In Which We Contemplate the ‘Strong Female Character’

“Strong female characters” also doesn’t mean “weak male characters.” I’m a feminist. We want women to be equal to – not better than – men. Writers: When I say I want “strong female characters,” I don’t mean physically strong (though they can be that too).

Queries I never want to read: “Girl feels invisible. Meets hottest guy ever. Finds self-worth through his love. OMG he has a secret.”


BTW, a male protagonist who suddenly finds self-worth because a hot, confident love interest is totally into him is equally vomit-worthy.

– @sarahlapolla


Over at Google PlusChuck Wendig asked “What makes a strong female character?” and got some interesting responses:

  • Not fitting into stereotypes, of course. Being able to figure things out on her own. Being sexual without using her sexuality as a weapon or tool
  • Determination, just like male characters. The only difference is that a strong female character will use that determination to fuel her feminine qualities rather than turn her into a man.
  • I’d rather have an “interesting” character than a “strong” one, male or female.
  • For me, it’s the gender competition convention that really turns it cliche…As soon as it’s a comparison of ‘like a man’ (sex, drinking, karate), the strength component is lost to ‘trying too hard’.
  • Too many people confuse Strong characters with Tough ones.
  • I’m very bored with the “strong = kickass chick” stereotype, and so are a lot of female readers. That’s not a strong woman, per se, it’s a male fantasy (and sometimes a female fantasy, admittedly!).
  • What makes a strong female character is when you don’t treat them with kid gloves.
  • The ‘strong’ qualifier tends to fuzz the issue. What I usually mean when I use the term is ‘a female character who has her own agenda and exists for a reason that is not just to sleep with the hero, inspire him, and/or die so he can be sad.’
  • It’s hard to talk about A strong female character in isolation…One thing I look for in a story, or a writer’s body of work, is a variety of interesting female characters who are different from each other.
  • I’m not particularly interested in whether the character is a good role model…I just care about whether or not I like them.
Chuck also asks if ‘female’ is even a meaningful identifier in fiction.
  • Of course it is, inasmuch as being tall has anything to do with anything, or being French, or whatever.
  • That may depend on her back story and the relevance to the plot as a whole.

Why do girls need to read proactive female characters in fiction?

The answer may be self-evident, but I highly recommend a thought-provoking article in the Sydney Morning Herald, from the wonderfully cogent young adult feminist author Emily McGuire:

Although we wish the world was a safer place and should work to make it so, we need to prepare girls to live in it as it is. This seems obvious when talking about boys: of course they need to learn resilience and determination and rebelliousness against those who would hold them back or harm them. But we’re still so damn precious about girls. We pretend that passivity and fragility are innate, even as we expend a great deal of energy on instilling and enforcing them.

– Sugar, Spice and Stronger Stuff.


From Chuck Wendig’s thread, above:

Calling a character a “strong female character” in the first place comes from the older way of portraying women as helpless, weak, irrational, etc. It implies that seeing a woman who acts with strength is unusual. But trying to reverse that trend can be just as obnoxious. For an example of this, look at the women of the James Bond movies… Why is it that every single heroine we see from Victorian times just so happens to be the one-in-a-million who thinks that the entire way her society lives, from corsets to voting rights to how her husband acts, is hopelessly wrong? At that point, the character has become an anachronistic mouthpiece for the modern author’s personal beliefs, instead of a believable character who was raised in that society.

– Stevie Miller

See also: Thelma, Louise and All The Pretty Women by Carina Chocano, and a response to that at BlogHer: Are Weaker Role Models Better For Women?; Why one woman really likes loser women on TV. Carina Chocano also hates the phrase ‘Strong Female Character and explains why.

Maybe a strong female character is simply ‘a good person’.

But what on earth is that?

I think it’s dependent on being courageous, compassionate, respectful, which in turn generates respect, standing up for what you believe in and having the courage of your convictions, staying true to yourself, standing up for the underdog and yes, being a little bit proud and selfish every now and then. ’Cause no one respects a “yes” (wo)man.

– from What Makes A Good Person? by Scarlett Harris


See: 10 Legendary Bad Girls Of Literature from Flavorwire. Because it’s true: strong has nothing to with good, not for men, not for women.


Over at you can find an aggregated list of links to more lists, of books featuring Strong Female Characters. I’ve also been on the lookout for such books myself, but been it’s a surprisingly slow process. Maybe I’ll start making use of those lists. I’ll post when I’ve read ten.

Like all women of strong character, she loved it when someone gave her orders; it was so restful.

“No,” said Charles, smiling at her disrespectfully. “Now, are you ready, my dearest darling?”

– from Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Related Links:

1. Characters To Channel For Confidence. (Good idea. Let’s not call them ‘strong’.)

2. Badass Lady Quotes from Persephone

3. Strong Women In Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, an MA thesis in PDF format from Feminist Frequency

4. Moments Women In Comics Are Awesome from Wired

5. Geek Feminism asks Where are all the strong female characters in dystopian SF stories?

6. Feminist Fantasy is a website which collects fantasy stories featuring strong female characters. Some of the fantasy stories are even matriarchal, which I’m sure would cause its own (interesting) problems. You can submit your own suggestions.

7. In Defence Of Screwed Up Female Characters. Men have always been able to poke fun at themselves; now it’s women’s turn, from Slate.

8. Emily Blunt Thinks Women’s Roles In Superhero Films Are Terrible, from The Mary Sue.

9. 10 of the Most Powerful Female Characters in Literature from Flavorwire

10. Favourite Female Heroine Characters from Book Page (though I’m pretty sure ‘female’ is superfluous in that blog title).

11. Picture books about female scientists, collated by Teach With Picture Books.

12. STRAIGHTENED CIRCUMSTANCES BLOG – Tim Hanley On Wonder Women and Women In Comics

13. Why I Write Strong Female Characters, by Greg Rucka, from io9

14. Getting Superheroines Right from Lit Reactor

15. A documentary: Wonder Women! The Untold story of American Superheroines.

16. The Myth Of The Strong Person from Psych Central

17. Film’s 14 Fiercest Females from Raindance Film Festival

18. The Best Literary Heroines of 2012 from Flavorwire

19. Female Writers Tougher Than Hemingway, collected by Book Riot

20. Rachel Weisz On Playing Strong Characters from Frisky

21. Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad For Women, a good case at Overthinking It

22. How To Be A Strong Female Character (according to the Internet) from lessthanthree


24. From Terrible Minds: A strong female character is a character who happens to be a woman or a girl.

25. 10 Characters Who Got More Interesting After Being Gender Swapped from io9

26. This is a real world issue, but Blue Milk makes some observations about the myth of female strength and the real world problem with that assumption.

“It’s not that men are afraid of strong women, or fear of a person’s strength. It’s fear of the strength disparity.” – The Good Men Project

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