Monday, February 20, 2017

Strong Female Character=Feminist?

The strong female character. The girl who's super good at fighting, who doesn't need a man to save her, who never shows a vulnerable side. The perfect feminist.

At least, that's what the clich├ęs say.

But I would contend that a strong female character doesn't have to be feminist. That, in fact, these characteristics are not what makes a character strong. I'd even say as well that a female character can be good at fighting and try not to show vulnerability, but not be a feminist.

First, what makes a character strong? Male or female? Culture and today's media probably make you think someone that's physically tough. I know I get those mental images. But a character can be good at fighting and not be strong, in my opinion. A truly strong character has, well, strength of character. It takes a lot of courage to do what's right in the face of evil, whether or not you're in a physical fight.

For instance, Kyrin Altair of Ilyon Chronicles is one example of what I would call a strong female character. She doesn't know much about physical fighting. She learned to fight with a staff and Jace is teaching her to defend herself with a knife, but her abilities in that area are limited. Where is her strength? It's in the way she stood up to Emperor Daican and held to her faith when she knew she'd be executed. It's in the way she didn't give up on Jace when he tried to push her away because she knew he needed her. Kyrin isn't even close to being a feminist, but she's very strong.

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Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia also shows strength in her unwavering faith. She doesn't let anyone stop her from following Aslan. And she even fights with the archers in The Horse and His Boy, remaining feminine in spite of it. Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time is also strong in doing what needs to be done. She resisted IT and rescued her brother, difficult though it was. Kyrin, Lucy, Meg, they all have vulnerabilities, they all have flaws, they're not necessarily that good in a physical fight, but in the end, they always do what's right because they have strong characters.

Strength is doing what's right no matter the consequences.

But what about those girl characters who are good in a fight? Maybe they do have strong characters, but isn't being able to defend themselves and not needing a guy to do it a mark of feminism?

Not necessarily.

Oh, absolutely there are some fighter girls who are feminists. And I don't tend to like those characters. But since when is it wrong for a girl to be able to defend herself against attackers? A guy who cares about the women in his life, whether she be his wife, girlfriend, daughter, or sister, ought to want her to have the ability to defend herself because he knows he can't always be there to protect her. The reason Jace is teaching Kyrin to fight is because something bad almost happened to her, and he's afraid that if there's a next time he might not be there to save her. And sometimes the strong female character who can fight is that way because she had no choice. Enter Katniss and Rey.

Honestly, I don't think either of them are feminists. They're survivors who, because of their experiences, don't really trust anyone besides themselves to watch their backs.

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Let's look at Katniss. Yes, she can defend herself. Yes, she's against the idea of getting married and having children. But that isn't because she doesn't want to be protected. It isn't because she's against the concept of marriage and family. It's because she lives in District 12 and when her dad died, her mom shut down leaving Katniss to provide for the family at age 11. She doesn't want to marry, not because she's anti-guy, but because she doesn't want more people to worry about and she definitely doesn't want to bring children into the world to get Reaped. She didn't volunteer for the Hunger Games because she had something to prove. She didn't volunteer because she thought she was this great fighter who could beat all the guys. She volunteered so her sister wouldn't go to her death. Yes, sometimes she acts like she's hard and unfeeling, but she's not. She just pretends she is so it doesn't hurt as much. Her circumstances hardened her into a survivor.

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Rey has a similar story. She was abandoned on Jakku at a young age and had to fend for herself. She had to figure out how to fight in order to survive. But Rey's not interested in going and being a fighter. She's not interested in joining the Resistance. Throughout The Force Awakens, what she wants to do is go back to Jakku and wait for her family to come for her. She is a tough strong female character, but she's not a don't-need-no-man type. She's just a survivor who never had anyone else to watch her back. And she's strong not because she can take care of herself, but because--despite wanting to go home--she did the right thing in facing all those dangers to get BB-8 back to the Resistance with the map.

And really, Katniss and Rey aren't invulnerable. They try to hide their vulnerabilities as a defense mechanism, but their circumstances damaged them. Especially Katniss. They're not good at fighting because they think women are better than men and they have to prove it. They're the way they are because they had no choice.

Writers, don't make your female characters strong simply by giving them special abilities. Don't make them strong by making them compete with the men around them. Make them strong by giving them strength of character. Don't give them fighting and survival abilities just because it's cool. If they have those abilities, it should make sense for their backstory, and it should affect them.

Write real characters. Characters whose personality grows out of their backstory. Characters who grow throughout the book. Whose flaws are not condoned and given a pass, but who aren't perfect either. Study people and write.

2 comments:

  1. Stay tuned: A blog series on the subject by yours truly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love this! I loved Rey for all those reasons. She is a great character. And Kyrin. :)

    ReplyDelete

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