Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Down with Strong Female Characters

Once again I am ahead of the curve:
I hate Strong Female Characters.
As someone spends a fair amount of time complaining on the internet that there aren’t enough female heroes out there, this may seem a strange and out of character thing to say. 
I remember watching Shrek with my mother.
“The Princess knew kung-fu! That was nice,” I said. And yet I had a vague sense of unease, a sense that I was saying it because it was what I was supposed to say.
She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”
No one ever asks if a male character is “strong”. Nor if he’s “feisty,” or “kick-ass” come to that.
The obvious thing to say here is that this is because he’s assumed to be “strong” by default. Part of the patronising promise of the Strong Female Character is that she’s anomalous. “Don’t worry!” that puff piece or interview is saying when it boasts the hero’s love interest is an SFC. “Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong! See, she roundhouses people in the face.” Sometimes the phrase “not your typical damsel in distress” will be used, as if the writing of pop culture heroines had not moved on even slightly since Disney’s Snow White and as if a goodly percentage of SFCs did not end up, in fact, needing to be rescued.  
As Vox put it, if you want to know what women really want, the last person you should ask is a woman. Women asked for Strong Female Characters, and having gotten them are now vaguely dissatisfied with them. My local library always has dollar paperbacks for sale. I've cleaned them out on more than one occasion. I went there yesterday and all that was left was urban fantasy. You know what I mean: a story that takes place in a modern North American city where the Strong Female Protagonist tries to balance the demands of her career in paranormal law enforcement with her vampire or wereseal or alien or poltergeist lover. Bonus points if she's described as a kick ass single mother.

How many people, men or women, in real life do you know who truly don't take shit from anyone? How many women do you know who can slug it out with a man and win? Suspension of disbelief can only go so far. The Strong Female Character is worse because she cannot be permitted to show any of the traditional female weaknesses such as passive-aggressiveness or conflict avoidance because then the author will be accused of sexism.

Feminists don't like the fact that the courage and character of women has traditionally taken a much different form than the courage and character of men. So Strong Female Characters, both in fiction and in real life, imitate male virtues as much as practicable. The results are not pretty, in every sense of the word.

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