Strong Female Characters | Becca’s Bookish Discussion

Yes, this is the second time I am posting this. Quite embarrassingly, half of my original post was deleted when published, and I didn’t even realize it. Check out the full version!

Of course I love strong female characters. Everyone loves strong female characters.

But there are some significant problems I have with them as well.

Everyone has a different definition. But there are characters we all acknowledge to be strong female characters. Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass, Sharzhad from The Wrath and the Dawn, etc. Since, of course, we all know what makes them female, what makes them strong? Their determination? Their pride? Their physical strength? We usually describe these characters as “kickass” and such, so is that what makes them strong?

Because to me, someone is strong if they do what think is the right thing, no matter how hard or what the consequences might be. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but to me that’s most basic definition.

There a so, so many characters that could fit into this strong female category under this definition, at least in my opinion. Many aren’t. In fact, it seems that a strong character can’t be a strong character until they have physical strength to complete the package. This, to me, just doesn’t seem right. Emotional, mental, and moral strength are so much more important to me, and they’re also more difficult to obtain.

But let’s say it’s the kickass-ness and the stubborn drive that makes a strong female character. For example, Sharzhad was going to kill someone. Assassinate a king. She believed he had killed her friend and thousands of others for no reason. She had a drive, and I do admire that. But still, she wanted to kill. Revenge, not justice. Yes, I always appreciate an imperfect character. Yes, I understand she very much changes throughout the book. But if this drive to kill is what makes her a strong female character, should we really be praising this?

They’re in nearly every book I read! Not that I’m complaining, but I need some variety. For example, Cath from Fangirl. I don’t consider her strong, but I love her. First of all character variety. It’s important to read rough the eyes of many different types of people in books, that’s what reading is all about. And, as everyone knows, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. 

I saw that a lot of people weren’t a big fan of Cress from the Lunar Chronicles for this reason, which doesn’t make sense to me. So if they’re not strong enough, they’re not good enough? This is completely one-sided to me. We need to hear from other points of view, from all sorts of personalities and opinions. And if we aren’t to like them, we at least need to give them a chance. Strength is great, but there are so many other under appreciated charaeristics in literature.
 Yes, strength is great, it should be admired. But where has our value for morals gone? Doing what you believe is right, know is right, no matter the consequences, isn’t that such a harder trait to have than strength? Are we undermining morality?

Or maybe it’s just me.


42 thoughts on “Strong Female Characters | Becca’s Bookish Discussion

  1. […] Marissa Meyer is so great at portraying all kinds of characters in her stories, the wide range is so amazing to read about. I actually really loved Winter, the character. She was funny and quirky, and yeah, a little crazy. She was so different from all the characters you typically read about nowadays in young adult literature. (See my strong female character discussion post) […]

  2. This post definitely has me thinking, as I never dwelled on the “strong female character” image that–come to think of it–is prevalent in *many* novels. Thank you for bringing this to my attention! I do love “strong female” characters, like Celaena from Throne of Glass, but, I now realize that it is not the only way to describe a female character. Excellent post!

  3. Oh for sure! They are definitely becoming a stereotype! Or at the very least that they are all being compared to a standard (I think Celaena from Throne of Glass is the biggest standard). There will be a point I think where they will become a clichรฉ which will be a shame.

  4. Of course I agree, strong female characters are great! I love the influx of them lately! But they’re beginning to feel very stereotypical. I don’t want there to start being stereotypes in literature, and that’s what I feel is happening. I want there to be diversity, I want to hear from different points of view. After all, isn’t that what literature is all about?
    Thanks for commenting, I loved hearing your opinion ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. All I want from a female character is one who can handle herself and doesn’t lose herself to a relationship. She doesn’t have to kick someone’s ass at all times to be strong nor does she have to be “perfect”. Some of my favourite female characters started off really rough or stubborn but had great growth as the story/series progressed.

    That being said, there is a time and a place for each type of character. Sometimes the story needs to have a weak character in order to tell the story the way it is meant to be. And I’m cool with that. But I would be lying if I said I don’t appreciate the influx of strong, intelligent female heroines in YA novels lately.

  6. Yeah, I can definitely understand a need for that. Actually, a lot of people were saying how they wouldn’t want a main character in ya fantasy book who has to save the world be really passive. Which is funny, because everyone automatically classifies ya fantasy wi saving the world. The thing is, it doesn’t necessarily mean saving the world. For example, in An Ember in the Ashes, in the beginning Laia just wants to save her brother (I’m not going to spoil anything if you haven’t read it I promise!) and she’s not doing a super great job. She very strongly feels this, but honestly, she is a coward. But she’s trying, she continues to do so. In the beginning she certainly isn’t a strong character and I think it was so interesting to read about someone who’s a little on the passive side in the beginning. So I can totally understand your viewpoint, and really, what every reader likes is going to be different.
    Thanks for your comment, I loved hearing your opinion!

  7. Thank you! Yeah, I agree Cress is brave and smart. Honestly, I think it depends on your viewpoint whether she’s strong or not. But that’s what’s so coolโ€”even the littlest things in literature can be interpreted so many different ways by so many different people.

  8. To me personally it totally depends on the genre. I know what your POV of this is that we need to see a whole range of personality traits in our female characters doesn’t matter which role they play in a book. But I can’t help but be like I would seriously dislike reading a fantasy with a protagonist who’s got to save the world and her be weak willed, or overally shy, or really subordinate. I saw that you used people not liking Cress as an example and (to me at least) this is exactly why. In a fantasy I need the female protagonist to stand up and be the saviour (let’s not lie, my need for this is probably conditioning from so many YA fantasy but it’s the way I feel haha).
    But then on the other hand when it comes to other genres, like contemporary I don’t need a female to be ‘larger then life’, she can be as normal and flawed as I am and I will love her! (Like, as you said Cath).
    So yeah there’s my thoughts ๐Ÿ™‚ Great discussion to bring up!!

