get rid of the strong female protagonist

by - 4/22/2015 07:32:00 am

...In which Goodreads reviews leave me confuzzled. Like so:


I recently read some Goodreads reviews for The Throne of Glass series, and there heaps of criticisms of the female protagonist, Celaena Sardothien. Why?

Basically, many people seem to have a problem with the fact that she likes clothes, likes makeup and likes looking pretty. Apparently, this makes her vain, unbearably girly and not a 'strong' female character.

I had a problem with this. Because, you know, to be strong you CAN'T be feminine at all (excuse the sarcasm). The female protagonist's girly and likes looking nice? How vain of her to admire herself in the mirror and pick out lavish items of clothing! How dare she!


Another thing: if a girl has no flaws and is picture perfect, then she's a Mary Sue. And I agree: Mary Sues suck. They're unrealistic models of what humans are like.

BUT THEN—and this is the catchif she's arrogant, cowardly, vain, proud, dependent, aloof, or has just one another flaw, she's a horrible representative of females everywhere? I understand if any of these particular traits annoys you; I personally can't stand spoiled or emotionally manipulative characters, or bullies. But saying oh, why did the author make her this way? I mean, the author probably didn't do it with the intent of making the character unlikeable.

Characters are supposed to be relatable; characters are supposed to have flaws. Just like people.

I think it's ironic that, on the outside, many of us degrade the Mary Sue for being perfect, but then we hate those who are imperfect and displayed as such.

I've done some thinking, and I've found the root cause. Detective Jo concludes that all this is because of the stereotypical strong female character, a notorious internet meme that has taken popular culture by storm.

Well, let me just say it here and now:

I hate 'strong female characters'.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a feminist and proud. I wholeheartedly support empowering women. I also think that strength can come in many different forms. Aimee from To the Barricade! makes a really good point in her post about this.

The modern idea of a strong female character is so patronising; it tells us that one girl is different because she is strong. She's not your average princess/weakling type character; she's badass and can give the boys a run for their money!

YA authors (and just generally popular culture) need to start realising that strength is not the ability to beat boys at roundhouse kicks. Real girls can be strong because we are kind when people are unkind, because we have an extraordinary ability to resist. Real girls can be forced to find strength. Real girls can be vulnerable and dependent, but that doesn't make them weak. And most importantly, being strong doesn't mean your 'different to other girls' or 'special'.

Real girls are complex, so make us so.

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26 comments

  1. This made me want to stand up and shout, "YES YES YES!"

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  2. *applauds solemnly* hear hear! many people of society need to read this! we need just as many emotionally strong girls (cue the kindness, etc) as we do physically strong. if not more.

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    1. I agree. This is exactly what popular culture needs right now. :)

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  3. YASSS. I am a wholehearted supporter of this post. Especially that last paragraph ♡

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  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. :) This needs to be shouted from the top of buildings everywhere. We do not needs the strength of a man to be strong. Strength can come in many different forms. :)

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    1. No, thank YOU (x3) :') I'm glad you agree. Although I like physical strength too, I feel as though there should be more variety.

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  5. This is a really good post and one really relevant to me since I'm writing two female characters in my ms. One is slightly more girly, relies on feminine wiles like lying and poison, whereas the other is a typical "strong girl" who ends up getting ahead of herself. A lot of people are telling me they like the "strong girl" more, but I'm actually trying to make them both more vulnerable -- because vulnerability is pathos, and pathos is empathy. (And empathy is feels.)

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you have chosen to add a variety of strong female characters, and it's natural that people like the typical strong girl more as we are programmed by society to appreciate the more politically correct character. :) Your characters sound very human (even if they're not, you know what I mean) and relatable. Good luck with it!

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  6. I love this. You are so right. I think when most people see "strong female." They think physically strong, or someone who is overbearing and strong willed.

    But there are so many other ways to be strong. And being feminine, liking make up and dressing nice has nothing to do with strength. Strength of character is what matters. Integrity, kindness, loving people (because like it or not you have to be vulnerable to love, you open yourself up to rejection, disappointment, so many things), this is the stuff that matters in the long run.

    And I love what you said at the end. All girls are complex, and they're each complex in their own way. :)

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    1. Thank you! I think you put it in words better than me. :') but yes, often I see those qualities you described underestimated or not mentioned at all, for the sake of conforming to this 'strong female' stereotype. It's true anout vulnerability, and I wish writers would realise the difference between vulnerable and weak.

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  7. YES. This is what more people should think about.
    I am blown away.

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  8. YES. I have a friend who thinks wearing dresses/liking makeup/painting her nails makes her a 'weak' female. It drives me crazy because what makes you a strong person is being true to you, not how you dress or do compared to boys.

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    1. Exactly! And it's like strength in today's society is seen as 'being more masculine'. I 100% agree with you, strength is integrity and resistence and a quality that's seperate from the way you behave. Thanks for commenting :)

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  9. Great post!
    I admit, I really don't like Katniss in The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins, in her attempt to make Katniss seem tough and strong, no-nonsense, has turned her into a girl who has no respect for anyone. In several instances, Katniss disregards what her superiors tell her to do. Listening to people isn't weak-it's respectful and shows them that their opinion is important too!
    This is just my personal opinion, and this post really got me thinking about this subject. : )
    ~Kathryn

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    1. Thank you!
      Well, I personally like Katniss, but I'm just sick of authors trying to follow the stereotype before, you know? If I met a Katniss in real life, I'd probably respect her and all. But you see a 'Katniss' a lot in YA books; Tris for example is a lot like her. I'm glad you shared with me your opinion, it's true that she does tend to be disrespectful and rebellious!

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  10. Jo- I just started following you. But, all of the posts that show up on my dashboard say that they don't exist when I click on them to read more.

    Also, I thought this was a great, well thought out post. I agree that girls can be strong, while still being nice and respectful.

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    1. Yay! And don't worry, that's not your fault. I'm trying out a new desin and it has a lot of glitches. It will be fixed soon. :) thanks for following!

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  11. I never thought about it this way. Thank you for sharing this insight! I agree, strong doesn't mean "just strong" by physical strength. It can also mean strong personality or strong traits that make the character overall memorable.

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    1. That's true. I'm glad you agree. :)

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  12. YES. THIS IS EVERYTHING. I'M SO HAPPY ABOUT THIS. WHY CAN'T MORE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND. so sick of that "strong female character" stereotype. this is great. :)

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    1. MORE PEOPLE SHOULD. I'm glad you agree! Thanks. :)

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