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Strong Female Characters - A Deconstruction - moonspinner
moonspinner
moonspinner
Strong Female Characters - A Deconstruction
So I was half-listening to the Audio Commentary of the Avatar Season 1 finale (The Siege of the North) and the writers were talking about Katara’s growth as a character and general kick-ass Water-bending (Water Bending? Waterbending?) Master and three words jumped out at me: Strong Female Character.

It got me thinking. Now I know what the phrase means to me. I also know I’ve written meta/rants at length because my own definition of sorts has clashed (strongly at times) with others’. I’m thinking of Padmé Amidala & Leia Organa from Star Wars; Elizabeth Swann from the Pirates movies; Arden from LotR; Susan Pevensie from Narnia; Lois Lane, Lana Lang and Chloe Sue from Smallville; Ginny Weasley & Lily Potter from Harry Potter…

There’s a whole spectrum of opinion on these characters and exactly how well they fit the Strong Female Character profile. So rather than write even more meta or limit the answers with a poll, I’m turning the question right back at my Flist, and anyone else who wants to voice an opinion:


1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?
ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?
iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?
iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?
v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?



3. If you do see the phrase in a negative light, is this because of:
A, a misconception of the phrase (i.e. what most people call Strong Female Character is actually a Mary Sue) or
B, is it the phrase intrinsically that is negative (i.e. a Strong Female Character is negative because it holds women to impossible standards)?

i. Care to elaborate more on the specific qualities that make this phrase negative? Which characters would you describe in this sense and why?


4. More thoughts? Don't be shy!


It would be nice if you could also pass this link around because I’d like as many people to contribute on this as possible.

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Current Mood: curious curious

55 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
geo4real From: geo4real Date: July 8th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

I"m first??????

Wow. This is the first thing I've been motivated to write to - even a few measly paragraphs - in a long time. thank you for that.

1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?

Actually, it suggests a welcome glimpse of reality. I believe that in general, women are strong and heroic every day. The more oppressed and “invisible” their lives, the stronger they have to be to survive and to thrive. Truly weak and dependent women are few and far in between, and often, you’ll find that ostensible “weakness: is actually a very clever, or perhaps instinctive, manipulation in support of survival, status, and even power. That’s a kind of strength, if strength is what we’re talking about. If we’re talking about values, that becomes a different conversation.

It’s all a matter of naming things as they really are, and of context.

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):

Women are heroic. Always have been. Always will be. We have to be. But you are specifically speaking of the exceptional ones – the ones that stand out for their actions. I’d say, if actresses and stewardesses and chairwomen are now all referred to in the masculine, why can’t everyone be a referred to as a hero? Let’s call it what it is.

3. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?

A well formed personality. A distinct world view. The habit of doing what needs to be done, no matter what. The will to take those actions a step further. The instinct to ask, “what’s best for all of us?” rather than, “what’s best for me?” and the willingness to sacrifice individual needs and wants for the greater good.

i. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?

Good question. Over a long life, I’ve encountered so many variations in both genders that I’m not willing to attribute these qualities to one or the other. Rather, I have come to believe that heroic qualities are attached to heroic people, regardless of gender.

§ Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?

Context, context, context. The opposite of a Strong Female Character is only “opposite” in relation to the Strong Female Character. Place the so-called “weak” character in a different story and setting, and she might be the one to end up as the hero. In any tale, each character of each type has its place. Ultimately, they all represent aspects of us, the readers.

Yes, even the heros.

Even the wise ones.

Even the Gods.




sistermagpie From: sistermagpie Date: July 8th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Part I

1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?
I suppose something positive...it's so hard with female characters because it shouldn't necessarily be a drawback for a character to be weak of character. Where would we be without characters who are intentionally weak and that makes them tick? But with strong female characters I feel like it also just means that they are a character that holds her own with her own story and is not just an appendage or suffering with no real point to it. Like as long as there's some meaning to her story the same way there would be in a man going through a similar story, I consider that a strong character.

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?
I'd like to say it's not about qualities. A character should be able to be passive-aggressive and nondtheless a strong character, or very direct and nonetheless a strong character. Unfortunately when you're dealing with any minority character--basically, anything but white males--you wind up feeling like certain qualities have to be presented because the character is representing the entire group. But ultimately I'd like it to just be that the character makes a strong impression on the reader.

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?
I'd say qualities that make a character make a strong impression are both. There are some qualities that also work for male characters, but sometimes being female is part of who the character is and that shows in all their qualities.

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?
There's a lot! I think Avatar very much excels in strong female characters. Katara and Toph obviously, and Azula to begin with. Mai and Ty Lee start out as more minor characters who by design don't assert their own selves, but they seem to ultimately have to break out of that. When they do that they become much stronger characters. These characters aren't strong because they fight well, though they do, but because they clearly have their own issues and goals that they work on independently. When Toph and Katara don't get along, it's not because they're fighting over a boy, but because their personalities don't mix. Even when Mai stands up to Azula for Zuko, it's more about Mai realizing something for herself than it is about the boy Zuko himself.

To mention a woman that's usually considered a strong female character where I wound up disagreeing, I'd say Dana Scully. She had all the qualities to be one in the beginning, but I think ultimately the show got lost with her, kept throwing suffering at her but couldn't make it stick. People tended to focus on her not getting to be right on cases, or wanting to blame things on other characters, but I think they just lost their way in what Scully's story was about and made her more and more of a passive vessel.

sistermagpie From: sistermagpie Date: July 8th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Part II

iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?
I'd say most women are probably strong in their own lives. A RL woman who isn't is probably the exception--and quite possibly psychologically damaged.


v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?

Not necessarily, because not all characters have the same role in the story. If we assume "strong" equals having a personality that can't be dominated, or someone who just isn't weak, then sometimes weak characters are important. If we mean characters that just don't make that much of an impression...that's harder. Not all characters need to. But often I think it is a negative thing, like where you have a story where you have all these men making an impression and the women are just obviously there to be a collection of what the author thinks of as feminine virtues. Any time the female characters are written differently than the male characters in that way imo it's a negative thing. (Though I suppose an author could have some meta-reason for doing that that works.)


3. If you do see the phrase in a negative light, is this because of:
A, a misconception of the phrase (i.e. what most people call Strong Female Character is actually a Mary Sue) or
B, is it the phrase intrinsically that is negative (i.e. a Strong Female Character is negative because it holds women to impossible standards)?


I don't think being a strong character holds women to impossible standards. I think when it's used that way it's used to mean that the woman is physically strong, which usually is impossible. But if boys can dream about being superman without feeling they're being held to Kryptonian standards, I think girls can be too. (Also I think sometimes mistake "strong" for "dominating" which is not the same thing.)

laariii From: laariii Date: July 9th, 2008 07:14 am (UTC) (Link)
1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?

Often negative because the phase seems to mean 'female character that acts violently'


3. If you do see the phrase in a negative light, is this because of:
A, a misconception of the phrase (i.e. what most people call Strong Female Character is actually a Mary Sue) or
B, is it the phrase intrinsically that is negative (i.e. a Strong Female Character is negative because it holds women to impossible standards)?

