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Thread: What's your definition of a strong female character?

  1. #1
    Plotting her escape... Escape Artist's Avatar
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    What's your definition of a strong female character?

    I'll start out by saying that when I hear the words "strong female character" the term "ball buster" comes to mind. I don't care for female characters with a chip on their shoulder that they then blame on every man in existence. That's a turn-off to me. If a female character is rude to a guy simply because he's a guy and she has that "you know how men are" mentality (while rolling her eyes), that's a turn-off to me.

    But, I tend to be a trusting person. I won't think badly of someone until they prove me otherwise, and generally, they have to prove they're a bad person over and over before I'll "get it" and back away from them. Admittedly, I tend to trust men more than I should, and have a difficult time trusting women, understanding them (even though I am one).

    Anyway, I'm not sure what my personal definition of a strong female character would be. I have a female character who I believe is very strong. She could maim and torture her man with her supernatural ability, but she chooses not to. Her romantic interest is thrown into a relationship with her (what he refers to as "an arranged marriage" simply because, due to his own supernatural problems, she's the only woman he can be with) and he's still pining after his dead wife. She could influence his mind in such a way that he'd forget he ever had that first wife, that he'd think he was in love with my female MC, but again, she chooses not to influence him for her gain. In my opinion, that's damn strong. To see what you want and know you could have it just like that, but you deny yourself. He even asks her at one point why she doesn't just "make" him love her and she says she wants his love for her to be real, not manufactured.

    Go ahead. Throw your own definitions in there. I'd love to hear them!
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    Book lover/Spy Sai's Avatar
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    I don't think different standards apply to male or female characters: a strong character is a strong character is a strong character. Do they influence the plot? Do they have a well defined thought process that leads to them making their own decisions? Do they have flaws as well as strengths? When I hear a book has strong female characters to me it usually means that they play an integral part of the plot and aren't merely the wife/sister/girlfriend. It rarely has to do (in my mind at least) with physical strength, but more how integral they are to the story.
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    i luv you giant bear statue AW Moderator Kitty Pryde's Avatar
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    I dunno, I might say that "not manipulating your husband's mind to bend him to your will" is more of common decency than an indication of a strong woman. I also don't necessarily think the ability to kick ass is an indication of a strong woman, though it's not incompatible.

    To me "strong woman" more implies strength of character, the strength to endure, the strength to overcome adversity, the strength to protect others, when your average man or woman would just give up. And the strength to succeed without the benefit of actual physical strength.

    Like (to pick a goofy example), Buffy the vampire slayer (tv version) is a strong woman because she endures many horrible things happening to her and her friends and loved ones without giving up, not because she has awesome kung fu powers.

    Or Dr. Bailey from Grey's Anatomy is a strong woman, because she is the female influence that holds her people together despite her sadness and fear and ruined marriage and an outlandish number of tragedies befalling them all. She will stand up to anyone and fight for anything. But she is short and chunky and possesses no physical ass-kicking powers whatsoever.

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    Arranger Of Disorder WriteKnight's Avatar
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    The phrase "Strong Female Character" should be viewed in context with it's opposite - weak willed, docile, servile.

    For me, a strong female character - is a principal character who is strong willed, and female. "Strong Willed" does not necessarily mean ball buster. But she's not WAITING to be rescued, she's doing everything she can to rescue herself - OR someone else. Doesn't mean she can't be SUBJECT to rescue in the story line - plenty of MCs need rescuing at some point - but relying on rescue from another makes for 'weak' character in my mind - whether male or female.

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    I'm picky about female characters, I admit. First there weren't any women leads. Then, for awhile, it seemed like the idea was to write a male lead, change his name to something feminine, and all the pronouns to 'she' and taa-daa - strong female character Although we're all the same race (and thus, not all that different), I do believe there's a bit more to it than just creating Red Sonja (even if she's way cool).

    Doesn't mean I don't think men can write women. I think Stephen King did an amazing job in _Lisey's Story_, for example. So that would be my idea of a strong female lead. And I wouldn't call her a ball-buster by any means

  6. #6
    figuring it all out EmpoweredOKC's Avatar
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    I'm worried that "strong female" automatically evokes "ball busting" or "chip on her shoulder" by instinct. To be honest, it sounds like you may have applied exaggerated masculine stereotypes to her in an effort to create a "strong female," such as her ability to fight or tear people up (or down). Adding the skill of being brutal or fierce is not what makes a woman strong. Nor is it what makes men strong, but that's another discussion.

    Check out Joss Whedon's analysis of the "strong female character" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYaczoJMRhs for a BRILLIANT analysis. His part starts 2 minutes in and lasts 6 minutes.

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    slugging through AlwaysJuly's Avatar
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    I can't wait to check out Joss' link when I get home from work. But for now, I'll say that my definition of a strong female character has always been a well-thought-out, fully-realized, active, doing character.

