For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in strong female characters. Pretty much all you need to tell me in order to get me interested in a story is “but there’s this one super badass girl,” and all of a sudden, I’m in the front seat, waving my “go badass girl” sign for all to see.
But, that being said, I have noticed a trend in strong female characters that I personally find insulting.
I’m talking about the strong female characters who have to prove themselves to be strong by pushing themselves as far from the label of ‘female’ as possible.
I’m talking about the strong female characters who prove that they’re strong because all their friends are boys. In fact, they don’t even know any girls. They don’t understand girls. Girls are frivolous and stupid, and they care about meaningless things, and Strong Female Character here isn’t like ‘other girls’.
I’m talking about the strong female characters who prove they’re strong because they’re interested solely in things that society has termed ‘boys’ interests’. They’re introduced draped over a car, spewing out all this technical jargon to prove that they understand it. They play sports to prove they’re just ‘one of the guys’. They look down on pass times like shopping and getting dressed up (despite the fact that they’re clearly wearing a face full of make up that must have taken at least a good hour to perfect), because all of that is ‘girl’s stuff’.
I’m talking about the strong female characters who legitimately might have been written as male characters in the script, but they just decided to cast a woman at the last minute, change the character’s name, and threw in some bullshit about ‘not like other girls’.
And I’m not saying that strong female character can’t have male friends, or have an interest in things like cars or sports. Many real-life girls do. The problem with this trend is that, usually, this ‘not like other girls’ girl is the only female character in the entire story, or at least the only one with any substance. And if there are other girls in the story, then usually, they’re exactly the same as this first one. They’re actively demeaning to female interests, pretending that being more masculine makes them better somehow.
The problem with this trend, really, is not that this ‘not like other girls’ girl exists. She should exist – she exists in real life, after all. No, the problem is that we don’t see any variety in how girls can achieve strength. All that we see is that girls achieve strength by acting as close to boys as they physically can.
And that is why the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favourite examples of writing strong female characters.
First of all – there are a wide variety of female characters throughout the entire runtime of the show, and most if not all of them achieve strength in their own ways.
The lead character, Buffy Summers, achieves strength through determination and, yes, physical strength.
Her best friend, Willow Rosenberg achieves strength through her intelligence.
Willow’s girlfriend, Tara Maclay, achieves strength by gaining her autonomy and learning to stand up for herself.
The show proves, through multiple characters, that there is more than one way to achieve strength, and all of them are equally as valid. Unlike the ‘not all girls’ girl, who achieves her strength through either her assertive masculinity or physical violence, these strong female characters are varied and fleshed-out.
And the benefit of having multiple female characters throughout the show means that they are all very different people, with very different interests. Many of them have very feminine interests. Buffy, for example, is in love with figure skating, shopping, and frothy, caffeinated beverages. Some of them are interested in some feminine interests, but not in others. Willow, particularly in the earlier seasons, is obsessed with romance, but couldn’t care less about fashion. Some of them have more traditionally masculine interests and some don’t, but it doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, they’re all strong.
And as much as it’s important to show girls that they don’t need to fit into the ‘feminine’ definition if they don’t feel like they do, it’s also just as important to show girls that even if they do fit into the ‘feminine’ definition, they can still be strong. Strength is not a strictly masculine trait, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer proves that through its variety of strong female characters.