I am a woman. I know a lot of women. I have many sisters and a mom and grandmas and aunts and cousins and friends and teachers who are all women. I feel like something of an expert on the subject.
If you’re excited about the direction this is going, let me be clear that this is not a forum for man-bashing. I repeat, no man-bashing in the comments. (You know, all those millions of comments full of thoughtful discussion that I’m likely to inspire with this post.)
I can think of exactly one woman I personally know who could make grown men cry with her physical strength. One woman out of the hundreds that I know. And let me tell you, she doesn’t don a cocktail dress and high heels to make men weep and beg for mercy. She’s a fitness instructor at our local YMCA and when she makes men cry she’s wearing her workout gear.
But the thing that makes her strong isn’t her physical ability. It’s that she knows the people in her classes by name. It’s her friendly nature and sharp sense of humor. It’s her dedication and commitment to her job. It’s that she loves her boys and their crazy shenanigans and the fact that she’s their mom. It’s her faith in God. She is strong and confident in herself as a woman. She does not have to be a man to be all of these things.
So when we talk about strong female characters can we please quit trying to turn them into men in an effort to make them compelling? Otherwise you’ve just created a woman that I don’t know or understand or relate to at all.
My Mom can’t beat my Dad in an arm wrestling match. But she’s a strong force in our family, her church, and community. Her education consists of one semester of community college, but she reads like crazy. She’s intelligent and people take notice and listen up when she speaks. She is a strong female and a force to be reckoned with.
My English teacher commanded the attention of thousands of students over the course of her career. She led an elementary school as a principal. She doesn’t have to be a man to be strong. She is a strong female because of who she is as a woman.
My sister who fought and eventually lost her battle to cancer was a strong female not because of how strong she was when she was healthy. She was a strong female because of her laughter, her fierce love and devotion to her family, and her passion for music and love of life. She didn’t have to be a man to be strong.
I appreciate a good female character and I feel like we don’t get it very often. We typically get two types of women in our books and media. The over-sexualized female, and the woman who has to act like a man in order to be taken seriously. Lame.
I know this has been said before and I’ll gladly join the ranks because it’s about time we had a heroine like this. I love Rey from Star Wars. (Warning: spoiler alert. But seriously, if I’ve seen this movie why haven’t you?) Han Solo didn’t invite Rey to join him because she was sexy and he hoped to get her into bed.
Can you imagine Rey twirling her hair around her finger with an airhead laugh? “I’m a girl and I only have one thing to offer.”
Han Solo wanted her to join his crew based on her own merits. I love that. It’s about freakin’ time.
The strength of women comes in so many different forms. Surely we don’t have to be men in order to be strong. We already have so much more at our disposal to work with.
Silence is a middle-aged woman who moonlights as a bounty hunter. She’s limited to her own physical abilities. She has to be clever to function in her role. Her biggest motivation stems from this nurturing need to take care of her loved ones. She’s a relatable woman. I know women like her. As I’m reading I think, “Maybe my Mom is a bounty hunter!”
So let’s see more of that please. More of women being allowed to be their own strong selves. The single mom. The divorcee picking up the pieces of her life. The empty nester. The unmarried woman who faces a church full of families every single week. The woman who marries a man with kids from a previous marriage and works to blend two families together. The woman who works to earn money solely so she can explore the world for months at a time. The college student working two jobs so she can pay for tuition, rent, books, and food. The middle-aged woman breaking into a new career. The birth mother who gives up her baby for adoption. The teacher who faces the painful reminder each day of her own infertility, but continues to teach and influence and inspire thousands of children.
These are examples of real women I know, and I suspect you know women like this too. Can we please honor real strength and courage in women and quit trying to force something that doesn’t resonate and quite frankly doesn’t exist?
My critique partners can tell you I have a lot of work to do to get my characterization right. It’s hard and it requires a lot of practice. But I work at it because that’s a much better option than creating characters nobody in real life can relate to.
I’m not opposed to the fun female spy storyline. But does she have to fight in her crazy high heels and sexy dress? Because I could knock that moron over with a feather and she’d break her ankle. The top-secret documents would be in my hands in seconds. Fight over. World ruined.
However, if the instructor at my local YMCA were to fight for top-secret documents I promise she would be wearing tennis shoes and her hair would be pulled back out of her face. She’d succeed in saving the world from destruction, make the villain do burpees ‘til they cried, and be home in time to make dinner for her family and feed the dog.