On “Strong Female Characters” and Female Friendships

Yeah, I’m aware this topic contains a lot of well-tread ground already, but I’ve got to get my revenge on those terrible fantasy novels I read as a kid somehow.

I’ve had kind of a rough year–I’ve been super depressed, college homework is hard, and to top it off, my grandfather died a couple months ago due to covid complications. It was just not fun. 🙃 It hasn’t been all bad though, and I really want to write and blog more? Hopefully?? Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about bad fantasy heroines.

I’m sure you’ve met the character type before. (If not, I will be hitting you up and blackmailing convincing you with mild force to let us switch lives and reading experiences.) This female character is tough. She’s like a man, but better. She looks down her nose at more feminine characters as she mows down a zombie horde, and she’s horrified by the fact that her stuffy aunt wants her to wear a DRESS and EMBROIDER, and despite living in a historical period, she acts like no historical woman ever. Which is a good thing, because historical women are WEAK. And our heroine isn’t weak. Insert some faux-feminism into the story and demonize every woman who is not our heroine–these are crucial steps–and done! You have created a Strong Female Character.

God, I’m giving myself flashbacks.

Here’s the thing, YA authors of my childhood. Women aren’t naturally weak. Just because “Womyn are kept under the thumb of the patriarchy and are treated like chattel!1!!” doesn’t make those women weak, and that goes even for the women who act like how society wants them to. Especially for the women who act like how society wants them to, in fact. Living up to such high expectations is impressive! Stop denigrating people who haven’t done anything wrong!

And femininity isn’t weak. Femininity is pretty cool, actually. I’m pretty sure all the authors who write characters sneering at sewing and embroidery have never sewn or embroidered anything in their lives. It’s hard! Sewing is really, really hard and takes a lot of practice and skill and sometimes math to get right. It’s an art form.

POV: You are a sewer. You’ve been working on a dress for weeks. It’s your finest creation, taking all of your skill and imagination. You’ve put so much of yourself into creating something beautiful, something that you love and that other people will love. You pick up a YA novel, one with four stars on Goodreads and Amazon. “Women who sew are dumb!” Snippy YA Heroine says. “I sure can’t breathe in this corset!” You close the book in disgust and wonder when authors will open a history book.

(Corsets don’t. They don’t choke you. Sometimes they can! But that means you’ve either been tightlacing or else the corset doesn’t fit. ALSO, CORSETS AND STAYS ARE DIFFERENT THINGS. PSA.)

Hey, I just had a thought. I wonder if sewing would still be considered weak if men did it? I bet it wouldn’t, huh? It’s almost like we denigrate women’s work just because women do it, and not because it’s inherently bad…Nah, that can’t be it. It must just be that math, fighting, and not showing emotions are considered good because they ARE good! Men must just like better things. Hah! Silly women.

In a world where fields that are comprised of mostly women are undervalued and underpaid, I don’t really like this kind of take, funnily enough.

And a lot of traits that are traditionally coded as feminine are…good, actually? Being kind, compassionate, and a good parent is not like…a crime. It takes a lot of strength, funnily enough. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t good parts to masculinity as well, because there are, but masculine traits are not ‘more strong’ than feminine traits. Being brave and outspoken is great! So is being humble and kind. (And that’s not to set up a dichotomy between the two. You can absolutely be both.) And I don’t want to hear ANYBODY say that crying or otherwise showing emotion is weak. Crying is your body’s way of processing emotions, and it’s quite effective. In fact, stigmatizing every human reaction except anger and violence is how you get toxic masculinity! Huh, imagine that.

Anyway, call me crazy, but I think that ‘femininity is bad, actually’ is an incredibly bad take for a feminist to have. Of course, maybe I’m just blinded by the patriarchy. /s

[Image ID: Text reads, "Medieval European Girls in Fiction vs. History

Fiction: I hate sewing, it's so pointless and lame. My sisters and my mom are so stupid, I'm smart, I'm going to go ride my pony and learn how to use a sword. Rar, I'm fierce.

