Ms. Snarky Sword Wielder: The Strong Female Character
Have you ever thought to yourself that YA needs more female main characters?
In recent years, no, not really.
in 2016, the YA genre is chocker-block with female heroines. They’re strong, brave, relentless, and good with a bow/sword/gun/magic power.
There are MRA’s shouting across the nation; “You’ve got your strong, independent women! Now stop talking!”
Oh, if only I could silly little human, if only I could.
It turns out, some writers are still struggling to write women in a realistic way. It all comes down to story, to where a woman is, who she is, and how she is there. It depends on her back story, the people she interacts with, and obviously, ingrained personality traits that all humans have.
One day, my well intentioned, book-nerdy boss comes up to me and walks me to the sci-fi/fantasy section of our store. This happens at least once a week and we talk about books we’re loving and what we look for in a story. At one point, I pick out a book that looks good and he says “Oh, you won’t like that one.”
“The female character isn’t that great. She’s not very strong, really boring. This one however,” He says, pulling out another book. “This girl is a badass!”
I get what he means; a girl needs to be shown as strong, as willing, as important to the plot because it is these things that a woman is assumed is not that has built centuries of misogyny and sexism. These women do not wince in the face of danger, they stride towards it, kicking everyone’s ass and being just generally super amazing *explosions and gunfire*.
There’s a difference between poor portrayal and diversity, and I think a lot of people tend to get them confused. For obvious reasons, females and female identifying people are more able to decipher the differences because they understand the motives and actions and thoughts female characters have. It doesn’t mean that female characters are inaccessible to male readers however, but there is a general consensus that because we are females, we can generally spot a poorly written female character, and a character that’s well written but not exactly what you would call a ‘strong, independent woman’.
When women say they want a strong female character, it doesn’t always mean strong as always able to physically over power someone, it doesn’t always mean having a sharp tongue and an even sharper weapon, it doesn’t always mean being so void of emotion, said character becomes akin to a robot.
Strong female character means real.
I like to cry. Ok, I don’t like to cry but I do cry, a lot. I cry when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I’m incredibly happy, and when I’m annoyed/impatient. This is a very stereotypical trait for a woman to have, I know, but it’s who I am. I’m not great with extreme emotion. Some females do not cry, of course, not everyone is as empathetic (and self-involved) as I am, but to brand a female character ‘rubbish’ or ‘boring’ because she does cry?
You’re denying her the basic human emotion of feeling.
It’s the same with fighting, with not feeling intimidating, with feeling apathetic towards violence, to be able to inflict violence. Not having these traits, or even having these traits, does not make a female character bad. You don’t know how many times I’ve done/said something stereotypically girly (cry, talk about makeup, not able to chase a shoplifter (??)) and been told I’m letting down all those ‘strong, independent female characters I always ask for’. What we’re looking for is diversity.
Some girls cry. Some girls suck at shooting. Some girls can’t do sports on their frickin’ period (I’m talking to you, tampon adverts). Some girls scream and get giggly when One Direction comes on stage. NONE of these traits make them any less strong than Katniss Everdeen or Celeana Sardothien.
Some girls are also nasty. Where are the female villains? The girls who are awful and rude and downright villainous towards our main character? And hey, she wasn’t wronged by a man in her past to make her that way, either?
I think a great way to sum up this blog post in one sentence is; Look at the male characters in YA, the nasty one, the emotional ones, the scared ones, the funny ones. We want that.
I would include examples of well written female characters, but I feel like I’d be including almost every single book in the YA genre. If you’ve found a book with excellent female characters, mention them in the comments!