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What Do You Mean When You Say You Want ‘Strong Female Characters’?

Oh, the strong female character. Holy grail of pop culture, embodiment of all that is empowerment, role model and inspiration for viewers of all genders, proof that women do not need to be shoehorned into stereotypical roles, but can instead spread their wings and fly free. She’s the characterisation many people say they do not see enough of, want more of in their pop culture. Most of those people have a list of women they think of when they hear ‘strong female characters,’ and are happy to provide that list upon request.

But what exactly is a strong female character? Who is defining ‘strong female characters’? Who, specifically, is asking for them? And who is being left out? Discussions about strong female characters have been going round and round for a very long time, both within more insular fandom communities and more public spaces. K. Beaton set off another round of discussion with this Hark, A Vagrant strip depicting one brand of strong female characters, and then there was a New York Times article, and numerous discussions on blogs, and, and, and the discussion continues, endlessly.

Some people appear to be subscribers to what some refer to as the ‘wo-man’ school (and yes, that is a term I cringe to type, because it is laden with oh so very many things); ‘…if watching violence is fun, and watching pretty girls is fun, then pretty violent girls will be fun squared.’ These strong female characters are stoic, physically fit,  badass. They are simplistic and one-dimensional; ‘everything a man can do’ distilled to pure brute physical force. Men in dresses, as it were (that is also a term I cringe to type, but we’re going to be coming back this idea in a bit, so keep it in mind). These strong female characters are made strong through expressions of masculinity of the most stereotyped sort. Put one of these ladies in a refrigerator, and she’ll tear it apart with her teeth and bare hands.

Others seem to believe that the ‘strong’ in ‘strong female characters’ refers not to physical strength, but to complexity and character development; these women are characterized by strong writing, not big muscles. They have depth, they may display emotion. Not too much emotion, of course, because that would be unseemly, but they are more than cardboard cutouts with nice biceps and the emotional depth of a funnel cake. These strong female characters can be your moral role models, with their sassy assertiveness. They demand respect not just for their bodies, but also their minds. Some people even take this a step deeper and argue that flawed women can be strong female characters, if the flaws are written and played well and add depth and meaning to the character instead of trapping her in stereotypeland, but you don’t see that argument coming up very often.

Three women who come up again and again in discussions about strong female characters are Buffy Summers, Veronica Mars, and Kara Thrace. Oddly, I see them getting assigned to both of these categories, depending on who is doing the talking. All three women are physically strong and demonstrate things like martial arts capability, but at times, they are far from stoic. Some of their best moments actually come when they are emotionally vulnerable, whether they are asking for support from the people around them, or flailing. And all three get backed into their fair share of plot traps, too, situations where someone needs to come and save them, in a way that is often specifically framed, for them, as demasculinising. They are no longer ‘just one of the boys’ and have been shown up with weakness. Because, of course, interdependence is ‘weak.’

This theme, of masculinity, is a critical one that runs through demands for strong female characters. Whether people are demanding more characters with what are, effectively, masculine traits, or criticising demands for strong female characters on the grounds that just masculinising women doesn’t do very much to empower them, it is clear that for many people, masculinity is what makes characters ‘strong.’ Not just in the physical sense but also the emotional one, that characters are allowed to show some emotional vulnerability as long as it is controlled and gracefully handled.

These calls for strong female characters start to run into trouble with trans women, nonwhite women, and women of colour in pop culture. Because women in all three of these categories are automatically expected to be strong. It is, in fact, part of their characterisation. Trans women are frequently framed as secret men (ah!) and thus can be expected to display physical strength and emotional toughness, because it’s part of the game the creator wants to play with you. These women aren’t ‘real women,’ because they’re strong. Those masculine traits aren’t empowering, in this case, aren’t an affirmation that girls can do anything. Just the opposite. They are dehumanising and violent. They are a reminder to viewers that trans women are not real because they are really, at heart, masculine. Yet, to depict them as emotionally vulnerable, even fragile, is to play into other stereotypes about women, leaving them in a double bind; they cannot be strong, they cannot be weak. They cannot exist.

Women of colour and nonwhite women have also been subjected to the physically strong, solemn or stoic archetype since time immemorial. When pop culture bothers to include them at all, they are often heavily masculinised. Loud. Oversexed. Spicy. Overwhelming in their physicality. Or, on the flip side of things, especially for Asian women, meek and submissive; objects of sexual fetish. Bodies inherently charged with sexuality that are treated as objects in pop culture narratives. Do we need more ‘strong female characters’ when it comes to women of colour, in a media that repeatedly reiterates stereotypes about stoic, unemotional, physically strong Black women, for example?

Look at Buffy and True Blood’s Tara. The two characters have a lot in common; they’re physically strong, they’re assertive, they’re sassy. They are also both emotionally vulnerable, are sometimes wounded, may scream and cry and pout and stomp. Buffy enjoys a huge following (with a small minority that calls her ‘whiny’) while people pour on the haterade for Tara on a regular basis. She’s too emotional, too screamy, too…much. Buffy’s a strong female character by many people’s lists, but Tara…isn’t. There’s a reason for that.

So really, what people are usually talking about when they talk about the need for ‘strong female characters’ is white cis women, specifically. Emily pointed out in an email when we were discussing this issue that ‘…you have to be assumed weak in the first place for it to be groundbreaking.’ Pop culture routinely positions white women as wilting lilies and delicate flowers, a depiction that dates back centuries, and people understandably want to push back on that.

Women of colour, trans women, and nonwhite women are not, however, treated in the same way. Not now, and not historically. They are already positioned as ‘strong’ and hypermasculine, often in ways that are meant to dehumanise them and make them seem like they aren’t ‘real women;’ Emily pointed out that they are not, culturally, allowed to display emotion, particularly anger, without it being laden with meaning. Depicting such women as ‘strong’ in the stereotyped senses discussed above, with a highlight on stoicism and physical strength, emotional stability and lack of intense emotion, actually isn’t anything new, and is indeed a reinforcement of existing stereotypes.

