Why is it so hard to write a strong female character? This came up in conversation at a recent writers event I attended.
Someone offered the advice (and I’m paraphrasing), “If you write the character and it would work just as well as a man, then you’ve got it.” I don’t want to slight the person who said it, because I’ve heard many people say the same. On the surface, this sounds fine, because hasn’t the whole argument in the Battle of the Sexes been for equality? Only, I think this advice sells women short. Going by that advice, you’re defining a strong woman based on how much she acts like a man.Personally, I don’t have a problem with bad ass, gun-totin’ action ladies. Angelina Jolie comes to mind as a prime example. Unfortunately, I think it’s become a bit of an American cliché that for a female character to be strong, she has to kick butt and take names later.
Think about that for a minute. Do we really want to say a woman’s (or a man’s) strength is determined by how violent she is? I don’t know about you, but that sounds awful.
Part of what opened my eyes to this discrepancy was the TV series Broadchurch. My wife and I tuned into the BBC drama mainly because the cast included David Tennant, the incredible tenth Doctor from Doctor Who. As we watched, I realized the women in the cast really stood out. None of them fell within the American stereoype of a strong character, and the show had a wide range of women: the mother who loses a child, a police officer, a mistress, an ambitious reporter, and more. Every one of them was strong and interesting.
So what ties these different characters together that makes each one strong? I’d argue each of them knew what they wanted and made a conscious decision to get it. That doesn’t mean they went all Godzilla and trampled anyone in their path, but they didn’t wait for others to do it for them either.In the first season, Beth Latimer (played by Jodie Whittaker) learns her 11-year-old son has been murdered and her husband has been having an affair. Beth wants the suburban dream but loses all of it. She doesn’t wait for others to put her life back in order. Instead, she acts to make things change, but when her husband comes to her with a way to get their marriage back on track, she doesn’t kick him to the curb. She considers what he’s suggesting, decides it makes sense and chooses to work with him to fix their lives. It was stunning to see a female character whose suburban ambitions, on the surface, are the antithesis of what we expect from a strong woman, and yet she was a very strong character.
I was originally going to post this tomorrow, but after seeing a recent article on PolicyMic by Julianne Ross on Why Sansa Stark Is the Strongest Character on “Game of Thrones,” I decided it made sense to let this post go live a day early to join the discussion.
So now it’s your turn to join the conversation. Which female characters stand out in your favorite books or films? And if you think I’m way off the mark or missing an important detail, then post your reply.
In the end, I believe a strong female character doesn’t sit in a bar having a martini or a shot of whiskey and whining about how she’s been done wrong. Strong women simply decide what they want and then get shit done.