We Know the “Strong Female Character” Label Isn’t Working Because it’s Always in Quotations
Every writer’s blog ever has written a post about their take on the whole “strong females character” argument. It’s understandable that it would be such a complex topic to write about when we don’t really know how gender representation needs to look in real life. It’s a muddy affair, no argument about it.
In fiction, authors have made their characters strong by making them physically so; at the very least, they tend to be reliable in a fight. The problem with this, as has been expressed on more than a few blog posts that I’ve read, is that it assumes that the only definition of strength is a masculine one. We’ve written ourselves into a corner, here, because of course masculine strength isn’t the only type of strength there is (and, of course, it isn’t the only kind of strength a man can have either). Then again, put a character in more traditionally feminine roles, and suddenly you’re an author who’s a bit behind on the times. Hello, cooking isn’t the only thing a woman is good for, you dumbo.
I read an article in the recent past (written by a woman, I should probably add) that looked down on feminism because it seemed to call any woman who enjoyed taking on the more traditionally feminine roles as a woman who is betraying her own gender. Now, from what I understand about feminism, that’s not what’s going on at all, but I do think there’s a reason we’ve got this misconception. It’s probably safe to say that since women have fought so hard and haven’t even yet achieved equality, it’s understandable that having female characters who enjoy cooking or cleaning probably wouldn’t be considered “strong” on those merits alone.
So what is is that we really need to be looking for in female characters? Strength doesn’t seem to be the right word. I think that what’s really admirable about women who can kick butt in a fight is their confidence in their ability. These are times in which our identity as “female” is relatively fluid, with its exact definition as hard to pin down. I don’t want to make hasty generalizations, here, but I think seeing a female character who is unapologetic and confident in who she is would be exactly the right kind of story we female characters might be looking for.
That’s not to say they can’t have faults or insecurities, of course. That would be utterly unrealistic. But a lot of people have that one central part of their identity that they can be confident in.To cite a few examples. Inej, from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows was a bit reserved, decent in a fight, etc., but what made her “strong” was her confidence in her spying, using skills she’d learned as an acrobat at a young age. Nina, from the same novel, was slightly more feminine; it seemed like she enjoyed wearing flashy, colorful dresses and was not ashamed of her appearances. Her confidence came from her firm belief in her Grisha abilities. Move on to another book. Adelina Amouteru from The Young Elites was originally ashamed of her own magical abilities, but even then it was such a central part of her identity that when she accepted it as a part of who she was, her abilities really shaped the person Adelina became. Seeing a trend?
Obviously, it’s an unspoken writing commandment that anything that central to a character’s identity must be taken away at some point or another. I mean, we all know the MC’s gotta break, and that’s a good way to go about it. (Which is not a spoiler for either of the above books.) But they always have to get that confidence back in some shape or form. You can’t have a confident, sharpshooting FMC go through a rough patch and then determine that adventuring just isn’t for her. Because guys, the FMC’s confidence-change doesn’t have to be the major plot arc of the character. *Gasp* A better story would involve the FMC losing her bow&arrows or guns (depending on the story’s era) right when she would feel much better with them by her side. See?
That’s the kind of character I’d like to see more in novels.
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: High Fantasy
Rating: 5 stars
Even better than its predecessor Six of Crows. I loved it. Crooked Kingdom‘s biggest problem was one that Empire of Storms had in my last review — everything that could go wrong went wrong — but it felt like a different vein of the issue. It didn’t feel like it was trying to reach a word count goal, but was rather giving its characters a chance to grow into what they needed to be at the end. So it did drag mildly in the middle, but it all paid off in the end. In fact, I was so impressed with this second book that I was truly saddened to learn that this would only be a duology rather than a trilogy, etc, because I just did not want to say adieu to its beautiful world or diverse characters. But I’m glad Leigh Bardugo isn’t forcing a third book out of a series that worked well enough with just two. Please read it so we can fangirl over the series together.
“Create a villain that’s the Black Plague personified.”