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Thread: Strong Female Characters

  1. #201
    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffo20 View Post
    Throughout this thread, female characters that are 'men with boobs' have been repeatedly lambasted. What am I asking? I'm not sure. I guess one question would be, if people are people, which is what most of the responses in those threads kind of aim at, then can there really be a female character who is just 'a man with boobs'? Or a male character who's just 'a chick with a dick'? Does the problem come when a writer tries too hard to break a stereotype, and ends up going too far?

    Gah, I'm not sure I'm expressing myself quite right here, but it's the best I can do at the moment.
    I think this is exactly summing up my thoughts. I think sometimes people try so hard to be different and change things that they end up forgetting the rule that characters are people first and foremost. That's when you can end up with flat characters, thinking that a few drastic traits will make all the difference.

    I'm a woman who writes mostly men. I do write women periodically, but I just tend to gravitate towards guys. Granted, I do this in real life, too. I'm much more comfortable in a room full of men than I am a room full of women. With women, I never quite know how to relate. I've gotten better at this over the years, but it still holds true.

    I mention this because I often worried when I started writing that my male characters wouldn't come across as authentic. I never considered it while writing really. It was more something that other people brought up when they heard. How can you write a guy if you don't know what it's like to be a man? Blah blah blah.

    The interesting thing is that when I showed my books to male friends, they never had a problem with it. They got into the characters, really enjoyed them, and no one ever said "this just isn't realistic." However, the girls who read it often would comment on things, saying "this is too girly; you should consider changing it," or that it didn't seem like it would be right for a man to think or say something like that.
    When I took it back to my male friends they thought I was nuts for asking.

    I guess my point is that I think there is a real concern when crafting a character of another gender about not being authentic, which might lead to one of the reasons why some female characters (or male characters) end up being too stereotypical.

    I'm kind of rambling, but I'm just wondering if maybe in author's attempts to be realistic, they might be crafting characters that are the opposite.
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  2. #202
    we are the words 'i love you' kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams View Post
    As a real basic example, I don't have the upper body strength of a man; therefore, I sometimes make decisions on purchasing something by its weight (i.e., computer monitor) so I can get it home.
    But lots of guys have shitty upper body strength, too. Me, for example.

    (Btw, have you picked up a modern computer monitor? Lots of them don't weigh much more than a big laptop anymore. Most certainly weigh less than a small child, with which most adults don't exactly struggle to pick up and get home. Well, assuming good behavior...)

    ETA: And I can think about lots of heavy stuff I've bought that my mother wouldn't hesitate getting, but my father would. (My mother is the do-it-yourselfer around the house.) It all really comes down to character rather than sex or gender.
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  3. #203
    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams View Post
    I always think that it shouldn't be just write a character, but character first, then think about how the gender affects that character. It has to play into it because there are some experiences that are uniquely gender oriented. I think where writers have trouble with the gender it's because they didn't take the extra step and think about things like how the gender affects whatever's going on in the story. As a real basic example, I don't have the upper body strength of a man; therefore, I sometimes make decisions on purchasing something by its weight (i.e., computer monitor) so I can get it home.
    That's kind of funny. I bought a computer monitor last week and carried it home about half a mile after getting off the bus. It doesn't weigh more than my macbook. Meaning, it doesn't weigh anything at all. While I see your point, I'm going to once again say that some things really come down to character. Some girls work out way more than some guys and vice-versa. I'm sure there are also guys who worry about carrying really heavy things and vice-versa. But I'm not going to automatically think "that female is TOO strong, she's not feminine enough."

    Now there are undeniably sexual differences motivation wise, but I don't think there are any clear cut, black/white motivations that men vs women will have.

    I really don't think about gender at all. I'm trying very hard to forget it even exists, tbh. It's really become nothing but an annoyance for me, a hindrance at best. Sex, well that's something different. With upper body strength, you're talking about a sexual difference, not a gender difference, fyi. And that will still depend on your character.

  4. #204
    Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. kaitie's Avatar
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    I used to have a friend who could do 200 pushups. Even the guys thought it was kind of ridiculous lol.
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  5. #205
    Quote Originally Posted by kaitie View Post
    I used to have a friend who could do 200 pushups. Even the guys thought it was kind of ridiculous lol.
    Consecutively? Damn. Now if she can do some pull ups and one arms, I will be thoroughly impressed.