Demands for strong female characters that go beyond superficial depictions of strength often ask for complexity, depth. These things are denied to most minority characters, who are only allowed to inhabit very shallow depictions. Depth of any form is primarily seen, though, as something that white cis women need, in discussions about strong female characters. They dominate the discussion just as they dominate the screen; they are the leading roles, the most important characters

There’s also a notable erasure of strong female characters when it comes to disability, sometimes erasure in a rather literal sense. DC recently decided to ‘reboot’ Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, as a nondisabled character, despite a long, distinguished, and notable representation as a wheelchair using character. strong wheelchair using character. People with disabilities, you see, cannot be strong, so an aberration like Oracle must be destroyed. The only ‘strong’ disabled characters allowed are those who make nondisabled people feel better about themselves by being inspirational and brave. The disability community has protested, but Gail Simone informs us that since ‘some people’ want Oracle cured, one of the best representations of disability in pop culture should be taken away. But you don’t see very many people talking about strong female characters, of any race, trans or cis, when disability is involved; how many Native trans women using wheelchairs in pop culture can you think of?

These discussions about ‘strong female characters’ often elide who is being talked about, and they play into larger narratives that no one seems to want to discuss. Who gets to tell stories? Who gets to be the lead, and who is the sidekick or supporting character? Who is calling for ‘strong female characters’ and what, exactly, do they mean when they say that?

60 Comments

  1. Abby wrote:

    This post was perfect. I was anticipating commenting and asking how you could leave disability out when it comes to discussing strong, female characters, but the second last paragraph framed the way that disability is only represented as weak regardless of race, or if they are cis or trans very well.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  2. twings wrote:

    Fabulous, fabulous post. It’s wonderful to see more discussion of these terms lately, and more people taking apart that word “strong” – what I especially love about this post is its attention to the way that “strength” is applied unequally and with different emotional valences across different categories of women. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how what I really want in “strong female characters” is “strongly written female characters,” women on the screen who are given the depth of emotional and plot arc that male characters are given, but I wasn’t thinking about it with enough intersectionality – thank you for helping me to make those connections.

    Frankly, given that what Hollywood seems to have heard when people first started saying “strong female characters” was “able bodied white cis thin women wearing catsuits and doing high kicks,” I’m not sure it’s a term I want to keep around – or, at least, it’s a term I want to keep a close eye on.

    Thanks again for the great, nuanced post.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  3. Jess wrote:

    *cough*DC is rebooting Barbara Gordon, not Marvel*cough*

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  4. Aliaras wrote:

    This post is awesome and really thought provoking. I hadn’t considered the intersectionality aspect of “strong female characters” much, mostly because I want the same things in disabled characters, queer characters, and characters of color as I do in able bodied/cis/het/white female characters. Those things are mostly just good writing. Like Twings said, I’d like if characters who weren’t able bodied/cis/het/white men were written as well as the ones who are.

    Susan Ivanova, from Babylon 5, is my favorite example of a well-written female character — she isn’t written as A Girl, she’s just a person who’s involved in the running of a ship, gets her own side plots and heartbreak, and generally kicks ass without anyone making a point of it.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  5. Matarij wrote:

    For me ‘strong female characters’ means believable women characters displaying the complexities of personality that real women have. So it is the portrayal of complexity that I look for and it is this that is, tragically, completely missing in Hollywood. Hence I do not watch Hollywood movies as they usually contain cartoon women characters, and if I want to watch a cartoon, then i will watch one thanks.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink
  6. Matarij wrote:

    And a new film magazine aimed at women blows its chance:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-womens-blog-with-jane-martinson/2011/aug/10/womens-cinema-magazines-studio?commentpage=last#end-of-comments

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  7. emmo wrote:

    Thank you for this amazing post. Can you clarify for me which Tara you’re referring to when you mention “Buffy and Tara”? The Tara described there (physically strong, assertive, sassy) doesn’t match the one I know from the Buffy series… I can’t think of a Tara who fits into the context of that paragraph, and my brain keeps getting stuck on the Buffy Tara…

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  8. samanthab wrote:

    I can think of fictional movies that qualify, but I can’t think of any out of Hollywood. I’ve gotten to the point where it’s an extremely rare occasion that I bother with American films. Even the “indie” films aren’t really challenging in any sense, politically or otherwise. I might be missing something great out there, but I’m sick of wasting my time with it, as rule. I just find the bulk of it so revolting on so many -isms grounds and also on intellectual and creative terms.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  9. MsAvignon wrote:

    You wrote a really interesting post which is why I was compelled to tweet you, and after some Twitter back-and-forth with you, I finally figured out how to get the formatting here correctly and persuaded to comment! I love that this post is not simply demanding more “strong” characters but trying to figure out what that means for what types of people, and how that is ignored in the media.

    Sandra Oh’s character on Grey’s Anatomy, Christina Yang, is consistently one of the strongest and most interesting characters on television. She’s intelligent, ambitious, and abrasive, and makes absolutely zero apologies for being that way. Her character has dealt with the now-predictably-ridiculous plotlines of Grey’s but she’s dealt with PTSD after a traumatic accident, a broken-off engagement, unwanted pregnancies, and constantly being forced to justify picking a career over a relationship. It’s not slaying vampires, but I think those are concerns a lot of women can relate to? Which leads to my next point: she’s an adult.

    Unlike Veronica Mars or Buffy, Christina Yang isn’t a teenager. She’s an adult who is never childish, “girly” (in the stereotypical way) or precocious. She’s an intelligent adult who has worked very hard towards goals that are only achieved in adulthood: graduating from medical school and becoming a doctor. Usually, portrayals of career women in the media have to add a bunch of details that prove she’s still feminine: an obsession with shopping, getting “tamed” by men, an inner-life that reveals her to really be just an insecure girl, scenarios that set her up to look foolish so that she can learn lessons, etc. The moments when Dr. Yang is vulnerable and emotional are surprising simply because she’s consistently portrayed as (written as) secure, confident, and able to maneuver difficult situations.

    On Twitter, you made the point of saying that her character isn’t often brought up as a “strong” female character. I do think that’s partly because Grey’s is so ridiculous that it’s hard for any part of it to be taken seriously even as Oh’s acting has consistently gotten props. But I also think it has do with a variety of factors. For one, she’s not a superhero or has superpowers or is in a fantasy/sci-fi genre. As you say in your post, women are mostly accepted as “strong” in situations that require literal physical strength or at least some kind of supernatural force enabling the strength. Grey’s is a silly show and one that is unabashedly “romantic” (for the ladiez!) so I think it gets written off.

