Stop Saying “Strong-Female Characters”

I received a nomination for the Free Spirit Award (Thanks My Fujoshi Life) with the prompt to write about Strong Female Characters and then I remembered I’m not a huge fan of that phrase.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was watching my monthly book-club vlog of Felicia Day where she offhandedly mentioned the fact that she hates the word “Strong-Female-Character.” We read romance novels, you see, and that term is often thrown around when we have a character who is just plain great. Felicia’s words gave me pause, and I wondered, why?  Those words are so often used to describe the lack of well fleshed out women in media. I have heard them for years and use them casually, so what wasn’t I seeing?

After some reflection I think I realized Felicia’s point. Why do we describe good female characters as Strong? Do we call Iron Man or Doctor Who Strong Male Characters? No, we find other ways to describe them. Iron Man is confident, billionaire, play boy, smooth-talker, philanthropist while Pepper Potts is… a strong female character. See the problem? Strong is just a place word we use to check a box: does this movie have a strong female character for the ladies? Yep.

Most often these box checkers take the term too literally. The woman will come in as an ultra-fighter. Brains, beauty, and brawn she is the epitome of strong female character and way too fake for my liking. This is how Black Widow started for me and remained until Winter Solider where we saw glimmers of Natasha’s human side. She showed real fear when she talked about the Winter Solider, and real regret when she realized she struggled with trust. After that movie I was able to describe Natasha a little better than just a strong female character. She was guarded, efficient, manipulative, cunning, loyal, a solider and teammate.

Backtrack to when I had first heard Felecia Day’s comment in book club. Our genre of choice is usually romance novels, where there are an abundance of literal Strong Female Characters or an abundance of weak female characters. To match the male protagonists writers often give us a woman who is cold, strong, and doesn’t take any shit. They kick a lot of ass, which is great, but they are not real people. It is like they knew we want powerful women but don’t want to risk making the female protagonist coming off as a bitch or a weakling.

Using the term strong female character implies that the woman cannot be weak at times. That she can’t cry, feel frustrated, or fail. This is a boring character. I would like to bring up Sailor Moon, one of my favorite female characters ever written. If someone described Sailor Moon as a strong female character others may pause remembering the early episodes where our heroine was the biggest cry baby in the world. She is selfish, boy crazy, and often makes mistakes but she is also; loyal to her friends, brave, and willing to learn. By the end of the series she’s well on her way to becoming a compassionate ruler of Neo-Tokyo.

Instead of strong female characters why can’t we say female characters that don’t suck? Female characters that are awesome? Female characters that are well written? Well, these are all pretty big mouthfuls so I’ll just settle for the term female characters. If they are strong, well-written, flawed, or awesome explain why, but all in all they are still females.

This term isn’t going away anytime soon but I do think it is important that we think about the reasons why we use it. In all honesty I may slip and use it as well, but I am working on it, I’m trying to describe female characters in terms that are not as generic as strong.

This entry was written because I was nominated for the Free Spirit Award by My Fujoshi Life. Thanks for the nomination and the prompt! I have to say I’ve been meaning to write something on “Strong Female Characters” for a while and now I have an excuse. Also it helped with the bit of writer’s block I’ve been having. In case you were wondering the title image is by Kate Beaton from her “Strong Female Characters Comic” which is both hilarious and fits this topic really well.

This award was created by UNOTAKU and Marvelously Mismatched.

Rules

  • Write about the topic your nominator gave you
  • Place the Free Spirit Award button somewhere in your post
  • Nominate bloggers (no requirements or limitations)
  • Give your nominees a new topic to post about
  • Have fun

Topic: Write about  a fictional character who changed your life.

My Nominations:

The Distract Blogger

Ian Wolf: Odd Job Otaku

Depepi

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12 thoughts on “Stop Saying “Strong-Female Characters”

  1. This is a good read. It gave me some more perspective on the phrase “strong female characters.” I think I will try to be more concrete and cautious on how I use the words now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I’m glad I was finally able to put this into words that makes sense. Like I said, sometimes the phrase still comes out of me but I’m finding it is more beneficial to describe female characters in other ways. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well it is always great to use different words and phrases to describe how awesome being a woman is. *thumbs up*

        Like

  2. thanks so much for this answer i feel like my eyes have been opened! when i was trying to define what a strong female lead was i ran into the problem of making her all emotionless and as you said a bitch so i always felt like something was off xD

    Like

    • Haha, well thanks for the prompt. It was just what I needed right for my writers block. I’m also glad this whole thing made sense since it became my inner ramblings for a bit. XD

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post and couldn’t agree more! I think the word “strong” in general needs to shift and change with our times as well. Too many people think nothing but physical strength when they hear the word.

    Like

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