Hi everyone, since I’m still not 100% functioning after my dog’s death, here’s, for my mini-blog tour, an insightful post by fellow writer Hadiya Malyk, enjoy!!!
Author A: ‘My heroine is so strong she can lift trucks on her pinkies. Beat that!’
Author B: ‘My heroine has seven kids.’
Author A: ‘…Alright. You win.’
Let me start this post about strong female characters by stating that all humans, men and women, are capable of great strength and great weakness. Most of us never get the chance to demonstrate the kind of strength our fictional heroines exhibit – we are lucky enough to never have to face disaster, war, psychopaths or zombie apocalypses – but we all have to be strong in myriad smaller ways just to get through life, let alone excel.
Strength and weakness have so many forms that we often think it’s easy to determine if a character in a book or a film is strong or weak. Superheroes are strong. Addicts and minions are weak. But is it ever that simple? In reality, there are so many different kinds of strength beyond physical ability. Ambition, determination, integrity, perseverance, and even compromise and sacrifice can all be kinds of strength. Ultimately, for a character to be strong, they must have courage to overcome fears/obstacles and do what is right.
Since women were historically considered the weaker sex, it seems writers have to try harder to make their female characters come across as strong. In fantasy and urban fantasy genres in particular there is a trend of empowering female characters with great physical strength or supernatural abilities. In some cases, their physical prowess is due to expertise in weaponry. With this kind of strength they are able to physical dominate others and defend those weaker than themselves in a reversal of stereotypical male-female roles. So we saw heroines like Buffy and Anita Blake, who solved their problems with fists and guns.
Following on from that trend there has been a more recent focus on psychic or magical abilities in female characters which enable them to overcome their enemies in non-physical ways. Rachel Morgan and Charley Davidson, who fight evil with magic and supernaturally boosted empathy, are good examples here. If fantasy is a metaphor for reality then heroines who fight using magic powers represent the mental/emotional skills and strength of real women. In addition to asserting that women can be as physically strong as men, most women would also argue that the strength of women lies in the way the think and feel differently to men.
In all genres, a female character’s behaviour in a relationship can determine whether or not she is seen as ‘strong’ or ‘weak’. In recent years, heroines are often more sexually free and dominant with their partner. Hanging on a man’s every call is seen as weak; indeed some writers have taken this to the extreme of having their female characters view all attachments as weak and preferring casual sexual encounters. But there is a danger in independence – refuse help too often and you risk being weakened by pride or stubbornness.
Echoing the changes in real world society, a female character’s strength can also be seen in her career. Many heroines of fiction in all genres are now successful working women, who often manage to juggle their jobs with calamitous events outside the workplace. Since it is impossible to become successful in virtually any field without working hard and overcoming difficulties, female characters who kick ass in the boardroom can be just as strong and capable as heroines who kick ass on a battlefield.
Of course, a heroine does not have to be a gun-toting, magic-wielding, sexually dominant partner in a law firm to be strong. Strength can be about getting what you want whatever it takes, but it can also be about knowing when to compromise. A mother who sacrifices several rungs on the career ladder to raise her children is not weak. A woman who risks her soul for the man she loves is not weak. A girl who loses control of the power she has been repressing since childhood is not weak. Weakness, I would argue, is giving up for no good reason. Weakness is having no convictions to begin with.
So when writing female characters, think about the different ways they are strong in your story and be proud of them. Every positive female character is a potential role model for the reader, and while it reflects reality to show weakness in characters, remember that there is also strength in everyone.