Monday Meanderings And Thoughts on Strong Female Characters

This morning’s lifetrack, Follow the Flower from Under the Tuscan Sun.  Because it’s Monday and I need some cheerful to balance out the fact that the AC was off in our building all weekend and my office is a sauna.

Summer semester starts this week.  I move on to recording all my lectures for the new class in the fall.  And it’s already freaking JUNE.  Holy crap.  I’m going to be grateful for the fact that we haven’t had consistent 90+ weather up to this point (usually that starts in April and definitely in May).  I’ve really enjoyed the prolonged spring this year.  My container garden is super happy after this weekend’s rain, and I’ve even got blooms on my pepper plants!  I have hopes that I shall have better luck with my squash and zucchini this year than I have in the past.  You always hear about people who have more than they can carry and have to give it away.  I can eat my body weight in zucchini and I only ever seem to manage to get ONE.  Critters and squash bugs and IDK what all.  Bad luck.  I am not much of a gardener.  But I’m trying again!

I’m making typos all over the place because I’ve got a bandaid on one of my fingers.  They keep falling off.  The bandaids, not my fingers.  Because of course I cook and ergo wash my hands a lot.  I got sick of that, so I used superglue last night.  Which worked but now I keep catching that rough spot on my hair.  So I put another bandaid on.  And now I can’t type.  Bah.  Solution would seem to be to stop accidentally slicing my fingers open…  My own damn fault this time.  I was slicing sweet potatoes and didn’t sharpen my knife right before.

So over the weekend while I was hanging out with Bobby Matthews, we got into a discussion about strong female characters and how there is a difference between writing a strong woman and writing a man with boobs.  I’ve seen this often in books written by men with a female protagonist.  Certainly not always.  And I’m sure that the reverse could be leveraged at some romance novel heroes as being women with dangly bits and a crapton of testosterone.  Yes, I am growly and dominant and  muscular, but I have all the feels!  But that’s not where I’m going with this at the moment.

There are some female characters that I’ve read and really enjoyed, but definitely felt like they were men with boobs.  There’s definitely a difference between women being stuck in a man’s world and having to adopt a lot of those masculine kinds of traits, and actually being manly.  I finished a UF novel by a guy recently who had a female lead.  And she kicked ass and I liked her.  But she was a man with boobs.  Man’s attitude toward pretty much everything–sex, career, weapons, situation.  She was a woman displaying masculine traits in a masculine world where masculine is the default base comparator for everything.  Including in her own mind.  Which is maybe where things trip up for me as a female reader.  And it’s hard for me to articulate this (and perhaps I shouldn’t try on a Monday morning on only one cup of caffeine).  I am a woman who has a lot of “masculine” traits.  I’m direct, say exactly what I think.  I’m honest to a fault.  I’m interested in a lot of typically male pursuits (see neighbor party where I eschewed the crowd of women talking babies and hung out with the husbands discussing guns and custom truck bumpers).  I am the one who needs to go into my cave to decompress and recharge (per ye Men are From Mars advice–which, honestly, I have always felt was more advice on how to deal with introverts but whatever).  I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this except to say that character traits are not, or at least should not, be gendered.  There is some subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) difference in how these traits are presented to create rich, nuanced characters who are PEOPLE rather than some form of gender stereotype.  Chuck Wendig did a post about this a while back where he talks about it more cogently than I’m managing here.

Obviously I am a fan of strong female characters.  And people often have commented about the heroines in my books because they kick ass and they’re smart.  They take care of business.  I get this particularly about Elodie, which makes me happy, since that’s exactly what I wanted to portray with her.  I wanted to put a YA heroine out there who wasn’t a blank canvas, wasn’t a doormat, and didn’t wait around for some guy to come rescue her (Ever After baby).  Because as a teenage girl, I wasn’t a blank canvas, a doormat, and I didn’t wait around for guys to do anything for me (in fact, I could out shoot almost all of them, which did absolutely nothing to help my dating career in high school, but I digress).

