“Strong female character” is a pretty common phrase nowadays.
I even used to include a tag for it in my book review posts. I mean, we all know (or should know) that sexism is still a problem in our world, and I just wanted to do my part by pointing out the female characters who could help combat the sexism, who could show that women are just as good as men, etc.
But one day I decided to remove the “strong female character” tag from my blog.
Why? Because I stopped and asked myself, what even is a strong female character, and why is it that only certain characters are worthy of this recognition?
It’s a term that’s really doing more harm than good in my opinion, and I have multiple issues with it… so let’s discuss!
What is the Definition of Strong?
Somehow, the current meaning of “strong” seems to have become something along the lines of tough, emotionless, stoic, able and willing to fight, physically strong and skilled, etc.
But to me “strong” has nothing to do with being physically strong or kicking ass. To me it means staying true to yourself and not letting your circumstances turn you cruel, no matter what shit life throws your way. But that’s my personal definition, which means many people might not agree with it. And it’s a very broad definition. If I used that to classify characters as strong, well, most of them would fall within that classification.
So how on earth does one decide who gets to be considered strong? Who gets to make this definition?
The second, more pressing issue with “strong female characters” though, and the part where double standards comes into play, is…
Why is the word female in there?
Why do we never talk about “strong male characters”? Is it just automatically assumed that all male characters are strong simply because they’re men? But women aren’t and therefore have to prove themselves to be like men before they can be considered strong?
Or are we just excluding male characters altogether by saying they’re not strong? Or saying that we don’t give a crap if they’re strong or not because they don’t deserve recognition and we should only focus on the women?
Or is it simply based on femininity and masculinity? And so men automatically get considered strong because they’re generally more masculine, and we throw the “strong” label on there to point out the masculine women? But then where does that leave feminine men? Are they still strong because they’re men, or have they been kicked out of the club for being too feminine? And why, exactly, is femininity even considered a weak thing? And what about anyone who’s transgender? Or those who identify as both genders or genderfluid or agender or any other non-binary gender? Should we start including terms such as “strong non-binary character” or “strong feminine male character” or “half-strong character”? When put that way, it does seem rather ridiculous to include a gender in the term at all, at least to me. And it all seems so arbitrary.
So whatever the reasoning behind the label “strong female character,” it seems sexist and harmful to someone.
My Final Thoughts
As I said, I used to use the term myself, so this post isn’t about berating anyone who uses it. The problem is that pointing out “strong female characters” seems like a great, feminist thing to do, but it’s deceptive because I feel it’s actually doing more harm than good by spreading this idea that most women, and possibly all feminine people, are automatically weak.
But strength is about more than kicking ass or being a leader or saving the world. YOU are strong. And so are the people around you. And the characters you read about. Even the most broken and flawed of characters, and people, can be strong. Because everyone is fighting battles, and strength is what keeps us going every day. Strength is about being true to ourselves, standing up for our beliefs, being understanding and kind to others, and doing our best in this ridiculous world, and that’s something anyone can do, regardless of gender.