Strong Female Characters

Ever since I joined the online writing community a couple of years ago, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of talk about strong female characters. Most of the talk is about how agents/publisher/readers want more such characters in fiction.

And that’s great. It really is.

The problem I have is that it seems as though the phrase “strong female character” is regularly equated with “kick-ass female character,” with “kick-ass” meaning physically strong and regularly beating up bad guys or supernatural creatures or whoever the enemy/antagonist might be. I’ve even come across submission guidelines that said (I’m paraphrasing), “I only like strong female characters so if your MC isn’t totally kick-ass don’t bother querying me.”

I don’t mind that an agent might only want to represent novels featuring kick-ass female characters. What I do mind is that, once again, physical strength and a propensity for fighting seem to be the only characteristics that can qualify a female character as strong.

Honestly, I find that sad. There are so many types of strength aside from physical strength.

Strength can be simply getting out of bed and getting through each day when dealing with chronic illness, a serious injury, a traumatic event, or any number of other circumstances.

Strength can be staying calm and keeping a family together during a crisis.

Strength can be continuing, day after day, to do what’s necessary to look after your loved ones or pursue your dreams in the face of great adversity.

Not being a physical fighter doesn’t make a character weak. Showing emotion doesn’t make a character weak. Male or female.

Yet, over and over again, I see strength equated with physical strength and lack of emotion when it comes to female characters in fiction. I refuse to allow that narrow definition to stifle my writing, my stories, or my characters.

I believe that I do write about strong female characters. Maybe they don’t always fit the definition of “kick-ass” but they’re strong nonetheless.

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9 Comments

  1. Nicole L. Bates said,

    January 16, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I completely agree, Sarah, and I love your examples. Some of the strongest women I’ve known, or read about, are the ones who made it through tough times and kept a positive outlook, or overcame addiction to save their family. Strength of character is far more important than physical strength in my opinion.

    • Sarah L Fox said,

      January 17, 2014 at 11:44 am

      Thanks, Nicole! I love your statement about strength of character being far more important to you than physical strength. I agree completely! 🙂

  2. January 20, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I really get tired of that one as well. You can be a strong person and not kick the hell out of everyone you meet, cuss every other word, or have the best weaponry.
    A person’s physical strength doesn’t really tell me much about their inner strength.
    Love this post 🙂

    • Sarah L Fox said,

      January 21, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Thanks, Daphne! That’s so true. You can have physical strength with or without inner strength and vice versa. They don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.

      • February 4, 2014 at 10:27 pm

        Yeah only, the physical part seems to take the lime light. 😉

  3. January 24, 2014 at 9:02 am

    I nominated your blog for a Liebster award! I hope it helps you get more readers.

  4. L. Palmer said,

    January 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    When writing a booty-kicking lady, I find it important to add in emotional layers like loneliness, sensitivity, and so on which build a whole character.
    Booty-kicking can only be an attribute of an overall strong woman, it should not be the defining factor.


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