  6. #206
    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams View Post
    I always think that it shouldn't be just write a character, but character first, then think about how the gender affects that character. It has to play into it because there are some experiences that are uniquely gender oriented. I think where writers have trouble with the gender it's because they didn't take the extra step and think about things like how the gender affects whatever's going on in the story. As a real basic example, I don't have the upper body strength of a man; therefore, I sometimes make decisions on purchasing something by its weight (i.e., computer monitor) so I can get it home.
    Personally I don't see much of a difference, it comes down to individuals I believe. I have male friends with smaller hands than girls, weaker than girls, smaller than girls, more emotional than girls, and many other traits. I have found that there are very few differences and the major differences come from individuals.
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  7. #207
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    Someone on here just referred to me as a girl:

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  8. #208
    Quote Originally Posted by SomethingOrOther View Post
    Someone on here just referred to me as a girl:

    I was slightly amused, but I don't mind.
    People think I'm a guy, so maybe we're doing something wrong?

    Perhaps you should put "proud brony" above your avatar. I'm more prone to thinking guys will have My Little Pony avatars. I don't know why. It's an ok show, I guess. Not as cool as Flapjack or Adventuretime, but a bit better than Chowder. I used to watch way too many cartoons if you can't tell.

  9. #209
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thebloodfiend View Post
    That's kind of funny. I bought a computer monitor last week and carried it home about half a mile after getting off the bus. It doesn't weigh more than my macbook. Meaning, it doesn't weigh anything at all. While I see your point, I'm going to once again say that some things really come down to character. Some girls work out way more than some guys and vice-versa. I'm sure there are also guys who worry about carrying really heavy things and vice-versa. But I'm not going to automatically think "that female is TOO strong, she's not feminine enough."

    Now there are undeniably sexual differences motivation wise, but I don't think there are any clear cut, black/white motivations that men vs women will have.

    I really don't think about gender at all. I'm trying very hard to forget it even exists, tbh. It's really become nothing but an annoyance for me, a hindrance at best. Sex, well that's something different. With upper body strength, you're talking about a sexual difference, not a gender difference, fyi. And that will still depend on your character.
    Wellll, I'm still not going to be in agreement. I suspect age has a lot to do with my perspective, not to mention being in the military with a lot of men and few women. Strength was probably a poor comparison, but in fiction, I've seen an author have a woman protagonist fall down the stairs so they proceed with a fight scene with the male characters. It's hard to write scenes like that because most women don't have that strength, which means the writers not only have to put themselves in the other gender's head, but they have to change the dynamics of the scene itself. They have to think, "How do I overcome this if I don't have the strength?" That's where you start getting the differences coming in from the genders because the woman comes into the situation knowing she's probably going to be outmatched, so she's having to think of other options. And her having to think about other options is going to make her react in ways that a bigger, stronger person may never think about.
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  10. #210
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    i appreciate your post ChristinaLayton . most strength character is women's love. anybody fall in-front of this. Women is worshiped as a divine in every culture.

  11. #211
    practical experience, FTW Max Vaehling's Avatar
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    The only times I think "a woman would never do that" while reading a book or watching a movie was when a woman otherwise protrayed as capable and confident falls for the male protagonist even though he's clearly an idiot.

    Most other things - handling rocket launchers, being indifferent against other women competing for their jobs, wicked Kung Fu skills - oh well, let's just say I have a strong belief in people's capabilities, and that includes both halves.

    That said, I can't dismiss the social boundaries. A woman growing up in today's Western society provbably won't consider handling rocket launchers part of her womanly ways. Also, carreers are still inhibited by gender expectations and demand either a deviation from the female gender role or a different way of approaching them. But that doesn't mean it won't happen.

    A Chinese friend told me that in China it's considered un-chique for a woman to handle manual labor herself, even if she's well capable of it. Carrying a monitor? Let a guy do it. (Well, I guess that's mainly Chinese cities. I can't imagine the farming areas dismissing half their workforce.)

    To me, all of this makes it even more important to portray women doing all of these things. And choose a mate who's worthy.

