What makes a ‘strong female character’?

So today is going to be a rant more than a blog post. I’ve had this rolling around in my head for a while, but I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet rather than 18000 words….

Lately I’ve been going on huge tirades about strong female characters in recent movies to my friends, family, coworkers, and random people who get too close. This all stemmed from when I first saw Iron Man 3… I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say there’s a part where a character with no fighting background suddenly becomes a fricking ninja MMA fighting master.

What bothers me about this is that it seems like any time someone mentions a ‘strong female character’ it’s because she fights. She is a badass who can fight with the boys, who shoots, kicks, and punches with the best of them. She’s tough, no nonsense, and physically strong.

But is that the only way to present a strong character?

I want characters that are smart, clever, and bad at something. I want a character who can whip anyone in a game of chess, but has never been in a fist fight. I want to see the female computer hacker save the day without having to blow up everything, without having to be rescued 8 times, and without having to prove she’s strong by breaking something….especially if that has never been her character. If she’s never been shown to fight, or been shown to be awful at fighting, don’t make her a kungfu master just to show ‘Hey, look at this strong female character!’

I want someone whose role isn’t defined by her role to a man in the story. Someone who isn’t just the wife, the girlfriend, the mother, the love interest, the femme fatale, etc. I want a character that I know is strong, not because of how many zombies she takes down, but by the fact that she is strong and solid in more than just a physical sense.

This is one of the reasons why I love Hermione so much. She’s smart, and a support for her friends. She can hold her own without having to always prove it by hitting something, when she does, it’s even more memorable.

I don’t mind a character, male or female, who can kick some ass and throw a grenade… but they shouldn’t have to, to prove they’re strong.


What I am not saying is that I don’t like seeing badass warrior women. On the contrary, I really love the number of fighting women who have been appearing in pop culture recently. What I’m saying is that there are others ways of being strong, and that I miss seeing those.

I want my smart, clever characters to slove their problems in smart, clever ways, not suddenly start getting violent to solve their problems.


1 Comment »

  1. Laura W. Said:

    Doesn’t she absorb his Kung Fu powers and join the Avengers eventually?

    I agree COMPLETELY about the concept but I will have to disagree with you on this particular example, on the grounds that Pepper Potts was always a strong character. She couldn’t fight very well, but she was always kicking ass and being brave in other ways. And she didn’t just fall into Tony Stark’s arms when he saved the day in the first movie; she actually stood up for herself and objected to what was basically the really shitty way he treated her and undervalued everything she did for him. It wasn’t until later, when he started acting like a decent human being towards her and she was CEO of the company, that they got together.

    But I haven’t seen the movie. I’ll give my own example of a “strong” female character that everyone likes because she fights: Arya from Game of Thrones. Arya started out as a girl who wanted to be treated the same as a boy — very feminist, as opposed to a girl who wishes she was a boy (like Cersei), which is NOT. Her character becomes really quite tragic because she goes through so much trauma that she’s emotionally stunted forever. Her reaction to everything is KILL THEM ALL. And people love her for it and think she’s such a strong person. I’m sorry; I didn’t realize losing all compassion and resorting to violence to solve all your problems was strength. It’s not.

    This culture has seriously messed up ideas about what “strong” means.

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