Yep, you read that right: I am sick and tired of this character trope. Whenever I see one, I feel like channelling a Strong Female Character and punching the writer in the face. Because according to pop culture, strength has become synonymous with violence.
A few decades ago, when Hollywood realised the demand for strong female characters, it decided to give the people what they wanted. The problem was, creators failed to understand the meaning of strong female characters. And thus was created the Strong Female Character trope, not to be confused with female characters for whom the writing is strong.
What Is A Strong Female Character?
We have all met this heroine. Initially, she seems rude and dismissive, saying “whatever” and rolling her eyes. Gradually, she shows her secret feminine and caring side – usually in the process of learning that she secretly cares for the male protagonist, and is too insecure to admit it. In the end, she learns to reconcile her feelings for the protagonist with her tough-as-nails identity and uses some typically masculine skill – usually combat, but sometimes hacking or deductive science – to save the male protagonist… so that he can save the day
That’s what defines a Strong Female Character: she is given value because of her masculine traits; she is kept from being the protagonist because of her feminine traits.
The Strong Female Character has several sub-tropes. We have the Evil Matriarch (Brian’s mother in The Breakfast Club), the Psychofeminist Lesbian (Enid in Legally Blonde), the Hard-Drinking Party Girl (Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s), the Lady of War (Padme in Star Wars), the Action Girlfriend (Trinity in The Matrix), the Femme Fatale (Viper in The Wolverine, Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct, Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises), the Biker Babe (Scarlett in G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra), and the Crazy Career Woman (Margaret in The Proposal, Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada), to name a few.
Part of the patronising promise of the Strong Female Character is that she’s an anomaly. Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong! She kicks people in the face!
Sometimes the phrase “not your typical damsel in distress” is thrown around, as if a large percentage of Strong Female Characters don’t end up, in fact, needing to be rescued.
In order to be established as strong, female characters are allowed to get away with behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous).
Consider This Example
Remember Peggy Carter in Captain America? When the impenetrable qualities of Captain America’s new shield are being discussed, and he is handling it for the first time, Peggy suddenly fires off several shots at him, so that he must raise the shield to avoid being killed. The scene is framed to be funny and impressive.
But, if you remove gender from the equation, it becomes outrageous. Shooting a gun, without warning, at your love interest who has a shield you do not yet know can stop bullets? What the hell, Agent Carter?
Such scenes reveal that a female character is required to overcome the underlying deficit of respect and power that she begins with. She’s below ground, and actions that would be alarming in a male character just barely bring her up to their level.
What We Need
How about we move away from the Strong Female Character trope, and have well-written female characters who are multi-dimensional, and not necessarily badass? For once, give me female characters who fall down hilariously, are forgetful, say the wrong things, are nerdy and awkward or are depressed. Let’s try to be a little more creative, huh?
When we do have badass women, let’s make them look like they could kick ass, and let’s have them get beaten up, getting black eyes and broken noses in fights.
In the end, if female characters have some depth to them, it doesn’t matter whether or not they get saved by the male hero. Batman saving Rachel Dawes is okay because she has her own ethics and heroic goals. And frankly, since she had no combat training whatsoever, had she beaten up the Joker herself with her hair and makeup still looking good afterwards, it would make her character weaker and less believable.
Here’s an idea: why don’t we start writing characters by completely ignoring gender? Or, write your characters, then try swapping their genders. How many of them seem flat or ridiculous when you do so? It’s a good way to assess how well-written a character is.
Everyone is emotional, everyone gets scared sometimes, everyone has goals, and everyone just wants respect.
People are people: some have vaginas, some have dicks. Let’s not allow genitalia to define people’s personalities.
Image Source: Google Images
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