  12. #212
    practical experience, FTW Max Vaehling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bebop View Post
    I don't know. I might have a different view of strength. To me a character (a person) who's willing to dip his toes into the emotional abyss is stronger for the knowing that he can find his way out.

    ETA: What a terrible way to put it. If I'd have said "wade" instead of "dip his toes" it might have been closer to what I mean. But how 'bout this one? A tree that won't bend will snap. I think being willing to experience, display emotions, even if they'd be (mis)construed as weakness, vulnerability and not fear the consequences is more courageous and therefore a better indication of real strength.

    (More coffee, definitely need more coffee)
    I agree. I posted the quote because I found the observation that tapping the whole emotional spectrum can be seen as a strength in women but as a weakness in men, both offensive (Hey! I got feelings, too!) and true.

    I browsed old comic books the other day. There's a series in Germany called "Helden ohne Skrupel" (Heroes without Qualms). I remember thinking that a person without any scruple isn't a hero but a bully. But that is the concept of male heroism I remember being portrayed all around back then. To be fair, I'm not sure I would have appreciated a more subtle characterisation before I was 11 or so. Not for Gender reasons, though - I was more than okay with Emma Peel.

  13. #213
    never mind the shorty angeliz2k's Avatar
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    We can't ignore sex and gender. As far as we've come in the 21st century, and as far as we may go in the future, sex and gender will always be there. Ignoring gender/sex won't due us any favors. My personality--my basic make-up--would be the same, but I'd be a different person if I were male.

    It's especially hard to do this if you aren't writing in the modern day, because gender/sex was a major issue in, say, the mid 19th century. That's the setting of my current WIP. Talk about repressive! I have a love-hate relationship with the Victorians. Let's just say that ancien regime French were much more liberal about gender roles and sex (to state it mildly).

    Yet, within Victorian strictures (and in a very difficult situation), I had to write a strong female character. In spite of her husband's actions (he takes advantage of her, forces her to marry him, and is violent on and off), I wanted to show her strength. I didn't show this through revenge or violence. I showed it through her willingness to give happiness a second and third and fourth chance. She shows strength by admitting finally that she's done with the situation. She doesn't have many options, but she makes the best of the ones she has (basically, running away with her son in tow). I do worry that it comes across as weakness--but the point is that she's so constrained that she has no choice but to try to make her current situation bearable.
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  14. #214
    Eight Legs, All Holding Pens ArachnePhobia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams
    Wellll, I'm still not going to be in agreement. I suspect age has a lot to do with my perspective, not to mention being in the military with a lot of men and few women. Strength was probably a poor comparison, but in fiction, I've seen an author have a woman protagonist fall down the stairs so they proceed with a fight scene with the male characters. It's hard to write scenes like that because most women don't have that strength, which means the writers not only have to put themselves in the other gender's head, but they have to change the dynamics of the scene itself. They have to think, "How do I overcome this if I don't have the strength?" That's where you start getting the differences coming in from the genders because the woman comes into the situation knowing she's probably going to be outmatched, so she's having to think of other options. And her having to think about other options is going to make her react in ways that a bigger, stronger person may never think about.
    This doesn't just apply to female characters. There are plenty of action heroes who run marathons on broken legs and such. The question shouldn't be, "Can a female character do this?" but "Can this character do this?" In your example, a female character falls down a stairwell and gets back up, no problem. I can't say for certain because I haven't read the scene, but if that's a standard office stairwell, it would've been just as silly if the character were male. I do worry readers- I don't mean you, but readers general- are more willing to suspend their disbelief when the hero does something that shouldn't be physically possible if that hero is male. If, say, Dirk Ironside falls off a two-story building and immediately jumps back into action, it seems to me more readers are willing to overlook that than the same scene with Justina Steele. Neither scenario is very likely, but only the version with the female character gets called on the lack of realism.

