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Creating strong Female characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Darkfantasy, Oct 8, 2018.

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  1. I may have misunderstood, but I think the person I was responding to was laying out a traditional idea of what a strong female character would be considered and i was chiming in, really with what i feel is the root of the notion. That is, I was taking it as an observation and not a judgment.
     
  2. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Just so you know, I wasn't responding directly to you. If I was I would have quoted you. There had already been a few attempts to define a "strong female" that I was responding to in general. Notice I said they seem to be about possessing power OR being independent from other characters. And I do understand where possessing power and shall we say extreme individuality is a very desirable characteristic to the modern mind. Our culture certainly worships the powerful self-made individual (look at what we did with Trump, who is not self-made but has convinced enough people that he is). I lean rather toward the opinion that these kinds of characteristics are unhealthy both for the person and the culture and usually indicate a diseased kind of strength.

    Of course it is hard to talk about it in general terms without specific examples. Unfortunately I've never seen an episode of X files (no, really) and I only read ASOIAF up to the red wedding scene and then threw it across the room (nor do I watch GOT). For my part, I consider Jessica from Dune to be an immensely strong character. She is raised and trained to serve the Bene Gesserit and follow their orders, but she disobeys them. Not for empowerment for herself, but for love. She faces the crisis the Atreides are in with calm intelligence and puts the good of her family above everything, including her personal emotions. At her lowest point, she is a survivor able to adapt to a dire situation, taking any opportunity she can to protect her son. And later in life she is capable of pausing to wonder if the decisions she made were really the right thing to do, not because of her own sacrifice but because of the hardship she forced on her unborn daughter. Even though she puts her family first, she has a healthy amount of pride and self-knowledge and inspires respect in others through her words and actions. But everything she has done, has been for love.
     
    Darkfantasy likes this.
  3. My thoughts exactly. :D
    Even these days, I tend to fall back on 'I need to be totally independent', but it's mainly from old wounds and old lines of thinking. I do what I can to stop the cycle, but some days it comes back.
     
  4. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Don't know how I missed your post. I agree completely. And at the same time we're throwing out "strong female character" (tm) we also need to kill off the idea of the Mary Sue (tm). For exactly the same reasons: it's simplistic, reductive, and no one has any idea what it means. I think if people were more honest with themselves, they would realize that most of the time what they identify as a "strong female character" is simply a character that works for them as a person, that speaks to them on some level, or someone they can aspire to be. Which is fine, but you have to keep in mind that it's only your own personal experience and everyone experiences characters differently. Likewise, what we identify as a "Mary Sue" is almost always a character that just doesn't work for us on a personal level. We don't personally enjoy the experience of reading about them, therefore they must be wrong. In reality, the only real Mary Sues are those extremely egregious examples from fanfiction that started the term to begin with. But it's outlived its day and really needs to be taken out and shot. And there simply needs to be more acceptance of the personal, subjective aspect of characters.
     
  5. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I just think that, in general, it takes a deep level of human understanding and emotional maturity to write realistic characters, either male or female, in fiction who inspire others and drive story forward. It all comes down to being skilled at your craft.
     
  6. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Dreamer

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    A strong female character shouldn't have every aspect of a douche strong male character except for the gender. Which is what a lot of writers like to do. They like to have them muscular, badass and can beat everybody in a brawl. That's a male thing, not a female thing. A strong female character to me is somebody like Ellen Ripley. She's not muscular, she doesn't immediately beat every man that even looks at her but you know she's a strong person.

    She led a ragtag team of marines against all odds. She took care of a little girl who lost her parents. She fucked up a nest of vicious xenomorphs and blew up the entire site from orbit. She took command, she didn't panic and break down. She was strong emotionally and that's the important thing that a strong female character should have. Just like Katniss Everdeen, at least before she started wailing about Peeta all the time. She didn't give a shit what people thought of her, she did her own thing and was bullheaded. She doesn't have to wear a wife's beater shirt, be all sweaty and act all angry and macho like a man does. She's already badass because she knows how to take advantage of her small figure and light weight, she knows she can' take down a man by herself but she can use a bow instead.

    That's what gets me annoyed about strong female characters today. They literally take all the characteristics of an alpha male and apply it to a female and somehow that counts as being a strong female character. It's unrealistic to me and it takes me out of the immersion all the time.
     