I write strong women because I AM a strong woman.  And I want to READ strong women for the same reason.  I don’t dislike weaker or less obviously strong heroines necessarily…but I don’t connect with them.  They’re moving along in their little character arc and all the while I’m wondering why they don’t do x, y, z, which would totally fix their problem (I’m a fixer.  We know this about me).  They are so often passive (or feel passive to someone like me), and that drives me absolutely batshit.  I don’t understand being paralyzed into inaction.  That’s one of the circles of hell for me.  DO SOMETHING.  Don’t just be an observer in your own life.

Certainly strong female characters are popular.  Buffy.  Katniss.  The readers who like these kinds of women are my readership.  And I’ll keep playing to that because it’s what I love.

But it’s been kicking around in my brain about how to really get at that segment of the readership who looks for Every Woman.  Because that’s not who I write.  I think there is an element of Strong Kickass in every woman, and I hope reading my sheroes will help others discover that aspect of themselves.  But I don’t think Strong Woman is necessarily Every Woman.  And I am wondering who she really is.

I tried to write a different kind of character with Marley, the shero of Riven.  Someone who was more of an Every Woman.  And she morphed about halfway through into someone more like my typical kick ass shero.  I’m having to go back and fix the front half of the book because I just don’t know how to authentically portray anything ELSE without it falling completely flat and lifeless.  Because it’s not me or some shade of me.

I need to get going on my To Do list for the day, so I guess I’ll sign off with a question for you, dear readers.  Who is Every Woman and where do I find her?

3 thoughts on “Monday Meanderings And Thoughts on Strong Female Characters

  1. Isn’t this kind of a trap for writers who want to write about strong women? Though I haven’t seen it explicitly expressed, I have the feeling that even the strongest woman has to show some sign of “girlyness” or be accused of being a man with boobs. She must at least care about her looks, or break down in tears for some reason, or be turned on by/long for a man, or have a hard time deciding what to wear. Is it really that difficult to believe there are women who *do not* care about any of those signifiers of feminity? And does that make them men with boobs?

  2. We are all shades of grey (No, I’m not referring to the trilogy that hijacked my favourite expression!) and as much as there are Jason Statham / Bruce Willis types there are also Mr Bean / Adam Sandler types et al. Same with women. The danger comes when a reader decides that a character feels ‘false’ and is subsequently thrown out of the story. If a gutsy female protagonist has a believable backstory that created this Ripley-esque go-getter, then great. The character must be true to the story as well as to herself. Consistency and believability are tricky tightropes to master.
    I hope that I have done my female protagonist no disservice by cornering her with difficult events, ensuring that her choices are ‘curl up and give in’ or ‘fight the hell out’ with teeth, nails and guile. Yes, there is a love interest, but she fights herself all the way, preferring independence – until she realises there is no shame in accepting help in life-threatening situations.
    So,if you prefer a sword-weilding Uma Thurman to a ferret-owning Jennifer Aniston, remember that there is something of them in all of us (yes, even the guys).

  3. As a reader I’m so bored with the whole super woman thing that I’m not reading much any more. It’s old news now. Done to death. Predictable. Same shit different book. Y.A.W.N. That’s probably just me.

    The every woman screws up, gets stupid, makes poor choices and has to fix the resulting mess, has to decide how she like her crow prepared so she can eat it, does NOT fall into bed with every good looking guy with an accent and riveting eyes. She swears, puts her T on inside out and doesn’t notice till she’s changing her clothes after work. She has PMS, PMDD, is just plain crotchety or touchy…sometimes for no better reason than she woke up with a hair across her ass that morning. She’s gracious, funny, brilliant and stupid all in one hour. She’s the one that finished work, paid the bills, picked up the mail, grabbed groceries, goes home and gets into her jammies to relax and then remembers the plans to eat out tonight. She’s the female in the mirror of a lot of women writers that provokes that: Is that me? When the heck is the last time I looked in the mirror anyways?!

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