#WriterWednesday: Not all Strong Female Characters are Warriors, Expounded

It’s Writer Wednesday, let’s talk writerly things.

Honestly, as I write this blog, I never know what is going to make an impact in my spaces. (Facebook I accept is pretty much dead right now.) But my Sunday Okami post made a bit of a splash (at least for me) over on Tumblr. As I was catching up with my weekend dashboard, I ran across this post of Writingmastery’s back from June 2016 about “Strong Female Characters.“It’s a list blog post about the type of female characters he’d like to see, girly, funny, supportive of  other women, queer, POC, women who define men instead of the other way around and so on. It was an interesting list for me as I tried to check off those against the female characters I have in my head.

And this weekend at the Cannes Festival, Jessica Chastain made a powerful speech about the female characters she saw in today’s movies. (Because let’s face it more people watch movies than read books.) Calling it “disturbing” with a “few exceptions.” And she hopes that with more female storytellers will come more female characters like she sees in her everyday life, female characters that are more proactive with more agency that don’t just react to the men around them. “They have their own point of view.” Unfortunately, I can’t find a video of JUST the speech on YouTube. Here is a link to my tweet on Twitter with the video. It’s very moving.

I’ve talked about strong characters before and how Hollywood in particular associates strong characters with the male traits of being stoic, unemotional (except when they are using it to fuel righteous vengeance,) aggressive and with low tolerance for authority. And how that these characters technically aren’t strong because they don’t grow. Their flaws aren’t really seen as flaws.

But the title of this post is that Strong Female Characters don’t have to be warriors. Even though there aren’t a lot of strong warrior characters on the big screen either, with Wonder Woman coming out this weekend we can hope that Hollywood may get the message that if you give us a good story about a female superhero, people will watch it.

Now this may feel a tad hypocritical of me to be talking about. My female main character in the Lone Prospect is Savannah and she’s a fighter of sorts. (She’s a Vice President of a Motorcycle Club and a mercenary/private security operative. She can throw a punch if she needs to.) And Roxana in the Dawn Warrior is yes, a warrior Princess. She’s got a sword, she fights evil magicians and tries not to bash the heads of clueless princes. But I hope in my stories that there is a lot more to them than just throwing a punch.

And I try to pepper my stories, at least the Heaven’s Heathens with other types of female characters. One of my favorite characters is Esme. Esme is the “den mother” of the Club. She’s in charge of making sure everything runs socially and emotionally smoothly. She has an important job of keeping the club socialized, offering advice and mentoring and emotional support, and figuring out which fights need to be smoothed over and which fights need to be fought. Hope is a Doctor. Brier owns a day spa and can’t fight for beans. Dakota and Flossie own their own businesses. Yes, I have a lot of female warriors that range from perky, to cranky, to bubbly and girly, to stoic and sporty. I also write action adventure stories.

Strong female characters can be a broad range of personality traits and occupations. I love Evie from the Mummy because she’s smart as a whip. In the first movie, she couldn’t throw a punch, but it didn’t matter. She’s the one with the knowledge to defeat the Mummy. Sure, Rick threw a lot of punches. Without Evie, he’d still be fighting the monster.

I love Angela Montenegro from Bones. She’s an artist, a dreamer. She understands human relationships and she is there constantly supporting Temperance. She has her own story and her own dreams and there are a lot of times she questions the work she’s doing at the Jeffersonian and if she should be there or out pursuing a free artistic life. She makes her peace with her decisions though and finds happiness where she didn’t expect it. (Angie and Hodgins is one of my favorite love stories.)

I like Maura Isles from Rizzoli and Isles. She’s logical and analytical and once again, smart. But she makes bad man choices and isn’t exactly socially aware. But she’s there for Jane and for Angela, Jane’s mother. She’s a good manager and yes, she has a bad habit of diagnosing herself. (I know that last season arc was controversial with Maura and Kent trying to treat her. Doctors should not diagnose themselves. Period.) I also loved that when Maura tried her hand at something new, like writing, she didn’t always get it right off the bat. It was refreshing.

I have mixed feelings about Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. She’s a strong female character who became a lawyer who stopped caring about getting into Harvard to get back the boy and instead cared about the profession as a whole and the people she was representing. (Mostly, I dislike the way they stereotyped her as a ‘fashion’ and ‘sorority’ person. I’m a fashion designer, those stereotypes make me cringe because yeah, fashion school is not like that!) She was unashamedly girly. She wore pink as a power color. She liked shopping. She grew as a person through the movie.

I loved all the women in Hidden Figures. They had families. They had to struggle to be taken seriously. They were smart women working on an important project and they didn’t get the credit they deserved. But through their gracefulness they were able to influence the minds of those around them at NASA and change came. There were obstacles and they overcame them. They were also not all the same body type! (I know this shouldn’t have to be pointed out in this day and age, but it’s still another problem in the movie industry and the fashion industry.)

I love all the women in Chocolat, Vianne fighting against the spirit of her mother and how hard it is to live a nomadic life. Eventually, she breaks down and admits how horrible things are and how she hates it and wants to stay in one place. Josephine struggling to stand up against abuse and how Vianne helps her. Armande choosing to live the last of her life as she wants it, drinking hot chocolate and having a party, standing up to the mayor of the town just by being herself. I even love Caroline, who is trying so hard to do the right thing and have the proper image that her family is slipping away from her even as she tries to hold onto them.

These are the strong female characters that I can think of off the top of my head that aren’t warriors in media. They are there in our lives, they are doctors, nurses, scientists, mathematicians, linguists, artists and yes, lawyers. They are mothers, daughters and sisters with their own hopes, dreams and opinions.

I don’t know if more female voices in the film industry or in the book industry is really going to give us more strong female characters. I can hope that with more female voices, there would be a larger breadth of female experience and more attention paid to female issues in media.

Female characters don’t have to throw punches and hold in their emotions to be strong.

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