  7. C. L. Larson

    C. L. Larson Dreamer

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    It is my humble opinion that a strong character, whether male or female, is a character that is a major force within the story, not just a sideline or support character. They don't have to necessarily have to play a positive role. In the series I am writing the strongest character (though not female) in the story, at this point is the villian. That character isn't virtuous or heroic but selfish and uses cruelty to mask insecurity. I believe however that the characters strength within the story comes from the emotion this evokes in the reader.

    I think todays obsession with the idea of a strong female character stems from the over played damsel in distress themes of the past. I also believe this obsession will lead to the (I am a woman that can accomplish everything on my own) being over played.
     
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  8. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    Ripley is a character from the horror genre, which dictates that she retains enough vulnerability to put the monster over as terrifying. She's not supposed to engage the enemy until the other characters have been wiped out one by one. In Alien, it's a plot twist that she's the main hero in the end, she's as terrifed as the other characters. She's not only terrified, but traumatized in Aliens as I recall and acts in spite of those at the end, after running and hidng from the alien for most of the running time. In the second one it's only by maternal instinct that she even goes back.

    What I'm getting at, is Ripley is one character in a particular genre of Scifl/Horror. Sarah Connor, the other character who gets brought up as how to keep a strong female character "womanly" is also based in the horror genre. In the first one, she's a damsel with the twist at the end. In the second, she's traumatized and acts on maternal instinct for her son. These are essentially the same characters written by the same man. Let them be them. To hold them as a gold standard for female characters of other genres and other writers would be incredibly limiting.
     
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  9. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Dreamer

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    True, Sarah Connor is a far better example of a strong female protagonist than Ripley. But my point was that most strong female characters today are just men in female clothing. They don't represent or portray actual real life strong female characters properly. Just like how action heroes like Captain America don't represent strong men. The lack of emotion, responsibility and courage to do things outside of the norm for stereotypically strong men is what makes them inaccurate when it comes to this. Strong men look after their families, bond with their children and ensure they have the best life possible. Strong men will listen to their peers and understand them. Strong men are not afraid to open up to others and show emotion. Strong men can be fathers, engineers or just office workers.

    Likewise for women as well.

    A strong female character should have traits such as having strong motherly instincts or are unafraid to show emotion and defend those they love. Strong feminine traits is what they should have because that's what real life women have. A strong woman or man isn't supposed to be physically strong. They're supposed to be strong emotionally and mentally so they're prepared to face the obstacles ahead.

    If all a strong female character has is "she's strong and beats everybody in combat" then you might as well give that role to a male because there's virtually no difference. And if all a man has is that single trait then you have a shallow and vapid character that needs a lot of development. That was my point.
     
  10. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Scribe

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    A strong female character is a character who develops, or at least has their own agenda and takes action to advance it.

    Examples from The Handmaids Tale:
    Offred: Strong female character. Wants to escape Gilliad with her daughters and makes multiple attempts to do so. Manipulates other characters to improve her position.
    Ofglen: Definitely SFC. Wants to bring down Gilliad and actively recruits others to the cause despite gruesome personal setbacks.
    Serena: Ebbs and flows between strong and weak. In flashbacks she appears to be quite the agenda setter, but as the story has continued her personal agency has declined and she has become a prisoner of her society with little ability and not much inclination to change it. On the other hand, she does take independent, rule breaking action to get Offred pregnant, and later to try to keep her in line.
    Aunt Lydia: Definite Strong Female character. Her duty is to uphold the patriarchy and keep the handmaids in line and she does it like a boss.
    Eden: The opposite of a strong female character. Her entire world revolves around the men in her life.
    Mrs O’Conner: (Marisa Tomei). Very definitely not an SFC. A prisoner of the system who doesn’t even contemplate taking positive action to improve her position and clings to the belief that God will save her.
     
  11. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    Most perhaps. But this is selective realism. Because most real life women can't fight fantasy villains. Real life women certainly aren't going back for the cat the way Ripley did. Or even facing down an alien queen to save Newt. 99.999999999% of women would just cry for Newt.

    If we acknowledge this is selective realism, why prioritize realism to begin with. Genre fiction is never going to be competing with Literary fiction for people who want realism. So how about things like

    - Entertainment Value.
    - Symbolic meaning.
    - Philosophical metaphor.
    - Allegory, social and moral commentary.
    - Plot functionality.

    These are other levels in genre fiction that a writer can work with. There is a realism requirement to build empathy with a character, but that can be done with an everyman/everywoman sidekick, Or other character to comment and provide the audience with insight.