    I also think that Sandra Oh – as an actress, a WOC, and her characters- complicates a lot of narratives for Asians. As an actress, she isn’t the “type” that is usually seen in media in either appearance or character choices. Something truly fucked up is that when I googled her, the first suggestion in the drop-down was “Sandra Oh ugly.” She doesn’t look like Lucy Liu (one of the few Asian-Americans who’s managed to be deemed ‘sexy’ by the public and/or media) and she doesn’t look like or Maggie Cheung or Michelle Yeoh. Oh has curly hair (which is apparently unattractive according to In-Style mag!) and single eyelids, and that means she’s not hot enough for an Asian. Her character choices- from Arli$$ to Sideways and now Grey’s, are all “ball-busting” types – clearly, unattractive to men! Dr. Yang is an overachiever but because the producers/writers don’t relentlessly push the “traditional Asian family,” and she’s not the stereotypical Asian nerd.

    Sandra Oh is still thin, very pretty (despite what Google search results say!) and able-bodied, so she’s not completely reflective of everyone’s experiences. But I do think her character is a great example of a “strong” character who is allowed to succeed without qualifications and be flawed without being punished.

    (I’m sorry this is such a long comment, but it’s something that’s been kicking around in my head for a while.)

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  10. s.e. smith wrote:

    Oops, sorry, emmo! I’m thinking of Tara on True Blood and perhaps I should edit to clarify that.

    Jess, thanks! Comics brainfart.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  11. lauren wrote:

    Branching out in a different kind of way, I’m super interested in exploring how intrinsically capitalist valuing strength is…

    I’d personally love to see more “weak” protagonists, and a feminist valuing of vulnerability, compassion and sharing as opposed to hero storylines that revolve around competition and winning and saving the day.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  12. shana wrote:

    really great post.

    have you seen this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYaczoJMRhs

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  13. carovee wrote:

    I’ve taken to using the word “complex” in place of strong. It better describes what I want which is female characters with more thought put into them than exactly how high their stilletos should be. Complex characters have to embody both strengths and weaknesses or they are not, well, complex. Creating a complex character opens the door for greater diversity as well since one isn’t limited to one type of “strength”. Still, as a fan of action movies, I get very tired of seeing female characters shoved aside when the action starts. It can feel like a victory whenever a woman is not shoved aside. Even if she’s still one-dimensional at least she’s a one-dimensional character who gets to do something.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  14. samanthab wrote:

    Lauren, yes, a professor of mine made the point that the lone hero that is the staple of American movies is really nothing but capitalist propaganda, i.e. that there is something inherently detrimental and inadequate in communal efforts.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  15. BiteMeMitchell wrote:

    This is a great article. As Carovee said above, I think we need to see more complex female characters. I never got on the Buffy train (I found her annoying as hell and still do) but I’d like to see more multi-dimensional female characters. And the best ones, to me at least, are flawed individuals, because that is how real people are. I agree about Tara in True Blood, who is one of the only reasons I even watched that show. Other favourites: Ripley (of course!) Peggy Olson. Kima Greggs. Lol in This Is England. Miranda Hobbes. Kerry Weaver. Christine Cagney. Brenda Chenowith. I’m not so much into the physical arse-kickers as I am into women I can actually relate to, and I think that’s the secret. Unfortunately, a lot of women seem to relate to the Princess Pink fantasy, which is why you will always have more Sookies than Taras and more Carries than Mirandas.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  16. kiturak wrote:

    (Fantasy Author) N.K. Jemisin also recently wrote about this in The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy (and everywhere else, but for now, fantasy).

    Great post, thank you!

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  17. Alex Cranz wrote:

    I’d argue that the hate for Tara comes not from her being black but from the three straight seasons of victimization and ridiculously bad story lines.

    Back in 2001-2002 people also intensely disliked Buffy, and again it coincided with victimization and bad story lines. The only reason the vitriol was directed at the writers and actress rather than the character is because Buffy had 5 seasons of excellence behind her. Tara doesn’t have that.

    Buffy began as a subversion of the helpless cheerleader trope. The entire first season is devoted to that. Heck the only time she’s a victim in that first season it’s by her own choice.

    Tara is a systematic victim. She’s repeatedly abused by her mother, friends, enemies and, last season, a sadistic rapist and murderer. Her strength is presented as being superficial. It isn’t real. Until this season when she wipes the slate clean and gets in a healthy relationship and becomes a cage fighter. Only then she returns to town, is victimized again and reverts to be the broken woman who hides behind a veil of false confidence.

    That being said, I adore this article. As a white lady full of privilege I often struggle to understand how other operate in the world and are perceived by it. It is with a modicum of shame that I admit I’ve never fully considered the idea that women of color and nonwhite women are perceived so differently. Thanks for enlightening me and thanks for such a fascinating article.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  18. laughingrat wrote:

    This is a great article, s.e.

    I’m a little weirded out by the equation of “victim” and “weak” (and “weak” with “deserving of hatred”) in the comment above. I know society as a whole teaches us to blame the victim, to the point that “victim” is now a slur rather than a descriptor, but–well, society as a whole deserves a big old side-eye around this kind of thing.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
  19. Anna wrote:

    First, a thank you to s.e. smith – not only was this article an excellent read, but the linked sources, references, etc. led me into one of those wonderful vortexes of thoughts and ideas from which one doesn’t wish to return. I’ve been thinking about “strong female characters” and what one would actually be all day.

    Second, kudos to msavignon for noting Christina Yang as an important though often overlooked Strong Female Character(TM?). I agree that the ongoing absurdity that is “Grey’s Anatomy” is mostly responsible for this recurring omission; however, I think it’s also due to the fact that Christina Yang does not conform to the standard hyper-feminine, high-maintenance, and overtly sexualized Asian woman stereotype/fetish (think “Social Network,” for example).

    However, I disagree with the implied argument that Christina’s adulthood somehow makes her a more important representation of women in comparison to high schoolers such as Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars.

