Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of discourse on Twitter and TikTok about how the trope “Strong Female Lead” is over done and not a great representative of a lot of women.
I wanted to talk about this for Women’s history month since it’s a relevant topic.
The origins of the Strong Female Lead (especially in Young Adult Lit) came as a reaction to women typically not holding lead roles in media nor depicting them as anything but weak. Especially in the 2010s and onwards, the Strong Female Lead has really come to dominate almost every book hitting the shelves today.
However, I don’t think this is really a bad thing. I think it’s especially important for young people to see women in stories that they can be strong and beautiful.
Just today, in the year 2021, I saw a women in the tech space on Twitter being told that women don’t belong there. And in so many other industries and spaces are women, especially BIPOC, fighting just for the right to exist as who they are.
Therefore, I do think Strong Female Leads are important so that girls continue to aspire to things our grandmothers couldn’t do.
However, a lot of the characteristics of a Strong Female Lead aren’t always present in every woman.
In order to be considered badass it seems like a woman in a story has to:
A) be physically badass
B) Be somewhat emotionless regardless of what happens to her
C) Isn’t allowed to fail
D) Isn’t always allowed to embrace traditional “girly” things.
Carina Chocano wrote for the New York Times back in 2011 (woo 10 years ago) in an article titled “A Plague of Strong Female Characters, “
“But I get the feeling that what most people mean or hear when they say or hear “strong female character” is female characters who are tough, cold, terse, taciturn and prone to scowling and not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone.
Of course, I get the point of characters like these. They do serve as a kind of gateway drug to slightly more realistic — or at least representational — representations of women. On the other hand, they also reinforce the unspoken idea that in order for a female character to be worth identifying with, she should really try to rein in the gross girly stuff. This implies that unless a female character is “strong,” she is not interesting or worth identifying with.“
It says something to me that in the year 2021, that we’re still having these discussions means we haven’t really gotten any better about representing women in fiction. Publishers really love the Badass Woman in stories because it’s assumed those stories will sell better.
When I was recently reading over a lot of Twitter pitches for PitMad I did see Strong Female Leads highlighted A LOT.
This leads me to conclude that people do still really love writing and reading about Badass Women in their stories.
Obviously, this character trope isn’t supposed to represent all women but when it becomes all we’re allowed to write, what does this cost us?
What about the girls who love dressing up, cry at every puppy, and are soft spoken?
I think this is why it’s important to focus more on creating well rounded, diverse characters instead of trying to force them all into a trope in order to sell more books.
Not everyone is going to react to stress and danger by rushing in and fighting the bad guys. I think people would also be interested in seeing more characters who run away, whose stress causes them to break down, and who fail more often.
I think it would be interesting to see a woman character who fails to defeat the bad guy, returns home, recovers by gardening and knitting, and then gets back on her feet and succeeds.
Women can be badass but they can also be kind, soft, and emotional.
We have a lot on our shoulders, especially this year and last with the pandemic.
The NPR recently wrote in “The Economic Fallout of the Pandemic has had a Profound Effect on Women“, “And while it’s been hard on all of us, the economic fallout is being dubbed a she session. Women have been profoundly affected, with female unemployment hitting the double digits this past year for the first time since 1948. And unemployment among Black and Latinas is significantly higher than that of white women and men. “
Given this context, a lot of women are facing impossible odds and were even before the pandemic. Strong Female Leads can help us figure out how to overcome our insecurities and pain. But I also think it’s important to recognize that even with this March Women’s History Month 2021, we still don’t have equality.
Women still bare the brunt of care taking, nursing, child care, and house hold tasks. Not only that, but there is a lot of grief right now and I believe it’s important to take the time to recognize that.
When we focus on highlighting the depth and wide variety of women’s experiences and emotions, we create better representation for everyone. All women are worth writing about, even the ones that are scared yet still do the right thing. Or the woman who continues for a promotion despite raising children on her own, taking care of her parents, and trying to keep it all together.
So as we continue to advocate for equality for all women across the globe, let’s also continue to recognize that each of our stories are unique and important. Not every story has to represent every woman and not every story is going to connect with every woman.
Time and time again, women have proven that we are capable and beautiful, we know what we are doing, and we won’t stop until we’ve succeeded. But sometimes we also need to cry and recognize our anxieties. But the least we can do is try to write diverse women characters so that we can continue to lift each other up this March.
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