Both, often 'strong female' characters are unrealistic in both strength & personality. women are capable of being physically strong & defending themselves to a point but there is a reason why Rugby is not coed. Also there is only so much mental stress one can endure without some sort of breakdown. For example, the play " The Glass menagerie" is about characters that have become weaker, not stronger due to bad circumstances.

4. More thoughts? Don't be shy!

If Heathcliff was female would people be calling her a strong character?

Strong characters can be rather tiresome -who wants to sit around watching/reading about perfect people?

Also it is false to think that there were no decent female characters before the modern era. Its true that a lot of 'olden day' novels had pathetic simpering females but most of the "quality" ones did not. That a lot of these female characters ( Moll Flanders, Clarissa,) were written by men is worth noting. Also many of the conventionally (modern conventions) weak characters can be seen as strong characters for there moral strength - Fanny from Mansfield Park is an example of this.
firehearts132 From: firehearts132 Date: July 31st, 2011 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. I'm tired of people thinking that women being strong equals them physically fighting people, or even being violent. There's so much more to strength than physical strength. Like you said, there is moral strength, being able to do the right thing, which sadly gets overlooked often.

peri_peteia From: peri_peteia Date: July 10th, 2008 12:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?

It depends on who's saying it. If it's someone whose opinion on this kind of thing I trust, then it's positive. If it's not then it could basically mean anything.

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?


A phrase that I VASTLY PREFER is well-rounded or fully-realized female character. While someone doesn't necessarily have to make certain qualities endemic to "Strong Female Character" some are implied and for me a fully-realized or well-rounded character doesn't have to possess SPECIFIC traits, they just have to be complete, independent, functioning entity.

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?

I don't believe in gender-specific character traits at all.

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?

Here is a giant post about them. It includes a list.

iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?

A bunch of people that I know, mostly.

v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?

I do indeed think that a flat/one-dimensional/cardboard cutout female characters are a negative thing. Of course, I think the same about similar male characters. But then they don't tend to get held up as a representative of the entire gender.

4. More thoughts? Don't be shy!

My big thing with female characters is that they are presented and treated as people, be they strong or weak, and that whatever their qualities are, they are not intentionally or unintentionally held up by the narrative as inherent to all females. I also am big on female characters being held to the same standards as male characters both within the narrative and metatextually.
ladyelaine From: ladyelaine Date: July 10th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. Depends on who's using it. If it's a writer I've never heard of, I'm on the lookout for a Mary Sue. Red hair, green eyes, a fiery temper, can kick a rancor's ass--well, that's a "strong" character, but it's also not one I particularly want to meet.

2. i. Depth of personality. Should have no problem running in fear from an armed mob. Also should have no problem with having deep-seated fear, guilt, love, anger, self-hatred, etc.
ii. Most things that make a good female character apply to male characters as well. However, males think differently from females. If you've got a male character that's immensely concerned about ethical conundrums and isn't caught by the long-legged beauty walking past, I'm calling foul.
iii. Probably the best example of a strong female character for me would be Leia Organa Solo. Her strength comes from the fact that she gave up so much. She could have stayed home and raised her children; instead she sacrificed a stable family life to create a stable galaxy.
iv. Eleanor Roosevelt, Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, etc.
v. Not necessarily. Not everyone is cut out to be a heroine.

3. It can be negative when it meets those conditions.
i. Barra from Matthew Stover's books Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon. I love Stover to death, but--red hair, check; green eyes, check; fiery temper, check; can kick a rancor's ass, check. Celtic warrior woman, ahoy. Contrast her with Mara Jade Skywalker, who, despite being physically and emotionally strong, was led around by the nose by Emperor Palpatine. And then by being a wife. And then by being a mother. Her characteristics of strength--what a lot of people would peg on for "strong female character"--got her into serious trouble. She followed her hormones/temper straight into the disaster of Sacrifice.

4. Per Mara Jade: When your character's strengths are also her own greatest weakness, you've done a good job of character building.
paperclipchains From: paperclipchains Date: July 10th, 2008 11:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
males think differently from females. If you've got a male character that's immensely concerned about ethical conundrums and isn't caught by the long-legged beauty walking past, I'm calling foul.

... Why? That's stupid, if you ask me, and speaks more about your opinion of men than their collective character.
mediumajaxwench From: mediumajaxwench Date: July 10th, 2008 03:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here via potc_discussion.

1. Strong female character definitely has positive connotations for me. I generally think of it as a female in fiction whose flaws make sense for her character and are not based in the idea women have a tendency to inherently weepy or can only be motivated by love for their SO.

2. I'm not fond of your suggested alternate names for strong female characters, because I don't think that a strong female character needs to be a protagonist or a heroine. Terry Pratchett in particular draws fantastic women. Some of them are protagonists and some of them, like Lady Sybil, aren't, but are still formidable and important characters. This is not to say that there isn't an unfortunate shortage of strong female characters who are also protagonists and heroines.

i. I don't think that there are particular qualities that are necessary to have a strong female character, besides the idea of her flaws coming from her personality and not from a stereotype of women. For example intelligence is one of the first things that jumped into my mind, but I also think that it would be possible to have a female character who was not very smart but who would still be generous or courageous instead.

I'm actually leaning toward saying that a strong female character doesn't actually need to be strong at all in the sense of a personality trait. I see the term as measuring the strength of the author's craft in making her. (That said I also think that supporting characters can still be strong in terms of their personality.)

It's also a fairly common phenomena, especially on television, for writers to send what was previously a strong female character off the deep end as soon a love interest shows up. See Isabel* from Grey's Anatomy and Tonks and Hermione from HP.

ii. I think that the same thing is generally true of men (of course substituting stereotype of women for stereotype of men), but that for whatever reason stereotypes of men in western fiction don't run as deep as stereotypes of women and so it's much easier to find well drawn male characters in fiction that it is women.

iii. As I said before, Lady Sybil from Discworld. Buffy, Eowyn, Delenn** , Nancy Botwin from Weeds, Vea and Takver from the Dispossessed.

iv. Given my definition I have to say all women. Real women generally have more to them than stereotypes.

v. Not inherently, but in the context of our culture yes, I think they are negative. Having an occasional bad characterization of woman that relies on a stereotype could in some cases just help an author flesh out a character that they don't otherwise have time draw properly. It's when the stereotypes are used as the base for the vast majority of female characters that it becomes a negative thing.

This was a fantastic and thought provoking survey!

*This might not be accurate anymore as I stopped watching a several seasons ago.

**I'm only willing to swear to that one up through the first half of season one on Babylon 5, because that's how far I've gotten in my rewatching.
theonides From: theonides Date: July 10th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. It suggests something positive, but also an "it's about time!" feeling.
2.i. anyone who doesn't wait for a man to rescue them, per se.
ii. the problem is that men get to act in all kinds of ways that are strong all the time: supportive, violent, bad guys, good guys, complex, independent. Women have traditionally been painted as faint-hearted and two-dimensional. These are characters that are still women, but who get to do all the things the guys have been doing forever.
iii. There are more these days. Leia & Padme most of the time. Ms. Parker in the Pretender. Riley in Alien. Starbuck in BSG. In the past these characters have often been relegated to evil women (like Medea), and that's not true anymore. Finally.
iv. Maggie Thatcher. Madeline Albright. Hillary Clinton. Madonna.
v. yes. the strong female character is in opposition to all the pushover roles women have been given in the past, doting on the man, helpless, etc. But I think there is a middle ground that just isn't strong enough for my taste but that is closer to reality for most people.
3.na
4.The problem I have with the "strong female character" is that is suggests that there are so few of them, that it suggests that there is only one way to be strong, either because there is only one strong personality, or that men will react to it badly, or that it will lead them to be evil (which was the only place strong women used to show up before), or that strong women are in other ways monochromatic. Women are just as complex as are men, and strong ones have just as many character types as men do. The problem is that there are so few good strong characters where women get to show any talent or personality at all that they aren't divided into these different archetypes that men are, they are just labeled 'strong'. It's negative only in the sense that there are so few models. Women need to be reminded that women can be strong and motherly at the same time, like a bear guarding her cubs (I'm thinking of Sara Connor here), or be a lover and be strong as an equal mate (Leia), or be alone and messed up (Starbuck), or be independent and question everything you've ever known and break away from family when they are doing wrong (as Ms. Parker was headed before they cancelled the Pretender), or defend your own life (Riley), or be a strong leader (Maggie Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright), be independent (Madonna), not be a pushover, be smart... be anything you want, and be just as interesting, and as complex, as the guys. I don't see them as perfect. I simply see them as fully human.
ladylavinia From: ladylavinia Date: July 10th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?

Both. On one hand, I like the idea of a woman being able to take care of herself and taking charge of her life. On the other hand, it present impossible standards for such female characters, because there is a double standard in how they are supposed to be strong. They can be strong, but are not allowed to display or harbor any kind of weaknesses, in compare to male characters. Even worse is that for some people, a strong female character is one who simply acts like a man - gun toting, ass-kicking types. For them, strength means physical force.

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?


I really cannot say. I think it depends upon the character. For me, a strong female character is one who has learn to accept all aspects of her personality and responsibilities and maintain a balance in one's self - a difficult thing to do.

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?

I feel that what I view as strength can be applied to both genders.

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?

The only female character that comes to my mind is one from an animation film - Edna Mode from "The Incredibles".

iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?

I cannot think of one.

v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?

For me, the opposite would be a woman who allows herself to be dictated by the terms and/or beliefs of other people. And one who wallows in illusions of herself and those close to her.
firecat From: firecat Date: July 10th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. I want it to be positive and that's how I use it, but a lot of people use it to describe a character that I don't necessarily think of as a strong female character, so if I hear someone else use it, I am cautious.

2i. She has a sense of her own identity and her own goals and she is active about achieving them against the challenges she faces. She makes up her own mind what to do, and does not just follow along with what authorities say, and doesn't just rebel against what authorities say either.

Mostly I want the goals to be about something other than marriage or reproduction, but I make exceptions for characters in, say, Jane Austen novels.

2ii. They can all be applied to men, but it's a lot less unusual for a male character to fit the description.
arkan2 From: arkan2 Date: July 10th, 2008 11:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Part 1 of 2

Great poll you've got here! Thank you so much for making it.

1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?
To me, that phrase is always positive. To me, it connotes a lead or important female character portrayed with a strong positive trait or traits. (I warn you, this is the first of many generalizations and half-definitions in this reply. A lot of the concepts we're working with here are hard if not impossible to quantify. Therefore, please do not take any of these answers as definitive.)

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):
I agree with geo4real. A hero is a hero, whether female, male or other. (There can also be strong female villains.)

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?
I don't think there's any specific formula, but I'll try to list some qualities I often associate with Strong Female Characters.

-proactive, acting upon her own initiative
-capable/resourceful, acting successfully on her own or others' behalf
-intelligent/smart/clever, able to assess situations and come up with appropriate conclusions
-passionate, cares about something sufficiently to do something about it
-independent, doesn't rely totally on others to solve her problems
-vulnerable, isn't impossibly good at everything she does

That last one is important because I distinguish "strong" from "put on a pedestal." Female characters on a pedestal are too perfect, with no human frailties to identify with. ptolemaeus has leveled this charge against such characters as Arya from the "Inheritance" series and Rose Tyler from the new Doctor Who. I might add Tenel Ka in Legacy of the Force, and definitely Allana.

Essentially weak female characters can also have “pedestal moments,” where they do something vaguely approaching constructive/heroic (usually contrived) as a sort of halfhearted nod to political correctness. Some people might argue that Leia strangling Jabba the Hutt or shooting those stormtroopers on Endor was a pedestal moment (depends who you ask). They might also point you to the string of Valley Girl sidekicks who develop improbable martial arts skills in time to take out a few minions near the end of the film. The best example of a pedestal moment I can give is when the older sister character (I won’t even try to remember her name) in the Jumanji-rip-off Zathura saves one of her brothers from a menacing alien by dropping a piano on it. (Like I said, they’re usually very contrived.)

Also, context is very important in determining whether a character is "strong." Jaina Solo in New Jedi Order, Dark Nest, and Legacy of the Force might be considered a very strong female character ... if it weren't for Jacen upstaging her exponentially at every turn. You could probably say something similar about Leia and Luke, or Mara and Luke.

One thing that I think is very important for a Strong Female Character is that she not be defined by female stereotypes. Padmé Naberrie dies of a broken heart when she loses the man she loves. Elizabeth Swann in the end settles down to keep a home, raise a child, and wait around for the man she loves to return to her. Eowyn gives up her sword to become a wife and homemaker. Mary Jane Watson (in the Spiderman movies, anway) exists only for the (male) hero to be in love with and occasionally rescue. Jaina Solo’s only storyarc through the bulk of Legacy of the Force is trying to figure out which man she’s in love with. Mara Jade Skywalker becomes little more than appedndage to her husband in New Jedi Order. In Dark Nest, she makes the transition from being defined as Luke’s wife to being defined as Ben’s mother, a role she fulfills to the point of making up excuses for Jacen when he turns evil (in patent violation of her established character) because he’s “good” for Ben. Even her death could be considered Mara playing her part in the myth that says a boy needs to sever all connections with his mother in order to grow into a “Man.”
pyramidhead316 From: pyramidhead316 Date: July 11th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Part 1 of 2

Just a little note. Zathura was done by the same guy who did Jumanji. So it wasn't a rip-off, rather a sequel of the same concept. ;D

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Van_Allsburg

I don't think Leia's actions in ROTJ were a pedestal moment. Leia knew she had to get out of there, and she couldn't do that while Jabba was still alive. I'd say that's actually a moment of strength for her, that despite what's happened and being in danger, she still has the time to do some quick thinking and strangle the slug, also freeing herself in the process. Another person might have waited for Luke to rescue her. Leia took the initiative and met him on top of the sail barge. Like you said, it depends on who you ask, but I think that shows her quick thinking. Leia volunteered for the mission, which also shows her courage. Just by going there she's showing strength, knowing she could die or be hurt. Leia had been through a lot, first losing Han, and then with Luke going through something she didn't understand. It wasn't stererotypical breaking down, though. Luke reacted very unlike a stereotypical male when Vader revealed his parentage, almost near tears. Rather than react with rage, there was rage, but there was also a frightened denial as he comprehended the rammifications of that. Leia was dealing with the consequences of what had happened over the past year. That explains her passive personality. You also have to keep in mind Carrie Fisher's real-life problems at that time. I think if she had been in better shape, the character would have been written differently.