    I know there’s a larger debate to be had about Buffy, but sticking simply to her storyline, her character is not confined to high school. She spends just over half of the series’ seven season run as a formal student, first in high school, later in college, before dropping out to take on the more adult role of Dawn’s guardian. She struggles and she works and she experiences the 20-something ennui that I hear so frequently expressed by so many of my friends.

    Meanwhile, Veronica Mars is mostly confined to high school largely due to The CW’s unfortunate decision to end the show after three seasons. If anything, this makes her more impressive, because in less time than either Christina or Buffy, Veronica is one of the most compelling female characters I have ever experienced, be it on screen or in a book or wherever. What’s more, had the series continued, we would have had the opportunity to see her as an FBI agent – a career perhaps not on par with that of a heart surgeon, but all the same, nothing to sneeze at.

    Yes, she is sometimes childish, sometimes girly, and sometimes precocious (though that word is problematic, if only because it assumes a standard of “normal” maturation that may or may not be valid). But do these qualities, simply by virtue of her age, make her less valuable as a thought provoking female character? Do they lessen the impact her character’s rape, of her experience of victim blaming and ostricization? Do they diminish her very complicated struggle to trust anyone enough to depend upon them, her almost pathological need to take an eye for an eye, or her moments of true, broken vulnerability?

    I think not, and I think it’s important that we don’t fall into an ageist trap by assuming that a young adult cannot be as complicated and interesting and important as a grown woman simply because she is still young.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink
  20. Val wrote:

    Oooohhh…Ripley..where has she gone?

    Love this!

    Yes to more complexity/diversity for female pop culture characters. IMO we wouldn’t be so hung-up on/disappointed by/cage-fightey over the relevance and correctness of/ female pop creations if the few we watched weren’t so few/measly. They (and their creators) are drowning under our collective needs.

    I mean, I would be fine with underwritten female action movie stars if they were routinely as bad-ass as their underwritten male co-stars, got to wear the same amount of clothing and weren’t automatically white! Apparently, this is TOO MUCH TO ASK

    I want interesting, flawed, diverse female characters, sometimes as central characters, written with the same level of complexity as the male characters in whatever vehicle is on offer.

    Some “strong” female characters I appreciate: Jane Tennison, Precious Ramotswe, Jackie, O’Hara and Gloria Akalitus from Nurse Jackie, Calamity Jane, Jewel and Trixie from Deadwood, Bellatrix LaStrange, Hermione Granger and Molly Weasley from Harry Potter, Kima Greggs and Rhonda Perlman in The Wire, Claudette Wyms in The Shield and Tara and Jessica from TrueBlood.

    @Lauren…yep, getting weirded out by this idea that victims are “weak”. Tara’s family life sucks and then she is subjected to terrible cruelties over several seasons because…the writer’s wanted SOMEONE to do that to? Tara and Lafayette (and the road crew conversations) were the reasons I put up with (boooriiing) Bill and Soookeeey at first. I’ve pretty much given up on TB because of this.

    @Alex Cranz…how would YOU respond to years of abuse, the murder of your lover followed up by stalking/rape/confinement by someone with superhuman strength? Character Tara did amazingly. I was just pissed at the writer’s (and I assume some of the audience’s) willingness to minimize this before the important other (Sookie) stuff going on at the time/right after. Ditto Erik’s torture of Lafayette not (apparently) relevant to his hotness, but that’s a bit off-topic, here…

    I have watched almost no Buffy, but I think someone (Sadie?) has discussed the Buffy as victim shows and the audience response to them somewhere here…probably relevant…

    Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Permalink
  21. lemon wrote:

    “Pop culture routinely positions white women as wilting lilies and delicate flowers, a depiction that dates back centuries, and people understandably want to push back on that.”

    I think you mean white cisgender and cissexual women… I don’t mean to nitpick, but it’s disappointing to see “women” used to refer specifically to nontrans women in an article that attempts to include trans women…

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 12:21 am | Permalink
  22. roxie wrote:

    @Alex

    I’m not sure I agree with your assessment. One of my great joys is reading as many recaps and analysis of True Blood as I can get my mouse on.

    Most of the sites I visit either love or tolerate Tara, however, i09 in particular, hates her.

    I don’t think they hate her because her strength doesn’t see real. That’s never a complaint. They complain she is too whiny, cries too much, or is too angry. That she is an ignorant stereotype, a horrible person and a bad friend to Sookie (to which I wonder what show are THEY watching?) SEVERAL comments groan in all caps WHY WON’T THYE JUST KILL HER OFF ALREADY?!

    Now, fatigue could definitely be a motivation behind this, but “I hate what they do to Tara” is never the issue. They’re not at all curious or angry about her lack of power. They consider her anger or sadness illegitimate.

    Folks were upset that she was featured in the silent trailer for this season. Her very existence seems to be what they disagree with and dislike.

    Honestly, I’ve been so defensive about this so many times, I’ve started to take the comments personally

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink
  23. Val wrote:

    @laughingrat…my fingers typed @Lauren, but I was responding to your comment there.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 1:28 am | Permalink
  24. B. wrote:

    I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t already been said in earlier comments. I just want to get in line saying that I loved this article, and as a result of reading it I think I will be paying attention and noticing things in TV shows that I didn’t before, and that’s always a good thing.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 2:39 am | Permalink
  25. Crys T wrote:

    I’d go with the “strong as in complex, strong writing” definition.

    I’m really like everyone’s suggestions to the list, and I’d like to add:

    Maggie & Hopey from Love & Rockets
    Cleo Lovedrop & her friends from Wet Moon
    pretty much any character Jodie Foster played pre-Taxi Driver
    Scully, before the X-Files jumped the shark

    And, as much as I adore Veronica Mars, I can’t go with the characterisation of her as “physically strong.” She’s not physically weak, but the show is (relatively) reality-based, and, hell, she’s a physically tiny high school girl, not a Slayer.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink
  26. Mir wrote:

    I think the implication in including “strong” is that the default must be weak.

    Life is often difficult and saying certain methods for dealing with crisis and change are ‘strong’ while other ways are weak has basically crippled modern narrative arts.

