A strong male can hardly even be considered a character archetype. They’re standard, normal, to the point of being devalued. A strong woman, on the other hand, might as well have a microscope for an umbrella – she’ll be under it often enough.
Is she strong enough compared to her male counterparts? Does she avoid any of those degrading, submissive behaviours that make the hardcore feminists scream? Is she strong primarily in areas that are stereotypical or clichéd?
Is she TOO strong, to the point of becoming an overly perfect Mary Sue - even if that same power level would be totally acceptable in a male?
And if you do see a strong female character in fiction, all too often, she’ll be a bitch. It’s as if many writers have somehow managed to reach adulthood while still carrying the schoolyard bully-esque notion that “degrading others = strength”.
Or maybe they’re just trying to show that she can hold her own against the guys, even though she’s not supposed to be ‘against’ her teammates to begin with. Or maybe they think the only ‘nice’ women are the delicate ones.
There really is no good way to interpret a bitchy ‘strong’ female. In fact, her acerbic attitude could be considered a sign of weakness, but that’s a topic for another post.
Of course, the writers who create these characters might very well be aware of this fact, because if the woman is pretty and the male lead is around her age, you’ve got to know that it’s only a matter of time before she’s in jeopardy or despair, whereupon he rescues her and it thaws her icy heart.
All in all, when viewing them through the lens of our media culture, strong women really can be difficult to write. So, how do I get around this problem?
Because when you create a character with the concept of making her a ‘strong woman’ at the forefront of your mind, you’re reducing her to two aspects: her gender, and her strength.
Instead, I prefer to just write each character as herself.
The Beachwalker is strong because she's resourceful, she has a firm sense of responsibility, and she never gives up.
She is also weak, because she's so reluctant to receive anything from anyone that her strength has become a danger to her. Indeed, she fears the loss of identity that would come from getting help, so in some ways her powerful independence is rooted in that flaw.
Every character has her flaws. And they have their strengths, often in such diverse areas that it’s hard for even me to say whether the women in my stories are stronger or weaker than the men with whom they share their worlds.
And I think it’s better that way.
Do you agree with this post? Disagree with it? Do you have anything to add?
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