Let us start at the top. Her hair is beautiful, full and shiny. Often it flows past her shoulders. It is an outward symbol of her inner turmoil; a change in hair is a change in emotion. Her eyes are large. They may occasionally tear, but she never cries. She may suffer just one cathartic breakdown at a pivotal moment, but her eyes flash and are cold. Her face may look natural, but she always wear make up and it is always perfect.

And about that cathartic breakdown. She will be competent, she will largely be emotionless. She will probably be caught in the end, but not without a fight. Her emotions will focus only on domestic issues, on rescuing or revenging a child, a sibling, maybe, maybe a romantic partner.

About that fight. Often with something nontraditional: a bow and arrow, a taser, farm implements, perhaps magic. Rarely the powerful fire power of her male allies. Or she will go the opposite direction, and fight with the most phallic weapons available. But always something different, something other.

Let us keep going.

Her shoulders are thin, her arms muscled but delicate. Often exposed in a tank top or otherwise sleeveless top. Her full breasts are perfectly displayed, rarely covered by armor or kevlar. Or if her vital organs are covered, the metal is lovingly shaped to reveal every detail, or the kevlar is the thinnest possible material.

Her midriff usually exposed, her waist is slim, trim, well-defined. A slight hint of abdominal muscles, just enough to hint at strength but not enough to intimidate. A little sex appeal to remind the audience she is a woman.

Strong legs. Muscled. Maybe encased in shorts, maybe a short skirt. Ripped stockings. Rarely pull pants. Heavy soled shoes; to wear otherwise would be unrealistic. The shoes, no matter their type, usually have a slight heel, the better to show off those calf muscles, that ass.

Often her battle is reluctant. She was drafted in via outside sources, perhaps indoctrinated or brainwashed, a dead family. The important thing is that she had no choice. She didn’t wake up and decide on her own to be a soldier, a mercenary, a fighter. Something literally forced her hand.

Thus our strong female character, a token offered to us, one movie out of a hundred, one character out of thousands. Black Widow (The Avengers/MCU). Xena (Xena: Warrior Princess). Alka (Revolver Rani). Rajjo (Gulab Gang.) We can love these characters. I love them.

But I am tired of strong female characters.

I want capable female characters. Capable of making a choice. Of emotion, of asking for help. Capable of deviating from the mold. Capable of not simply being a man with breasts. Capable of more than masculine violence.

“Strong” often means masculine. Someone who can use violence. Muscles. Resides in silence and retreats from emotion.

“Strong” is often used to end a conversation. Someone going through a crisis is told, “You’re so strong!” Often this means: please stop talking about unpleasant things. Or: you seem to be doing fine so I don’t have to do any emotional labor. We don’t need to worry about the emotional state of a stoic.

Not that mainstream entertainment worries much about women’s emotions. Perhaps in romantic comedies, chick flicks, and “women’s films.” She is sad, she is happy. She suffered a deep trauma, but now she is magically healed, with no lingering grief. And if we don’t have to worry about a person’s emotions, we do not have to worry about whether they are human.

And humans are capable of so much, if given the tools and chance. It takes more work to write well-rounded capable human characters. It takes more work to enjoy them. And the consequence could be more people see themselves and each other as capable humans, and thus take some of the power from the elite.

Strong female characters often appear in fantastic worlds, in sci fi and fantasy. Most of us will never fight extraterrestrials or dragons. Including strong women in these worlds suggests they are some kind of mythical creature. But women are human. Capable humans.

Posted by Natasha

Natasha received her MA in Literature and Culture in 2008 from Oregon State University. Currently she lives in Oregon with her husband and cats.

One Comment

  1. I totally agree that there is a problem with the portrayal of’strong’ female characters in movies. Other-ing is always the norm, as you pointed out. Women should be understood in their entirety, not just stereotyped into a handful of roles. Great blog!



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