used to seeing. Even in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is a pretty strong female character but her famous monologue is the one in which she is praying away her femininity. That's part of why The Hunger Games are treated as a revolutionary trilogy, because Katniss was a strong female character that continued to seem strong even whilst faced with adversity. Even when Peeta is in the Capitol she needs him because she wants to see him safe, not because she needs someone to protect her.
3/17/2015 02:35:29 am
Agreed - it's difficult to find strong female characters who function without relying on a male character. It seems like picturing someone as their own, stand-alone person with human characteristics should be such a simple thing. I think George R.R. Martin did a good job of it, as have many others. It just strikes me as strange when people have to ask.
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Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.