The Truth Behind “Strong Female Characters”

Today I got to have a chat with a fellow writer who’s just starting out. She and I had a very fun chat that started with a discussion on superhero films. It quickly changed to a discussion on the “strong female character” trope in television and literature. It was easily one of the most informative and revealing discussions I’ve ever had with someone on the topic. If she stays with this way of thinking, I think she could go pretty far in the writing industry.

This is the slightly edited version of her side of the conversation.

*Warning: Occasional Language*

I think that women in superhero movies are often really dumbed down to either two stereotypes:

1.) Helpless or


Strong women don’t always need to be one of the extremes. Here are some examples of “strong” characters that I honestly hate: Michonne from the Walking Dead, Black Widow, Catwoman. [They’re] the kind of sexy but very stone-faced characters. [Michonne] is one of the stereotypical strong women that doesn’t like to feel emotions outwardly, and I’ve just seen that so much. I love Lori and Carol because they’re so dynamic and not just sexy, strong, and stoned-face. That’s just my opinion.

I just get annoyed when I see females like that, because I think that people try to overcompensate for women. They try to make them as strong as possible, but then it makes them the typical “oh look how strong I am, I don’t need a man, I can shut out the world”.

I like characters who are both strong and loving, especially mothers. Honestly, my favorite characters are usually mothers like Molly Weasley. She’s so caring, kind of cute and sweet, but is extremely strong.

Honestly if there’s one thing I’ll say [about her], J.K. Rowling did an amazing job with female characters.

  • Hermione – strong, smart, physically not beautiful, but so loving,
  • Tonks – kinda scrappy and awkward but a fighter,
  • McGonagle – badass but caring.

It didn’t have to be the modern superhero sob-story, sexy angst-fest.

I feel like it almost adds to the sexual appeal when the “strong women” are really stone-faced and emotionless because then it becomes the man hero’s job to try and make her feel again, which is usually what happens. Michonne and Rick, Gamorah and Starlord, Black Widow and Bruce. And it’s funny, because these “strong” women are usually actually very sexualized. When I see a “strong woman character”, I often cringe. If they’re trying to make her strong, chances are they’re trying too hard. I love mother characters. Extreme love, extreme strength.

A lot of other “strong women” honestly are just bitchy.

I do like Rey, too. She’s a strong female that wasn’t over sexualized and didn’t come off as unfeeling. At first I thought she was, but it wasn’t overly so.

Lori was amazing because although I didn’t like her as a person, she was really complex, and often got faced with a lot of moral choices. I would sometimes say “Oh, she shouldn’t have done that!”, but then [I thought], “Honestly, I may have done that.”

Any female character that is badass and knows it and then continues with it, [she] just seems a little laughable to me. Please chill out and stop defining yourself only by your strength.

I “like” Michonne but, honestly, people are like, “wow, she’s so strong and badass”. I’m sorry, but in a woman, badassery is fine, but if that’s your defining quality it gets old. Michonne is the same but she really just becomes predictable. And [she’s] always so bitchy. I’m just so sick of strong female characters. Just make them characters; complex, not as badass as possible.

A Thought on Gender-Bending

This is an odd subject. Still, I’m going to give it a try.

The reason I have been considering this is due to some progress with the novel. As I am home, I have been discussing with people whether I should change a certain character’s gender. The character has been female for some time, but I am considering changing her to a male and a male character to a female. Oh, the things that go down in the second draft…

So it has been going on in my head, this question… why? Why should I change their gender and when is it necessary to do so?

It has come to my attention that I may not need to do so at all. I started considering it because the story I am writing is based on another story. If I were to follow the same storyline, it would force me to either change the love interest’s gender or keep it the same. The second option did not seem so much uncanny as much as it seemed unnecessary. But then I began to look at this from another angle.

Was it the romantic interest that was keeping me from changing gender, or was it something else? Was it perhaps the character themselves?

I had always felt that something was missing from this character. I had an idea of this character when I began, but it never seemed to work. I now worry that I had become so absorbed by making a realistic female that I actually made her unrealistic. I had heard a saying that a truly complex character works as both genders. I’ve never met a person who fits every single stereotype for their gender. That’s because complexity makes things not always line up evenly. The human brain is a maze, not just a straight path.

At first, that sounds strange. I think to myself, well, wouldn’t translate perfectly as a female! Certain characteristics just wouldn’t translate! Does that make me not complex? Or would they? Maybe things don’t have to translate directly. When translating the English phrase “you’re welcome” to Spanish, you get “de nada”, or “it’s nothing”. It may not have exactly said “you’re welcome”, but it’s the same idea. So it goes with personalities. This means that masculine men can translate to girls and girl women can translate to guys.

Changing a masculine male to a female doesn’t necessarily make her a tomboy. Doing the same with a girly female doesn’t make the boy that comes of this feminine. A motherly woman can be translated as a protective man. A brawny guy can be translated as a girl that doesn’t think so much with book smarts.

It was due to all this thinking, I have officially decided that I will separate the second draft. The one side will have this character as a male, the other as female. And perhaps through translating this, I can make a more complicated character out of both.

But, after all, this is just the ravings of a mad scient… I mean… amateur writer… ahem. I swear there is no secret lab in my basement. Nothing to see here.

So what did you guys think? Any further ideas? Any refutations?