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”.

 

legend-korra

 

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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  • Erin Lindsey

    Couldn’t agree more. In fact, I wrote a similar post just a few days ago, which was basically prompted by reading one too many reviews in which a female character was picked apart because of what she allegedly represented. (In case interested: http://erin-lindsey.com/2015/03/just-girl/ )

    We should be allowed to have kickass female characters of every stripe — kickass swordmaidens, kickass mothers, kickass professionals, women kicking the asses of their inner demons. We should also be allowed to have tragic, broken female characters. We should be allowed to have every type of female character under the sun. Idiosyncratic, flawed human beings. And when we get them, we should embrace them, instead of picking them apart as if they’re necessarily a statement on womankind. We don’t do this with male characters. We treat them as individuals, not as ambassadors of their sex. Why can’t we do the same with women?

    • doddledoo

      Great post and comment. Definitely motivating as I work on my screenplay with a shero. I hope I can bring some of these attributes to my MC.

    • I second what doodledoo said below! This was a really thoughtful comment and article that you shared! Thanks for reading!

  • Jalule

    “Sheroes” may be the term that 2015 needs; it’s not only inclusive -in the Politically Correct way-, it’s also strong enough to make every other type of non-heteronormative character shine without the old tired questions about it’s relevancy or non-prop role in a narrative.
    We should make a small fan-fic contest/something with sheroes-antisheroes! ^-^

    P.S.
    I HAAAATE Colombiana. Catleya is part of the name of the national flower, the Orchid; so far, so good. Yet it’s just another mindless movie about colombian violence, so… yeah. Bored As F***.
    In the last +12 yrs intnal producers have approached Colombia interested only in stories about gangs (all due to the success of a telenovela called “El Capo” and “El Cartel de los Sapos”); we had an adaption of an incredible book called “La Lectora” [leaving the trailer here], in which a woman goes through captivity and the basic war-minded set of machismo through the act of reading a journal written in german to uncover a drug-lord treasure

    Is there a lot of room for complex Latin women to be portrayed in US media? Judge yourself 😉

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tuXupEXen8

  • Karon

    I have often felt the same way about female characters. Recently I have been seeing some great articles like yours which have aptly expressed some of the vague impressions which I have not been able to articulate. Thank you for writing this. One thing that bothers me is when people seem to equate women who fight and literally kick butt with their strong female character, and think that’s that. I have no problem with women warriors in movies, but that seems to be the answer for those crying out for strong female characters in media, but it’s becoming another stereotype. One problem with picking apart female characters is that there are so few of them. That’s one of the reasons people might be moved to criticize the female character because that one person is supposed to represent all women. I came across an excellent article this week which explains this: http://www.bustle.com/articles/67619-writing-strong-female-characters-thats-a-great-goal-but-id-rather-write-strong-kick-heart-characters

    • Thanks for sharing the article. It was a thought-provoking read and I like how the author used the phrase “kick-heart.” Thanks for reading!

  • Tabitha Theogene

    I never really thought about it until I read the article. It explains why many of the female characters that I grew with, I find wonderful. Even now, I am currently watching a show called “How to Get Away with murder?” I enjoy watching Viola Davis’s character, Annalise. Annalise, and other female supporting characters, are sort of antiheroes in the series (highly recommend watching).The idea that women should be portrayed as these beautiful, strong, sometimes obedient heroes/angelic/goody 2shoes is a bore… Being a woman (especially in today’s world and its definition of beauty) is one thing but it’s nice to see someone remind everyone to be human above all, with flaws.

  • The African GeekGirl

    I couldn’t agree more. When we get characters like John Constantine on TV and in the cinema you never hear how he’s a terrible role model for men. You hear critiques of the storyline, strength of performance, believability, etc. But I bet if it were Joan Constantine there would be a veritable storm about how she’s a terrible role model for women and she’s just so unbelievable and her flaws are unforgivable…

    It really sucks that whenever you see a female-led story come up you just know there’s going to be one backlash or another against the character herself – and often the actress / writer / producer as well. We’re stuck in this mindset that every role played by a woman, or written or created by a woman MUST mean something and she gets picked apart and analysed until what was essentially a story about one aspect of a character’s life is a terrible, terrible thing for young girls to “aspire to”.

    Why can’t Korra just be growing? Why must her story-arc be torn apart whilst no consideration is given to the fact that Aang buggers off, marries an older woman and gives his kids the worst daddy complexes in the history of ever?

    • Hey thanks for reading and commenting! I agree about what you said about Aang. I pointed out some of his flaws on another article I did on here when I first defended Korra. Some commenters made excuses for Aang’s mistakes and then continued to criticize Korra. SMH. Aang made mistakes too, but no one is saying he is the worst Avatar ever.

      • The African GeekGirl

        Exactly. He made a lot of mistakes, because he was growing up, and people embraced that about him. Turn around to Korra doing the same and suddenly people start losing their minds. I found the criticism of how fast she took up each of the elements to be one of the most evident cases of silliness. “But it took Aang YEARS,” they said. “She’s UNREAL,” they said….
        Yeah, or maybe she didn’t run away from her duty so her training wasn’t on hiatus and hey, get this… maybe she’s just a better bender than Aang was? *shock!*

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  • redi

    “Strong female characters” are safer. Look at the Black Widow AOU kerfuffle. Whedon tried to give the character more complexity and got dragged by crazy people on Twitter. Some people(crazy people) think a female character with flaws is anti-feminist. They don’t want complexity, they want a badass that’s always right, never fails, and is beloved by everyone. Those people are few but they are very very loud.

    So instead of writers creating well rounded female characters with flaws, they write the standard issue, boring, “strong female” character that we see in most fiction today Everyone pats themselves on the back, and the people foolish enough to complain are shouted down. Look at Rey and compare her to Finn. Finn is a whirlwind of characterization while Rey is just…strong and always right….and boring.