Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Strong Female Character

It shouldn't be any mystery to the readers of my stories that I write strong female characters.
It's a real toss-up as to which female character in my stories is the strongest - Falraan is perhaps the most aggressive. Abby Danson is definitely the smartest.. but if they were all to be placed in a room together, Iris would be leading them all. Why is that?
I recently read a thesis on the strong female character, it was written primarily regarding film and television. It's stance was basically that a strong female character has masculine qualities - they're a man in a woman's body. I don't agree with this, and neither do the characters as the live in my head.
There is something else I don't buy and that is attaching masculine and feminine markers to personality traits. I think we're past that now. To say that aggression is masculine and passivity is feminine is worn out to me - Gandhi was passive and look at how powerfully he affected the world. The list of traits goes on and on with nurturing and creative going to female while independent and competitive going to males. These are gender roles, and they are stereotypes.
To me, stereotyping is the same as profiling, and what's the line? "Profiling is wrong!"
I feel either gender can have a host of traits or roles - why should a character be limited? Why should we be limited? I am not trying to spark a sexuality debate, that's a different issue. Neither am I lecturing. I am simply stating my standpoint.
It's part of my upbringing.
I don't see aggressiveness as a purely masculine trait. Neither is aggressiveness the only quality that makes a character strong. I have a long list of them from proactive to stoic. My dad could be painfully stoic, but he also wept whenever he saw the flag flying or a space launch. He was also artistic, creative, and introverted which are all feminine characteristics, yet he was very masculine.
My mother cooks like a chef, is one of the best artists I have ever seen, sews and quilts, loves dogs and cats, reads western mail-order bride stories - and she is a very strong woman by any standard. She has always managed at least one business and she is an excellent salesperson.
If those two didn't make me who I am, then I am not sure who did other than the mountain of adventure stories I read - and still read.
Characters are born in my head. They take life on the page and every word I write begins to define them. I love nothing more than when a character becomes full enough that I can just feed them plot points and they will tell me how they react.
The strong women are happening because I see women as strong. I see women as being assertive and independent - I can find them in my daily life without much effort at all.
Do I place unreasonable standards on any young woman who picks up one of my stories? Barring the supernatural aspects of some of my women, no. I know that women can be leaders and that they are. I am under no pretenses that men have to be stronger or that men have to be in charge. It doesn't have to be a man that goes into the cave to fight the dragon. It doesn't have to be a man that sits at the head of the boardroom.
What about vulnerability? Vulnerability is a feminine trait, right? No, we are all vulnerable. Don't think for a minute that every rational person out there, male or female, isn't affected by loss. Even Superman, the most invulnerable being ever created is hurt by loss. There are so many things that can be vulnerabilities... Two recent characters of mine are grossly powerful, but they are vulnerable to secrets, they each have their own that they struggle to protect.They will go through extreme hoops to protect their secrets. 
It's part of a characterization process to give a character something they care deeply about, something that is important to them. If a character doesn't have that special something, then they are flat or perhaps psychotic. Put that special something at risk and BOOM! you have a character who is vulnerable. This transcends male and female roles and it affects us in real life - I think it affects every rational person.
I'll keep writing characters that transcend gender roles. I have a hunch there are people out there that enjoy reading the adventures of such characters.

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