    No, there is a difference. A female character beating everybody in combat, empathizes the specialness and power of the training to a much greater degree than it does a male, as a woman is usually starting from a physically weaker position. And on top of that, if superpowers aren't involved, has less potential for strength growth.

    Also it is telling that in fantasy, we can believe heroic men taking out physically stronger Uruk Hai, or even trolls, but it's suddenly unrealistic for heroic women to beat men consistently. And if she does so, she's a "man in female clothing". By that logic, a man who beats a troll in a fight is a troll in mens clothing.
     
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  12. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Scribe

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    Examples of strong and weak female characters from Game of Thrones (show, not the books).

    Danaerys: Not really a SFC. Very powerful, and has an agenda, but she really has her hand held on the journey toward her end goal by a lot of stronger characters. Becoming stronger as the series continues.
    Sansa Stark: A weak female character for the first six or so seasons. Extremely passive most of the time, allowing all sorts of terrible crap to happen to her without taking action to improve her situation. Has become stronger in the last season.
    Brienne: Not really a SFC. A powerful fighter, but diesn’t really have her own agenda. Advances other people’s agenda’s a lot more than her own.
    Melisandre: Definite SFC. Has her own agenda, pursues it and manipulated and forces others to do so as well.
    Cersei: The SFC poster girl.
    Arya: Definitely an SFC, but not really as much as people often say. Her agenda is revenge, and she is definitely doing that, but particularly in earlier seasons she was carried along that path by others.
    Yara Greyjoy: Could not be more of a strong female character. Knows what she wants and goes for it.
    Gilly: Not a SFC. She is a passenger.
    Ygritte: A bit to reactive to be properly classed as a strong female character.
    Lady Olenna: Oozes SFC. Takes the initiative to pursue her goals. Forces everyone else to react to her actions rather than the other way around.
     
  13. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Dreamer

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    So what's the point in having a strong female character if all she has going for her is "she can beat 100 men at once"? It's boring and it has an obvious feminist agenda behind it. Women hate the whole damsel in distress thing so now writers, especially in Hollywood, are pumping out movies/books where women are dominant, assertive and in charge over men.

    Why? Nobody can relate to it. Men are almost always in charge in real life, assertive and dominant. So what we have here is another "female kicking male ass" and everybody rolls their eyes until the scene ends. I get that it's fantasy but is it worth creating a cardboard cutout of a stereotypical "Hollywood tough guy" and replacing his clothes with women's clothing? I understand that women need some kind of inspiration from a fictional female character that can beat all the men and save the day but it's just really boring, doesn't add anything else to the story nor does it create depth in the character.

    Why is it so important to make sure that women do exactly what men do? Why do they have to always be fighting? Lifting weights? Eating a lot? Acting all tough and macho 24/7? I can't comprehend the fixation on this. Don't women have their own thing? Looking after children, teaching children or being an emotionally supportive character?

    I get that it's 2019, I get that women are equal to men but that isn't in the literal sense. Biologically, men are superior in every aspect but one; flexibility. Sure, it's difficult for women to be on the same level as men in combat but that's still something men do. Why is there such an obsession in trying to make women exactly the same as men? Haven't people maybe considered that women should have their own thing? Like how men have their own thing?

    It's like everything else in real life. Women now want to be included in everything that was once a male dominant thing. Video games, cars, weightlifting, police/military and so on. So forgive me if I sound brash but it's beginning to take it's toll on me. I open up my games and all I see are "tough female chicks kicking male ass" so I shut down my game and watch a movie. More "tough female chicks" taking control and kicking more man ass. So I stop watching a movie, turn on the news-- "FIRST FEMALE TO BECOME X Y OR Z" or some variation of how a female has achieved something that men already have and why we should all be excited about it. Alright, enough news, maybe there's a book I could read? Oh for fucks sake, here's a female protagonist that's just slain a million men with a stroke of her blade.

    Enough, man. All this politics is beginning to infect literature, video games, movies, comics and everything else that used to be fun. I just want it all to be over and read a decent story that doesn't have a feminist issued female protagonist that is a man with a sex change, just to "inspire women" to believe they can "beat men" in real life.

    Every time I read or watch something that features women beating men, looking after men and being the "alpha", I just cannot suspend my disbelief enough to stay immersed and it screams modern politics all over the place, which I can't stand either. Any idea how demoralizing it is to see that over 70% of media representation is women? What? Do men just take a backseat and just accept being phased out slowly?
     
