Strong women

So this is a post I’ve been thinking about for…months? At least. Strong women. Strong female characters. I’m writing this Sunday after the marches around the world yesterday, which, great, now what? And what does that mean? And whole lot of other stuff. This is going to be a messy post. I’ll come back and edit later, and it will still be messy so be warned. And crabby…I get crabby…

A story about strong women

We Can Do It woman flexing poster (Rosie the riveter)

We Can Do It poster

I’m sitting having dinner with a friend of mine. She would tell you that she is more feminist than I am. (I’m not 100% sure that’s true, but splitting hairs either way.) We are talking about books and I’m trying to get her input. She’s a reader, not a writer. She reads in the genre I write and in others. We are talking about romances. I bring up some questions about books I’ve read and their audiences. Let’s say we are talking about 50 Shades of Grey (we weren’t, but it will work for this) and who the audience is for it and what they like about it.

I was trying to explain the plot and some of the key pieces. She kept trying to simplify it down to just a thing.

Her: Oh it’s about money.

Me: Well not really, or only only, because a big part of it is rejecting the money, she doesn’t want the money, she doesn’t want him for the money, it is important, but not as in he buys her a whole bunch of stuff, that’s not the focus of that.

Her: It’s about sex.

Me: Yes, a little, but not entirely. If it was just sex it would be just sex but in this tome there are only like 3 scenes. And the sex isn’t the story driver, and isn’t the character driver.

Her…: I’m not sure, but I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. I like strong female characters.

Ahhh there’s the rub isn’t it.

But that character, and …quite frankly? Most of the female leads in most of the books I read will tell you they are strong. My friend is not the only one who says she wants strong women.

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a character a strong female lead. The problem seems to be, to me at least, that we start stacking these. You can’t just be one thing. You have to be ALL OF THEM.

Strong Women

Some of the examples from books I was reading at the time that I brought up to her, each one she sort of shrugged and eh but’ed.

  • Woman who takes care of a child on her own, single mom, handles shit from others who think that’s bad, makes the kid turn out fantastic
  • Woman who likes sex, knows what she wants, goes after it, isn’t afraid to say yes or no loudly and frequently
  • Woman who works really hard and has an amazing career and is well respected in her field
  • Woman who overcomes extreme anxiety to become a singer

I could go on and on and on. So you stack them up and you have a single mom who spends a ton of time with her kid, a ton of time at her career, has a very active and healthy sex life, and is going to be a breakout star.

Fuck you.

No seriously, why does a character have to have all those things? And you know what happens when you stack them up?

Mary Sue. Which are 2 words I could 100% live with never seeing again.

So you can’t be strong because then you are too strong and you can’t be only one thing because then you aren’t strong enough. (And yes, heaven-for-fucking-fend if you have any intersectionality.)

I have seen a few things about complex female characters, which sounds a lot better than “strong” and even might include some intersectionality in there. But I don’t know how to really get across that…I don’t want strong women only. I want a range of women. I want a range of people. I want people who aren’t only one thing and who aren’t all things. And I’m going to keep calling this friend(s…this is actually a compliation of a few people, I love my friends, we are all always learning) out on this shit and seeing if I can keep shifting opinions. One beer or coffee at a time.

And in the mean time I’m going to do my damnest to write them and read them and share them.


  1. Elizabeth Rose

    The concept of a Strong Female Character comes, I think, from reading about lots of female characters that aren’t actively engaged. That are victims. We’ve all seen it and read it. It’s one of the reasons why I veered away from fantasy as a kid.

    And let’s be honest. This is a product of their times.

    Moving from hunter-gather to the agricultural phase of human existence was one of the worst things to happen to women. In hunter-gather societies, women brought in 50-60% of the food. There was no property to own, so men didn’t feel the need to control women’s reproduction to make sure it was their kid that she birthed. In certain “traditional” hunter gatherer societies, you still see this. There’s no stigma over having sex. Women that have lots of babies, regardless of the father, are revered as population replacement and growth is good for the whole tribe. Food is shared among the tribe regardless of who caught it. Again, because this is how the tribe as a whole survives.

    Then came the plow that befitted the male physique. With it, came land ownership and land rights.

    Men brought in the food, men made the rules. This was the case for thousands of years.

    Now, things are changing again.

    None of the highest paying jobs require upper body strength. As a matter of fact, being strong won’t get you a job at all if you don’t have intelligence, education, adaptability, etc. These are things both genders share equally.

    All of humanity is struggling to deal with this change.

    Some men are clinging to the privilege they had in generations past. It’s damn hard to let go. I get that. It’s not right, but I get it, especially as wealth has been centralized into the hands of a very few at the same time women are demanding to be seen as equals. It’s easier to blame women for wanting equal rights than some nebulous bureaucracy that has put the lion’s share of the wealth in the hands of the few. According to Fortune, the richest *8* men have as much wealth as the poorest *HALF* the planet.

    Does this answer your quest? No. But in this time of change, I don’t think anyone has the answers.

    1. Mariah Avix


      I don’t get why men blame women or why women blame other women. I mean I do. But dammit. Hey things are so much better overall. We don’t die as early* we have more education etc. But because the gap is smaller there is rage.

      *this is statistically true overall but there are some populations who aren’t, and those aren’t the populations who are mad about this.

      I don’t know that I’m making sense. Maybe this needed more time to percolate in my head.

      As always thank you for your thoughtful response. 🙂


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