My End to the “Strong Female Character” Roundabout

I made the mistake of reading yet another pair of articles examining what it means to write a “REAL” Strong Female Character.

I should know better, truly.  Thousands upon thousands of words expended on the issue! Countless examples and counter-examples in an attempt to make it very clear! Comment after comment debating those words and examples!

And in the end, it’s about as helpful as debating what color the walls ought to be painted while the roof is leaking like a sieve.

I’m a busy woman, so I’m going to make this quite simple and brief:

It doesn’t matter if the sharp pointy thing a woman carries is a darning needle, a plow, a pen, a sword, a scalpel, or a brooch. It doesn’t matter if she wears skimpy black leather, frumpy jumpers, billowing gowns, maternity jeans, heavy armor, or a wimple. It doesn’t matter if she sleeps with everyone, concurrently or consecutively, or if she sleeps with no one at all. If she has kids or hates them. If she spends her time nurturing or demanding. If she talks to women or talks to men, or talks about women or talks about men.

It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.

Here’s what does matter:

A strong character assesses the situation, accepts responsibility, makes decisions, takes on a leadership role, and initiates action. A strong society doesn’t blink when that character happens to be a woman.



7 thoughts on “My End to the “Strong Female Character” Roundabout”

  1. One of the criticisms I often hear levied against writers of strong female characters (for example, Zoe in Firefly) is that the writer basically took a male character and change the name to that of a female character.

    I’ve never actually seen that in anything I read, but I suppose it happens. I think people who levy such accusations probably have their own hangups as to how a female or male character ought to act.

    I’ve been told I write female characters well, but it’s nothing I consciously do beyond having the character react to situations as you describe. Namely, as any human reacts to situations, with differences based not on what gender they are, but rather on what kind of person they are.

    It gets trickier when considering motivations, drives, fears, etc., but if the challenge is strong enough, it rises to the level where one deals with primal responses that span gender and races (writing “the other” is another popular discussion).

    Thanks for the great advice.

    1. “Namely, as any human reacts to situations, with differences based not on what gender they are, but rather on what kind of person they are.”

      There’s much truth in that approach, I think.

      I’ve often given a head-shake to the “but she acts like a man” critique, usually because I can name women in my life who are similar to the character! 🙂

  2. I like your pithy definition very much but one thing struck me: your definition requires the strong woman to be a leader. And I immediately wondered: can’t a woman be strong without taking a leadership role? One can still act and take initiative without leading. I’m just curious if you were intending to exclude followers (for lack of a better word)?

  3. You know, that’s a really good question that makes me consider how I define strong characters in general. *ponders*

    Yes, I think strong characters need to demonstrate a willingness to lead, though I’d use a broader definition of leadership. The character doesn’t need to take charge of the world, but does need to step up independent of other factors. The leadership might be formalized, or it might be an informal form of influence among a group of followers, or even the ability to guide/advise the leader she follows. But I do see the willingness to put one’s beliefs and abilities on the line as the underpinnings of leadership, and I do see those elements as essential to strong characters.

    Does that make sense?

    1. Perhaps a better definition is “confident”. Not in an arrogant way, but comfortable with herself, her opinions, willing to challenge those opinions as well as stand up for them.

      That could make her a leader by default whether she wants it or not since the majority of people take their worth from the opinion of others.

    2. “But I do see the willingness to put one’s beliefs and abilities on the line as the underpinnings of leadership”

      I have never thought about leadership as defined this way so now I will have to ponder 🙂

      1. Hooray for mutual thought-provoking! 🙂

        I’m still thinking about this, too. I’d put the same post up on LJ and received a similar comment, so it’s obviously something I need to consider.

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