Do we really want ‘strong’ female characters?
Since the dawn of story-telling, women have been the weaker of the two sexes. Whether physically weak or mentally weak, they were not considered at the same level as men. Women were the ones who stayed home, took care of the children, didn’t get education, weren’t allowed to handle money or difficult decisions, and were trusted with nothing, even being faithful.
From there, literature allowed them to evolve into the damsel-in-distress, the object of a man’s love. They were motivation for a hero. But they were still weak. They still needed to be protected and it’s only in the last decade where ‘strong’ female characters have become a trademark in literature. And the reading world went ballistic!
Readers were so excited to see female heroines. They were happy to see the girl not needing a man to save her because she could save herself. They loved this female character who was strong, independent, mentally-secure, and could kick butt like there was no tomorrow, but now… Now, we’ve seen the light. Now, we realize that there’s something wrong with these ‘strong’ females we’ve waited so long for: they’re not realistic.
Tell me, how many women do you meet on the street who learned how to fight with a sword in a week? How many of those women learned how to fight with their fists in a couple days? How many of those women are perfectly calm and centered every second of the day, even when their loved ones are in danger? 0? Really? That’s what I thought.
The ‘strong’ female characters we see in literature nowadays, the ones that young readers are supposed to look up to, are not realistic. For one their miraculous transformations into fighters are not possible. Real humans can’t gain physical strength (from nothing) in a matter of days or even a month. It can take half a year or more to learn to fight and protect oneself and have the muscle mass to support it (especially coming from the scrawny physicality that many of them start at.) Some people train all their lives to be good at the skills some of these characters gain in a matter of weeks-months. But that’s not the only flaw.
One of the biggest problems with these ‘strong’ female characters is that the authors are trading other human emotions for strength. How many ‘strong’ female characters seem to lack appropriate emotions? Yes, they’re fighting for their loved ones. It’s their motivation and their purpose, but that’s it. That’s the only thing they think about! Come on!
Tell me of a single male hero who only thinks about saving the day. Go on. Try me! I can’t think of any. However, I can think of at least a dozen male characters who think about saving the day, and about their family, and about how they’re going to explain something tomorrow, and how cute that girl is over there. Men have this broad array of things they’re allowed to think about, but women? Nope! If she’s strong, she can’t think about men… ever! She can’t think about explaining to her boss tomorrow. She can’t think about that exam next week. She can’t be physically attracted to men (or even other women if that’s how she swings). ‘Strong’ female characters are basically not humans because they have no reaction to the people around them in regards to sexual urges.
And don’t go telling me that’s not appropriate for young adult literature. Don’t go telling me that there are more ‘pressing’ matters to attend to. Don’t tell me that as a ‘teenager’ she shouldn’t be thinking about those things, because NEWS FLASH: teenagers think about sex and whom they’re attracted to probably ten times MORE than adults because it’s so new to them. They’re just reaching the peak of maturity, have raging hormones, and are starting to notice all the attractiveness (or not) around them, but they are thinking about it and teenage girls are no different. Yet, we act like they can’t think about a man/woman as being attractive. They can’t think about sex or sexual urges or anything even remotely close to that realm. Garbage! Absolute, non-realistic garbage!
Ah! There’s that word again: realism. And that’s what I’m driving at. These ‘strong’ female characters that authors right about to help empower young girls are not realistic and, as a result, are backfiring. Girls are not able to identify with these girls who are saving the world. They have nothing in common with them. I mean, what 16-year-old girl do you know who watched her family die and the next day bounces back like a freakin’ super ball and is all ‘alright. Let’s go save the world! Alone. Because I can’t rely on anyone and I can do this all by myself.’
Finding a Balance
Alright, that was a two part: having no emotions and not needing any help. We’ll stick to the first one: no emotions. Teenagers have tons of emotions and they are constantly bouncing all over the place because (most of them) don’t have stability yet. They’re still discovering their world and the characters in these books have twelve times as many issues as normal girls do, but they’re completely stable 24/7. I don’t believe it. No, I don’t want to read about them crying the whole book, but there needs to be a realistic reaction to traumatic events, which actually leads into number two.
If they are feeling broken-hearted, hurt, or just weak, it’s okay to ask for help. There is nothing wrong with needing a friend or two or six to help them get through the fight or even the next day. Yet, for some reason, they’re expected to do it all by themselves. They’re expected to lead the rebellion, lead the war, kill the dictator, and never get an ounce of help along the way. Psh! Unless you’re superman/supergirl that’s just not gonna happen. Normal people need help and it’s actually a ‘strong’ trait to recognize and accept that you do. Refusing to ask for help is narcissistic, ignorant, and weak. Aka the exact opposite of what writers are working for.
What it comes down to is finding that happy medium between weak and strong for female characters and we need to stop wanting ‘strong’ female characters. Rather, we need realistic female characters. I want the girl who falls into her friend’s arms because her mother just died, gains support from that friend, and joins forces with them to fix the problem. Perhaps she even finds a cute guy on the way and takes a while to realize she’s in love with him rather than suddenly being all insta-lovey. Realism is a small target what with the stereotypes and the past representations, but that’s what we need. Realistic female characters are the ones that readers will love!
Leave me your thoughts in the comments! I’d love to hear from you! ^.^
And check out my discussion from last week: