The Problem with Strong Female Characters

It seems like I can’t go two steps without tripping over an ad for the latest instalment of The Hunger Games movie franchise. Granted, this may be because I still haven’t mastered the ability to avoid tripping over my own feet, but the point still stands. The Hunger Games is everywhere, and Jennifer Lawrence – playing the famously strong-willed heroine, Katniss Everdeen – scowls out from every poster with a determined look on her face.

Katniss's SRS BSNS face.
SRS BSNS. (image: screencrush.com)

This got me thinking. Since the book’s release, Katniss Everdeen has been widely acknowledged as a Strong Female Character. When critics point to examples of her strength, most of the evidence they present is based around the scenes that show Katniss kicking ass and taking names in the arena. This is by no means a trend that is limited to The Hunger Games – more often than not, the characters praised for being Strong Female Characters are the ones who can grind their enemies into paste.

But does this actually make them strong?

We live in a world where feminism is becoming more and more acceptable, and where writers, directors and artists are making more of a conscious effort to include women in their narratives. The easiest way to do this is to put a token woman in a team of male heroes – I’m looking at you, Avengers – and to make her really good at fighting.

This is not characterisation. We need more well-developed, realistic female characters in fiction, and martial arts skills are not a substitute for a personality.

So how many women in fiction are well-developed, well-rounded characters, and how many just have a really good right hook where their personality should be?

Well, I’m going to find out.

I’m going to be starting a weekly series of blog posts where I look at popular female characters in fiction and determine whether they’re really as developed and well-rounded as everyone says they are. To help with my analysis, I’ll be subjecting each character to the following questions:

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
  2. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
  3. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
  4. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
  5. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
  6. Does she develop over the course of the story?
  7. Does she have a weakness?
  8. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
  9. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
  10. How does she relate to other female characters?

If they get more than eight out of ten, they’ll have passed my test. If they don’t, I’m going to sit in the corner and cry.

Let’s get started. Katniss Everdeen, I’m coming for you.

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8 thoughts on “The Problem with Strong Female Characters”

  1. THIS IS AN AMAZING QUESTIONNAIRE. My issue is that so many stories still involve the woman beginning a relevant story, & then completely losing sight of that story because a man walks by. I see that’s covered in your questions. I’m looking for someone to write a novel involving a woman which doesn’t ultimately end with her either being devastated because she doesn’t get the man that walked by and became her entire reason for living, or being fulfilled because she’s paired up with said man and can now go on with her life as a restored person, returned to her natural domain as wife & mother. I want to see some sort of Moby-Dick with a woman in the role of Ishmael, & all sorts of life happens & thoughts are thought, and philosophy churns, and this does not involve the woman falling into a heap on the ship’s deck because, all of the above aside, she’s crushing on Ahab and will be more fulfilled if only he recognizes her womanly charms. ANYWAY, nice set of questions. THANKS for doing this. 🙂

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