  9. Great discussion!! I do agree that there are quite a lot of typical strong female characters and there should definitely be more variety. I love Cress and even though she’s not good at fighting I would still classify her as being a strong female character since she’s still brave and smart thought not necessarily physically strong.

  10. You’re right about strong characters, I think that sometimes, we shouldn’t have, too much of them. Well, I mean, strong in the obvious sense that Katniss is badass, or something like that. I want to read about strong people on the inside, too, that overcomes pain and grief for instance, not bad villains in the too obvious way. I want strong people who are weak at the beginning of a story, but learn to grow up and be a little stronger everyday. I really like that ! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Right! Celeana so often praised, but she has done some truly cruel things, and she continues to do them. And yeah, everyone complains about passive characters, but there’s a high probability that that person doing the complaining is one. I think a great example of a passive character is Laia from Ember in theAshes. She changes a lot, but she starts of very passive, even with her good intentions. I actually really connected with her and loved reading about her.

  12. I was just thinking about this today! When I read Throne of Glass I thought it was interesting the way we labelled Celaena as kick-ass and strong when morally she is quite grey as her job is to kill people. I think it’s also interesting the way some people complain when a female character is passive or doesn’t initially stand up for herself because in reality, people like this exist in the world. I know I’m not very brave. Of course characters should develop but we should praise authors for creating relatable and female characters with variety.
    So yes, I totally agree with you. Loved this post!

  13. Exactly! I think that’s why people hated Bella from Twilight because she was a damsel in distress. But it should be ok to have damsels in distress as long as they’re well-developed characters and don’t serve as just support for the main male character

  14. Thank you! Now that you mention it, that’s true! Celaena is flawed, but she has absolutely no vulnerability or flaws in her confidence. You really need to have vulnerability in a character at times, that’s where strength comes from and that’s what makes them real.
    Thanks for commenting!

  15. I’m so glad you agree! And yes, I LOVE character development. Everyone complained about Juliette from Shatter Me, but I loved seeing her journey in her character throughout the trilogy, it was beautiful!
    Thank you!

  16. Yeah, I really do too. I definitely understand that definition. It works, but for me I see ‘what she believes is right, no matter he consequences’ is more of a strong definition for me. Because when you think about it, doing what you believe is right is a whole lot harder then doing what you want. And I agree they shouldn’t do something just so another will love them, but I do admire someone sacrifices on their part, not because they want another to love them, but because they love another person that much. I see that as strength in its own little way too.
    Thanks for commenting!

  17. Thank you! Yea, the main thing is I’m actually starting to get tired of strong female characters. I understand being frustrated with passive characters, but I think it’s important to have all sorts of different characters in the bookish world, you know what I mean? I do admire drive too, but if they’re working towards the wrong thing I do get a little bothered when it’s so obviously wrong, for example, being an assassin. But still, I do admire that drive.
    Thanks for commenting!

  18. It would be funny, actually! But I do disagree. For one, you could have character development from weak to strong like you see in Ember In The Ashes with Laia. Or you could just have a weak character in a fantasy world that has nothing to do with being strong or staring a revolution, ya feel me? Plus, even a genre can’t dictate the plot or characters, only the writer can do that! You know what I mean?
    Thanks for commenting!

  19. YES! Thank you! I feel like the avoidance of damsels in distress is getting out of hand, I really do love reading about other characters, I just need more diversity in characters.
    Thanks for commenting!

  20. This is so interesting Becca! And I completely agree with you. Of course I love strong female characters; but sometimes I think they are overdone..because think about it: as much as I love Celaena, NO ONE in this world is like her. She has flaws, but she’s still not realistic enough. What I really want to read in books is: a realistically FLAWED yet still STRONG character. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. You’re so right, there’s so much more than physical strength that makes a character “strong.” Personally, instead of “strong” characters I like to read about ones that have character growth. Sometimes it’s even refreshing and relatable to read about more vulnerable characters, I think. Great post, Becca!

  22. I think they are mostly overused in fantasy genre and I quite liked most of them but I really hate the over confident ones without any flaws or weakness.

  23. I have to agree with Carolyn on the female-male-strong thing and it’s a reason why I hate this term as well.
    That being said, if I have to use ‘strong female character’, I use it to describe female characters with… character/personality? I don’t care if her physical strenght is great or not or her emotional or whatever. I want a real female character, one who does what she ‘wants’ and not because someone else will love her if she does it or is told to do it. She needs facets.
    So, ‘strong female character’ more like ‘great female character’?

  24. This is such a good post! I agree some variety would be nice – Katniss and Celaena are refreshing at first, but when all the women start to sound the same, it loses any spark or impact.

    My favorite “strong” character of either gender is a character with agency – that knows what they think (even if it’s wrong) and takes action based on that. I get frustrated with passive characters. Not necessarily weaker ones like Cath, but passive ones that spend a whole novel never doing a thing that’s true to themselves.

  25. I think it’s seen in fantasy a lot as having a “strong female” protagonist because the genre almost calls for it. Wouldn’t it be fun to see a fantasy book when there’s a weak female lead who is left to start a revolution but actually fails?

  26. I hate the word strong female characters because we never see anyone describing males as “strong”. I think we’ve gotten too much of this influx of female characters who need to be “strong” so they’re not seen as damsels in distress but what we really need are all kinds of female characters. We need complex ones, weak ones, strong ones, stubborn ones etc.

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