9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #6

6) “Strong female characters” are too often boiled down to men with breasts, not a character so much as a portrayal of the amazon archetype.

Women in any role can be strong, complex characters. They don't have to be warriors to be strong, nor do they have to be masculinized or feminized. Some will have some traits that are considered “masculine” by our societies' standards, and some will have traits that are considered “feminine” by our societies' standards. You know, like actual people.

Even women who do the wrong thing, or bad things, or have moments of weakness can be strong characters. A “strong character” is one who is a character, a well-round and complicated individual with their own morals, goals and ideas. Any author who creates a weak character who amounts to a two-dimensional cardboard cutout is responsible for that character. Don't blame the concept of “women in fiction” for the characters that authors create.

And that's not a reason to exclude women from your story.

Beyond that, I would love to see more variety in the portrayals of women. Along with the warriors, thieves, assassins, pilots, priestesses, healers and politicians, I want to see clerks and artists, seamstresses and prostitutes, heretics and fisherwomen and beggars and bakers and dockworkers. Oh my!

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Mike said…
I do think the word "strong" has a lot of baggage in this context. I remember an actor describing her efforts to portray her (Shakespearean) character as a "strong modern woman", as if that was the only legitimate goal in town. But Hamlet isn't strong, and Coriolanus isn't modern. Some characters are interesting precisely because they're so catastrophically weak; think of Trigorin in Chekhov's 'Seagull', for instance.

Your definition of "strong" as "one who is a character, a well-rounded and complicated individual with their own morals, goals and ideas" is fine, but I can't help thinking that "interesting" or "compelling" would a better adjective to hang it on.

Re your last para - have you noticed the lack of clerks and dockworkers in fantasy as a disproportionately female phenomenon? I'd have thought it was true across the gender board, but I haven't been counting.
Marion Sipe said…
In a way, that's what I'm saying. We talk about "strong" characters all the time and its only when we talk about female characters that there's confusion. A strong character is not the same as a strong person.

Hamlet is a strong character, but a weak person. He's a strong character because his point of view is so vivid, because it overwhelms the play and he fits within it (Granted, he's not particularly well-round, but he's not supposed to be). And I can talk about Hamlet as a strong character without needing to make that differentiation.

Yet, when we talk about "strong" female characters, the "strong" part is often taken to mean that the character is a strong person--physically or emotionally--rather than a strong character.

As for clerks and dockworkers, my point is that female characters should be as present in a world as the male characters. Plus, I like mundane heroes. :D

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