She said it better than me

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a ‘strong female character’ post for a while now. I’ve also thought about doing a review on How To Train Your Dragon 2 and talking about how weird it was that Valka, Hiccup’s mum, was this awesomely awesome quasi-feral woman who spent 20 years rescuing and defending dragons, who has this fantastic back story, got sidelined when the mens showed up.

Warrior. Dragon rescuer. Damsel in distress?
Warrior. Dragon rescuer. Damsel in distress?

That was, literally, the only depressing part of the movie. Literally.

Shiri, ever 20 steps ahead of me and my plodding brain, did it first.

And did it better. She talks about the ‘Trinity Syndrome’, which I didn’t know was a thing until she talked about it. It is a problem. It needs to stop.

It ties directly into the idea of the ‘strong female character’ which, Shiri talks about again and much more eloquently than I ever could.

The term ‘strong female character’ bothers the shit out of me.  Touching on what Shiri said, the only thing I want to throw out there, is the idea that that particular phrase, that hot button collection of words, has got to stop. Women are women. No one talks about ‘strong male characters’ no one sees fit to distinguish between them. Men are men, right? Men don’t need an excuse to- or to not- develop their way out of a brown paper bag. Hell, in the Faery version of the Anita Blake series, Laurell K. Hamilton just needed to write men that were strong, good-looking, and of moderate personality to make her female lead troubled enough as to which of them she wanted to (eventually) marry, and possibly schedule for sex.

Because her full schedule.

It's one of these books. The ones that don't say "Anita Blake" on them.
It’s one of these books. The ones that don’t say “Anita Blake” on them.

In Twilight, Edward and Jacob were interchangeable 2×4 characters. One just happened to be a vampire, the other happened to be a werewolf. Both got what they wanted (Bella and her daughter, respectively) in the end. But no one (outside of outraged mothers, feminists, and women with brains in their heads) talked about the men in the Twilight books, outside of the team Edward/Jacob shirts.

Yes. It was, and is, a thing.
Yes. It was, and is, a thing.

Bella is not a good role model (for a myriad of reasons) and the main character in Hamilton’s faerie series I gave up on around book three. Because, seriously?

We need women to give our girls someone to look up to. We also need diverse women to pepper our stories. We need women with weaknesses as well as strengths. ‘Bad’ and ‘good’,  crazy and maybe not so crazy. Harley Quinn is just as much a ‘strong female character’ as Wonder Woman. Both kick ass, but both are deep, layered characters. Whereas Bella is about as deep as a damp washcloth. Sansa is just as strong as Arya, and Cersei is just as interesting as Susan Norton and Mabel Wurst from Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Maybe more so. Because Cersei Lannister and her crazy.

I'm smiling because you're going to die.
I’m smiling because you’re going to die.

The thing about throwing around ‘strong female character’ is the image of leather clad, heel wearing, whip cracking super women that kick ass and manage to look sexy doing it.


These are not strong female characters. Strong female characters are the women like Sansa, who have to manoeuvre their way through a dangerous, deadly Royal Court; where any misstep could wind up with her head on the chopping block. Or like Astrid, who wore the cloak of “Hiccup’s girlfriend” and “dragon rider ass kicker” easily. One never dominated the other.


A strong female character is not Halle Berry’s Catwoman, or Michelle Rodriguez in any movie where she has a gun. Or even Aeon Flux, or  Mila Jovovich in the Fifth Element. She kicked ass, but was ultimately ‘rescued’ by Bruce Willis and maybe had a few cute lines. Who didn’t laugh with “multi-pass!”.

Save me, Bruce Willis, you're my only hope.
Save me, Bruce Willis, you’re my only hope.

Don’t mistake ‘device’ for ‘strong female character’. Learn the difference. Learn to overcome the difference in your writing.

And stop using that term.

Go give the Last Chance Salon Podcast a follow and a listen. Shiri and Luke bring a lot to the geek table. It’s worth the run time, and the blog Shiri maintains is full of good information on writing and geekdom.

So go! Fly, Clarice, fly to the Last Chance Salon Podcast blog!