She's not without her flaws, though. She waited way too long with Han at Jabba the Hutt's, instead of getting her and Han out of there. Going alone in there was also a miscalculation. Whether it was Luke who thought it up, and she who went along with it, or whether she thought it up herself, it was a stupid move that could have gotten her killed. Yes, I know Lando was in there, but he couldn't do anything lest he risk blowing his cover.

I do agree Padme dying of a broken heart weakens her character. George Lucas made a mistake there, perhaps moreso tha certain other aspects of the prequels. If he had just dropped the line "medically, there's nothing wrong with her," we could have assumed that Anakin's turning damaged her mind, or that he did far more damage than we thought. The human brain can only be deprived of oxygen for so long, and it wasn't like there was anyone there to help her (besides 3PO and Obi-Wan) until Obi-Wan finished with his LONG, LOOONG duel. People die of a broken heart when they're old, but not when they're young and in their prime (or alternatively, when they lose the will to live and stop feeding themselves, and taking care of themselves). I don't know why George Lucas did that. Maybe it was to show that Anakin's turning deeply affected things, but that was already made clear. There wasn't a need to show that any more clearly. I've often thought there was some kind of connection between Anakin and her that became damaged when he turned, but I have no proof of that. Some people have said that perhaps she died to protect her children, but without further examination in the novels, it's impossible to determine what really happened. George Lucas doesn't strike me as the type to maliciously perpetuate a stereotype, so I don't think he intentionally went "Oh, let's ruin Padme's character." Maybe it was an homage to how storytelling once was, when things didn't really have to make sense.


P.S. Sorry for the double post. I made a little mistake in the previous one.
arkan2 From: arkan2 Date: July 10th, 2008 11:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Part 1 of ... more than 2

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?
I think ultimately, all “strong” character traits are universal, and apply equally to men and to women. However, one of the primary marks of a good female character is breaking sexist conventions and stereotypes. For men, these conventions and stereotypes are different. In this sense, the male equivalent of the Strong Female Character might be the Sensitive Male Character.

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?
Leia, in the first half of A New Hope and some of the Empire/New Republic era literature at least, because she takes charge, fights back, refuses to defer to the males, and generally gets things done, without becoming impossibly perfect.

Mara Jade, when she’s written in-character (i.e. by Timothy Zahn) because her accomplishments are comparable to her ability and because she works very hard to get what she wants. But, again, she has her vulnerabilities, just like the men do.

Pick practically any female Terry Pratchett character, because they’re fully realized human beings, which comes with its own strength.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because as the protagonist of her own story, she has the same mix of proactiveness/accomplishment and vulnerability/failure as a comparable male action hero. There’s also Willow, the much shier and more reserved of the female main cast, but she also stands up for herself and for others and is very accomplished in her own specialized fields. For that matter, probably most of the female characters in Buffy/Angel, good, bad, and in between.

Many of Anne McCaffrey’s female characters. Some of my favorites are Lessa, Menolly, and Brekke, because each overcomes her own adversity by her own will and her own ability (with help from others) and makes a better life for herself.

Thursday Next, because she manages to accomplish some pretty spectacular things on her own initiative, but also often requires help, just like we all do.

Sophie, from Diana Wynne Jones’ “Howl’s Moving Castle” because she sets out to reverse the spell on her instead of waiting for some prince to show up and rescue her, and because even though a whole lot of the story’s conflict is way out of her league, she always finds a way to do something useful.

Some of the Doctor’s companions from Doctor Who. Sarah Jane Smith, Romana, and Ace come to mind. All three manage to accomplish a great deal more on their own than many of the Doctor’s other companions. Romana, despite straying into woman on a pedestal territory at some points, and seeming to lose capability to show off the Doctor’s skill, is generally depicted as his equal as a Time Lord. Ace frequently does the dirty work the Doctor wouldn’t dream of giving many of his female companions (such as taking out a Dalek) and goes off on her own iniative. Sarah Jane Smith shoots a gun to disable a villain’s superweapon (which unfortunately doesn’t work, through no fault of her own) and crawls through a truly tiny shaft to rescue the Doctor and some other companions from killer bugs.

… Just to name a few.
arkan2 From: arkan2 Date: July 10th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Part 3

iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?
I agree with the others who have said (basically) in life, unlike fiction, there are few if any women who would not be strong characters if depicted in the right way. We’re all strong and we’re all weak, and we can be depicted either way.

However, some real life individuals who spring particularly to mind are Joan of Arc, Julian of Norwhich, Margaret Fell, Calamity Jane, Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, Gloria Johnson, Corazon Aquino, Naomi Klein … and oh yes, not that I consider them at all heroic, but Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton, too. And just about every woman, young woman or girl of my acquaintance.

v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?
Depends on what we take to be the opposite. I would tend to describe the opposite of the Strong Female Character as one who conforms to sexist conventions and stereotypes, without any sign that there’s more to her personality. And yes, I absolutely consider that to be a negative thing.

3. If you do see the phrase in a negative light, is this because of:
A, a misconception of the phrase (i.e. what most people call Strong Female Character is actually a Mary Sue) or
B, is it the phrase intrinsically that is negative (i.e. a Strong Female Character is negative because it holds women to impossible standards)?

No, I’m familiar with Mary Sues and Women on Pedestals, but I don’t confuse them with Strong Female Characters.

i. Care to elaborate more on the specific qualities that make this phrase negative? Which characters would you describe in this sense and why?
I believe I’ve already answered both questions.

4. More thoughts? Don't be shy!
There’s probably more I could say, but I’m too burned out to think of it. Thanks again.
paperclipchains From: paperclipchains Date: July 10th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. It suggests something positive, usually, but context makes a big difference. I see people calling lots of female characters strong that don't deserve it.

2. Nothing in particular.

i. An SFC is a strong character who just happens to be female. Someone who is consistent, written well, who grows, who is treated with respect by their writers, etc, etc. She is also active rather than passive and fills her own role rather than being itemized or slotted into roles that are useless outside of their relationship with the hero (e.g., hero's girlfriend). This character is also not a hopeless stereotype or plot device.

ii. All of them can be applied to men and usually are applied to men.

iii. Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic 2) is the best example I can think of. A few more examples are Integra Hellsing (Hellsing), Aeris Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII), Katara (Avatar)

iv. Well, I can't think of any. Many, many women fit my criteria just by virtue of being real people. I'd probably be a little more discriminating if it came to real life.

v. Very much so.