    This applies across the gender spectrum. Probably even Benji the dogs character development was hampered by the fact that he had to go on crazy impossible quests to prove he was a dog more worthy of love than any other dog.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  27. Sady wrote:

    This is great, s.e.! And I think so much of this is just people doing something really goofy and stupid with words, conflating “strong” (can punch a vampire in the face) with “strong” (not rendered into a shrieking/hysterical/un-effective Damsel In Distress that has to be rescued by men to move the plot forward) and “strong” (the writing on this character is really strong, really well-done) into the same thing.

    I do love a decently violent, action-filled movie, and I do love a girl who can survive against incredibly violent odds, and I don’t think that’s likely to change. But if there’s one thing that Sucker Punch has shown us, it’s that we shouldn’t require action sequences to define characters as “strong.” These days, I’m just looking for female characters that come across as recognizably human, and could maybe pass a Bechdel test in a pinch: Full inner lives, drives and goals that are not entirely defined by men or wanting a specific man, convincingly human behavior, etc.

    I mean, I don’t think you could characterize Kristen Wiig’s character in “Bridesmaids” as “strong” according to any of the Strong Female Character rubrics. She has a crappy job, she refuses to get over her relationship with that douchebag who dumped her for being broke 9 million years ago, she’s clearly depressed, she’s been disappointed enough to slip into complete apathy, she’s kind of selfish, she sabotages herself constantly, she’s socially awkward, etc. Like, if we’re judging by SFC standards, this character is not just not-strong, but actually, overtly weak. And yet, I loved her. And I think she’s the strongest characterization of a woman that I’ve seen on screen this year. Because I know that girl. I even think I’ve been that girl. And she was allowed to be stressed out about money and friends and career and whether or not she should exercise her talents and passions (yes, her “talent” and “passion” was for baking cupcakes, but WHATEVER) and not just about boyfriends or sex. Boyfriends and sex were one part of a very big picture that was, for the most part, about whether or not she could consider herself “successful” according to the standards of her friends and society in general. And I just thought that was fantastic. She didn’t have to punch a vampire in the face. All she had to do was be a real, live girl.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  28. A. wrote:

    Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights is one of the strongest, most realistically-written women on television. Her character is a far cry from those who fight vampires and save the world from evil, but she demonstrates constant passion, morality, loyalty, and empathy while dealing with conflict every day.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  29. Sarah Terkes wrote:

    When I say I want to see ‘strong’ female characters, I actually mean I want to see ‘real’ female characters. Not just one dimensional sexualised characters that are solely focused on men, love, sex, babies and marriage. I want to see intelligent women who use their brains and have interesting ideas and pursuits completely unrelated to the five (dull) things I just listed. I don’t mind if they aren’t strong or kick-ass, I just want them to THINK.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  30. M. wrote:

    Um, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I do want more complex female characters. On the other hand, most of the things I enjoy are action-oriented, like fantasy for example, I obviously prefer to watch women who are competent and physical strong (or develop into this, anyway). I like watching and reading about heroes [heroines] who save the day and triumph despite the odds. This whole thing (and Jenmisim’s article too) makes feel like its somehow “wrong” for me to enjoy these things. Men get to have their idealized action heroes, why it is so wrong for us to have them too? You rarely see people criticizing them for this.

    And also don’t think we should put down all “traditional masculine” characteristics. Seems to me like a woman who is competitive or assertive or a leader or an athlete or simply not very emotive or nurturing, is somehow “bad” or not a “real woman”. As as latina woman who frankly, isn’t very “feminine”, isn’t interested on marriage (in the traditional sense) and enjoys “masculine” things like weightlifting and martial arts (and I have a pretty fit and muscular body, thank you very much) this type of things make feel inadequate somehow. Because women like me do exists, and I don’t think is cool when you call us ‘wo-man’ or ‘men-with-boobs’.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 1:02 am | Permalink
  31. Christopher wrote:

    The confusing thing for me about this issue is that it’s so easy for gender essentialism to creep into it, even if you’re trying to come at it from a feminist perspective.

    I’ve heard characters described as “men with boobs” before, and to me the implication there is that there are certain personality traits that are alien to all women, so it’s dishonest to pretend that that particular character could have them. That seems like kind of a dangerous direction to go in.

    On the other hand, if your story takes place in a society even remotely like ours, a woman will pretty much have to have had different formative experiences from a man, and honest writing should acknowledge that.

    So I don’t know.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  32. Crys T wrote:

    I agree with Mir’s comment, as well as what Sady said following.

    Some of the characters I do like, such as Cleo Lovedrop, aren’t “strong” in any physical or even moral sense. She’s fixated on this guy who dumped her, she has tons of body-image issues, and she doesn’t really do or say anything profound, brave, deep or amazing. In fact, she’s often annoying. But she is so clearly defined as a character, that she seems real. That’s what I find compelling and fascinating about her (and most of the rest of the female characters in Wet Moon).

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  33. colm wrote:

    Quick question, since you’ve made the distinction, (and forgive my ignorance), but what’s the difference between “nonwhite” and “of colour”?

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  34. Jane wrote:

    For me, I want to watch/read women characters that I can relate to, whatever their race/sexuality, and who are ‘strong’ in a way that I can relate to – ‘complex’ is good, but perhaps ‘resiliant’ is better (for me, anyway)?

    As an ordinary real person, I don’t have superpowers or special martial arts skills (but even Buffy and River didn’t win every fight they fought), but I do try to survive, and not only survive but learn from my experiences and grow and change. A character like Tara doesn’t do that, she is written to revel in her own weakness and be a willing victim in that she keeps going back for more and wallowing in it (the one exception being when she bit Franklin, drank his blood for strength and then bludgeoned him to escape, but it didn’t last and she had to be rescued by Jason in the end). One character I really like is Rachel McAdams’ Lisa in ‘Red Eye’, because she’s just an ordinary person who gets caught up in a terrorism/assassination plot, and after she’s had her initial freak out, she does everything she can think of not only to save her hostage father, but to prevent the assassination too. She’s been a victim (she was raped sometime before the film started), but she swears that it will never happen again, and she thinks and fights back like a resourceful, ordinary person would.

