by S.E. Zbasnik
Like nonplussed and literally, the phrase “strong female character” has come to mean its antithesis. When people hear it, they picture a full fleshed out woman with her own wants and desires. What they get is a woman in a mini skirt and thigh high boots that occasionally punches people.
But, that strong female character cannot actually save the day. Her entire existence is for the main male hero. She may be spunky, and sassy, and is always met beating up some guys; but the second she teams up with MMH (main male hero) she abandons everything in her life to help him on his quest. She may even get captured and forget how to fight, allowing the MMH to do all the cool stuff while she waits around in a metal bikini.
Strong female character is a buzzword. People know it’s something audiences want, so they bandy it around. Have a female character? Well, she’s a strong female character!
We’ll give them a woman who’s trained her entire life to become a ninja chimney sweep. She’s forsaken friends, love, and a normal life to master the secrets of ninja chimney sweeping. She’s harsh, but witty, with a short fuse for those who waste her time. But this story won’t have a damn thing to do with her. No, it has to be about a white guy, mid 20’s, with a bit of a potbelly who is a screw up.
But this guy is destined to be the great ninja chimney sweep hero. You can’t argue. It’s destiny. Rather than the girl using her lifetime of awesomeness to defeat the dust monster clogging up the lungs of Earth, she must lose two to three weeks of her life training a perpetual loser. It makes tactical sense to send an untrained and untested rookie instead of the person who devoted her life to it.
It’s the “girls can’t save the world” trope. She may be confident, she may be talented, she may be terrifying beyond anything the villain can imagine, but she cannot save the galaxy. Only boys can do that. So they take that female character and relegate her to the prize waiting for the real hero to return once he’s finished falling into winning. Sure, she has a backstory and even a bit of autonomy, but it means jack squat when all she gets to do with that characterization is stand around waiting for a male to save the day.
Yet, the creators can run around screaming, “Look, we made a strong female character.” She can punch really hard. She won’t need any rescuing. She won’t do any saving either, but that’s not important. All that matters is we made one. We didn’t use one, but we made her.
That is not enough. Boys grow up watching men save the galaxy, but you can’t let a woman do it? Even if it’s part of an ensemble, she’s relegated to the half-naked hottie that goes along with whatever the leader wants. It’s a guy who’s the comic relief, a guy who’s the muscle, a guy who saves the galaxy. The girl waits around for a kiss and punches a few baddies, but not too many. We don’t want to emasculate the hero.
This is the fear with every strong female character. If we let her be too impressive, do too much on her own, then she won’t need a man to save her. What if she wanted one? She wanted one for his friendship, or his humor, or because he treated her like a person instead of a pile of sexy body parts? Impossible! Give her a stick to swing around, put her in a bikini, and call it a role model for little girls. Done!
This isn’t even touching upon the idea that not all strong women beat people up. Tactics, cunning, or emotional manipulation can a powerful woman make; but, in order for that to happen, a woman would have to be smarter than a man. We’re right back to emasculation terror. Maybe she knows some secret ninja woman moves that allow her to take out a few bad guys. That’s acceptable. But outsmarting a man? Unthinkable!
Girls must be shown as lesser than boys, even when people swear up and down that they’re not by hiding behind “it’s a strong female character.” To admit that women can be as capable as men is too terrifying for the average writing crop to admit.
That’s why I hate strong female characters, who are anything but.
S.E. Zbasnik published three fantasy books. Tin Hero and TerraFae follow a female heroine on a classic fantasy quest to mess with some elves and crack jokes along the way. Her most recent book is The King’s Blood. It’s got some magic, it’s got some witches, it’s got a black heroine in a medieval setting, and it has more puns per cubic meter than a clown car. Zbasnik has a Bachelors in Animal Science with a focus upon genetics, putting her one step closer to finishing that monktopi army. Learn more about her on her blog and at her Amazon Author Central page.