3. I do see the phrase in a negative light occasionally, and that's usually because of misconceptions about what a strong female character is - a strong female character does not literally need to go out there with a railgun and kick everyone's butt and never fall in love, wear pink or do anything feminine. Why I dislike this is because it's counterconstructive and only serves to hold up masculinity as the defining feature of a good/strong character.

This trick is also something writers use to distract you - by giving a female character a sword or temporarily giving them masculine traits, they believe they've created a powerful and empowered woman, and a strong female character. I hate it when audiences buy into this trick, not only because it's detrimental to the handful of true SFCs out there, but because I just hate seeing bad writing appreciated.

i. Two misclassified SFCs are Ginny Weasley and Lily Potter. We never know Lily - she is nice, and she is Harry's mother. His relationship with his dad is more prominent throughout and Lily remains a plot device, comparitively.
Similarly, we get little snippets of Ginny's personality, how she's rambunctious and unfeminine, and that's supposed to cover up how she's mostly being used as a device to add Harry to the Weasley family in a more tactile way.
paperclipchains From: paperclipchains Date: July 11th, 2008 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Further clarification:

Kreia
Strong Female Character for being so stupendously well written and thought-out. She's active, accomplished, and powerful, but also flawed and manages to be feminine, acting as a surrogate mother to your character, and also break traditional ideas about what a female character should be - she isn't young, naive, sexy, needy, kindhearted, weak-willed or anything of the sort.

Integra Hellsing
She's not the main character of Hellsing, but she doesn't need to be. She is a young woman doing an old man's job and manages to display her talent, competence, strength and leadership in the face of everything from hardship to horrifying, abysmal failure. She doubts herself, she is prone to anger, and ultimately, she has to grow into herself as much as everyone else, and is left standing as the only true human in the entire series.

Aeris Gainsborough
Original FFVII only, because they've mangled her in Crisis Core. Physically, Aeris was horribly weak. Luckily, she was also brave, smart and strong-willed, and managed to evade capture by her enemies for a long time. She's a bit flirty, rather feminine, and has her own personal struggle to deal with that not only exists outside of Cloud's, but winds up saving the planet and defeating Sephiroth's will.

Katara
Katara is a 14 year old girl who had to grow up fast. She knows she's had to take on a lot of responsibility and that it isn't always fair, but she did it anyway and now she's not going to take anybody's crap about it. She displays a full range of emotions, everything from anger to sadness, and she always feels extremely human. She is dedicated to her art and to her friends and she is never content to sit back and do nothing. Katara really seems like a person and her creators never short-change her.
pikabot From: pikabot Date: July 11th, 2008 12:59 am (UTC) (Link)
1. It's a neutral phrase that describes a positive thing. The phrase itself just means 'strong character', with the 'female' tacked on as a qualifier because...sadly, it's less common than strong male characters. Strong female characters are as good a thing as strong male characters, except slightly better because the position is usually held by male characters.

2.

i. The same things that make a strong male character. Determination, willpower, a proper role in the series. They assert themselves, and contribute tot he plot. It's not necessarily tied to fighting ability or whatever, but that can help.

They don't have to be the strongest ones around, or the most capable. There's inner strength and outer strength. What matters is that it's there.

ii. It's exactly the same. A strong female character is the same as a strong male character, except with no y chromosome. Well, occasionally you get stuff like ladies who kick ass while severely pregnant or something, and that's an extra-special level of badass, but it's the same thing as if a male character did the same with a similar handicap.

iii. Katara, Suki, Azula...damn near every female character from Avatar, actually. Same again for Firefly. Rose, Martha, and especially Donna from Doctor Who. Erza and Lucy from Fairy Tail. Nami and Robin from One Piece (actually, just about all of them there, too). Terra and Celes from Final Fantasy VI. Orihime, Tatsuki, Rangiku, Unohana and Rukia from Bleach. Hinata from Naruto (incoming controversy, but I will defend her to the death). Leia, Mara Jade and Jaina Solo. Arya Stark, from A Song of Ice and Fire. I could go on.

iv. ...shit, I'm blanking. D: sorry.

v. Not...not on its own? just like with male characters, not all of them are going to be strong, and that's fine. But if you've got a whole cast of weak female characters, it comes off as pretty sexist, especially if there's a significantly larger cast of strong male ones. Looking at you, Masashi Kishimoto.

4. I love strong female characters. Always have, always will. but I look forward considerably to the day when the term becomes archaic, because strong female characters are no longer notable.
lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: July 11th, 2008 03:11 am (UTC) (Link)
1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?

It's increasingly negative--I'm trying not to use the phrase anymore--because what Hollywood thinks is a Strong Female Character these days is just as two-dimensional and clichéd as the well, Not-So-Strong Female Character.

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?


To me it's supposed to mean a female character who can hold her own in many ways with her male counterparts. She doesn't have to be a butt-kicker. She can be strong in her virtue. In fact, the older I get, the more I appreciate the latter.

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?

Some can be specifically feminine in nature. For instance, I think Shmi Skywalker has great strength of character that comes from her earth mother persona.

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?

I just gave an example, heh heh. People like Shmi get overlooked because she isn't a warrior or some sexy babe doing jump kicks in somebody's face. She's a quiet person but someone who has withstood a LOT of crap in her life and came out of it compassionate, loving, and not at all bitter. Not even when she was dying.

Of course, ladies like Padmé and Leia are admirable because they are heroic in their own right. They make a contribution to things although they are also catalyst characters.

iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?

Do I really want to give that away on LeftJournal ;)?

v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?

Not everyone can be smart, capable, beautiful, and tough in every way! Scarlett O'Hara is a mixed bag. A tough cookie in some ways, manipulative and immature in other ways. Yet she's probably the Great American Heroine.

3. If you do see the phrase in a negative light, is this because of:
A, a misconception of the phrase (i.e. what most people call Strong Female Character is actually a Mary Sue) or
B, is it the phrase intrinsically that is negative (i.e. a Strong Female Character is negative because it holds women to impossible standards)?


As I stated earlier, the Strong Female Character has become a cliché. Or rather, it has become GrrrlPower. Said character is played by an 80-pound toothpick actress who can somehow flatten an army of 200 lb. men with some glamourous kung-fu kicks. Someone referred to Leia strangling Jabba in ROTJ...hey at least you can use Leia's latent gifts in the Force as an excuse!

Also, strong has nothing to do with anger issues, violence, or being a bitch to everyone. Just sayin'.

i. Care to elaborate more on the specific qualities that make this phrase negative? Which characters would you describe in this sense and why?

The recent Charlie's Angels remakes is a shining example of what I'm talking about. Some of the female SW EU characters too.
brightbear From: brightbear Date: July 11th, 2008 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Here via jedi_news.

