As a feminist who enjoys a lot of genres that aren’t usually lady-friendly, it always irks me when people claim they have strong, feminist characters in their stories, but in reality they’re neither of those things. Sometimes a character’s qualities are debatable, but I wanted to make a list of things that don’t necessarily make a strong female character:
1) She is a woman/girl. Okay, so you created a female character. That’s a good start. But even Bella Swan from Twilight is a woman and I wouldn’t call her a good representation of feminism and modern womanhood. Is your character reflective of real women, or is she part of a stereotype? Do you even know the kinds of problems real women face? Does she face appropriate obstacles?
2) She can kill people, ergo she is a strong woman. Being a strong woman does not necessarily mean she can bash in skulls or toss people across the room. It means that she is psychologically, emotionally, and sometime physically well developed and can hold her own against opponents. Yes, it is refreshing to see female characters that are not physically wimpy and dependent, but if her character isn’t fully fleshed out, she’s just a tool. Try to make your female characters as complex and realistic in the story as possible.
3) She is a feminist. Okay, who says she’s a feminist? You, or her actions? Being a feminist is more than just saying “I’m a feminist.” Does she illuminate women’s issues during her story arc? Does she legitimately stand for all women’s rights, or just a stereotype of women’s rights (i.e. fauxminism)? Don’t make a straw feminist (see Feminist Frequency’s video on the Straw Feminist).
4) She doesn’t act like other women. Okay, this is really common in genres like fantasy and scifi, and it’s really problematic. First, you are assuming that all women act in a certain manner, which is not the case. Second, this most likely means that you are not writing a female character, you are writing a male character with boobs. This isn’t necessarily a good representation of womanhood. The point of avoiding stereotypes and cliches when writing for a female character is not to eliminate femininity and womanhood, but instead to adopt a more enlightened and diverse perspective on womanhood. Many things factor into a woman’s life that make her unique from other women. You have to consider things like class, race, culture, situation, history, and other perspectives that you design for her. This is also why it’s important to have multiple women in any story, because if you write five very diverse male characters but only one female character, it is easy to assume from the audience’s perspective that all women behave as that one female character does, and this is part of why sexism is so prevalent in media today.
5) She is the main character. Again, this kind of goes back to point #1. It is great to have women in main roles instead as just a sidekick or love interest, but if she isn’t a well developed, strong, and complex character, there’s really no point for her to even exist, other than to maybe be eye candy or a foil for a scenario.
I could go on and on and on forever and ever about sexism in media, mostly in fantasy, scifi, and horror (which are my favorite genres), but that would take way too long and I have to make a taco pizza (that’s a pizza with taco ingredients for toppings, if you were wondering). If you’re interested in this sort of stuff like I am, then check out Feminist Frequency. They offer great videos on a variety of topics concerning women in media. These were mostly just some tips I wanted to offer for young writers, film makers, game designers, comic artists, and other crafters of media about handling women in media. If people like this post, I may consider doing one for queer people, too…