History: Without my needle, you would all be naked and dead. Excuse me, I have to go throw a party and negotiate a land deal."]

And I want the women to be friends! Just! A woman–or, for that matter, a person–does not have to be an island in order to be strong!

And a character doesn’t need to be strong. They need to feel like a person.

Let women be weak. Let them be passive, let them be quiet and meek. Let them have a quiet strength, or let them be cowardly. Because women are people, and sometimes people are all of those things. And then let your other women be strong and brash and brave, because sometimes people are those things, too.

You know who’s a good Strong Female Character? Eowyn. She has a motivation for wanting to fight, she doesn’t look down on other women for being different from her, and she recognizes that being in a war is bloody and awful but she wants to fight anyway because she both wants to be there with her family and is suicidal, at least in the book. She’s amazing and awesome and I SHIP HER AND FARAMIR SO HARD (sorry, random Farawyn outburst that happens to me every once in a while). I kind of get the sense that all these Strong Female Characters are trying to be Eowyn and failing, because the authors don’t get what made Eowyn work in the first place.

[Image ID: A GIF of Eowyn, a blonde woman with braided hair and a crown, singing]
I’m sorry, I don’t remember where I got this GIF from 😬

She’s just…REALLY cool.

My hot take is that damsels in distress are cool, actually. Sue me. The issue isn’t that “The woman sat around and waited for some guy to save her, what a COWARD.” The issue is when a woman is a) put in distress in order to get her out of the way because who has time to write a woman, am i rite lads, or b) put in distress in order to be a motivation for the hero. “Oh noes! Princess Erlandia was kidnapped by the dastardly villain! I CAN’T back out of this plot now! Wait what was her name again”

Women who fall into misfortune and can’t get out without help? Not a problem. And yes, that includes women who get saved by men. Sometimes…it…happens??? I don’t get why people make such a big deal out of it? Though I will admit women saving each other is *chef’s kiss* amazing. Anyway, #StopDemonizingCinderellaForBeingAnAbuseSurvivorChallenge

(I feel like a lot of the narrative around feminism and fairy tales is…deeply weird. I’d like to do an article on that but other people have done it better, I think. In sum, they are LEGENDS told in like 300 words and if you really want to go there, a lot of men in these stories wait around and get saved by old ladies!! The focus is not on the characters and I’m sorry you didn’t get the modern novel you were expecting?? A lot of fairy tales are WAY more female-focused than the literature of the era was and it seems very strange to me to assume that just because men collected the tales, that means women weren’t telling them.


And also, last complaint I promise, but I feel like female friendships don’t always get a lot of depth? A lot of them are, at worst, disgustingly wholesome and thrown in for the brownie points, and at best, not as memorable as a lot of male relationships I can think of. I’m perfectly willing to admit this may be the books I’m reading, because YA has a habit of letting the main romantic relationship be the juggernaut to end all juggernauts the main focus, but I don’t know. Can any of y’all think of female friendships in modern literature that are as developed and memorable as, say, Frodo and Sam? I just want more really developed female relationships that are allowed to be the focus of a story. And I don’t just mean romantic relationships.

Tl;dr: THERE’S MORE THAN ONE KIND OF STRENGTH TO BE FOUND ON THIS EARTH, AUTHORS. And also develop your female relationships for the love of God. Things that you shouldn’t talk about if you can’t be normal about it: 1) femininity, 2) fairy tales, and 3) abuse survivors. Oh, and 4) corsets.

P.S.: When I say mean things about YA, I’m joking. I literally write YA, that’d be pretty hypocritical of me, lol.

Anyway! Let your women be messy and beautiful and ugly, my good people. Good night, and happy early Gawain and the Green Knight Day Christmas and Hanukkah to all who celebrate! Man, I wish I could get a sexy guy to come through my door this Christmas and challenge me to a game in which I behead him and then have to go to his castle and get hit on by both him and his wife but then I don’t get beheaded because I’m too sexy. Alright I’m sorry for making you read that last sentence, I’m out (but also, please God let this happen to me)

29 thoughts on “On “Strong Female Characters” and Female Friendships

    • Yeah, it’s like people hear “Your heroine who you describe as a tough warrior shouldn’t always be saved by the hero in every dangerous situation she gets into” and then translate that as “NO heroine should EVER be saved by a male character. EVER.” I don’t get it.


