Boy oh boy, is this topic not written about extensively. Yes, every person has their own take on Strong Female Characters, especially when it comes from political correctness and feminism. Personally, I’ve mused on this topic for a while and have finally come to a conclusion on how to write them. Take the following as mere suggestions when it comes to applying strength to female characters in your own writing. Here goes.
Too often, writers take a female character and make her boisterous, intimidating, and bitchy in an attempt to display her strength, however one doesn’t need to be outwardly aggressive or dominant to possess strength. Much of the time, a Superman does hide behind the meek and mild Clark Kent exterior. However, far too often aggression and strength are equivocated, especially in fiction, and especially for female characters.
Personally, I think this has more to do with wish fulfillment on the part of female writers. They want their characters to be everything they are not while saying and doing things they wish they could. And if it’s not female writers creating stereotypical Strong Female Characters then it’s supplicating male writers doing it as a form of unconscious (or sometimes deliberate) pedestalization of women.
Fortunately, these characters don’t work because the writer’s portrayal is so out of touch with reality that the willful suspension of disbelief is stretched to its breaking point. Making women aggressive doesn’t show their strength, but, more importantly, none of us know of any women in our day-to-day lives, not a single one, who are as aggressive as the typical Strong Female Character. They just don’t exist in the real world.
“Now dragons also don’t exist in the real word,” I can hear the critics say, “and we have them in fiction. Fiction can have whatever you want, blah, blah, whatever.” Yes, of course, dragons don’t exist in the real world, which is why we can make them be anything we want them to be. However, women exist in the real world, which means we already understand their workings (basically) through our interactions with them. Taking a thing that exists in real life and warping it so out of proportion for the purpose of wish fulfillment or a blatant political message will kick the audience right out of the story. The last thing you want as a writer is to have your audience see the puppet strings and say to themselves in the middle of the story: “oh, the writer just put that in there for [a blatant, non-plot related and entirely ideologically motivated reason].” It’s like product placement in a movie. It breaks the illusion of the fictional world and kicks you right back into reality.
But worst of all, the approach of equivocating women, strength, and aggression completely ignores the innate differences between the sexes, which should be well understood in the manosphere.
The most important difference when writing power into both sexes is that men are conflict tolerant and women are conflict avoidant, even when both have sufficient strength to handle a problem. It’s not uncommon to see a man be rash with his strength and intimidate a foe into fighting, whereas seeing it from a woman punts us right out of the story. It isn’t her strength that clashes hard against our sensibilities, but how she comes across with that strength. Seeing a woman act like a man is as disruptive to the novel’s dream world as a talking dog done without jest.
The pioneer mother with the baby on one hip and a rifle on the other wouldn’t go looking for trouble, but she’d be damn prepared when trouble came to find her. Women generally seek peace and security, thus outright violence is always a last resort to conflict resolution. A female character would be no different, even with sufficient strength to handle the problem. Her strength merely manifests by her drawing a line in the sand and ordering the antagonist not to cross. If they do, she reacts. She doesn’t spring forward and fight before the line is drawn. Yeah, a man would do it, but a woman would not. Thus, when I notice women in fiction doing things that men do, I see it as either horrible writing or wish-fulfillment propaganda, or both.
An actual strong female character would sit back and wait for the right moment to use her power. She wouldn’t go looking for trouble. She likely wouldn’t amplify the situation. She would not go out of her way to prove she’s a badass (Ms. Katness Everdeen, looking at you). If anything, she would use her visage of weakness as a potent disguise against her enemies, which would drop at the proper moment when her true power is released, but not before. Never before it’s ready.
Be smart when writing female characters, strong or weak. Use the knowledge of our innate differences that you’ve picked up from reading the blogs around here and thoroughly use it when crafting characters of each sex. That way, you’ll have realistic character that, I don’t know, we can actually identify with and understand.