With the rise of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior, the literary world saw a shift, a call toward the strong female character, a heroine who could fight for herself and those she loved, someone who wouldn’t take it sitting down. I am all for the strong female character.
But while the strong female character has involved a huge push toward feminism and representation in literature, I think it’s often misconstrued. While physically and emotionally powerful women are wonderful to read about, I don’t want every book to include a Katniss or a Tris or a Laura Croft.
When I write strong female characters, I think of it more with the emphasis on strong character, creating heroines and female main characters that are strongly written, fleshed out and three dimensional. The character isn’t strong, necessarily, because of her physical abilities or emotional capacity. She is strong because the characterization is strong and complete. Of course, that must also mean that we include women who aren’t necessarily strong, women who can’t physically defend themselves, women who adhere to more traditionally feminine choices. Strong female character can include a hell of a lot more than teenage girls with anger management problems.
And romance, before and long after everyone else, does that. To be sure, many of the heroines in romance novels are “strong” in the traditional sense, FBI agents, police officers, athletes, martial artists, self-defense experts, hunters, the whole nine. And those characters are just as important as the rest, as long as they are strong because of their fully-developed characterization and not because of what they can do. Very often, the strong female character is reduced to a mostly masculine one, written in a pair of tight pants. In fact, the closer to a male she resembles, emotionally distant, difficult to connect with, physically powerful, the better the reception.
Except romance says no to that. Romance says that strong female characters can be found anywhere, and they show emotions, they show weakness, they show connection. Sometimes they are distant, sometimes they overshare, sometimes they can defend themselves, sometimes they can’t. Romance says that strong female characters aren’t, in fact, Amazonian warriors, but the every woman who has a life, friends, family and a fully-developed past.
Take for example, Diana Prince, Wonder Woman, from the latest iteration in the Patty Jenkins directed film. She is physically strong, yes. Descent from a race of warrior women, her physical capabilities ultimately win her the day. But it is her full development, her history, her past, her memories, the knowledge of answers to questions never asked in the film, that make her a strong female character.
On the flip side, Luna Lovegood, quiet, mysterious, a little difficult to understand Luna Lovegood, is still a strong female character, despite her lack of physical strength and her young age. She is emotionally potent, carved from her life experiences and an intrinsic personality, confident and, yes, fully developed.
And you’ll see these types of characters nowhere more than the romance genre. Romance is chock filled with real women, women who think about exercising and don’t go, women who want to please their families and follow their dreams, women with pasts, presents and futures. We see duchesses, nurses and pirate queens, but we never fail to believe that our heroines, the women that we promised to follow for two hundred pages, are real women, rather than two-dimensional caricatures of the idea of a strong female character.
The strong female character has its place. For one, it does push female character representation to the fore and the more heroines we can get, the better. But it doesn’t need to be so hard to make female protagonists real believable people, strong believable people. Romance has been doing it since the dawn of time. Is there any wonder it’s such a popular genre? ♥