  1. Aw, I’m so sorry you’ve had a rough year. I hope 2021 is better for you.
    And, also, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes to everything you just said.
    And, ohmygoodness, sewing/cooking/embroidery take a lot of work and skill. So, why do we consider them weak? I mean, I’m not great at any of them, BUT I WISH I WAS. Imagine how much money you could save MAKING clothes. And they’d probably be catered more to your taste.
    And why can’t we have characters who are both? I’m about as girly as it gets, but sports/martial arts are one of the few things that came naturally to me. That’s part of why I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, she fights vampires, and she’s also pretty girly aside from that.
    Anyway, great job writing this. You made a lot of good points.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the condolences!

      I know, I can’t cook to save my life. Anyone who’s good with their hands is practically a god in my book. Yeah, there’s so many benefits to sewing! Better fitting clothes, more creative clothes, etc. I’m not GOOD at sewing but I do it every now and then and it’s so fun.

      I totally agree! Masculinity and femininity are kind of weird dichotomies, tbh, and few people fit completely into either (and then you have people like me who AREN’T either).

      Thanks a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a fantastic post! You have so many good points here, and I agree with practically every word. It’s so nice to hear someone else complain about the “Strong Female Character” type because it’s driven me crazy for years. I can’t stand characters who were disdainful towards All Things Feminine and women in general. I don’t see how this is appreciative of women and it seems like the opposite of what we are going for here. Come on, people. And being saved doesn’t make you weak! And There are so many different kinds of strengths! YES. YES. YES. TO ALL THE THINGS.
    And Eowyn.I LOVE Eowyn SO MUCH. She is such a great example of a truly amazing female character. Why aren’t there more like her???
    Anyway, you have written an excellent post. I am really sorry to hear about your grandfather and I hope that you are surviving college. Hang in there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes! I hate it when the rich girly girl hates the MC because she likes her boyfriend? Like what? I need a better reason than that. Maybe it’s not really that she just has a bad home life. Or horrible friends. Make them three dimensional! And yes showing emotion does not make you weak! Being feminine does not make you weak!
    haha I love this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • #FleshOutTheMeanGirl2020! It’s especially annoying when the mean girl isn’t really mean but she wears lowcut shirts and the heroine is a judgemental idiot. It’s okay, the heroine always feels bad whenever she wears a lowcut shirt! It can get very, um, puritan.
      Yeah, I don’t know who decided that unhealthy coping mechanisms and repression make you strong but I would like to have a firm word with them. There’s nothing wrong with being private or unemotional, but that’s not inherently strong either, and in some cases can be unhealthy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. YES! Yes to this all! *thunderous applause*

    For some reason I have had issues with the “strong female type” since I was a child lol. Even then I sensed the hypocrisy of the character. The girl that constantly needed to throw it in everybody’s faces that she is “strong” until it becomes embarrassing and childish. And like you said, it’s especially distracting in historical stories where she is somehow the complete model of modern female power and no one else is. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hated this trope as a kid, too! Probably because I kind of inherently sensed that this character isn’t realistic outside of a 5th-graders’ soccer game. And the ‘throwing the character trait in everyone’s faces’ aspect was REALLY annoying. Yeah, if a ten-year-old can tell that a Victorian gentlewoman probably wouldn’t have been acting this way, an adult definitely should have been able to tell! Smh. It’s not THAT hard to research Victorian feminism.


