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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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55 comments or Leave a comment
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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.
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