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Rethinking the Strong Female Character

It is great that nowadays we are seeing more female heroes in books, film, and TV. However, I don’t think (and many agree) that the strong female character is actually doing what it’s supposed to do.

Let me explain.

A strong female character is supposed to show young girls, and even women, that they can be strong, they can be the hero of a story, and they can do whatever they put their minds to.

On the other hand, many “strong female characters” aren’t quite getting the point across. Instead, they are taking females and making them…robotic.

Again, I’ll explain.

Firstly, I want it known that what I say in this post can relate to females, males, or other; I’m just concentrating on females because the strong female is more of a “thing” now.

Secondly, somehow some writers got this idea in their head that in order to be “strong”, a person (character) must not feel things; like anything at all. Or, if they do, they dismiss it. They become almost emotionless as if being strong means never crying or caring about things. Ridiculous, right? Instead, it is those girls who let tears roll down their cheeks with laboured breath and gritted teeth, letting the emotions heal and give perspective and truth that are the truly strong ones, to me.

Another problem is that some writers think that “strong” means loud, too. As if no quiet girl could be considered a strong heroine. Or if they are quiet, then they are the emotionless, hates-humanity, just punches-and-kills-for-sport type. The mysterious dark heroine who doesn’t feel anything which is somehow sexy and admirable. *slaps forehead*

For many, the strong female character means the girl who has the sword and runs headfirst into fights and stands tall and speaks her mind, right? But is this really what we want to be teaching our daughters? That this is the only way to be strong.

For me, we need to think about bravery versus confidence. The confident strong girl would run headfirst into battle time and again. But what about the brave strong girls? The ones who are scared of battle, unsure of themselves, and thinks before acting…but does what needs to be done anyway? Isn’t that a stronger message? Isn’t that ultimately a much stronger person; someone who’s afraid and perhaps not physically capable but braves the unknown?

Strength is in overcoming obstacles, setbacks, doubts, and fears – not in never being afraid at all in the first place. Not outer strength, like who can lift the most; but inner strength, like who can withstand the most.

Don’t think that a strong female or hero needs to look any particular way, either. They can wear the dress, or not. They can be of any ethnicity, creed, age, or culture. They can like whatever the hell they want to, be that ballet or poetry or martial arts. Don’t be narrow-minded.

A strong girl/woman isn’t defined by what they like or how they look. It’s their abilities; their mental strength, that matters most. It’s not about being the character with the most badass powers and mightiest fist.

Writers need to really consider progression; character development. It is much better writing (in my opinion) for us the reader to be taken on a journey where we see the character getting stronger mentally. How their confidence grows. How overcoming struggles develops their character, mindset, abilities, relationships, and more. They needn’t be weak at the beginning, though; because as I say, strength is in fighting the fight in the first place, not how well you do it.


How to write strong female characters:

  • Show character development; show how their beliefs and perspectives are changed by their journey through the plot
  • Have them cry and doubt and fear and fret, but do things anyway!
  • Don’t have her rely (too heavily) on her love interest/partner, older characters or authority figures, or the patriach in general!
  • Girl power! Females being awesome, supportive friends to other females
  • Don’t put them in trousers and combat boots all the time! Strong girls wear dresses, too
  • Have the girl fall for the girl
  • Remember there’s a difference between whining and complaining, and genuine worry and doubt; getting this right in your character is important to how they are perceived
  • Have her be: logical, analytical, brave instead of confident, resilient, caring, protective, honourable, respectful, fair, and honest.
  • Diversity!
  • Draw inspiration from real-life girls and women that you admire
  • Have her be real: real people have disabilities (mental or physical), hindrances, flaws, mistakes, poor choices, and the like but they shouldn’t be defined by these things
  • Make sure she trusts herself; she can doubt and worry but at the end of the day, a strong girl/woman will trust herself, trust her gut
  • Remember this can be shown in all kinds of characters, in all kinds of books. There’s mothers, grandmothers, teenagers, little girls, all cultures and races and sexualities and abilities; romances, dystopians, fantasies, horrors, contemporaries, thrillers, dramas, action adventures, and more.

Try to really think about your heroine and how they will be perceived by a perhaps younger and more susceptible audience. Are you sending the right messages? Is your character truly strong, or are they almost inhuman and unrealistic? Think about it, and create strong female characters – for real!

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