Strong female protagonists are showing up everywhere in books lately, and I love it. Katniss from Hunger Games, Neryn from Shadowfell, Katsa from Graceling, Celaena from Throne of Glass. I mean, who doesn’t love a good heroine?
While I love strong heroines, and this recent trend, I’ve also noticed a lot of “strong females” that aren’t really all that strong. They may come off that way, but when they are put to the test, they crumble. An example that comes to mind is Rachel from Defiance (in the beginning of the book). She is very stubborn and defiant (hence the name) and independent, but A: she is easily undermined by attraction to a cute boy and B: when something bad happens in the beginning, she just about loses her mind.
Okay, first of all, I think it’s just ridiculous that a supposedly strong and independent girl would be so easily crippled by a cute boy. I see this everywhere and is part of the reason I can’t stand most romance, especially in YA. Meeting cute boys is not incapacitating as so many books would have us believe. It’s like she meets this guy, and boom, she forgets all about her strength and independence and becomes this helpless little dreamy thing because love. No, it doesn’t work like that. If she really is strong and independent, having a man is not going to change that. A man does not change her identity as a person. In books, or in real life.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with having your character be weak sometimes. Arguably, they have to be, in order to be strong. But my first issue with this is that a lot of these characters are “all bark and no bite” — they talk back a lot, make a lot of sharp quips, break the rules, but none of this holds up when it comes to the things that matter. They may be stubborn, or sassy, or sarcastic, but that does not mean they are strong. It frustrates me that people and authors have this image of “strong female lead” and instantly she’s a stubborn spitfire (and also probably a redhead).
In real life, “strong females” are all around us. And no, they’re not the stubborn, fiery redhead. They’re the leaders, the activists, the nurses and doctors, the teachers, the mothers. Strength is not always loud. In fact, a lot of times, strength is quiet. Strength comes from being beaten down, then getting up and still fighting. Strength is working 12 hour shifts in the ER to save lives, no matter how exhausted you are, or staying up all night to take care of your baby, or sharing your story of survival with others to find healing.
If you have a strong female protagonist, reexamine her. Maybe she is stubborn. Maybe she makes sharp quips and breaks the rules. Or maybe she’s quiet and reserved. Words are not the only way to show strength. Show her strength not by what she says, but what she does. Even better, how she handles things. A weak woman can talk big and tough all day, but when it comes down to it, she breaks. A strong woman might not talk like it, but when trials come, she braces the storm.
Don’t fall into the stereotype. Write strong women, not just stubborn ones.