One of my casual challenges involves a work with a strong female character. This term has become problematic in recent years because so many creators misinterpret what it’s supposed to mean. Too many see it as:
Strong Female Character – A character who is physically or emotionally strong (tough/badass) that happens to be female. Generally underwritten AF with minimal development over the course of the story. See Halle Berry’s Catwoman or any woman who is the mediocre hero’s ‘prize.’
This has become the new ‘Nice Guy’ or ‘Good Christian.’ Pro-Tip: If you have to tell people you are a ‘NG’ or ‘GC,’ you’re probably not. If you feel compelled to tell people you wrote a ‘SFC’ and expect praise for it, you probably failed. Hard.
What it used to mean and should mean is a female character who is well written, well developed, experiences change in as her story goes on, and exists separately from the male hero. Badassery is entirely optional. Think Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight. Her character is an intelligent and capable lawyer who is doing her best to take down the mob on her own terms. Any of the women on Firefly have their own personalities, skills, and motivations. They aren’t there to further someone else’s story or be someone’s prize.
Gamora toes a very fine line on which type of SFC she is. She has her own relationship with her sister and her own motivations but she’s also Quill’s love interest. It wasn’t until the second movie we also got more women on screen in the GotG franchise so it’s easy for her to feel a bit like a token. We get Quill’s backstory but don’t know details about what Gamora went through or where she came from. She’s a badass but needs more development and history for her character to be strongly written.
I just finished The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. There are three strong female characters in this book: Melanie, Ms. Justineau, and Dr. Caldwell. All of these women get POV time, have a mission, are well written, and are disinterested in other people’s bullshit. This is one of many reasons this book is fantastic and deserves a read (4.5/5). All female characters should be so well-written. Carey has some great SFC and gets it right in every sense of the word.
When looking at women in fiction, don’t just ask if she’s strong or a badass. Ask what her story is and does it matter in the context of main story line. Is she a person or a plot device? It’s not enough to just get representation; we need to get it right.