    Friday, August 12, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  35. kiturak wrote:

    @M: As I linked Jemisin’s post, I’ll try to explain why: I actually feel like you. I’m not very feminine, and I’m looking for “typical” female action heroes like you do. With physical strength and without the usual sexualization/ sexism. (I’d like to discuss that, but it might be off topic – thing is I still wouldn’t say there are that many of those around, if any – could they please stop killing off Michelle Rodrigues? – and I resent that. Deeply. I’m missing those.)

    For me, the point of both articles is that that’s not the only type of “strong” female character people should have in mind, that that shouldn’t be the definiton for “strong” – or else, “strong” should not be the only thing to go for, concerning representation of women in media. (As among others, this would amount to devaluing feminine traits.)
    And, as to the OP, that the dominating view of
    only this one type of “strong female characters” has a lot to do with the centering of white/cis/… privileged women. That’s not to say that that type of character is at all bad to wish for, or that only privileged women can ever wish for it.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink
  36. kiturak wrote:

    ahhh I misspelt Michelle Rodriguez! I know!

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink
  37. anya wrote:

    Intresting article. I liked reading about how different types of women are permitted ‘strength’ mainly as it corresponds to their kyriarchy-influenced stereotypes. That was a unique take.

    One thing:

    “Women of colour, trans women, and nonwhite women are not.”

    Don’t forget dykes!

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink
  38. hydropsyxhe wrote:

    I’m loving this thread. Especially the Christina Yang stuff. My all time favorite thing about her is that she DOES NOT WANT babies. Ever. And when she tells people this, they never believe her, but she is totally serious.

    She is also one of the only characters on tv in decades to discuss abortion as a medical procedure rather than OMG a tragically hard decision.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink
  39. Caterfree10 wrote:

    A lot of this really reminds me of why I love Avatar: the Last Airbender so much. In addition to having the entire cast be Asian or Inuit-based (mm, pan-Asian fantasy), nearly all of the women are very well developed and one of the main characters who joins the cast in season 2, is a blind girl who kicks one hell of a lot of ass, but also has her moments of vulnerability (usually emotionally linked, but there are a few other moments that she overcomes just as well). and the overall excellent handling of female characters in AtLA makes me excited for the upcoming Legend of Korra series in 2012, especially seeing as the titular character is a woman of color who I’d imagine would also be just as well developed as the women of the previous series.

    Though really, I just hope that the LoK series helps to open the eyes of both other shows on the series’ home network as well as competitor networks that, hell yes, female characters of all kinds need to be well-developed characters instead of stereotypes of either side.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  40. CraftyLuna wrote:

    “They are no longer ‘just one of the boys’ and have been shown up with weakness. Because, of course, interdependence is ‘weak.’”

    In the case of Buffy at least, I totally disagree with that. The thing that kept setting her apart from past Slayers was that she had friends. Remember how they beat Adam at the end of season 4? They all combined their essences together. Buffy was never a loner, she always got her strength from her relationships. And the end of the series, the whole thing with the potential slayers, with them getting their powers, was so that it would no longer be ONE girl in all the world, to hold back the powers of darkness yadda yadda. I think strength through relationships, love, friendships, community, was the overarching theme of the whole series.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
  41. PrivlegeBingo wrote:

    Personally, I’m sick of the anti-femininity action heroines–a strong female character it does NOT make. What I want in a strong female character is good writing and good development. I could care less if she’s a protagonist or antagonist. I could care less about her relationship status or if she has kids or not. I could care less if she’s old, non-White, disabled, trans, lesbian or bi…

    …I just want her to mean something–have some freaking depth and not be a festering 1D stereotype.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 2:16 am | Permalink
  42. anya wrote:

    “Buffy was never a loner, she always got her strength from her relationships.”

    I have a slightly different undertsanding. I always thought that Buffy *was* a loner, and that the whole of the series revolved around pushing her towards realising the importance of letting others in–as Willow once said to her, “You have GOT to cool it with this whole extreme self-reliance thing!” I disagree with the series in this respect, and find it sort of ironic that the ultimate empowered female is supposed to learn how to become *less* self-reliant. But, as you said, BTVS was very focused on community-building, and that’s a very Whedon thing–privileging feminine modes of interaction that involve drawing strength from a group rather than from rugged individualism. I tend favour the latter, being an intovert who feels at my most powerful when I’m *not* surrounded by others. But everyone’s different.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 2:59 am | Permalink
  43. Raemon wrote:

    @CATERFREE10: Totally agreed on Avatar the Last Airbender!

    I think there’s a difference between “men with boobs” and “female action heroes,” and the difference is between Lara Croft and, well, pretty much every female character on ATLA.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  44. Em wrote:

    My all time favorite thing about her is that she DOES NOT WANT babies. Ever. And when she tells people this, they never believe her, but she is totally serious.

    This is one of the things I loved about the YA fantasy novel Graceling. Katsa doesn’t want babies. When certain guys refused to believe her and think she’ll settle down and get all moony over babies, this is a sign that they’re kinda being jerks, and certainly aren’t boyfriend material. And the text emphasizes that she doesn’t dislike children – she likes them fine, and protects one girl for a good portion of the book – she just doesn’t want her own. And this is okay. She also doesn’t want to get married because it involves a set of unequal legal and social restrictions in her society, and this is also okay. She also doesn’t sneer at women who like dresses (she doesn’t, but it’s her preference, not a universal rule), and when she runs into women who don’t know how to defend themselves, she doesn’t look down on them – she wonders why their society is set up to make them helpless, and thinks teaching girls how to fight would be a great idea. There’s a lot to like in that book.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  45. kiturak wrote:

    @Raemon Could you explain what you mean by “men with boobs” – if I get it right, that’s meant derogatively? Or am I wrong? I don’t believe your intention is to insult trans men or butch women, but I don’t really know how to read it. If you mean characters that are not well developed, that’s another thing.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  46. strato wrote:

    I know I might be digressing (Ok, I am), but I’ve thought for ages now that a good long essay needs to be written about how agent Scully just stopped being a credible role model when XFiles did jump the shark (and how sad that was for millions of late ’90s teenagers including, uhm, me…).

    Ah, Scully… her relationship with Mulder is problematic, and she is a workaholic with a sad, sad life, where her intelligence and integrity only lead to loss and pain. But she calls herself a feminist (actually!) and she is someone you would love to have a serious discussion about science-y stuff with.