  5. i am so sorry to hear about your grandfather, beck! i am sending as much positivity as i can for you and your family!

    but this post is absolutely fantastic! i love your humor and i absolutely adore that you even pointed out how corsets are *not*, in fact, going to kill you if you wear them, lol.

    i do understand why these tropes exist in the first place, and it’s a shame that even the “badass female characters” are so rooted in misogyny.

    i loved how you pointed out that women should be allowed to be whatever the heck they want – including being weak! i feel like non-warrior men get *so* much praise for just being quiet cinnamon rolls, and yet, non-warrior women are constantly looked down upon.

    (and also i completely see cinderella as a badass? she was an abuse survivor who still chose love and kindness and peace every. day. she woke up and she knew her day was going to suck, and she never lost hope or her ability to dream. she’s my favorite princess because, unlike all the badboys with daddy issues who have their behavior excused for going through trauma as children, cinderella was *never* mean to people just because she’d been abused too. i love her).

    and i really wish we had more female friendships in YA as well! i think about female friendships more often than anything else, tbh, because they’re so important to me & i really wish i had a tight female friend group around me. that’s probably why i love skam (the show) so much, because it focuses on a group of girls supporting each other and being a realistic friend group, and it just makes me so happy and emo to watch.

    this post was AMAZING & laugh out loud funny! thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot.

      Yeah, my latent aggression at certain historical fiction I read as a kid kind of came out there, lol. The misogyny rooted in ‘bad-ass’ female characters can be something else ._. You don’t have to hate every woman around you in order to be a bad-ass, you know?

      Exactly! Men get praised for being tough OR for being cute soft cinnamon rolls, so why shouldn’t women? To be honest, I don’t really like cinnamon roll characters that much in general (I prefer characters who are slightly mean, just…not in a misogynist way), but I do think the double standard is something else. Nice, emotionally intelligent women aren’t doing anything wrong, and in fact are doing a lot of things right.

      Cinderella is totally a badass, I agree.

      Me too 🥺 I love friendship-driven stories, especially ones with female friendships, but I hardly ever FIND any. That sounds like a really cool show!

      Aw, thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. HI BECKY!
    HIIII okay 1) this is Aditi if you forgot me, hello I missed you and your posts a lot!! I’ve been super MIA and am trying to come back :)) 2) I’m so sorry about your grandfather and that you haven’t had a great year :(( sending you lots of love from afar! 3) THIS POST IS EVERYTHING. I AGREE COMPLETELY. Femininity is NOT weak and honestly thinking so is the opposite of feminism! I’m also looking at JKR here for putting down all the feminine characters and having the main girl MCs be nOt LikE oThEr GiRlS ugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, Becky, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. *sends hugs* You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers!

    And I just had to come back and say, I love this post and agree with so many of your points. Femininity is a GOOD thing and one of my biggest pet peeves is when feminists….think girls have to be masculine in order to be strong. Like. What’s the point of calling yourself a feminist if you’re literally holding up masculinity as the end-all be-all. *bangs head against the wall* (And I love masculinity, too. It’s just. We need them both. There’s a beauty to balance and complementarity and all that.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot for the condolences!

      Yeah, I’m not okay with any sort of ‘feminism’ that involves policing the harmless ways people want to live. Like. I think I said this in an above comment, but hating women isn’t feminist. There’s a lot of unfortunate implications in saying that feminine women are ‘weak’ and should be more like men. And yeah, masculinity isn’t a bad thing either as long as you interpret masculinity as more things than ‘violent and unemotional.’ Men are real cool! But let people live their lives, my gosh. I do consider myself to be a feminist, but there are some feminists out there who just miss the whole point. Don’t hate men! Don’t hate women! I just want equality and people act so weird about it 😭


  8. Yes, indeed. Sewing involves math and is not for the faint of heart. (Just gonna put that out there. I love sewing and I kind of always wished there would be characters who, you know, liked sewing AND running around and climbing trees? Shockingly, it’s possible. I am living proof.)

    That felt amazing to say. I just finished rereading LOTR and am having all the Farawyn feels. Also, yes to everything you said about Eowyn! She is incredible. I love her.

