As you probably know, I am a big reader of science fiction and fantasy. Typically, in the past, these genres were dominated by men, and even in the 21st century women are often under-represented, both as authors and characters. Therefore, as any self-respecting woman would do, I have always supported and been proud of works where female characters are shown to be ‘strong’. I cheered for Arya Stark as she made her own way in life through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, despite her young age. I love the fact that Harry and Ron would never have gotten far without Hermione. Vin’s development from a timid young girl to confident young woman in the Mistborn series was fantastic.
But then I thought to myself – why do we need to be told this, or in many cases tell ourselves, that these women are strong?
That is not to say that I look down on any of the works mentioned for their portrayals of women – in fact I’ve named some of my favourites here. But why can we not just assume from the beginning that these female characters are strong, or that their strength is something every woman has, that just presents itself in different ways? Some are physically strong, like Brienne of Tarth, others are emotionally strong, like Katniss Everdeen. Just because we don’t see it all the time doesn’t mean it’s not there. Do we really need to label female characters as ‘strong’ for showing great physical, mental or emotional prowess, when if a male character were to do the same we would never say that? It almost feels like saying it’s a surprise for a female character to present herself that way.
But at the same time, people should be recognised for their attributes and actions. Some characters go through absolutely horrific events, so of course we want to refer to them as ‘strong’ to show that they are survivors, they are more than capable – it’s like an umbrella term to cover all the different ways in which they have dealt with things. After considering all this, I’m now really torn between the two viewpoints. On one hand, calling one woman over others ‘strong’ demeans the remainder and indicates that we don’t expect them to show strength, but on the other hand they should be recognised for what they have done.
What do you think – should we still refer to female characters as ‘strong’ or do you think the word is patronising?