Strong, female protagonist. I hear people calling for them all over the place. We need role models for women and girls, we need leads that aren’t male, we need kickass women!
What do YOU think of when you think of a strong, female lead?
Most of the images I’ve found for Hollywood science fiction and fantasy popular movies involve beautiful women who can either a) fix and/or drive cars/machines, b) physically kick butt or c) use firearms/weapons with amazing proficiency, such as Black Widow or Lara Croft.
I can recall when becoming powerful as a corporate woman meant “strong”. A suit. No family. And as smart and clever as a man in the same position. Tough, no-nonsense, aggressive, ambitious, and proud. Big shoulder pads. Stiletto heels. (Not sure about you, but that image seems to have some flaws of its own.)
So now we jump forward a couple of decades. Has the “powerful CEO” image of a strong woman simply been replaced by one that can beat anyone up? The corporate woman now seems to be more of an antagonist, appearing cold, distant, emotionally detached from the world. They always need to “relax”, often times because of a fun-loving guy who’s willing to help them. (like Claire from Jurassic World) If they don’t, their character remains the same. (like Miranda from Devil Wears Prada)
As some of you may know, I’m a big Joss Whedon fan. (Writer of such shows as Buffy and Firefly and the Avengers movies). I’ve found many of his characters to fit the above listed categories, however there seems to be another part that fits with these woman. They enjoy their femininity, their sexual nature, and their appearance while still equipped to stab vampires in the heart of fix a space ship engine. They have relationships with ups and downs, they work hard and train hard for what they can accomplish, but sometimes they just want to hang out.
(Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Kaylee from Firefly)
Another image is that of Katniss from Hunger Games. Katniss is the reluctant heroine, not really wanting to take up her mantle as a symbol for the Games. But many people I’ve spoken to say this makes her come off “weak”, since she is being thrust into the spotlight, but not taking control of her own life. As a “passive” character, is she considered “strong”?
As a writer, I’ve found it interesting that being emotional, needing help, and wanting a relationship are signs of weakness in female characters. I don’t know about you, but being a robotic, isolated, lonely person doesn’t sound like strength, it sounds like a terrible way to live.
So how do we fix this issue? How do we help portray women as “strong”? And do we really need to?
I personally feel as if “strong” means self-aware, healthy, and independent. Someone who knows what their goals are and strives for them. Someone who takes care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Someone who can stand on their own and survive, but knows that there is more to life than survival. Not that they are always successful at these things. 🙂
I write my books without thinking about these characteristics. I write simply how the characters unfold before me. Some of them are strong. Some of them are weak. Some of them make bad decisions. Some let others make all their decisions for them. All need growth–some grow, some don’t.
The main character of my newest book, ILLUSION, is Daith. Daith is struggling with the fact that she has no memories of who she is. She doesn’t know how to trust herself or those around her. She doesn’t know what path in life to take because she doesn’t know what her past self would have chosen. Those around her offer different suggestions, but the ultimate choice is hers. She must decide if she needs her past to move on with her future.
Daith is not a “kickass” woman in the literal sense. Yes, she discovers amazing abilities about herself, but they are a part of her, they don’t define her. She is sarcastic, panicky, frustrated, ignorant, fierce, confused, desperate, and driven. She is a whole person. Both strong and weak.
Fantasy and science fiction let us escape into other worlds. We want to be swept away by grand stories and even grander characters. But we also want to relate, to idolize, and to understand.
I never imagined that when I began writing about Daith and the other characters in my books that they might have a place in this crazy debate. However, for me, I love whole, flawed, heartfelt, messed-up, forgiving, and growing characters. I’d love for you to explore the galaxy I’ve written about and let me know how you liked all of the tangled characters you find.
What do you think about this debate?
*side note. This article is just my opinion. It doesn’t encompass every movie every made or every character ever seen on-screen. It is a mix-up of what I’ve seen, what others talk to me about, and what I’ve seen in the media. Please enjoy and feel free to share your own thoughts.