    (Also, on the subject of fight scenes where female characters are built up to be powerful only to chump out and need to be rescued during the climax... I hate that. I do have a lot of mutual support and leg-ups between my characters becuase I'm secretly a sucker for that "power-of-friendship crap" , but when things get physical, my heroes gang up on the villains five-to-one. No politely waiting in line. Villain grabs heroine's arm, heroine leg-sweeps him, piledrivers him on the way down, and while she's wailing on him her LI and four of her friends show up, probably armed. They don't wait to see if she wins the fair fight before jumping into the fray. I sometimes worry about what potential editors will think of that. "So, uh, what exactly is the take-away message for the kids in this?").
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  15. #215
    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams View Post
    Wellll, I'm still not going to be in agreement. I suspect age has a lot to do with my perspective, not to mention being in the military with a lot of men and few women. Strength was probably a poor comparison, but in fiction, I've seen an author have a woman protagonist fall down the stairs so they proceed with a fight scene with the male characters. It's hard to write scenes like that because most women don't have that strength, which means the writers not only have to put themselves in the other gender's head, but they have to change the dynamics of the scene itself. They have to think, "How do I overcome this if I don't have the strength?" That's where you start getting the differences coming in from the genders because the woman comes into the situation knowing she's probably going to be outmatched, so she's having to think of other options. And her having to think about other options is going to make her react in ways that a bigger, stronger person may never think about.
    Is this Twilight, by any chance?

    I'm just going to say physical strength has nothing do with gender. It's a purely sexual attribute. There is a difference between sex and gender and you're using the words interchangeably.

    If I were to write a fight scene between men and women, I'd simply have the woman on par with the dudes unless the scene dictated otherwise. But I watch a lot of anime and wushu films with women beating the shit out of dudes, anyway. I also take Kung Fu, used to take Taekwondo, and I used to be in ROTC, where they train us to take dudes down with having to resort to upper body strength. It's very, very possible. And not all guys are super strong apes with the power to crush three buses. I've met guys I could beat up with nothing but punches. And I really don't do upper body strength work-outs anymore.

    If we're going to talk about fear of being raped, yes, this is something different that men do not have to deal with due to a variety of factors, though it's not completely true in some scenarios. But in your fictional fight scene, you've chosen to make your female character weaker than the guys. That was a choice. It's not just an automatic "well, she's female so she's going to be weaker than my guys." For you, it might be. It's not for me.

    Max's post is very right:
    Most other things - handling rocket launchers, being indifferent against other women competing for their jobs, wicked Kung Fu skills - oh well, let's just say I have a strong belief in people's capabilities, and that includes both halves.

    That said, I can't dismiss the social boundaries. A woman growing up in today's Western society provbably won't consider handling rocket launchers part of her womanly ways. Also, carreers are still inhibited by gender expectations and demand either a deviation from the female gender role or a different way of approaching them. But that doesn't mean it won't happen.
    Yes, some women will be inhibited. But not all women. You're assuming that all women will react the exact same way based on your experiences. I'm simply telling you that your experiences are not universal. You might've never seen women argue over sports like frat boys. Others have. You might've not seen women take down guys like they were kids. I have.

    It's simply a choice. Yes, you have to be aware that certain inhibitions will effect women. But that doesn't mean a woman simply wouldn't act a certain way based on the fact that she's a woman. We come in all shapes and sizes, just like men.

  16. #216
    Bronies, Bronies Everywhere acockey's Avatar
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  17. #217
    Quote Originally Posted by acockey View Post
    @Bloodfiend... do you think BO from the tv series Lost Girl illustrates your point?
    I haven't watched Lost Girl.

  18. #218
    Token mad scientist. RemusShepherd's Avatar
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    I believe the purpose of the Bechdel test is not to identify strong women, but to identify strong characters that are female. If the only women in your story spend all their conversations chatting about the male protagonist, they are not strong characters. Alien and Terminator fail this test because Ripley and Sarah Connor are pretty shallow, one-dimensional characters even though they are strong women.

    Whether you have a strong woman in your story depends on the plot. Some stories just do not have room for a strong woman. In some settings, a strong woman just does not fit. (Strong women were rarities in Victorian England and Middle Earth, for example.) But any major characters you have that are female should be strong characters. All your major characters should be strong characters, of course, but the test focuses on women because fiction has historically not been kind to the female gender.
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  19. #219
    Bronies, Bronies Everywhere acockey's Avatar
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    @RemusShepard I offer up Emily Dickinson as a strong woman who was not supposed to be for her time
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  20. #220
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RemusShepherd View Post
    I believe the purpose of the Bechdel test is not to identify strong women, but to identify strong characters that are female. If the only women in your story spend all their conversations chatting about the male protagonist, they are not strong characters. Alien and Terminator fail this test because Ripley and Sarah Connor are pretty shallow, one-dimensional characters even though they are strong women.