1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?
It usually makes me cringe. Not because I don't think women can be strong but usually because it is not used accurately. I've heard so many characters referred to in this way, when they are one-dimensional female characters whose only distinguishing characteristic is that they are angry or violent. That by itself does not make a strong character for me.

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):
I'd go with hero, or maybe just 'strong character' if they don't play a large role in the story. A female character doesn't have to be central to the story to be strong.

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?
I think as several others have said, everything is dependent on context. Physical, emotional and moral are strengths that can be given to an individual character. To make it a good strong character, they also need a believable balance of strengths and flaws. So, to me a strong female character has to have weaknesses as well. The exact composition of the qualities isn't important.

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?
Okay, straight from the psychological research - females and males have different tendencies but the individual qualities themselves are not inherently male or female. Individuals can still be any combination of any traits. Real people do exist who fit the male and female stereotypes exactly but they are rare extremes and make boring characters on paper. Authors have free rein to create their characters, so why be constrained?

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?
Um... this is a pretty eclectic collection and heavy on action characters simply because that is what I watch - Ellie Simms from Spooks/Mi5, The Bride from Kill Bill, Michelle Yeoh's character from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Annie from Life on Mars, the Major from Ghost in the Shell.

I'd say Leia Organa from Star Wars with the note that I see most of her strength coming through in scenes not involving Han Solo, when she tends to get distracted by anger. I've heard that her willingness to argue with Han was evidence of strength. I disagree. Being a senator in galatic politics and facing off against Darth Vader and Tarkin were pretty heroic acts to me. Her involvement in the rebellion was heroic. Her willingness to tell Han to take a hike wasn't heroic, it was angry. Anger was definitely a weakness of Leia's but it made her a more believable character. The fact that Han was one of the few who could make an experienced politician lose her focus hinted also at the uniqueness of her relationship with Han. I like her and she was a strong character, but anger was definitely one of her flaws rather than one of her strengths.

iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?
I'm not sure... I tend to value the artistic creation of strong characters and that doesn't apply to real people.

v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?
Depends which category is the opposite? And on context?
A weak female character is not necessarily a bad thing by itself, only if it is the only representation of all female characters present is it a bad thing. Ditto for weak male characters. Or any type of character.

As far as I'm concerned the only bad character is one that is badly written and one-dimensionally all-strong or all-weak.
arkan2 From: arkan2 Date: July 14th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Real people do exist who fit the male and female stereotypes exactly
You know the more I learn, the harder a time I have believing this. The whole point about gender stereotypes is that they go against human nature for both men and women. And they're often contradictory (men are supposed to be rational and intelligent, more suited to leadership and discovery than women; yet men are also supposedly irrational and crude, biologically incapable of controlling their sexual activities, for instance).

There may be men and women who appear to fit the stereotypes perfectly, but only with severe psychological problems, because such stereotypes not only are unnatural, their dysfunctional.

On a different note, that's an interesting analysis of Leia's character. It makes sense for the most part, although I think she can display enormous strength when Han's around, especially before she's gotten to know him. ("Somebody has to save our skins." "Into the garbage chute, flyboy!")
sodzilla From: sodzilla Date: July 11th, 2008 09:03 am (UTC) (Link)
1: Mmmm... not sure what it suggests to me these days. That is, I'm totally behind the concept of strong women, but I'm growing more and more uncomfortable with the way the term's being used. Seems to me it's become almost exclusively the province of butt-kicking girls, which once again draws up the equation strength = capacity for violence = traditional masculinity, which bugs me. There are so many other ways for a person to be strong.

2: The same things that make a man strong. Personal integrity. Seeing the world as it is, knowing how you want it to be, and working to make it so. The capacity for self-sacrifice, but only if it's done willingly and open-eyed. (The kind of self-sacrifice where you let yourself be bled dry one drop at a time because you think it's expected of you, or because maybe people will be nice to you eventually if they see how much you've given up for them, or because you get some weird kind of satisfaction from being able to play the martyr, is the essence of weakness to me. It's not something BAD, but giving up your agency does make you weak.)

Whether or not a non-strong character is a negative thing... depends on circumstances, really. A person can be weak in themselves, in various ways, and still be a fleshed-out and interesting character.

ETA: Forgot to add my short list of iconic female heroes! Leia Organa, obviously, and Padmé in the first two prequel movies. Cordelia Naismith-Vorkosigan. Catelyn Stark (actually ASOIAF has too many examples to list).

Edited at 2008-07-11 09:15 am (UTC)
brightbear From: brightbear Date: July 21st, 2008 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Seems to me it's become almost exclusively the province of butt-kicking girls

Oh, I agree. I'd also add that girls/women who express anger tend to be viewed as 'strong' because of it. Whereas I've always seen excessive anger as a lack of control over one's emotions. You need to be in touch with your emotions but letting them control you does not make you a strong person.

It's not something BAD, but giving up your agency does make you weak.
Total agreement.
lokisday From: lokisday Date: July 12th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative?

I wasn't actually familiar with it until someone mentioned it to me in connection with Why Harley Quinn's ongoing comicbook series went downhill about halfway through and was ultimately cancelled.

The connection was that Harley worked as a character when she was introduced, (for anyone who doesn't know) as the Joker's adoring, devoted, obsessed girlfriend. She always had other character traits, but that was the main thing that she was known for and that people loved her for. In her ongoing they took that away; i.e. they chose to print a period of her life lived without the Joker. For a while it worked, but then the writers seemed to run out of ideas or fire, in any case it went bland and was cancelled.

The person who said this to me blamed the fact that they felt the need to show Harley without the Joker on "Strong Female Character" syndrome, that as soon as a female character was more than a minor character, they had to be, well, strong, and embody everything a young girl should want to grow up to be, therefore disabling realistic development in female characters.

That is why I think the term stands for a bad thing, simply because of the way it was introduced to me. It's what I associate it with every time I hear it. I don't think I could have ever thought of it as anything positive though, because that sort of thing always irritates me in fiction.

2. If you see the phrase in a positive light (or if you don’t and there is an equivalent phrase you prefer: like Heroine; Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female):

I would say Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female, as I can't think of anything that describes it better but I think heroine is a bit much to live up to, and not every female character is necessarily a heroine.
lokisday From: lokisday Date: July 12th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?
I don't think a female character necessarily HAS to be strong to start with. I mean, neither does a male character. A lot of real people aren't strong, the same goes for fictional characters.

But in the case of a Protagonist Who Just Happens to be Female and is Strong in My Opinion I'd say they should know who they are. They don't need to be secure about it; it's ok to have issues, but in my mind they can only be classified as strong if they don't go changing their mind/look/lifestyle/etc every other day or cling to their friends for an identity.

They should also contribute something to society rather than being useless. That doesn't even have to be too much: if they're for example a Best Friend and reassuring, loving, etc. but otherwise a complete slacker, that might already make them strong emotionally.

