I’ve seen a lot of posts going around calling for more well-rounded and realistic women in literature, and it makes me so excited to see literary ladies getting the attention they deserve. That being said, in my circle of friends, there seems to be a bit of confusion about what exactly I mean when I say I’m looking for a strong or a well-written female character. Often, I’ve seen people assume any woman with a set of traditionally non-feminine skills, or someone who can hold her own in a fight, is a strong female character. I don’t know about you guys, but I need to see a lot more before I’m willing to call someone a strong leading lady. So I’ve decided to outline exactly what I do and don’t mean when I say I’m looking for strong female characters.
These are some of the things I’ve seen in books or movies that have been praised for having strong female characters, that, to me, really just weaken them. While these things can be a part of a strong leading lady, too much gets a little frustrating:
The G. I. Jane:
This is one of the most common misconceptions I see. The G. I. Jane is the female character who is so good at kicking ass, that it’s pretty much the sum total of who she is; the character becomes nothing more than a set of skills. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has suggested a book/movie/TV show on the grounds of a strong female character, and instead, I essentially see a sexy robot kicking some ass. I love when ladies are strong, skilled, and independent, but I don’t want to see them lose their femininity, or their personality, for the sake of those skills.
The “Not-Like-Other-Girls” Girl:
I know this isn’t exactly a trait, but it bothers me all the same. If read in a book, or hear in a movie, that the main female “isn’t like other girls,” I get a little turned off for a few reasons. The first being that it assumes there is a “standard girl” for the character to deviate from. Girls come in all shapes, sizes, and character traits, so to act like they’re all the same except for this one character is, frankly, a little insulting. Second, it also implies that traditionally “girly” things are somehow bad. If the character can’t separate herself from the traditionally feminine, she loses her significance, and the “other girls” didn’t have any significance in the first place. Lastly, if your character is unique, it should show through in the dialogue and the character’s actions; to have to say it outright seems like lazy writing to me.
The Girl Who Does Everything for Herself
Don’t get me wrong, I love independent ladies. But part of being a well-rounded character (male or female) means knowing when you need to accept help. I’ve read so many books where the leading lady is trying so hard to be independent, that she completely overlooks the help her friends can (and often do!) offer her. There isn’t a single person, male or female, who can succeed at life while remaining 100% alone, so when a female character tries to for the sake of being independent, it makes me question the realism of the character, which is a road you never want your readers to go down. I’d rather read a story where the character seems a little too dependent, than one where the character tries to be so independent, that she’s no longer realistic.
Which leads me to:
When I say I want a strong female character, these are some of the specific things I am looking for, and what I think are great examples:
Ladies With Many Interests:
I’m looking for ladies who are good at more than one thing and interested in more than one thing. A great example of this is my bae, Celaena Sardothien from the Throne of Glass series. She is a trained assassin, so naturally kicks some serious booty, but she wants to make sure her hair looks good while doing it. At the end of the day, she cleans her knives and treats herself to as many lovely dresses as she can find. She’s a great assassin, a fashionista, a book lover, and a dedicated friend. It may sound like a lot to expect from one character, but I have yet to meet a real person with only one interest or talent. I once heard it said that writing a book is like writing an essay, your characters are your thesis, and your job is to prove they’re real. To me, you can’t prove they’re real unless they’re in-depth and multi-faceted.
Women with Vulnerability:
I’m a sucker for some strong ladies, ladies who can take care of themselves, and ladies who make smart, logical decisions. That being said, my favorite ladies also
have emotional vulnerabilities. That vulnerability doesn’t always come in the form of fear or sadness, and, when done well, the lady shouldn’t come off as being over-emotional either. One of my favorite ladies ever written is Zoey from Firefly. After having been on the losing side of a rebellion, Zoey becomes the first mate of a spaceship, and marries a man much less combat-ready than herself. Because of this, whenever he is threatened in any way, you better believe Zoey breaks out all the stops to keep her hubby safe. (If you haven’t watched Firefly, I would 100% recommend it. Seriously, they’re basically space cowboys.) Zoey is definitely a bad-ass lady, but there are several times throughout the show where her vulnerabilities show through, and that’s why she is my precious little rebel who I love so much. (Bonus: she’s also a great example of my next point)
Ladies with a Strong Voice:
I won’t lie to you guys; sometimes I feel like the only person who HATED Ross and Rachel together in Friends. Every time their relationship had a problem, all I could do was roll my eyes. Why? Because all their problems could have been solved by a simple, five-minute conversation. In my opinion, strong female characters should
never have this problem. While internal struggles are important to many stories, well-written ladies are able to have conversations about those conflicts, and should be able to hold their own in debates or verbal conflicts or even apologies.
Even when the character may be a little socially awkward, they should still have a voice, and use it in whatever capacity they can. A great example of this would be (excluding Revenge of the Sith; don’t even get me started) my beloved Padme Amidala. Granted she was a queen and a Senator, so it was kind of her job, but Padme was confident in her voice and knew how to use it well. Padme for President 2K20.
And while I know it’s not necessarily a character trait:
Friends. All the Lady Friends:
I love well-written female friendships; the friends who comfort each other and laugh at each other and call each other out on their dumb-assery. Female friendships provide a lot of opportunity for character growth, but also just make me a little bit more interested in a character, because it allows me to see her in a new light. I’m a huge advocate for more female friendships.
So, suffice it to say, yes, I do expect a lot from my favorite leading ladies, but I know they can handle it. They wouldn’t be strong female characters otherwise.
Thanks for powering through my book-nerding! What about you? Who are some of your favorite leading ladies? What do you look for in strong female characters? Let me know in the comments below!