    Whether you have a strong woman in your story depends on the plot. Some stories just do not have room for a strong woman. In some settings, a strong woman just does not fit. (Strong women were rarities in Victorian England and Middle Earth, for example.) But any major characters you have that are female should be strong characters. All your major characters should be strong characters, of course, but the test focuses on women because fiction has historically not been kind to the female gender.
    I find your post frustrating, because in the first paragraph you use strong in the sense I've always thought it refers to Bechdel - strong as in well-defined, deeply realised - and then in the second paragraph you use it in the sense of assertive.

    I'd much rather see well-drawn characters of all genders rather than "strong" people who are leaders.

    On a minor note, I don't think Ripley or Sarah Connor are particularly shallow or one-dimensional - at least, no more than any of the other characters in those films. They're plot-driven, not character studies, after all. But I will in general hear nothing against Alien or The Terminator (theyareclassicsandanyonewhodisagreeswillfeelmywrat h), so I'm bound to say that
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  21. #221
    can totally spell Brobdinrgnagrian buzhidao's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RemusShepherd View Post
    Alien and Terminator fail this test because Ripley and Sarah Connor are pretty shallow, one-dimensional characters even though they are strong women.
    Let's be fair. Of all the characters in Alien, Ripley is the least one-dimensional. It's not a woman thing so much as a "all the characters in this movie" thing.

    (...as I recall, anyway. It's been a while since I've seen it, so feel free to correct me. The only other character I remember was that guy who yelled GAME OVER MAN GAME OVER because I hoped he would die quickly.)

    (I haven't seen Terminator.)

    How 'bout Macbeth? Seems like a fairer context...

  22. #222
    Token mad scientist. RemusShepherd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by acockey View Post
    @RemusShepard I offer up Emily Dickinson as a strong woman who was not supposed to be for her time
    Huh? Look, I love Emily Dickinson's poetry as much as anyone, but she was a shut-in who was completely submissive to her family. The poor girl was nearly agoraphobic. Strong character, but not a strong woman.
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  23. #223
    Token mad scientist. RemusShepherd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by onesecondglance View Post
    I find your post frustrating, because in the first paragraph you use strong in the sense I've always thought it refers to Bechdel - strong as in well-defined, deeply realised - and then in the second paragraph you use it in the sense of assertive.
    I'm using 'strong' for both. Characters are strong if they're well-defined; women are strong if they're assertive.

    I'd much rather see well-drawn characters of all genders rather than "strong" people who are leaders.
    Agreed. That's what I said.

    On a minor note, I don't think Ripley or Sarah Connor are particularly shallow or one-dimensional - at least, no more than any of the other characters in those films.
    Also agreed. They were one-dimensional because they were characters in horror/action films. It's not their fault, there just isn't a place for a deep feminine viewpoint in films of that sort.
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  24. #224
    Creepy Centipede Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    I get really sick of people assuming that women won't have equal upper body strength to men. People are not productions of the law of averages. It totally depends on the individual.


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  25. #225
    never mind the shorty angeliz2k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RemusShepherd View Post
    I believe the purpose of the Bechdel test is not to identify strong women, but to identify strong characters that are female. If the only women in your story spend all their conversations chatting about the male protagonist, they are not strong characters. Alien and Terminator fail this test because Ripley and Sarah Connor are pretty shallow, one-dimensional characters even though they are strong women.

    Whether you have a strong woman in your story depends on the plot. Some stories just do not have room for a strong woman. In some settings, a strong woman just does not fit. (Strong women were rarities in Victorian England and Middle Earth, for example.) But any major characters you have that are female should be strong characters. All your major characters should be strong characters, of course, but the test focuses on women because fiction has historically not been kind to the female gender.
    Do you mean actual Victorian England or characters in the literature that came from it? Women were equally as strong there and then as in other places and times. They were just considered to be weak and were socialized to act a certain way. Within those constraints, many women were still very strong, and some didn't abide by those constraints at all.

    Just sayin'.

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