Lately we’ve had a huge storm of ‘Strong Female Characters’ marching their way on to our cinema screens and thoroughly unimpressing us all. For years we’ve seen hundreds of these characters because ‘they’re not like other girls’ and ‘one of the boys’. This form of faux feminism is damaging and unfair. And means that the real strong female characters don’t get seen as often as they should, and this is particularly true in film.
The Strong Female Character is a trope that plays more on the physical strength of the character (while still maintaining a slim non-muscular physique) and giving all the signs of strength associated with male characters (except they don’t get the pleasure of a lead role). They tend to be very one-dimensional and follow the same formula that has created a limited role for women in media. They must be strong and capable of holding their own in a fight, tough talking and snarky, often reject romance but still find themselves with the male lead. There is nothing unique about a Strong Female Character, you can even expect her plot line to follow the regular pattern of side kick to the Chosen One.
On the other hand, a strong female character can be girly , physically weak and absent of the traits you might usually expect. Strength in this case isn’t a matter of power, but it refers to how well developed their character is.
Game of Thrones has often been complimented for it’s strong female characters, and while it has often been criticised for being sexist due to its treatment of these characters and diversion/omission from feminist plot lines; it’s actually George R. R. Martin’s ability to write strong female characters that should be commended. When asked why he thinks his female characters are so complimented, he replied that ‘he writes women like they’re people.’ It’s such a simple statement but still rings so true. Female characters are often objects to further a male goal, but when given a lead part themselves, for fear of being sexist and presenting a weak character; instead they’re lacking in any flaws. This puts them in a position where they no longer seem realistic and instead appear to be the writer’s ideal of what a woman should be. Whether your character is male or female, though they will have different experiences, they should still be written as a person first.
The writers that become known for delivering strong female characters seem to be judged by a harsher standard (Joss Whedon) when one character doesn’t deliver (Black Widow from the Age of Ultron). But what makes a female character strong instead of ‘Strong’ is their flaws. This is particularly true of his characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer who was selfless, strong, caring and saved the world on multiple occasions and has simultaneously been selfish, shared the same flaws as any teenage girl, has struggled to adapt to normality, and endured depression. In fact, it was her flaws that made her human and her strength so much more genuine.
It’s another place where YA novels often succeed. Though many are guilty of Strong Female Characters, there are a lot more female characters in YA and because it often features on teenage characters, their flaws are important to discuss. In order to relate them to teenagers, it’s important that they are growing as characters. Tris from Divergent is self-destructive, Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass is painfully arrogant, and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games is selfish.
Television is slowly following in the pursuit of strong female characters. It’s one of the 100’s greatest strengths, as the majority of characters (especially those in leadership positions) are female. All the characters in the 100 are drastically flawed and have to make tough choices, this contrasts with the book that the series is based off which focused a lot more on the romantic interests for the characters.
Unfortunately, it’s still an area where film is lacking. Even when films focus on female characters; such as the recent installment of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they are still criticised. The protagonist of the Force Awakens was a character called Rey, this is the first time that a Star Wars film has focused on a female lead and not only was the character criticised for being a ‘Mary Sue’, toy companies were purposely instructed to omit her from merchandise. The Star Wars monopoly set, featured 4 characters (including the villain Kylo Ren and character Poe Dameron who has less the 5 minutes of screen time). Which was an ironic decision after Marvel were criticised for excluding their female characters (Black Widow and Scarlet Witch) from merchandise and they were even excluded from some DVD/blu-ray covers.
It’s important to note that female characters should be well-developed strong and not only as physically capable as their male counterparts. It’s their flaws that define them as human. Allowing for well-developed women allows more room for future character development and also creates a more diverse cast of characters. That’s why strong female characters beat Strong Female Characters every time.