It'd also be good if they had at least one hobby or interest to keep them going, otherwise they're in danger of being too indecisive and unmotivated.

Apart from that they can do what they want: they can be hopelessly in love with the wrong guy (or girl), have a weakness for chocolate, do karate or read a lot, they can be fat or thin, ugly or beautiful, and so on... what actual genre of character they fit in doesn't really matter.

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?
No, they all count for both sexes.
etrangere From: etrangere Date: July 13th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Someone asked the same question recently, and my answer is still the same. A strong female character is one that drives their own story, that's not just there to hang around the guys and help them, not just a love interest, a fanservice fodder, a morality pet or a damsel to be rescued. It's something I think is positive of course! no every characters can be the focus of the story, the main protagonist, but in a well conceived story all of them are their own goal and interests and they should be defending them, not infeodating themselves to the goals/stories of other characters (see the Magical Negro cliche for the same logic in another field)

i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?
There's not limits of qualities that makes this work, as long as the narrative admits those are qualities and that those allow the character to affect the stories. It can be combat prowess just as much as a high sense of morality and compassion. I definitely think traditionally feminine qualities can make a character strong, as long as those qualities are valued by the narrative (sadly a lot of narrative tend to devalue those qualities compared to others, or when they don't they fetishize naivety and attractiveness in a way that makes people scream Mary Sue).

Note that if in one story the only qualities women are allowed to display are those that are traditionally feminine, I'm likely to be annoyed as well. But if there's a fair spread of qualities among female characters, I'm just as likely to like ones than the others.

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?
Yeap.
The most traditional feminine qualities are seldom applied to men of course (another problematic thing), especially in western media.

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?
It's not an expression I use very often... when I do I think it's likely because I'm a bit defensive about the character, trying to make the point against something? If I look at the last time I used the expression in my livejournal, it was about 12 Kingdoms:


The gender dynamics of the series in general are a bit ambiguous. Definitely, they don't mean to show female characters as having less status or power in this world (except maybe in the Kingdom of Kei for very specific reasons), and the stories portray a lot of strong female characters as main protagonists. However the way that two Queens (one crowned the other consort) had their fatal flaws being their jealousy of other women left a rather bitter taste in my mouth. My overall impression is positive, it's just that it had the couple of WTF moments.


iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?
My mother LOL Well, any woman famous (or notorious) for their involvement in politics, science, humanistic endeavous. Any women who risked their life to do what they believed. Any woman who was not conventional. Any woman, famous or not, who had to struggle in their life (however the kind of struggles that was). Lots of women are strong.

v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?
Negative for what? The overall work? Could be. For the character? Well a weak female character is often a weak character, that is to say, one that has little depth or bad characterisation. Unless the weakness is the whole point and works of another purpose in the story.

Edited at 2008-07-13 12:06 pm (UTC)
arkan2 From: arkan2 Date: July 15th, 2008 03:02 am (UTC) (Link)

4. More thoughts

Okay, so after a good weekend's reflections, I do have some follow up thoughts to my earlier response.

I feel I should elaborate a little more on "women on a pedestal." Woman on a Pedestal Syndrome usually occurs when an author genuinely wants to write a strong, empowered female character, but instead of drawing a fully fleshed out and truly human character, simply makes her an all-around ass-kicker or all-around perfect. Such characters are not always fighters, but they often are.

Putting someone on a pedestal is in reality no better than portraying them as inherently weak and helpless. False empowerment (such as that afforded to violent, domineering men in our culture) can be just as psychologically damaging as disempowerment. It also holds people up to impossible standards, and criticism if they fail to live up to those standards. (According to Howard Zinn, the reason women have traditionally caught so much flak for adultery and premarital sex is that males were assumed to be low, bestial, carnal animals, unable to control their sexual appetites. Women were supposed to be above all that.)

There is a high correlation between women on a pedestal and Mary Sues, although they are not the same category. Extremely weak female characters can also be Mary Sues.

There are many female characters I would hesitate to identify as "strong" because I'm unclear in my own mind whether they really are "strong" or whether they're on a pedestal.

Secondly, I want to make it clear that I agree wholeheartedly with etrangere and the others who have pointed out that traditionally feminine qualities can make for a very strong character. (One of the strongest women I know in real life is a career housewife/homemaker/stay-at-home mom.)

However, I feel that these qualities need to be depicted as strengths for the character to be strong. If Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End had showed the audience how brave and heroic Elizabeth Swann was bringing up her son and protecting him and herself all alone on an island (and building a pretty nice house along with it), she would've been a much stronger character. (Even if she was only a woman on a pedestal to begin with.)

Some "feminine" qualities such as compassion, communication, and nurturing can be very strong traits, but if fiction portrays them as weak traits (the way our patriarchal society does) then the character who exhibits them will also be seen as weak. (I also join etrangere in mourning the fact that there are so few male characters in Western fiction who exhibit these traits as strengths, rather than as weaknesses.)

Finally, there are many worthy female characters that I wouldn't necessarily call "Strong Female Characters." Partially, this is because I suspect them of falling victim to one oppressive stereotype or another, but it can also be because they don’t strike me as particularly strong characters.

While I like the character of Padmé Naberrie in the Star Wars prequels, I don’t consider her a Strong Female Character even in Episodes I and II because she never comes off as especially strong. She has her strengths, but they don’t shine, they’re just part of her character.

I also like Kaylee from the Firefly tv series (she’s one of two favorite characters) but I don’t consider her a strong character. She’s apparently a whiz mechanic, but we never see her putting her skills as a mechanic to heroic (not just good) use, whereas we see all too much of Kaylee as coward and damsel in distress. (I do not, for various reasons, consider any of the characters from Firefly to be Strong Female characters, and severely doubt that Serenity, whenever I get around to watching it, will change my mind about any of them.)

So for me at least, Strong Female Characters are more than just female characters who run counter to stereotype and exhibit some strength of character. Rather like how we may have many characters we like in fiction, but only some of them are our favorites.
mercat From: mercat Date: July 15th, 2008 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey, I'm sorry it took me a while to get around to doing this! I think I'm going to post it around, if you don't mind. =) I also am doing this without looking at any of the other answers, just because I think it would affect my answers, haha.

1. When you hear the phrase ‘Strong Female Character’, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest something positive or negative? Strong female characters are definitely a positive. I think to me it means a female who knows who she is and tries her damndest to be that person, even if she's shy or no one else necessarily appreciates it.

2. Positive light:
i. What are the qualities that make a character a Strong Female Character?

A girl who is confident in her beliefs, even if she's shy or nervous. Generally these types of females are not afraid of telling someone what they think, if they think it is the right thing to do. They don't necessarily have to be physically strong, and they don't have to stand out in any way other than being sure in who they are or what they are trying to be. They don't need other people to constantly validate them, because they already know who they are or who they are working to be.

