I'm Tired of "Strong" Female Characters Part One

Saturday, June 16, 2018

You know her. She’s got an athletic build and the uncanny ability to wield any weapon. Occasionally, there’s some superhuman power. More often than not, the title of savior/chosen one/leader/queen/princess/empress/insert-important-title-here is thrust upon her. She’s got a great distaste for anything pink, sparkly, or remotely girl (although she’s known to rock a dress when forced). Usually she’s got a handsome boyfriend that she ends up having to protect. And in the midst of it all, she’s keeping a bunch of secrets beneath her warrior-queen exterior.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the strong female character.


If you haven’t met her, then you obviously haven’t read a lot of YA fiction. She comes in many forms, such as the fantasy/sci-fi version I painted a picture of above. She can be found in pretty much every genre. She can be the main character, the secondary character, a background character… She’ll probably be there somewhere, if not in a book, then in a TV show or movie. And to be honest….

I’m tired of this “strong” female character cliché.


This is not to say that I don’t like some typical cliché strong female characters. In fact, they can be done very well. I'm thinking of memorable characters such as Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Parvin Blackwater of the A Time To Die series. But it seems to me that we have begun to define strong women by physical strengths, talents, and powers, their boyfriends and multiple love interests, their positions of power, their ability to go it alone, a hatred (or at least some form of dislike) of all things feminine… The list goes on.

Why does a girl have to be a warrior-queen to be strong?


I know lots of strong women, and none of them are half ninja. They find their strengths in places other than their looks and their ability to beat up boys and lead rebel nations. Strength, in our culture, has become more of a physical attribute than anything else. Strength is defined by how you carry yourself, how athletic and muscular you are, how intimidating you are... The list goes on. But the strength that these strong female characters have isn't true strength. 

True strength doesn't come from being a rebel leader or wielding a bow and arrow. 



True strength is something that comes from within, not from the outside. True strength isn't ignoring your feelings, it's confronting them. True strength is finding the courage to do what's right. It's staying strong though all life throws at you. True strength comes from faith in God. True strength is something that female characters in YA fiction desperately need.

I want girls to know that their strength doesn't come their fists. 

I want them to have real strength, not the fake version that has been offered up to all of us in today's movies, books, and TV shows. I want them to be inspired to be truly strong by the stories I write. Fellow writers, we get the privilege to change this cliché and inspire girls to become truly strong women though our stories. We get to do more than just entertain with the stories we spin. We get to inspire. We get to motivate. We get to encourage. What an awesome privilege that is, am I right?

Next week, I hope that you'll join me for part two of this series as I offer some tips on how you can make the female characters in your writing truly strong. 


What are your thoughts on strong female characters? What do you think is true strength? Who is your favorite character that falls into the "strong woman" cliché? 

28 comments:

  1. This touches me on a very personal level, Micaiah. I've dealt with the doubt in my female lead for a very long time--is she strong enough? Is she powerful enough? So I can't tell you how much this post means to me. Thank you so much <3

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    1. From what I've heard, your female lead and her truly strong example is exactly what the world needs. Thank you so much for your kind words, Faith. <3

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  2. What a great message, Micaiah! I agree that the strong female trope is a poor and overdone one, and you make a good point that so many characters are mislabelled "strong" when they only have physical strength. Showing characters - male as well as female, I think - that are strong on the inside is an important part of character development.

    ~True // atruewriter.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you, True! That's a good point that you brought up! I agree that male characters can also have a fake version of "strength" that our culture has created and that sadly many people have bought into.

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  3. This just *dies* perfection. Only way to describe this post. We have had enough 'strong' females. Actually, in this series Throne of Glass, Celaena Sardothien (the main character), though she is quite the 'strong female character' actually likes nice 'girly' things, which was quite refreshing to read about. 10/10 post.

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    1. Thank you! =) I haven't read the Throne of Glass series, but it defiantly sounds interesting. It's good to hear that the author let her be feminine-something that seems to be looked down upon in today's YA fiction.

