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Monday, June 8, 2015

Is Your Heroine Complex Enough?

I am so sick of “strong, independent females.”

We are washed with them in society today. This idea of the perfect female that every girl needs to aspire to be.

But, what I hate, is this stereotype is just as much a trap for young women as the ditzy blonde whose makeup is always perfect and whose body is constantly lusted after.

See, people say they want realistic heroines. But, they don’t really. Because if they did, they would reject the strong female stereotype just as harshly as they do the weak, useless female. Both are lies. Both are as far from real life as you can get.

Because real women- real heroines- are complex. They’re contradictions, paradoxes, puzzles they themselves aren’t always able to solve.

My favorite female character ever is Zoe Washburn, from Firefly. She’s strong, she’s independent, and she can do some real damage. Seriously, I love the fact that she can take care of herself, that she doesn’t need anyone.

But she never crosses the line into stereotype. She never goes into territory that I consider dangerous for young women. She is, in my mind, a wonderful example of what a strong female should be.

She’s strong. She’s independent. She can shoot a gun and fight like nobody’s business. She fought in a war. On the side that lost. And she came out of it stronger. But she doesn’t once mention the fact that she’s a woman. She never tells someone she can do something because of her female power. She never degrades herself by saying she can do something despite the fact that she’s a woman. She never pulls the “Are you saying that because I’m a woman?” card when someone questions something she says or does.

She’s married to a husband who plays with dinosaurs. He is as far from the macho man stereotype as you can get and that’s not an issue for her. She doesn’t try to force him to be someone he’s not. She doesn’t look down on him because she fights better or can handle a gun better than him.

She questions some of the captain’s orders, but also follows his lead on nearly everything. Sometimes to the extent that it causes trouble for her. But, he has earned her respect and she has no problem submitting to his authority.

She, as I mentioned, can do some serious damage if she wants to. Get on the wrong side of her and she knows how to hurt you. She’s strong and tough. But she also wants to have children. A part of her yearns to be a mother.

She’s surrounded by girls who are strong in their own right but very different from her and she never looks down on them for that. The only girl whose actions she comments about are Saffron’s and that’s because she’s not being strong. It’s because she’s conforming to a male-dominated society. But Inara, River, and Kaylee? She might not be super close with any of them, but she doesn’t look down on them. Who they are is who they are. And, since they’re strong in their own right, she has no reason to think any less of them.

What I love about Zoe is she’s real. But she’s also an amazing role model.

A strong female heroine has issue. The thing that sets her apart from the useless heroine is the fact that she does not allow those issues to define her or dictate how she responds to something. She fights. She pushes past the issues and allows them to make her stronger instead of killing or crippling her.

A strong female can submit to authority. Her respect needs to be earned, but once it is, she has no problem following someone. She might question them if she feels their judgment is off or clouded, but she won’t fight just because she needs to be in control. She will only fight if she feels she needs to. But she can submit. She can follow orders and respect someone over her. If they prove they deserve it.

A strong female does not need a man, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want one. She can still get giddy while watching a romantic movie or get in a sappy mood and listen to love songs. She can still hope and dream that someday a man will look at her that way or speak to her with such love. She doesn’t need him to. If she’s single for the rest of her life, she won’t be unsatisfied or feel incomplete. But, if he does come around, he’ll be a nice surprise. Not every girl wants a man or needs to want a man, but a strong female is allowed to. She is no less if she wants love or a relationship. She just knows that she can’t sit around and wait for such things to come into her life. She has things to do and she won’t let the lack of a man keep her from doing them. But she also won’t object if the right man stepped in to join her while doing those things.

A strong female has something in her that makes her female. Zoe wanted children. Not every women wants to have kids and she doesn’t need to. That makes her no less a woman. But, there is something inside of her that makes her a girl. Whether it’s a love of pretty things or that giddy feeling she gets when she’s in love. It might not be often or dominate, but it’s there. There’s something.

A strong female doesn’t know everything but that doesn’t stop her from doing something. She might not always know how to save the world, but she’s going to try anyway. She’s not going to sit in a corner and mope because she has no idea what to do next. She’s not going to whine or scream or cry. Or, maybe she is. But in the end, she acts. Because she’s strong, she’s independent. She knows that screaming or crying aren’t going to solve anything. So, she will either find a way to learn how to better solve her problem or she will give it her best shot. The point it, she does something. She serves a purpose.

A strong female knows how to fight and when not to. So often heroines today are portrayed as girls who will run off into any fight, willing to hack to pieces any man- or woman- who dares stand in her way. But, a true independent woman knows when not to fight. She knows when it’s not worth it to waste her efforts on someone. She knows how to walk away, to not look back at anyone or anything that isn’t worth her time or energy. She won’t let herself get beaten down. But she also knows that sometimes, the best way to win a fight is to refuse to fight it at all. Sometimes, the best way to win is to simply walk away.

A strong female won’t let her problems or her situations dictate who she is. She knows that in the end who she is boils down simply to the choices she makes. Not the ones she made six years ago, or seven weeks, or two days. The ones she is making now. Today. Those define who she is. And so, every second of every day she keeps making choices. Not always the right ones, but she doesn’t let that stop her. She knows that tomorrow she’ll have another choice to make and next time she is determined to make a better choice than the ones she made that day.

Because the most important quality of a strong female is that she is always growing. She knows that no matter how far she has come, there is always farther to go. There is always more to learn, more to do. Her goal isn’t to prove anything to anyone. She isn’t trying to be a strong, capable woman because of pride or a need for people to see her as some great person. She’s trying to be an example, a role model. She wants to change the world. And, in the end, the only person she’s proving anything to is herself. Because her opinion of herself is what matters, because she is the only person she can be sure she’ll have to spend the rest of her life with.

We need to give girls more heroines like Zoe Washburn. Strong, but complex. Independent in their own right but never a stereotype. We need to stop washing society with this idea that strong females are one-sided, that they’re any less complex than the rest of the world.

We need to give them female characters they can see themselves being. Or that they want to be like. Nobody wants to be a heroine who has no character development, no issues, nothing that makes them interesting other than a big gun and an even bigger attitude.

So we, as writers, need to stop accepting this as the norm. We need to start giving the world better heroines to look up to.

Next week we’re going to talk more about another kind of strong, independent woman. I hope you stick around for it.

How about you? Do you agree or disagree with this post? Who is your favorite strong, female character?

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