The hell with Strong Female Characters.
What what what? What should we want, weak female characters?
No; characters with more than one adjective.
Sophia McDougall explains in the New Statesman.
…the phrase “Strong Female Character” has always set my teeth on edge, and so have many of the characters who have so plainly been written to fit the bill.
I remember watching Shrek with my mother.
“The Princess knew kung-fu! That was nice,” I said. And yet I had a vague sense of unease, a sense that I was saying it because it was what I was supposed to say.
She rolled her eyes. “All the princesses know kung-fu now.”
No one ever asks if a male character is “strong”. Nor if he’s “feisty,” or “kick-ass” come to that.
The obvious thing to say here is that this is because he’s assumed to be “strong” by default. Part of the patronising promise [premise?] of the Strong Female Character is that she’s anomalous. “Don’t worry!” that puff piece or interview is saying when it boasts the hero’s love interest is an SFC. “Of course, normal women are weak and boring and can’t do anything worthwhile. But this one is different. She is strong! See, she roundhouses people in the face.”
In real life, normal women aren’t weak and boring and unable to do anything worthwhile. It’s in movies and tv that normal women are like that (and anomalous women are always having cat-fights over shoes).
Is Sherlock Holmes strong? It’s not just that the answer is “of course”, it’s that it’s the wrong question.
What happens when one tries to fit other iconic male heroes into an imaginary “Strong Male Character” box? A few fit reasonably well, but many look cramped and bewildered in there. They’re not used to this kind of confinement, poor things. They’re used to being interesting across more than one axis and in more than two dimensions.
A lot more than one axis and a lot more than two dimensions.
Martin Amis is a good example of this, as I’ve mentioned before. Ever read The Information? It’s brilliant, in some ways, and deeply stupid in others. The protagonist is complicated and detailed as fuck, and the female characters have all the depth of paper dolls.
That kind of thing unnerves me, because Amis apparently doesn’t even really believe women are quite there – and if even guys as clever as he is can be that wrong, what hope is there?
It’s much the same with the blankness and scarcity of most female characters in popular culture. The Smurfette principle – nearly everybody is male (and complicated, interesting, detailed), but there might be one female, who is Fluffy. Or Beautiful. Or Intrepid.
Ok now I’m discouraged.