Recently, I was on Twitter when someone posted a few tweets about strong female characters. She wondered why great female characters always have to be considered strong in phrases like “strong female lead” and “kick-ass women.” She also added that she was fed up with “strong” female characters getting criticized when they do manage to appear in books, movies, and television.
After reading these tweets, I have to say I’m tired of it too. I don’t want to call strong female characters strong anymore, because that makes me feel like they can’t have flaws, have help, or be human. It is important that women have complex female characters in fictional settings to reflect complex women in real life.
For me, the most notable example of the criticism of strong female characters is with the character Korra from the animated series Legend of Korra. From the first season to the final season, Korra was criticized for being too hot-headed, angsty, and impulsive. Some people even called her “too human” and “weak”.
Since I related to Korra, I was able to understand that the reason Korra was hot-headed, angsty, and impulsive was that she based her self-worth on the title of The Avatar. Since she was isolated for years while being trained as the Avatar, she was conditioned to believe that Korra The Avatar was worth more than Korra the girl.
Every day, women are being told that material things, their body, and a certain beauty standard is worth more than who they really are. Korra was more than a person who can control all the elements and be the bridge between humans and spirits. She was just as human as any of us, someone who felt scared, frustrated, and insecure.
Despite her flaws, insecurities, and mistakes, Korra eventually learns that Korra the girl is worth as much as Korra the Avatar, overcomes traumatizing events, and becomes a better person. Women, especially women of color, need more characters like Korra.
In addition to women like Korra, we need more females characters of color who are sheroes without special abilities. I’m not talking about firefighters or doctors here. I’m talking about characters who save themselves from self-destruction.
When it comes to saving yourself from self-destruction, this can range from overcoming or managing mental illness to learning to love yourself. You can either save your body, save your soul, or both. While there are real-life women of color who have done this, their stories are not told often enough to make a significant impact.
Since women of color consume media every day, they should have books, films, and television shows with characters that inspire them to become their own shero. A recent example of this is the film Beyond The Lights. In the film, a young woman named Noni learns to find her worth and her true voice in music despite being told to be someone she is not.
Besides sheroes like Korra and Noni, we also need more anti-sheroes. When I Googled “female anti-heroes of color”, I didn’t get many results. Cinema in Noir, a weekly radio show hosted by women of color, noted the same problem in a show they did last year. When listing their favorite female anti-heroines of color, they cited Scandal’s Olivia Pope and Cataleya from the film Colombiana.
Not only can women of color do the right thing while saving the world, they can also do the wrong thing for the right reasons. I love my sheroes, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a contemporary version of Catwoman (minus the scantily-clad costume) or even an African Orisha demigoddess as an anti-shero.
We are not perfect gods and goddesses meant to be worshipped by each other. We are human beings with flaws and issues as well as strengths. Female characters shouldn’t be “strong female characters”. They should be complex female characters who reflect the humanity in us all.
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