    She is an adult character who chose career over family, and who, in spite of the pressures without and within, is pretty happy about it. How often is that portrayed in pop culture?

    *And* she makes the average nerd teenager feel the future is hers to take.

    And then, they magically fill her uterus and all hell breaks lose… why, why, why?!

    Ok, that’s it… sorry about that…

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink
  47. Maria wrote:

    Genre is important too. If it’s a fantasy book about a colony of dragon-slaying badasses, it’s entirely appropriate to have Strong Women characters display ultimate ‘masculinity’ if you plan on writing a lot of dramatic scenes about diving onto a dragon’s back and slashing it to pieces then somersaulting onto another one etc. etc. If you’re writing a comedy set in New York in the 90s, it is perhaps less appropriate to depict Strength as equating to how much sport this cis white woman plays.

    “I do love a decently violent, action-filled movie, and I do love a girl who can survive against incredibly violent odds, and I don’t think that’s likely to change. But if there’s one thing that Sucker Punch has shown us, it’s that we shouldn’t require action sequences to define characters as “strong.” These days, I’m just looking for female characters that come across as recognizably human, and could maybe pass a Bechdel test in a pinch: Full inner lives, drives and goals that are not entirely defined by men or wanting a specific man, convincingly human behavior, etc.”

    ^THIS, just really THIS.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink
  48. Raemon wrote:

    @KITURAK: I wouldn’t have used that phrase if it weren’t already referenced in this discussion, and I should have clarified that I don’t think it’s a good term to describe the phenomena.

    The distinction I was making was mostly one of writing quality. Lara Croft is a “tough girl,” but she is clearly a tough girl designed by men to appeal to male fantasies and worldviews.

    The Avatar series has characters that are more tough and powerful than Lara Croft is, but they come across as fully realized female characters.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 1:01 am | Permalink
  49. kalany wrote:

    If you’re looking for a completely unusual well-written deep character who changes the world, I would recommend Fawn Bluefield from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series. She is white and cissexual, but then, so is Lois (write what you know?). She is, however, pretty much on the bottom of her social class structure, and has been convinced she’s stupid. And yet she (and her husband, mostly with her pushing him) change the world — while having babies and traveling the world. The story is presented as a (cissexual) romance in four volumes, but underneath it’s a heck of a lot more.

    How about Anita Blake? She manages to be strong in both meanings, and actively comments throughout most of her series about how a lot of her problems stem from her being too unwilling to engage her emotions — too “manly”, in other words. She has to figure out how to be “the chick” while also being one hell of a kick-ass preternatural investigator (and more). Okay, the weird sex is a bit of turn-off for me, but I can deal with that.

    Another on my shelf is JD Robb’s Eve Dallas (and her sidekick, Delia Peabody). Eve may be more “masculine”, but she manages to have a romance and collect a huge number of amazing, kick-ass female friends — and Peabody is fairly stereotypically feminine, while still kicking her share of asses. The first book in the series has some very problematic content (particularly in the sex scenes), but I think Roberts (who wrote them under a pseudonym) figured out it was problematic, because the more recent books seem to have carefully steered away from most of the severe squick of the first few.

    I’d also like to nominate Cordelia Naismith, also by Bujold, who manages to drag an entire planet into the modern era (slowly), and is quite possibly the only woman I know to be able to terrify the entire ruling cast simply by smiling and saying “I went shopping.” (The context of her book helps…). She goes on to have a disabled son, who stars in the running Vorkosigan Saga and is one of the more abling representations of disability I’ve met yet (oh, and his brother, and Ekaterin’s description of mental abuse — all spot-on, IMO, and well-written).

    One of my surprising favorites on television right now is The Vampire Diaries. I started watching it expecting Twilight for TV, but what I got was… well, for what it is, it’s surprising. While it has more than its share of problematic content, there are things about it I greatly enjoy: Bonnie and her grandmother are women of color I would love to be. Elena regularly holds her own next to vampires who could probably kill her faster than she could blink, and manages to call them on a fair amount of their crap too. She’s also portrayed as being the one to instigate the sexual aspect of her relationship with her boyfriend, without ever being labeled as a slut, either by other characters, or subtly by the show — something I greatly appreciate. It does a lot of things wrong, but I appreciate that it also does things right, and significantly more than the big-screen friend it is often compared to.

    Actually, come to think of it, a large number of the Nora Roberts books I read, while being explicitly hetero-cis-sexual romance novels, manage to cast the female as being the “strong” person in the relationship. The first time I read a romance novel that featured a woman with a doctorate who ran her own animal shelter and owned her own sexuality, I just about broke down in tears. Again, there’s problematic content, but again I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s better than most of the other romances I’ve read.

    Re-reading what I’ve written, I think to me a large amount of what makes a female character “strong” is the unwillingness to take crap from her colleagues. This is possibly because this is an area in which I am weak, and I feel it’s partially because I’m socialized to believe that “good girls don’t act that way”. So when I see a woman (identified as a ciswoman, as the world perceives me to be) managing to own her womanhood while not taking crap, that gives me hope that maybe it really is okay. The actual butt-kicking and taking of names is optional. Perhaps one of the reasons I adore Fawn so much is because she begins the book socialized the same way I am, and even worse — and yet she manages to be an incredible woman despite that.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 4:32 am | Permalink
  50. Lady Tenar wrote:

    As someone who is a fan of Buffy and NOT of TB’s Tara, my issue with Tara is that, for the past few seasons, the writers seem determined to remove every last bit of personality and agency from her character. In the first season, I thought she was great–smart,complex, witty, funny, loyal etc. Then she spent half of season 2 being manipulated by a character (Mary Anne) who anybody with one quarter of S1 Tara’s brains could have figured out was really fucking sketchy–and the other half of season 2 being literally hypnotized by her, somebody else’s agent instead of her own. Then in season 3 (which I kind of thought was horrible for all the characterizations across the board) all we got of Tara was basically “shot of Tara looking scared!” “Shot of Tara crying!” “Shot of Tara trying to run away (but it not working)!” “Another shot of Tara looking scared!” She was barely even a person. Now, in season 4, they seem to be slightly restoring her. I hope it’s an upward trajectory.