  14. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Scribe

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    It’s hard to see how characters like Rambo, James Bond, Ethan Hunt, John Wick, Conan or Jack Sparrow are any more realistic than say Lara Croft, Black Widow or Arya Stark.

    They all have supernatural strength, toughness, endurance, reflexes and unbelievable luck to do the things they do movie after movie, episode after episode. Realism was never part of the action hero genre.
     
  15. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Dreamer

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    Take Rambo, give him a motherly nurturing instinct, make him emotional and turn him into an emotional support character. Have him dress up like a woman, behave effeminately and so on. Does that make sense at all? No.

    Same goes for "strong female characters". They should be female, not male.
     
  16. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Scribe

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    You wouldn’t take Rambo and change the character because Rambo is already the character that he is.

    You also wouldn’t write a (non parody) story about Emma Woodhouse or Jane Eyre strapping up in combat gear and going off to Waterloo, cutting a swathe through the Imperial Guard and taking on Napoléon in hand to hand combat. Because that’s not who those characters are.

    But there is no reason why you can’t create a well written nurturing male character or a female action hero character from scratch.
     
  17. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    If there's a character that can just beat 100 men at once, and there's nothing else there can still be a point to it, because the character beating guys may exist to set up other, more complex characters and events. The story might not be about the SFC per se, but the SFC's actions might be inciting incidents.

    The SFC's selling point might be little more than the entertainment value of watching her fight, like a Steven Seagal or Jackie chan thrill ride. There's nothing inherently wrong with that in visual media. Not everything needs to be deep.

    "Men are almost always in charge in real life, assertive and dominant."

    Not so much in developed countries these days, but I can agree that the Strong Female Character is by her very nature, an exceptional individual.

    "Why do they have to always be fighting? "

    Sarah Connor beat up men in the mental hospital scene and did bodyweight exercises. You like that character.

    How's a SFC going to beat the standard dark lord then? By blowing pink love hearts? By inspiring the men through sex? By complaining on her blog on tumblr?

    Don't women have their own thing? Looking after children, teaching children or being an emotionally supportive character?

    Interesting. Nobody ever says the reverse. Nobody ever says Alfred from Batman should stop looking after young Bruce Wayne and should stop being an emotionally supportive character because that's a woman's thing. "Nobody can relate to that."

    Unfair if men have the versatility inhabit fighting and nurturing roles but women should be limited to the sensitive and stay away from the fighting.

    "Enough, man. All this politics is beginning to infect literature, video games, movies, comics and everything else that used to be fun."

    You've had it good for too long. Imagine what it's like for other genders, sexualities and races who rarely get to see themselves portrayed in popular media. You have to increasingly share the pie.
    Am I supposed to be upset about that? Am I supposed to relate to your frustation?

    "Any idea how demoralizing it is to see that over 70% of media representation is women? What? Do men just take a backseat and just accept being phased out slowly?"

    Do you actually care about the female dominated aspects of media though? Do you genuinely want to see more male protagonists in romance, YA fiction, and more men on daytime tv? I certainly would. So if you would, I agree with you.

    Film:
    According to a new study about women and film out of San Diego State University, women accounted for 24 percent of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing domestic films of 2017
    Film Study Finds Number of Female Protagonists Down 5 Percent

    Books:
    The Gender Balance of The New York Times Best Seller List

    79% of the best seller list for fantasy /scifi in 2010 were by male authors.

    Video games.

    109 games debuted at E3 this year, and just eight of them (or 7 percent) star female characters,
    compared with 29 titles (26 percent) featuring male protagonists. Fifty-two percent of newly announced games utilize a system that lets players select specific characters or genders.
    The evolution of women in video games continues at E3 2017

    Comics:
    Only 26.7 percent of all DC and Marvel characters are female, and only 12 percent of mainstream superhero comics have female protagonists.

    Analyzing the Gender Representation of 34,476 Comic Book Characters

    Yet you say:

    "forgive me if I sound brash but it's beginning to take it's toll on me. I open up my games and all I see are "tough female chicks kicking male ass" so I shut down my game and watch a movie. More "tough female chicks" taking control and kicking more man ass. So I stop watching a movie, turn on the news-- "FIRST FEMALE TO BECOME X Y OR Z" or some variation of how a female has achieved something that men already have and why we should all be excited about it. Alright, enough news, maybe there's a book I could read? Oh for fucks sake, here's a female protagonist that's just slain a million men with a stroke of her blade."