    “Damsels in distress are cool, actually.” Yes. *sobs* Yes, yes, yes. They are. And I want them. And I want them to stop being so hated. Because they’re cool. (This is so not related, but I just read a Breton fairy-tale and I wish I could remember the name, but these two peasants are in love only they don’t have any money so the guy goes off to seek his fortune but gets into trouble, and the girl has magical items that tell her when he’s in trouble, so she goes off and rescues him. It was the best. I like “one member of a relationship is in distress” plots in general, actually, I think. So maybe it was related after all.)

    And yes. You people who think fairy-tales are sexist should, um, maybe go actually read some fairy tales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love sewing but it’s so HARD. And also my sewing machine is literally falling apart as I speak. I do wish I sewed more, though. I don’t get why bad historical fiction–scratch that, bad fiction in general–separates female characters into ‘likes fashion’ and ‘is actually worth something.’ It should be really obvious that a lot of people are into girly things AND boyish things, but I guess YA isn’t ready for that conversation. :-\

      YES. Faramir is amazing and Eowyn is amazing and I love them both so much! They’re such complex, incredible characters, and I love them. I think I have the INCREDIBLY controversial opinion that I like movie Faramir more than book Faramir and I like book Eowyn more than movie Eowyn. I agree the movie did add some unnecessary drama to Faramir’s arc that wasn’t in character, but I really liked how they developed Faramir’s relationship with his brother and with Denethor. But I feel like the movies removed the complexity from Eowyn, and also took out stuff from the books that make it seem like she probably has depression.

      I know!! I love when couples save each other, and I don’t care which half is doing the saving. It’s about risking it all for each other, and going to the ends of the world for the person you love…It’s about the angst and the heartbreak…
      That fairy tale sounds so cool! I’ll see if I can find it.

      Amen. There definitely are some sexist fairy tales out there (*coughcoughKingThrushbeadcoughcough*), but to paint them all with a broad brush is so inaccurate. There are so many amazing fairy tales out there. And oh my gosh, Cinderella and Rapunzel are NOT misogynist portrayals just because they’re abused, what even is that take.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is hard! I should do it more too, but I so rarely have long chunks of time to devote to it, and it’s not like I’m good at it and sometimes you’d rather do something you’re good at… I hadn’t sewn anything in so long and I just randomly made something over break and it felt so good. Also, my mom somehow got a new sewing machine, I have no idea how, was it given to her, did she find it on the side of the road, I don’t know, but unlike our old one it is NOT falling apart and actually works, so that was a dream. I will pray for healing for your machine. X)
        I feel like a LOT of historical fiction I read as a kid was in the vein of “tomboy feels inferior for not being a perfect pattern-card of feminine perfections, but her unusual skills and interests (and spunk!) end up saving the day. See, kids, it’s okay to be a tomboy.” Which is nice, I guess. But they tended to be such flat characterizations and every now and then you got one that completely demonized the more traditionally feminine characters and I just wasn’t a fan.

        They really are. ❤ Ooh, that IS a controversial opinion. I actually agree about Eowyn (of the two, the less spicy take). I fell in love with her in the book and was somewhat disappointed with the third movie because I agree that she was flatter in it. She 100% has depression in the books. It’s…amazing writing, honestly.
        While book Faramir is my favorite, I also did like the time they gave to his and his father’s relationship in the movie! That was just…so well done. (Even though it would have been BETTER if movie Denethor had been more like book Denethor, an actual tragic and complex character – Denethor is my biggest pet peeve with the movies.) I haven’t watched them in so long, and I really should. This time through the books I noticed how much emphasis there actually was on the brothers’ relationship and I loved that!

        The Witch of Lok Island!!! That’s the name! Or something close to that! I remembered, yay.

        Wait, so is the logic that Cinderella and Rapunzel are misogynist portrayals because they act timid and don’t have a lot of agency? Because technically the abusers in those stories are ALSO female. And they’re not timid or agency-less. So is it misogynistic because if you’re a female with agency and boldness, you’re, necessarily, also evil? I’m really confused here.

        Liked by 1 person

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