Strong female characters

It’s funny how it seems every author – male or female – who writes strong, active female characters gets asked the same question over and over again; why/how do you write such strong female characters?

The question in itself is a little bit absurd. My personal experience is that the passive princesses who require rescuing all the damn time are a fractal minority of women in reality even though they populate so much of fictional realities. Of course it’s all a matter of how you define things (for the record, I use Mur Lafferty’s version) but even if you use the most constrictive of them, the female warrior, history has several examples that a lot of people seem to forget.

I will gladly go to the mat about a lot of this being from the pre-Victorian notion that women are somehow a different species from men. It’s somehow unsettling in its pervasiveness. Yes, there are differences in both physiology and socialization. But especially when it comes to the physiology of brains those differences are pretty small to start with (see Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine for an exploration of the evidence). And for some reason a lot of very popular fiction still treats women as if they were incapable of even the most mundane tasks and even self-preservation (Twilight and 50 Shades, anyone?) at the same time doing its very best to show abusive and toxic relationships as romantic. Someday I’ll haul off and write Twilight as a horror story as it should have been all along. Maybe after I manage to make myself finish the damn thing. But I’m digressing here.

The fact remains that most women aren’t passive MacGuffins incapable of taking the first action to improve their own lives and in my opinion more fiction should reflect that. From the mother making sure her children get an education even while she herself goes hungry to the lady scientist making it to tenure even through the institutional and explicit sexism drenching her everyday life to the daughter taking on responsibilities far beyond her age after a parent’s death. There are a lot of ways for a character to be strong without them being an action-star.

As st Joss remarks in the video above the question shouldn’t be why some writers are writing strong female characters. It should be about why so many aren’t.

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