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

2.) “I DONT NEED A MAN I AM WOMAN IM SO POWERFUL AND SEXY YEAH I HAVE NO FEELINGS I AM A BRICK WALL- oh wait I’m gonna soften up.”

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.

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A Very Sad Update.

So I think it’s well known that I hate killing off characters, but if I think it is needed in the plot, then I do so. For the final draft, I will get around to killing off a certain main character that I refused to kill off in the previous drafts. It just seemed ridiculous to me that they stayed alive, really. I only kept them alive because of how scared I was to kill them. It changes the plot of the second book slightly, but it’s important that it happens. Otherwise, it’s not realistic and the whole point of the story is not as compelling.

I REALLY hate myself for doing this. The fans will probably hate me just as much, but I can live with that.

To end this off nicely, for the final draft, I will finally do what I proudly proclaimed I would do initially. Now, half of the book is from the protagonist’s perspective and the other half is from the antagonist’s perspective.

Basically, what I’m telling you is that there is now no antagonist or protagonist. There are just warring sides. And really, that’s what I should have done all along.

Gabriel, out.

I’m Taking Chances

I really need some feedback on this. I am taking a huge risk with my writing. Maybe it just seems huge to me. I do not recall if I have mentioned this before. It is the dead of night and I just don’t recall as many things. But I will be doing a very… different… thing in the books if I can. The idea is this: reader/author communication.

I mean it quite literally. The plan is to have entire paragraphs or pages where I take the reader out of the action a bit (or rather, talk about the action a bit more). I did this first in the first draft at the final plot twist of the book. I figured it might be very confusing to the audience and maybe even seem pointless. Then I pointed out a few things mentioned previously that helped it make sense. Then I left them with a reminder to trust their author and headed back into the plot.

Now it was funny when I did it then… but should I do it again? Should I, in fact, start the story with such a concept? I am considering having the beginning of the book cut to a part midway, then drag the audience out of the story to chat with them about what they just read. Something along the lines of: “Hello, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood author Gabriel Penn. You’re probably wondering, ‘Who is this guy? Why is he here? What the heck is going on? What kind of a book is this?’ That’s pretty close to the point, actually. And to answer your question about the kind of book this is, it’s my kind of book.” Then, perhaps we’ll have another bit of talking, eventually saying that to answer all the questions, we must start at the beginning. Thusly, the book would begin… if I did it this way.

So what are your ideas on this kind of thing? Is it too much of a risk? Should I even keep it as a staple of this series, to break the fourth wall like this occasionally? Or am I just worrying way too much?