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Strong Female Characters – Strong = ?

I recently had a conversation with one of my friends about this. I have recently read an article about the term “strong female characters”. It’s something that’s popping up all the time, describing many of the heroines in popular YA novels. Katniss from The Hunger Games, Tris from Divergent, Annabeth from Percy Jackson…if there is a girl who is the heroine, who isn’t a girly-girly, she will be labeled as a strong female character.

And that’s great! It’s nice to see more Hermione-esce heroines in YA.

But.

Why must it be “strong” female character? I’m going to use Hermione as an example here. She was the first book character I ever identified with. She’s describing in the first book like this.

He had just raised his wand when the compartment door slid open again. The toadless boy was back, but this time he had a girl with him. She was already wearing her new Hogwarts robes.

“Has anyone seen a toad, Neville’s lost one,” she said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.

Hermione almost never starts a fight. She studies, she’s the smartest person in their year, and she’s very real. I could easily imagine a bossy eleven year old interrupting two boys sitting eating candy to ask about a toad.

There are many words you can use to describe Hermione. Smart. Brave. Caring. Bossy. Open. Why add “strong” to the list?

Or what about Katniss? Caring. Tortured. Motherly. Brave. Gutsy. Determined. Fierce.Independent. Again, why add “strong”? Why add a word that brings to mind physical strength, not strength of character.

It’s something that’s coming up a lot. There’s this idea that most YA heroines have to be very masculine, without having many “girly” emotions to be considered a good character. I disagree with that. Hermione and Katniss cried. They yelled. They got angry and hurt and sad and happy.

Heroines are not supposed to be exactly like heroes. But people tend to be told to write heroines in a certain way, or risk their character coming off as a girly-girl or a whiner. What about Gwyn, from the Ruby Red series.

She is clearly a girl. She giggles with her friends and she crushes on actors and she worries about how she looks, just like every girl. But when you go and read reviews, you get words like “ditzy”, “seems younger”, and “whiny”. Gwyn is one of the most realistic teen girls I have read, and yet people seem to see her as badly written because of that.

It’s like there’s this neat little box that heroines have to fit into in order to be considered worthwhile. Which, honestly, is complete bull.

We should drop the phrase “strong female characters”, and just start calling them “characters”.

Happy Friday,

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6 thoughts on “Strong Female Characters – Strong = ?

  1. This is REALLY interesting and thought provoking.

    I’ve seen people call characters strong as if it’s surprising and this is always towards female ones. When it comes to guys, no one calls them “strong.” I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because girls have more of a spectrum? Guys aren’t typically written as ditzy or whiny. Or at least from the books I’ve read.

    Characters that are completely average and yet have the strength of character to just do whatever they need to do [emotionally] are strong. it doesn’t matter if they’re whiny or weird.

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  2. Exactly. People tend to use “strong” to describe only this one specific set of characters, step a toe out of line and that character is suddenly unlikeable or unrealistic or mocking. It’s weird.

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  3. YES I COMPLETELY AGREE. I’ve even wrote a mini-rant post up about this myself, but just haven’t published it because I didn’t think I summed up my feelings eloquently. YOU DID IT SO WELL. I think “strong” is a rubbish word. No one describes boy characters as “oh look, there’s a strong hero!” so why the heck do girls have to get labelled with it to be considered good role-models?! I THINK THIS IS WRONG. I want to write about interesting characters, not “strong” characters.

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  4. I think I agree with you! Why can’t we just appreciate female characters the way they are? And why do they have to be tomboys in order to be seen as “strong”? I’ve thought about this a lot with watching The Legend of Korra, which is praised because Korra is the lead role in an action show, but she’s a girl. But she’s not girly at all! However, they have another female character, Asami, who is fierce and can fight, but is still girly, so I think that’s a good balance.

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