    As opposed to, for example, some violet-eyed cardboard cut-out holding the male protag's jacket with no organic traits other than being pretty and admiring (even if the author assures us that she's really smart, even as she defers constantly to the wisdom of male protag).

    A strong female character, to me, doesn't need to have paranormal abilities or martial arts skills or be jaded. She just has to feel real, and generate motion, rather than falling into stereotypes or male fantasies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kitty Pryde View Post
    To me "strong woman" more implies strength of character, the strength to endure, the strength to overcome adversity, the strength to protect others, when your average man or woman would just give up. And the strength to succeed without the benefit of actual physical strength.
    This.

    I read the Modesty Blaise books when I was in Europe. Although she is quite capable of kicking an ass or two, that wasn't what made her strong. There was one story where she had a plan to fight someone in his specialty. She followed it and it didn't work...failed badly. So she tried something else, and something else. Didn't give up. By the way, it wasn't only her life at stake. She could have escaped and not been at risk, but declined. Her strength was her character and refusal to give up.

  9. #9
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    Same as a man. The ability to take whatever life throws at them without becoming a basket case, without giving up.

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    A strong character has nothing to do with being able to manipulate, maim and torture. refraining from doing so potentially indicates a moral character. To me, a strong character is one who is will to make their own choices and accept the consequences.

    examples from movies:
    Princess Fiona from Shrek, as she starts out, waiting for a knight in shining armor and for loves first kiss to save her, is not a strong character.
    Rapunzel (sp?) from the new movie "Tangled" is a strong character. She makes up her own mind about what she's going to do, and acts on what she thinks is the right course of action.

    To me a strong character is one who perseveres. Like Ibender's example above.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kitty Pryde View Post
    I dunno, I might say that "not manipulating your husband's mind to bend him to your will" is more of common decency than an indication of a strong woman. I also don't necessarily think the ability to kick ass is an indication of a strong woman, though it's not incompatible.

    To me "strong woman" more implies strength of character, the strength to endure, the strength to overcome adversity, the strength to protect others, when your average man or woman would just give up. And the strength to succeed without the benefit of actual physical strength.

    Like (to pick a goofy example), Buffy the vampire slayer (tv version) is a strong woman because she endures many horrible things happening to her and her friends and loved ones without giving up, not because she has awesome kung fu powers.

    Or Dr. Bailey from Grey's Anatomy is a strong woman, because she is the female influence that holds her people together despite her sadness and fear and ruined marriage and an outlandish number of tragedies befalling them all. She will stand up to anyone and fight for anything. But she is short and chunky and possesses no physical ass-kicking powers whatsoever.
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  12. #12
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Westie's Avatar
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    A strong character is a strong character, regardless of their gender. They can deal with what life throws at them without breaking down and are able to keep a level-head.

    That said, the strong characters I've like the most have been far from perfect and they show their flaws in ways that only endear me to them and make me root for them a bit more.

  13. #13
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    One who understands her limits and pushes them anyway while still exuding humility, compassion and tenacity.

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    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    That's a thinker...

    The older I get the more wishy-washy these things become for me.
    Mattie Ross in True Grit comes to mind as a recent example of what I think you're talking about... but then I consider my husband's 4 foot 8, 90 year old, one-eyed grandma pretty strong as well.... kick-ass action not as necessary as sense of purpose, maybe?
    And I don't necessarily think of 'woman who breaks all the stereotypically feminine rules' as strong anymore, either. May in Age of Innocence comes to mind. She plays the game within her assigned role of Victorian wife and gets what she feels is best for her marriage and family.

    As for breakdowns... well, crying, I guess, and looking for a shoulder to cry on... I don't think those discount strength, either. I think it's the actions that the person takes despite the emotions.

    I wouldn't necessarily find a female character who cries while she packs up her ex's things for Goodwill any weaker than a female character running around and putting the smackdown on werewolves, or what-have you, if she's written in a way that works for me...

    Maybe it's a question of the author's skill and attention to detail vs. the character 'being strong...'

  15. #15
    I don't think "strong female character" is a particular type of person. They always say your protagonist needs to be someone who drives the story with his/her actions and decisions. So if your protag is a female, she needs to do that. She needs to be someone who doesn't let life, circumstances, or anyone else lead her around. A strong female (or male) character is someone who takes charge of their own circumstances.
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    I think strong female characters should to able to handle things on their own. They don't require a lot of help, and aren't always relying on others. I still think they should have their weaknesses, though, because otherwise it doesn't make much of a character.

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    Retired Illuminatus dangerousbill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Escape Artist View Post
    I'll start out by saying that when I hear the words "strong female character" the term "ball buster" comes to mind. I don't care for female characters with a chip on their shoulder that they then blame on every man in existence.
    That's not a term with a fixed definition. Some men call any woman who isn't begging to jump into bed with them a 'ballbuster'. Some men reserve the term for those extreme feminazis who have 'All men are rapists' tattooed on their biceps, right beside the Harley-Davidson emblem.

