Yeah, Britney Spears is my song today. DON'T EVEN CARE.
So. Strong Characters. In particular, Strong Female Characters. We all have different ideas about what they mean and how they should be represented. I know I certainly have a lot of ~*opinions*~ on the matter.
I am most definitely not the first person to write about this. I very much recommend reading those posts and several others. They all raise a variety of excellent points, some of which I'm going to rehash. I'd like to divide this post into two particular sections of focus: "strong" does not have to mean physical strength, and the erasure of feminine qualities in an attempt to eradicate "weakness."
"Strong" =/= Physically StrongWe're all fully aware of the wide variety of sexy young fictional women who are well-versed in the art of waif-fu and capable of kicking your ass all the way up to your teeth. On the surface, this is an understandable pushback against the frightened rabbit model of female character. She doesn't have to depend on the physical strength of the male hero to save her skin -- she can do it herself. It's a literal metaphor for "being strong." She's actually physically able to fight back.
This tactic in and of itself is not a bad thing. I want to make that clear. I think it's fabulous that it's become acceptable to allow that women can be physically strong. That's not really my issue. My issue comes in when the ball stops at physical strength.
It often seems that people writing these sorts of kickass Action Girl heroines fail to allow for any character development beyond her ability to totally wail on the bad guys. She shows little emotional development, little internal strength,and few genuine flaws to complicate her character. Writers lean so heavily on proving how STRONG she is that they make her close to perfect. She crushes the affection of men and rarely has her own heart broken because she's a STRONG LADY. She wins all the fights because she's a STRONG LADY. She's a super genius and a wealthy heiress and skilled in electronics and computer hacking and vehicle maintenance because she's a STRONG LADY. You see where I'm going. There are no complications. No holes. No substance.
We need more realistically built female characters. They can have superpowers or heavy artillery if they must, but they should also have emotional arcs. Realistic motivations. Genuine character flaws. Relationships with other women that don't always involve talking about men.
My other issue is the tendency to make these super-strong heroines a certain physical type. Mainly, they're slender, petite, young, and very stereotypically attractive. As one of the previously mentioned articles states, her pretty face is never marred, despite the fact that she gets the CRAP BEAT OUT OF HER. She's not represented as a realistically physically strong body type. She's rarely large, overweight, or broad shouldered. Look, I am a petite woman who has taken martial arts. In a fight, I might be able to do some moderate damage and get away. But get into a real knock-down drag-out fight? No. I am secure enough in myself to admit that I cannot overpower most large men based on weight difference alone.
I'm not saying it's impossible for a small woman to be a powerful fighter, but I don't have a problem saying that I am not that woman. Even if I trained to be a boxer, I wouldn't be that woman. It's very clearly indicative of our culture that we don't usually cast physically strong women as anything but young and sexy. We do it because of the pressure to "give people what they want." To give them sexually available, pretty, skinny young ladies. Ladies (cisgendered) women want to be and (cisgendered) men want to be with. It's ridiculous and exclusive.
And because I know people out there always like to go DAMN FEMINISTS WANT EVERY WOMAN TO BE A FAT UNATTRACTIVE SEXLESS HAG WHO WEARS BURLAP SACKS, I'll just clarify that YES OBVIOUSLY, THAT'S WHAT I WANT. IF YOU ARE NOT A TOTAL UGGO YOU CAN GTFO. Sarcasm. No. I'd just like some variety, is all. Also, stop equating "fat" with "bad/unattractive," IT IS REALLY OLD.
Anyway, this all sort of ties in to my next point.
Feminine =/= Weak, Masculine =/= StrongPart of the push toward the Strong Female Character includes a push toward devaluing the feminine in favor of the masculine, even while keeping the ladies gorgeous and perfectly coifed. The characters I refer to are often the only valuable female character in a sea of male characters. They rarely interact with other women, let alone are good friends with any. Because other non-strong women are just so boring and useless, you know? They can't be bothered with normal female friendships and support. They're too busy proving that they're one of the guys.
We see this not only with the physically strong ladies who know how to hack computers and spit after taking a shot, but with other lone wolf female main characters. They don't want to be around other women because other women are vapid, frivolous, stupid, pathetic. Not like Female Main Character. She just gets along better with men. Because she's more like a man. Because men are better. Can you see the issue here?
When writers are creating these Strong Female Characters, they are doing so by devaluing the feminine. She doesn't know anything about makeup or fashion (despite the fact that she's always both made-up and perfectly dressed). She doesn't care about relationships, she just wants to bang and run (despite almost always falling for the male hero). She's cold and sarcastic, because emotions are for wusses (even though she'll openly weep when the hero nearly dies). It's contradictory in every sense, but these are still the words that spill out of her mouth. Everything considered stereotypically female -- emotion, frailty, maternal instinct, talking things out -- is considered useless. In order to be "strong," she has to shed all these useless things and be one of the dudes.
This is why I love characters like The Bride (Kill Bill, pictured above), Faith (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Sarah Conner (Terminator). They hit all the buttons for physical strength and attractiveness, yes. However, they're allowed to be female. Strength is not something solely found in masculinity. They're mothers and scared teenage girls with mommy issues. They act on emotion. They cry. And they fight. They don't fall into some neat little masculine-or-feminine box.
None of us fit into those boxes. Women don't exist on one plane, men don't exist on another. We are blends of our experiences and personalities and choices. Our strengths come from everywhere. So do our weaknesses. Well-rounded characters are not created based off of some cookie cutter trait. They're built from scratch and molded by background.
How do you feel about Strong Female Characters? Who are some female characters that you find both strong and well-rounded?