“Strong Female Character” – I do not think it means what you think it means. 6

With apologies to Elise, Kathy, and Mike, all of whom told me to not write this, but you know how crap I am at letting things go and NOW I CAN MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE OKAY I’M GOING TO EAT SOME CAKE NOW.

My friend Andrew linked me to this, because, I don’t know. He’s an evil bastard and likes watching me suffer: Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters – Part 1

Initial reaction: Wow, Andrew, you asshole why would you do this to me I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS.

Secondary reaction: …there’s more than one part?

Tertiary reaction: Holy geeze that’s a long post why do I hate myself.

Quaternary reaction: Please tell me this is all just a joke and the end will say LOKI’D in blinking text.

But at that point it was just kind of a car wreck and I COULDN’T LOOK AWAY.

Look, I’m not going to write some kind of clever point by point take-down of the post, because frankly, it’s not even worth my time. When you have a blog post full of things like:

Like it or not, nature has oriented female thinking to make them generally better at teaching a child how to volunteer to do a task, so that he will naturally and willingly do his tasks once he is grown; whereas men are generally better at commanding and punishing, so that the task gets done whether the child is willing or unwilling.


The sexes are opposite, and culture should exaggerate the complimentary opposition by artifice in order to increase our joy in them, including artifices of dress and speech: when women dress and speak and act like men, some joy is erased from both sexes.

…with all sorts of contemptuous references to political correctness and ‘sexism’ in scare quotes.

I mean at that point, there’s not really much of a reaction I can even have beyond would you get a load of this fuckin guy? I honestly don’t see a reason in going point by point over what is basically gender essentialism/evo psych bingo run amuck. And it’s not like I expect it would have even one bit of impact on Mr. John C. Wright (yes, he’s wearing a fedora, because of course he is) when he has posts titled things like “Chik Fil A Day For Orson Scott Card.” (I have little doubt I fall into the ‘barbarian’ camp of sexual perverts, and I am proud of it.)

But I do want to say something to the idea of strong female characters and the straw man that Mr. Wright has built, because I’m just so. Fucking. Sick of it.

In other words, when reviewers urge writers to put strong female characters into their works, they are asking the writers, in effect, to add Amazons, women with stereotypically masculine behavior patterns, values and attitudes. The only difficulty with the idea is that Amazons are as mythical as gynosphinxes.

That might be what “strong female character” means sometimes. There’s a lot of conflation between “strength” and “kicking ass” probably because, I don’t know, we live in a patriarchy, “kicking ass” is considered very masculine, and thus all the most awesome characters are viewed as having that quality of ass kicking-ness. So the male characters have been hogging ass kicking all this time, and why can’t female characters have some as well?

But let me tell you something. My two favorite strong female characters of all time? Alanna of Trebond, the Lioness Rampant, and Phedre no Delauney de Montreve. Alanna secretly became the first female knight of Tortall; she exerts power over others by fighting. Phedre is a courtesan, and exerts powers over others not just with sex, but by loving them. I suppose you could argue those characters are opposite ends of the spectrum, spectrum being the operative word here. But both of them are very much active in their own stories, the drivers of their own destiny, and they have rich and complex internal life.

They are both strong female characters.

I suppose what makes me the most frustrated about Mr. Wright’s post is that he almost, almost has a good point in there–female characters can be strong without being ass kickers. (To which I’d add: Just like male characters can be strong without being ass kickers either. And–holy shit–not all “ass kicking” characters are actually that strong! Ward is the biggest ass-kicker in all of Agents of SHIELD but I would never call him a strong character.) But since he wrapped it all up in the lengthily bloviated notion that women perforce must be feminine, that pretty much invalidates his reasoning as far as I’m concerned.

Mostly, this entire thing, with Mr. Wright’s post as the latest spasm to which I’ve subjected myself, just makes me feel sad. It makes me feel sad for Mr. Wright, and it makes me feel sad for people who agree with him, because their views of humanity, sex, gender, etc, are so narrow. It makes me feel sad because they seem to want to limit other people–and characters–into two very narrow boxes where many of us simply do not fit.

You know what makes a strong character? If they are well-written, have an emotional center, have agency, are complex and real, make decisions, and grow. It’s true whether the character is male, or female or anything in between. Whether they are human or elf or alien.

My particular brand of feminism (which is pretty darn mainstream, Mr. Wright’s straw feminists aside) is about seeking for humans in general to be free to reach their greatest potential and happiness in whatever role they prefer. If a woman1 finds happiness in being a hyper-“feminine” stay at home mom, then I want her to be able to do that. If a man wants to do the same thing, I want him to be able to do that as well. And so on, forever, for all the possible combinations along the spectrum that is humanity.

Because I know and love the fact that humans are far more complex and beautiful than can be contained in the sad, old-fashioned binary of masculine versus feminine.

So yes, I want there to be strong female characters. I want there to be strong female characters of all kinds. And I’ll keep asking for them until, say, the majority of lead characters on television aren’t white men. And if some of them do turn out to be “masculine” Amazons? You’ll have to forgive me for really liking that, because everyone enjoys seeing characters in whom they can find themselves. Because I am unabashedly one of those women whose happiness involves dapperness and occasionally punching things.

And by the way? I love dancing. And the last time I did it, I lead. And it was amazing.



1 – And please note here, I intend “woman” and “man” to encompass both trans- and cis- men and women…and also anyone who doesn’t wish to identify themselves in that fashion to begin with.

6 thoughts on ““Strong Female Character” – I do not think it means what you think it means.

  1. Reply Becca Feiner Nov 24,2013 13:33

    Why on earth would anyone tell you not to write this? Viva la difference – of all of us when we are what we would become!!!

    • Reply Rachael Nov 24,2013 13:36

      Hahaha it was more a matter of “don’t feed the troll you have better things to do with your time!” :)

  2. Reply reodwyn Nov 25,2013 18:36

    Typical Christian libertarian writer, this one, is what I think. Although, to be honest, I didn’t read the whole dreary thing, because it was too dumb. I hate when dumb people try to sound like intellectual scholars. Also, another thing that makes me avoid a blog, is when they have to moderate responses, and you see that all the responses that are let through are by brown nosing sycophants. Never read those blogs. Ever.

    • Reply Rachael Nov 25,2013 19:12

      Basically everything you said. I only tend to block replies if they’re threatening or make me deeply uncomfortable.

  3. Reply shaunduke Nov 28,2013 21:37

    Amen. That’s all I’ve got to say.

  4. Reply MisterManny Feb 2,2014 22:34

    He somehow manages to combine the absolute worst qualities of Fedora-Neckbeard-athiests and also be a rabid Christian fundamentalist at the same time. It’s kind of impressive in a warped, racist, sexist sort of way.

    What I regret most is that he used to be my favorite Sci-fi author. He can write a decent Sciffy yarn. That was before I found out what he was like, though, and now I can’t bear to look at his work because I recognize what I thought was just characters soapboxing in his books to actually be him spewing his demented views into his fiction.

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