Let’s Talk Process: The Strong Female Character
I talk about strong female characters a lot. I’ve touched on the subject more than once in blog entries and I’ve ranted about lack of same on multiple occasions. I wrote about the aptly-named Trinity Syndrome yesterday.
This is an important topic, kids. And no matter how much rage/outrage pours forth about it, a lot of people seem to be missing the point.
Here, deconstructed, is that point or, at the very least, my version of the point:
Physical strength is not the same thing as strength of character.
I repeat: physical strength is not the same thing as strength of character.
Corollary: being a woman and able to kick someone’s ass, no matter how gorgeous and complete the ass-kicking, does not make one a strong female character.
So what does?
Here are a few essentials. This is by no means a complete list; feel free to use the comments section to add on.
1) Having a brain: not every female character needs to be a master of higher mathematics or an astrophysicist. She doesn’t even have to be that bright. She should not however, be completely lacking in mental faculties because she is female. There are many types of intellegences and even my dumb-ass cats have a couple of them. Do your female characters the same service.
2) A distinct personality: female characters should not be in the story just for the sake of their presence (yeah, yeah, I know. Add it to the list). They should not be moons reflecting the glow of the mens (I’m going to assume, at this point, you’re aware that there are always exceptions). They should not be place holders for 2x4s nor should they have the affect of same. People, even people who are similar in temperament, even people who don’t do much else, react to circumstances in a particular way that is influenced by their backstory. And they do so by means of —
3) Traits and quirks: Perhaps she knows which fork is which. Perhaps she adores sunflowers. Mayhap she is a superhero who cuts her hair short and actually wears sensible boots. It is possible she dissolves into five year old giggles when one of her children farts and then tries to pretend it was the other kid. Potty mouth, transsexual, doer-of yoga, preferrer of coffee, total klutz, wears cool glasses, can do the one eyebrow raise, will die in a landslide of books, is stuck on level 15 of Two Dots, asked the bakery if she could buy a pint of molasses stout frosting, jiggles her leg hard enough to shake the table when she’s bored, likes to kick things, into thrash metal… These are all things that make people interesting and discernible as an individual, allow them to express their emotions and to be human. Use these to describe her along with her physical appearance instead of stopping with the hair color/eye color/boob size crap.
4) Described in another way than in reference to the male character: comparing and contrasting is fine as long as that isn’t the only way she’s described. Unless they’re conjoined somehow, or existing in one another’s mind, or perhaps the AI on some dude’s cell phone, woman have the same boundaries that men do in that they are people who do things. Define them by their things instead of the man’s things.
5) Do not force her to exist in isolation either. Unless she’s supposed to for some reason, or choses to. Truly strong women are often set apart, put either onto a pedestal for abstract admiration or down into a dank dungeon for punishment. The Salem Witch trials were a long time ago and they’re a pretty embarrassing period in our history; let’s not repeat them even in the relationships between fictional characters. Strong women live in the world so put them, you know, in the world. Allow them to interact with it, enjoy it, conflict with it, and otherwise be as people rather than objects of devotion or derision.
See? Physical strength (which can certainly be included but should not be the end all) vs strength of character.
Now go out and created masses of strong female characters.
Or Harker, Roshani, Effie, and Morgana will come kick your asses. Because they can do that too.