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  4. I love this!!! My last post was actually on this topic (haven't posted in forever...). Females aren't even physically able to be fist fighters. Now, I can understand self defense and knowledge of the bow and arrow, but when she's the one who beats the bad dude up after that same bad dude slapped a bunch of guys around... I'm sorry, it's horrible. Why can't women be portrayed as having strength of character? What is wrong with a timid female character? What is wrong with a girl loving ribbons on her dress and flowers in her hair? I would love to see more real feminine characters come out.
    astoryspinner.blogspot.com

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    1. Yes, I remember your last post! It was very, very, good! I agree! I don't understand why girls have to be better than guys just to prove that they're strong. Strength of character and letting women actually be feminine is something that YA fiction is, sadly, sorely lacking. I also hope that truly strong female characters that are allowed to be feminine will have their stories told.

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  5. I have a love-hate relationship with this troupe. I mean I love Black Widow, but I hate the idea the girl's have to be able to fight to be considered strong. I guess it depends on the character for me.

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    1. I have to agree with you on loving Black Widow and other female superheroes, but I do wish that their skills weren't just what made them strong.

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  6. Thanks so much for this, Micaiah :) I've been faced with having to be very vulnerable in front of others the past while, and I've seen how much bravery it takes to be broken before others ... which really makes one question our "strength stereotype". Thank you! <3

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    1. Aw, you're welcome, Jeanette! =) It does take a lot of strength to be vulnerable, something that the "strong" women trope looks down upon, when really, healthy vulnerability is a good thing.

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  7. I agree with everything you said in this post. In fact, true strength comes from within us. Great post!

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad to hear that there are others who are ready for truly strong women to step onto the pages of stories. =)

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  8. I AGREE!!! We need girls who are GIRLS not robot ninja warrior queens with all the boys falling at their feet. THANK YOU!!

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    1. You're welcome, Ivie! We need novels about girls who are allowed to be girls, not trying to fall into the pressures of faux strength and success that our culture is offering.

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  9. I love this so much :) :) I've actually felt this frustration as well, and it is very encouraging to know that you (and everybody else who's commented, lol) think the same way!

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    1. Thank you, Grace! It is very encouraging that there are others who feel that truly strong women need to be portrayed in fiction. =)

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  10. So I don’t think I’ve ever commented on your blog but dang girl truth!!!!
    I love this post so much ;) :) there are so many beautiful and different strengths in us, but like you said so often only the violent side or the fierce side is portrayed.
    I love how you said “true strength comes from within”
    - Janelle
    The Ramblings of a Bookworm
    https://rozandnellie.blogspot.com/?m=1

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    1. Aw, thank you, Janelle! =) Yes, women have many beautiful and different strengths, and yet somehow these have been overlooked by many YA authors. Thank you for your kind comment! =)

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  11. I'm so thankful a lot of the bloggers I are drawing attention to this unrealistic portrayal of "strong" women. I am SO tired of girls that do nothing but run around rudely beating up people (usually men). Like, when men behave like our "strong women", we call them antiheroes!!

    Have you read The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson? I just finished the first book, and the main characters' mother, Nia, is one of the strongest characters I've ever read about and she only wields a weapon once and briefly. I SO appreciated how he portrayed her!

    -Hanna
    takingmytime.rothfuss.us

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    1. That's a great point that you bring up that I haven't thought of before, that when men behave like "strong" women, we call them antiheroes. It's sadly quite true that "strong" women have come to be known by their physical abilities, their lack of feelings, etc.

      I have read some of the Wingfeather saga and thoroughly enjoyed what I did get to read! I wholeheartedly agree that Nia is a true strong female character. I love how she stays strong through all that life throws at her, and that she is also strong in character. And the author allowed her to be feminine, which I loved. =)

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  12. Micaiah...this post is one of your best yet! Can't wait to see your suggestions - I would like to use them for my own characters!

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you so much, Catherine! =) I look forward to sharing my suggestions with you!

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  13. Thanks for sharing, Micaiah! I have to agree, i am sooooo tired of reading about this type of strong female character. Honestly, they all start to sound the same after a while, especially when they start acting like guys. Strong women are gentle too, and sadly, YA doesn't seem to be liking that idea.
    I’m excited for the second part! :D

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    1. You're welcome, Nicole! =) They do all start to sound the same after a few books. Yes, strong women are gentle. I hate that YA is trying to erase all of the beautiful feminine aspects of strong women, like gentleness and grace.

      Can't wait to share the second with you! =) Thanks for your comment!

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