    Your rant doesn't sync with reality of things.

    However I will conceed this: In media with Strong Female characters, there is a strong tendency to portray all the male characters as inept, cowardly, weak, and immoral. This is something I don't like at all as it pits the strong female character not against men, but a strawman of men, or males. This actually weakens the strong female character, contrary to what alot of writers think.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
  18. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Dreamer

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    There still isn't a need to create a void of disbelief suspension just for the sake of filling a diversity quota.

    That's because men are being raised by female teachers and carers to believe that women are better than them at everything. The moment boys attempt to do anything boy related, they are pulled aside and told that it's bad. They are being feminized. Men are naturally better at leading, hunting and fighting. Not exactly a great argument when you have boys being brainwashed from day one.

    How did Katniss beat President Snow? That's right, she inspired people through propaganda clips and brought the Capitol down to it's knees. She didn't march into the Capitol and take every single person out with her bow and arrows.

    Sarah Connor used a weapon to beat the men. You understand physics? It replaces the need for body strength and weight. Read up on it.

    It's funny that you expect an old 90 year old man to do anything else but that. It's like expecting a 18 year old terminally ill patient who can barely move to suddenly do anything but be an emotionally supportive character.

    And nobody can relate to women fighting and acting macho. All our lives, we've seen men do that and not women in real life.

    I'm not interested in your gender/race war. I'm interested in consuming good reading/viewing material. Just because of the past, you don't need to suddenly enforce a diversity quota just so everybody feels included. I've been Deaf from birth, I don't require movies or books to have at least one Deaf person at all times to feel immersed in it. There may be the occasional movie or book where there is one but I don't care.

    These people have been portrayed in popular media for years. That's not enough though. What they want is a complete elimination of straight white men from popular media in favor of plastering the poor oppressed minorities in everything and burning it into our minds. Sort of a sick and twisted reverse 1950's scenario where men are oppressed, have no rights and are worthless.

    That's the thing, you DO have representation in popular media. You're just taking a mile when you've been given an inch and just proving the slippery slope argument is not a fallacy once and for all. You want everything instead of your portion of the pie. And you forget that men can just choose not to watch these things. Just like how women can choose to do so as well. What a hysterical argument.

    I would rather that people write good books and make good movies. If you have to include a minority character just to fill a diversity quota, chances are it's going to be SJW garbage trying to manipulate the media into believing that this is how the world looks. And people will see through it, just like the Ghostbusters remake, the Ocean's Eleven remake or the new Star Wars movies and just not watch it.

    That tiny of a representation and yet we see nothing but females all day long.

    What gives?

    Ah, because of a diversity quota that women must be over-represented and plastered all over everything. Just like that dumb statistic where it claims that women make up 50% of gamers and it turned out it was talking about mobile games rather than PC games. Then a new statistic came out that made a claim that women made up 50% of PC gamers and it turned out that it was just a survey based on what gender was chosen for characters in video games where males chose the female gender over the male gender.

    I think you just can't accept the idea that women are never going to be viewed as strong, fighting machines like men are by the majority of society. And that's a good thing too. Can you imagine if this started having an influence on how women viewed reality and had them thinking they could beat men in real fights? The mortality rates would skyrocket. Even worse, the influence on how men viewed reality? Instead of their conservative views on violence against women and not hitting them, they would start to not have any qualms on beating the utter shit out of women just like they do with men.

    There isn't just politics involved, there's real life risks involved in this as well. There's a reason why combat sport divisions are separated by gender. There's a reason why for many millennia, women weren't allowed to fight in the police/military because of the extreme liabilities they posed to their male counterparts which we can witness in play with a simple search on YouTube of female cops/soldiers not being able to restrain or subdue male suspects or combatants and putting their male partners in danger because of it.

    We keep going in this direction with the whole "women can do everything men can" and it won't only just ruin literature or movies, it'll have some powerful and profound social consequences as well because of how widespread, accessible and easily consumed popular media is today which will only get worse in the future. Think twenty steps ahead, not just the now.
     
  19. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Dreamer

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    Then why the sudden desperation in creating as many "strong female characters" as possible? If it's not necessary to do the reverse for men?
     
  20. Gray-Hand

    Gray-Hand Scribe

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    It isn’t necessary to do the reverse for men. It’s not a zero sum game. More action heroines doesn’t require more male romcom leads.

    I’m not quite sure I understand the point you were trying to make.
     
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