    I’m not saying that racism doesn’t play a role in the perception of Tara or in the perception of a lot of characters in popular entertainment. And I’m not trying to be the “Hey, I’M not racist, therefore nobody is and why are you even talking about this!” person but I do think it’s a little simplistic and unfair of you to imply that if somebody likes one character and not another character, who you personally see as being similar, then it can only be because they are holding non-white characters to different standards than white characters. I happen to think–and I would guess a lot of people agree–that Buffy is just a vastly better-written character than Tara. (Of course, I also think that Buffy was a vastly better-written show than TB has been for a while. It’s a shame, because it started out so awesome and it is one of the only popular shows of any genre to feature a somewhat racially diverse cast.) I think the points you make are valid and worthy of thought and discussion, I just don’t think that the Buffy/Tara comparison illustrates them very well.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  51. Sanoe wrote:

    Buffy is routinely held up as one of the best female characters in pop-culture and is the reason Whedon managed to convince people he was a feminist. Tara isn’t a feminist character; she’s the writers’ way of showing how women who aren’t white and submissive enough will be horribly punished by the world.

    It’s important to remember that a strong woman character is not the same as a strong woman. A character isn’t just a set of personality traits but a narrative role. I would never judge a real woman negatively because she was the victim of abuse and rape, but Tara isn’t a real woman. That she’s outspoken and buff doesn’t make her strong when her role is that of a victim and the show’s main characters views her suffering as unimportant.

    Oh, and the reboot changing her into a queer character is borderline offensive. If you read Alexander Woo’s comments on the change, giving her a girlfriend was in direct response to her being abused by a man in Season 3.

    Yeah, I don’t even like Buffy and I’m not sure how you can compare Tara to her.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  52. CraftyLuna wrote:

    Hmm. I still really love True Blood’s Tara, and I don’t have huge problems with how she’s written.

    Yes, horrible things happen to her all the time, but don’t horrible things happen to ALL these characters? Rape, torture, finding people you love brutally murdered, being stalked and almost killed multiple times, being manipulated and used, having to lie to people you love, being deceived by people you love. Tara, Jason, Sookie, Lafayette, Arlene, Sam, Hoyt, Jessica, Andy, Bill, Eric, Pam: they have all been through some terrible heartbreaking stuff.

    Perhaps there is some mathematical pain formula that could prove that Tara has had the worst of it, but I think it’s arguable. As far as her being written as someone who makes dumb decisions? I think she’s written as someone who has an almost pathological attraction to dangerous situations, which is understandable psychologically given her background. And also, fits thematically with the show. I don’t think that bad things happening to Tara, and Tara’s decisions to stay in dangerous situations, is any sort of cultural racist message about black women, since it’s not like everyone else is in happy town and making smart decisions.

    Monday, August 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  53. Aslinn Dhan wrote:

    I don’t mean to be nosy but what is CIS?

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  54. @Aslinn, here’s the definition.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  55. Rick wrote:

    To those insisting that vulnerable characters (or characters who only succeed with lots of help and encouragement) should be lionized rather than “capitalist propaganda” heroes, I would really wonder what is so heroic about such pointless “heroes.” Anyone who’s ever had to do something terrifying knows that it’s much easier to do with encouragement. It takes far more courage to act alone in the face of adversity than when you have a chorus of encouragement. It’s not just some evil corporation talking; indeed, the corporation would be smart to insist none of us can function without help or challenge power individually. We admire these lone heroes because their solitary determination and/or fearlessness in the face of incredible obstacles or danger is harder than a team effort. And, no, “true courage” is not about being able to cooperate or whatever. I’m an extremely independent person who has been faced with solitary challenges and challenges which required me to work with a team when I would rather function alone. Inevitably, the former were more psychologically taxing and I doubt many people would truly disagree with me.

    @Sady, I really thought your point about the Catch-22 of trans women was a perceptive point. Much critique of the culture seems to come from a want-it-both-ways angle and I appreciated your acknowledgment that sometimes there is no pleasing everyone.

    On that note, I think that both Elizabeth Bennett (whether in the book or as portrayed by Keira Knightley) and Neytiri are great examples of strong female characters who defy easy characterization. Bennett is obviously spunky and independent, but is not simply immune to the emotional turmoil of being human. Neytiri, while certainly strong (and arguably a “woman of color” portrayal), shows emotional vulnerability, is cooperative, and also demonstrates independence when she feels the right decision requires defiance.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  56. Sady wrote:

    @Rick: Sorry, but this is by S.E., not me!

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink
  57. Rick wrote:

    @Sady: Whoops. Sorry, new to this site, still figuring it out. Not smart I guess, haha.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 2:03 am | Permalink
  58. Jaffa wrote:

    @Val: +1 for Jane Tennison – she is way underknown/underdiscussed. Seriously, people, go watch Prime Suspect. The best part is the explicitly feminist plot, which is a combination of depressingly realistic (in terms of how her fellow officers treat her) and kicking ass and taking names. The second best part is how in every episode, someone says “Prime suspect.”

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  59. Addie wrote:

    I agree, I would much rather see a REALISTICALLY flawed woman than “Super-hot-perfect-girl”. What I (and a lot of others) want is Strong Characters, female. Their gender shouldn’t matter very much. They should cry when they’re shot/wounded. They should sass back or even reject “Mr. Oh-so-hot”‘s advances, because they DON’T need a man. How should the ability to bear children affect anything? Well, all it means is that women are able to bear children, and are, on whole, though usually physically weaker, much more dextrous, agile, and have A HIGHER THRESHOLD FOR PAIN. THAT’S ALL. No character is a perfect character. No character should be, or they’re not even a character. I am a storyteller (not writer), so I should know this. If you want a good “perfect” character, you could look at Azula from Avatar, The Last Airbender (tv show). She acts perfect, strong, and a great military mind. She wipes out her enemies in no-time-flat. But under her skin, she had no support growing up in a loveless household, and is socially inept. Eventually she breaks, and her mind goes in the finale, leaving her helpless and terrifying in an insane way.

    Sunday, September 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  60. Sady wrote:

    @Addie: I wouldn’t say all women can bear children. For one, there are trans ladies. And trans men, some of whom have borne children! So it’s not quite that clear-cut.

    Sunday, September 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink