Strength in the “Fairer” Sex
I was going to talk about how it’s important to stay healthy while you’re working on any project (even a writing project), but I’ll save that for another time. Because I seem to be coming down with something, and because, earlier this week, my thought processes were waylaid by a few different posts about what it means to be a woman, and how society views women. I’m not taking a stance on whether one or both of these posts is right or wrong. They simply made me think. About myself, and specifically about my female characters.
I’ve talked about this conundrum before: how important (or not) it is for a character to be likable. It’s the same for women characters as it is for men. Whether they’re likable is often irrelevant, so long as they’re realistic. Likability should come – or not – based on how “real” they are: their sympathies, their reactions, their thoughts and feelings. My current main character is a man, and his big starting flaws are that he’s vain, distrustful, and driven by his biology, to put it nicely. He’s been an absolute blast for me to write, because – particularly early on – he’s free to be so one-dimensional in a lot of his interactions (“Let’s have fun!” “Let’s surf!” “Let’s f–k!”). Since it’s a romance story, he has to face and overcome (or run away from) certain obstacles introduced by the main female character.
This is where it gets tricky.
Women expect other women in stories – especially romances – to be intelligent, powerful, strong. But, not all women are powerful or strong in the same way.
Don’t get me wrong: I love women who kick ass. When I was a kid, I wanted so badly to be Vasquez from ALIENS: she was no-nonsense, stood toe-to-toe with any of her fellow (male) Marines, and went out in a blaze of glory. I loved that! My opinions of strong women haven’t changed as I’ve gotten older…but I have realised a woman doesn’t necessarily have to be a stoic smartgunner in order to be “strong.”
As I’ve become a woman, myself, I find I appreciate other women – fictional or real – who can embrace their femininity as a kind of strength. My last heroine was a woman who had a hard time reconciling being a fierce warrior but also a young woman who wanted to be loved by her man. That was a fun, enlightening journey to take with her, but I wanted to do something different for my next heroine.
Perhaps it’s because this current story is from a man’s point of view, but I don’t have a problem with my new heroine being girly, sassy, and sexy. (That’s what my hero likes about her!) That doesn’t mean she’s a wimp, though, and I don’t think I’m dismissing The Sisterhood by making her not be a fighter; her strength ends up manifesting in more subtle ways. Simply because she’s a nurturer rather than a hunter shouldn’t mean she’s any less valid as a strong woman character than a ball-busting CEO or tough-as-nails starship captain.
Of course, no one will ever be another USCMC PFC Vasquez, J. (Sidenote: Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez, is just as kick-ass as her breakout role. Just check out her shop at http://www.jenettebras.com/ – this is a lady who understands how great it is to be sexy!)
What does a “strong” woman character mean to you?