    I love and write strong female characters, but I also prefer to put them up against strong males, too. In my lexicon, a strong female knows her own mind. She has a plan for her life or is seeking one. She's aware of her strengths and weaknesses. She has values that were formed early and are ingrained into her personality. She's assertive and confident, and she won't be badgered or blackmailed into bed, or anywhere else.

    She also has most of the traditional feminine characteristics. She's capable of great empathy and deep involvement with both lovers and friends. She trusts others when they have proven themselves to her. She chooses a strong man for a mate. And she loves sex, with the right man, or men.

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    Last edited by dangerousbill; 01-13-2011 at 04:08 AM.
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  18. #18
    Still Happy to be Here. Or Anywhere Kate Thornton's Avatar
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    My strong female characters are the ones still alive at the end of my stories.

    That includes a nice, middle-aged, slightly plump lady who finds a lost puppy. Maybe not kick-ass in any conventional sense, but she persists, endures, and overcomes.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by EmpoweredOKC View Post
    I'm worried that "strong female" automatically evokes "ball busting" or "chip on her shoulder" by instinct.
    Not only that, but it's incredibly misogynistic.

    I almost spit out my coffee when I read the first few lines of the OP.

    If that's where your mind goes when you hear "strong female character," then either you need better input, because the images of strong female characters you've been fed suck--or you need to adjust your output, because you may have some sexist preconceptions.

    What I find telling is that the OP's description of an exemplary strong female character is a woman defined primarily by her relationships and dealings with men. This is a very male-oriented view of women.

    Strong women are not defined in the context of men, just as strong men are not defined in the context of women. When describing a strong male character, is the first thing you think of how he deals with women?

    Strength of character is genderless.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Escape Artist View Post
    "strong female character"
    What I mean by that is a woman who is there to support the people she cares about in her life - family and friends - and who fights for what she believes in even if that means suffering negative consequences. Who works hard and has good morals.

    In other words, a strong person who happens to be female.

    Ball-buster to me connotates a man-hating woman who tries to use any power she has over men to berate them. The male equivalent would be a man who is abusive to and controlling of women. I don't see either of those types as strong people.

  21. #21
    Clever User Title Mara's Avatar
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    I'd say negative associations between "strong woman" and "ball buster" are partly the fault of some (mostly male) writers who wanted to write strong female characters, but didn't really know how, so they just went with parodies of feminists. Some of the more poorly-written action movies are particularly bad for this.

    Quote Originally Posted by dangerousbill View Post
    Some men reserve the term for those extreme feminazis who have 'All men are rapists' tattooed on their biceps, right beside the Harley-Davidson emblem.
    Er, excuse me? This kinda sounds like a homophobic slur of the "man-hating lesbian" type. Riding a motorcycle, being a lesbian, or being butch has nothing to do with hating men.

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW Sentosa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sai View Post
    I don't think different standards apply to male or female characters: a strong character is a strong character is a strong character. Do they influence the plot? Do they have a well defined thought process that leads to them making their own decisions? Do they have flaws as well as strengths? When I hear a book has strong female characters to me it usually means that they play an integral part of the plot and aren't merely the wife/sister/girlfriend. It rarely has to do (in my mind at least) with physical strength, but more how integral they are to the story.
    Well said. Agree totally.
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  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW Sentosa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mara View Post
    Er, excuse me? This kinda sounds like a homophobic slur of the "man-hating lesbian" type. Riding a motorcycle, being a lesbian, or being butch has nothing to do with hating men.
    I do not see anywhere where dangerousbill restricted or aimed his comments at lesbians.
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  24. #24
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    A strong character who happens to be female.

    And what's a strong character? One who doesn't take crap from anyone, who knows what he/she wants and how to get it, who treats others as he/she wants to be treated, who has strong conviction and resolution, who is self-reliant and confident.

    Everything else (whether the person is independent, romantic, nurturing, moralistic, etc. etc.) are just character traits -- you can be strong and nurturing and romantic, or you can be strong but independent and unattached to anyone. I don't see any of that as a trait for "strong."

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  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW Sentosa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by leahzero View Post
    Not only that, but it's incredibly misogynistic.

    I almost spit out my coffee when I read the first few lines of the OP.

    If that's where your mind goes when you hear "strong female character," then either you need better input, because the images of strong female characters you've been fed suck--or you need to adjust your output, because you may have some sexist preconceptions.

    What I find telling is that the OP's description of an exemplary strong female character is a woman defined primarily by her relationships and dealings with men. This is a very male-oriented view of women.

    Strong women are not defined in the context of men, just as strong men are not defined in the context of women. When describing a strong male character, is the first thing you think of how he deals with women?

    Strength of character is genderless.
    Good comments. I believe the OP has some real issues with gender.
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