Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are strong Women Realistic?

Before I left a writer's group I'd participated in for quite some time, this question came up.

I was honestly horrified that a group of girls wanted to even ask this question.  It really made me wonder at the role models we have given girls.

But since I've been writing about the portrayal of women in the genre I feel the need to look into this question in more depth.

First, I established in yesterday's post that I believe strength comes from the ability to command authority, to win against some foe--internal, external, perceived--and to stand up for one's self in the face of adversity, or to undergo great trials without sacrifice of one's self, morality or ability to act on one's own mind.
I think there are plenty of examples of honest-to-goodness strong women in history.  I think there are plenty of career women who fit this description, an hundreds of moms.

To ask if a strong woman is realistic, to me, is tantamount to asking if a woman can know her own mind and act on her own decisions. I think most women can.  Pe4rhaps I'm idealistic, and I always want to see that others are capable, rather than not.

That said, I believe a woman is as capable of standing up for her convictions and acting on her own sense of moral obligation.

What does that mean for literature?

It means that we have woman who will take up arms to fight oppressors, women who will go on vengeance quests, female villains  who will seek power above all, as their moral compass might not match on to everyone else in the story.  But that does not make our bad girls weak, just villains.

But as the battles our heroes fight result from wrongs and injustices perpetuated through a chain of cause and affect stemming from interactions among our characters and their environment, we tend to back our heroes--male or female--into a corner where violence becomes the only option. They slay their demons quite literally.

I don't see this element of the literature to be a problem. To me, if women in  the books I read, or would give to a little girl, handle their problems forceful it means that they can...well...handle themselves.  That it doesn't matter what is tossed their way, difficult as it may be, they'll find their way through it.

The torture we give our characters stresses that even if the reader can have faith that the hero will survive, the  hero might not see it the same way. That internal conflict makes our characters real, but not weak.  It presents strong female characters to girls or women in a relate-able fashion.  Life isn't easy.  Not in the real world, so it shouldn't be in fantasy either.

In fact, in some ways it should be worse.  So strength needs to often take a physical form, whether or not our girl/women main characters sought to make it so.

Does Queen need to raise a blade or magic?  Not necessarily, but she has to make many hard decisions, send men--and perhaps even women--to fight on her behalf.  Her moral center is at risk of being compromised at every turn, and she is capable of becoming a very gray character.  Someone who has to allow ideals go, for a greater cause.  But the conflict, and the decision making, and not giving up--this is what makes our characters more compelling.

That is why we want strength.  As a reader, I have always felt that when I read about strong women, I found them inspiring.  I have always sought to be just as capable, to be just as persevering, and just as dedicated to the path I picked for myself.  I have done my best to work passed and through obstacles, to wait out the hardship, unflinchingly.

Strong women are a reality.  We have plenty of women real-life role models to show daughters, why not compliment them with some fictional ones too?



  1. I think they are quite real and honestly I find whimpering girls in novels quite a turn off in reading. I want to see a leading female stand up for herself and be just as good in the leading role as any man can be. Great post.

  2. Thanks! And I completely agree.