They also have integrity to their actions, though their beliefs might not be held by everyone. (So, basically, they may be the bad guy in the story but they have conviction and some form of logic in what they do.)

ii. Can any of these qualities be applied to men or are there some that are specifically female?
Sure, I think generally the same thing applies. If you are sure in your convictions, or try to be, I think you end up as a strong character.

iii. Which characters would you use it to describe and why?
My favorite example is probably Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. She is tough and won't let people push her around, but she's not afraid to be a lady, either.

Other good examples? Chuck from Pushing Daisies, she's very confident in who she wants to be and doesn't let anyone tell her any different. Same thing goes for Trillian from Hitchhiker's Guide, though depending on the characterization she can be kind of a ditz (which I think makes her less strong as a character). However in the movie's latest reincarnation, she's a very strong and independent character.

I rather like Lara Croft (from the movies, I don't know the games) as an example of a badass, too. She may not be a bastion of purity, but she knows that's not who she is and it doesn't bother her. She's smart and doesn't take shit from anybody.

iv. If life was a movie, which real life women would you add to (iii)?
Oh geez, well, to be quite honest I am a terrible historian, but I have quite a lot of good examples in my personal life, and for that I'm very grateful.

v. Do you think the opposite of a Strong Female Character (or your equivalent) is a negative thing?
Well, it depends. I think, just like in the real world, there are people who do not have strong personalities, and it would be unfair to say they are terrible people or something. But I think there ARE currently too many female characters who seem strong and independent but are always fishing for compliments or depending on guys to tell them what to do. I think part of that just stems from media in general--the media tells us what to think and it becomes easy not to think at all, and people don't question stereotypical characters (or stories or jokes or anything, for that matter) as much.


mercat From: mercat Date: July 15th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

comment part II

3. Negative light, is this because of:
A, a misconception of the phrase (i.e. what most people call Strong Female Character is actually a Mary Sue) or
B, is it the phrase intrinsically that is negative (i.e. a Strong Female Character is negative because it holds women to impossible standards)?

I dislike Mary Sues intensely, but that is a separate issue for me. That's just fantasy fulfillment as opposed to being a strong female character.

I don't think that having integrity of being is an impossible standard, at all. That would be rather insulting to a) the female gender, or b) the human race.

i. Care to elaborate more on the specific qualities that make this phrase negative? Which characters would you describe in this sense and why?
Well, I don't see it as negative, but if you grew up with "strong female characters" just being physically strong but still not anything in the brains/independent thought department, I could see how it could become insulting. I don't have much experience in it, but I can see it as sort of an issue amongst comics fans.


4. More thoughts? Don't be shy! Eh, I think that's all for now. =) I'll probably come back with comments after reading other people's thoughts.
From: caswin Date: July 16th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
1. My first reaction tends to be negative. A character being hailed (or, worse, directly promoted) as a "strong female character", I've noticed, tends to be an ham-fisted, less-than-subtle attempt at the idea, sometimes bleeding into reverse sexism. As long as we're talking Avatar, for example, I got something of an "overdone" vibe off of Suki in her debut episode. I've seen worse, though.

2. Let's say "heroine." It's only when someone goes out of their way to say "HEY, WE HAVE A STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN HERE; WE ARE PROGRESSIVE" that the warning bells go off. Anyway.
-i. Reasonably strong will, for one. Competence, too, obviously. Being realistically (which is to say, not doling out any advantages for the mere sake of being a Stronger Female Character) on par with her peers, male or female, is always desirable here. And feel free to skimp on fawning over pretty/dark/(insert latest trend) boys, shopping, and anything else down that vein.
-ii. Hmm... good question. I was going to say the "unfair advantage" thing, but hey, they've actually been doing that for centuries - the whole phenomenon is a backlash against that kind of thinking. Off the top of my head, I don't know, maybe strength in dealing with things that *are* exclusive to women, whatever the context, but I guess that's a given and I'd rather not go into it anyway...
-iii. Oh, man. Too many to choose from these days. To use your example, Katara. Hermione's up there. Most shows featuring a group of female protagonists, or at least the ones I've seen. Bones? Mia... no, not Mia Fey, I don't like her. (Okay, I like the character, but not how she's presented and used.) Anyway, I'm willing to say there's enough of them; I'd need some more parameters if you want more names.
-iv. Keeping to the roughly-defined "celebrity" crowd) down the alternative lies awkwardness)... oh, let's say Rosa Parks. Next.
-v. Not at all. Such a character might not make a good protagonist, but that's no reason to shy away from weak female characters, period, any more than any other "weak" character. Not everybody can have an unflinching, awesome personality - although if one WERE to use a weak female character in a role of any significance these days, good luck convincing the audience that you're not just submitting to a stereotype...

3. A, as explained earlier. (There is certainly merit to B, as well, but that's almost a complaint against a major portion of fiction as a whole; when I have a negative reaction to the phrase, I'm usually thinking A.)
-i. Building up the girl in question to the detriment of the rest of the story, especially by making guys invariably look like fools. Jayna had this habit on Superfriends, as I've seen noted on a different post. (Wendy may also have been up there, it's been even longer.) More recently, Kim Possible is borderline. And ever since the whole thing's become popular, any number of man-vs.-woman fights (not all, certainly, but too many) have gone down this path, with the woman being absolutely untouchable. (Of course, age vs. youth has had the same pitfall, but that's a whole 'nother story, I'm sure.)

4. I think that, at this stage, everyone would be better off not giving deferential treatment to either "side." Also, assuming that men and women are exactly the same is a mistake, albeit a safer mistake - both in terms of reaction and accuracy - than deliberately trying to show the differences between them.
ladylavinia From: ladylavinia Date: July 29th, 2008 12:59 am (UTC) (Link)
"I do agree Padme dying of a broken heart weakens her character. George Lucas made a mistake there, perhaps moreso tha certain other aspects of the prequels. If he had just dropped the line "medically, there's nothing wrong with her," we could have assumed that Anakin's turning damaged her mind, or that he did far more damage than we thought."


Was Padme's character weakened when she died of a broken heart? Perhaps. But I do not see anything wrong with that. Padme had her weaknesses. After dealing with the destruction of the Republic, news of Anakin's actions at the Jedi Temple, his obvious transformation into a Sith Lord and his attack upon her within the space of a few days or less, I can see why she gave up in the end. After so many setbacks, despair finally overcame her . . . and at a time when she was in her last trimester.

Do I believe it is possible for a strong character to die of a broken heart? YES. It has been proven that an individual's emotional state can affect his or her physical state. And even strong-willed individuals have weaknesses that enable them to be consumed with despair. I do not understand this aversion to the idea of Padme dying of a broken heart. Sometimes, I wonder if we humans really understand ourselves.

Speaking of a character being weakened, I want to bring up Leia's actions in "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK". After Lando had rescued her, Chewie and Threepio from Imperial stormtroopers, Chewbacca attacked him with rage. Even worse, Leia encouraged Chewie to continue with the attack. Leia may have seemed as if she was being "strong". In reality, I feel that this act had weakened her character. Allowing anger to get the best of ourselves can be just as weak and giving in to despair. Her father was a prime example of this.
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