'Strong Female Characters'

'Strong Female Characters'

Ah, the cliche. We see this concept every single day in books, in films and in other pop culture medium. It's the stereotype where physical strength becomes the factor to determine how capable a female character is when really, this kind of trope is nothing but rubbish.

Before I start explaining my argument, allow me to clarify certain things. I am in no way saying that I disagree on the concept completely. What I'm saying is that this concept needs a little bit of fixing, a reconceptualization if you will. Don't get me wrong, I am all about empowering female characters and I will always root for them but I'm all about being realistic and realistic characters.

Let's recall: how many books, that you have come across, feature a strong female lead that a). knows how to chase, hunt and kill and/or b). is unemotional, cold and thinks she is 'one of the guys' because she knows how to wield a blade but is too 'masculine' to wear a dress? I know that these characters are probably written like so to show us that women are as capable as men in terms of defending themselves. I also understand that this revolution is meant to empower the female gender, especially in a world where we are often seen less because apparently, everyone thinks we are made of stardust and glass. I get it, I really do. But the more it is overused, the more it has turned the idea into the standard(s) to define a woman's strength when really, we are more than just a group of women who are given the stereotypical masculine traits of male characters.

Masculinity as strength

Some examples of these 'strong female characters' that I can remember off the top of my head are Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider series and Celaena Sarrdothien from Throne of Glass. Now, I'm not saying these characters are or shouldn't be deemed strong when they are physically capable of defending themselves. What I'm saying is that these are the kinds of female characters who set the benchmark. For instance, whenever I tell people that I like Sansa Stark and think she is a strong character, people look at me like I just killed a baby. They tell me, in disbelief, "but Elise, Sansa is weak! She can't fight, she can't even throw a punch!" (groans) Alright darling, sit down and let me tell you this: physical strength is not equivalent to 'strong' and not all kickass badass female characters are strong characters. 

Another reason why I think it's stupid to defend this trope is when you think about it, you are not doing feminism a justice. Instead, you are glorifying masculinity, something normally situated within male characters in literature. You are nodding your head to the stereotypical mindset that girly, feminine traits are weak and masculinity is 'strong.' When you agree that Sansa, who has endured so much in her life, placed under extraordinarily unfortunate circumstances and still managed to move forward, is a weak female character, you are saying that unless she knows how to fight with a sword the way her sister Arya does, she is nothing but a sissy. Just because Sansa enjoys fairy tales, believes in happy endings and knights in shining armor does not make her any less than her tough, badass little sister. A female character can still have a bunch of girly traits and still be badass.

Emotion and ordinary are HUMANE, NOT weakness

Often times within this trope we will always come across female characters who associate emotion with weakness. They are written in such a way to tell us that when they cry, they are showing vulnerability. For instance, some people actually think that movie adaptation Katniss Everdeen is weaker than her book counterpart for showing more emotion than the latter. This is absolute garbage because a). Katniss suffered from PTSD and b). she is not made of stone so obviously, feeling scared and traumatized from the Hunger Games makes a lot of sense. Just because Katniss is a great hunter, a skilled archer doesn't mean she is not allowed to feel. All the emotions, the fear and the trauma she portrayed are not weaknesses; those are traits that make Katniss human and not an unrealistic marysue.

Second scenario is when a female character does not carry any special power. An ordinary teenage girl who lives through her days as a human being with no magical power or is not the 'Chosen One' is not weak. This part is also strongly related to my previous point where the value of female characters should never be measured based on how physically fit they are. When you think about it, this is also where Sansa falls in — an ordinary lamb among all the bloodthirsty wolves in Westeros.

What I want, what we need

Give me emotional female characters who knows how to pull through, how to move forward, how to make and be responsible with her decision. Give me compassionate female characters who love to wear dresses but still know how to stand up for herself. Give me clumsy female characters who love watching chick flicks; female characters who sucks at school, who cries, who cares. Give me female characters who are girly, shy, sensitive and has no special magical power but still wants to help and do good things.

In my book, a bad character does not exist. What exists is bad writing and bad characterization. A strong female character who knows how to kick ass can be a weak character when she is written poorly. If you dislike a female character because she is poorly and unrealistically written, tell me about it. But if you hate a character because she cannot throw a punch or is not masculine enough then please, educate yourself and broaden your mind. If your character knows how to kick ass, that's awesome! I am in no way against female characters who are physically fit. All I'm saying is that physical strength should never be the central aspect to determine a character or his/her personality as a whole. To me, 'strong' is defined by how well a character is connected to his or her inner self; 'strong' refers to how much determination, responsibility and willpower a character has.

So, do I think this trope should be completely dismissed? No. Do I think it needs to be rewritten? Absolutely. Whatever is the sexuality or gender of a character, this rant applies to every single one of them.