This post might not sit well with everyone, and you might disagree, but I ask that you all please keep your comments respectful. Thanks!
If you’ve read any novel written in the last ten years, you’re bound to have seen the strong, kick-butt woman stereotype. They’re either the lead or play a pivotal role in the story, and every character that falls under this acts exactly the same.
We are in an age where women are only allowed to be strong in a hyper-masculine sense. If a woman isn’t physically strong, emotionless, or aggressive, then we are doing her a disservice. I’m here to disagree with that.
Since when has strength been masculine? And since when have we taken that exact same strength and plastered it onto our female characters? I’m not entirely certain when this started, but now it’s all I see in novels. The tagline for almost any YA novel is this: Powerful women do X, Y, and Z. Strong women do this. Fierce and cruel women accomplish that.
Have we ever stopped to consider that there’s more than one way to be strong?
What about all those young girls who are timid, or gentle, or kind? What of those women who actually want to be mothers? What about those teen girls who don’t want to be warriors? Why must women present themselves in a stereotypically masculine way in order to be accepted as strong?
My mother wouldn’t call herself a warrior. She’s not assertive or outspoken. But she’s one of the strongest people I know. She leads with her gentleness and compassion. People turn to her, not because she is assertive or tough, but because sometimes a gentle answer and a reassuring embrace are more effective than a confrontational retort or blow from a sword.
And that isn’t to say that women can’t be warriors in novels. Or queens. Or villains. Or whatever. But we do women a disservice by having them be the tough, emotionless, “strong” type all the time, because then you’re basically saying that women must present themselves like the stereotypical man in order to be respected. And they don’t.
On that note, why is there such a hatred of motherhood in newer novels? Almost every female protagonist is vehemently against having children. And again, not everyone needs to have children, but by not wanting children or not wanting to be a mother, that doesn’t make your character suddenly fierce and independent. There is a strength to motherhood that we often forget and it’s harmful to our society. Women are so beautifully complex and multi-faceted, and when we shove them into this narrow character mold, we strip away all the layers that make us unique and different from men.
Because we are different from men. That doesn’t mean that because we’re different, men can’t be healers and peacemakers in your novel and women can’t be warriors. It simply means that there are differences and instead of erasing them, we should embrace them.
Another big one is emotion. It’s like we’re afraid to have our female characters express emotion, because then we’re giving into harmful societal roles and expectations of past generations. Listen, by making your female character experience doubt, fear, anger, love, and happiness (like a normal human being) you’re helping show that women who are emotional (the majority of us are, especially with our hormones) are just as valid.
Lastly, you might be wondering how this cliche is harmful? It might be an inaccurate representation of women, but how is it detrimental to us? Well, when I was little, there were fewer books that had women as fighters. I’ve always been the kind of person who found swords, knives, and wars to be the most interesting part of a novel. So I never understood why there weren’t girls like me fighting alongside the boys. It confused me and it often hurt. But now it’s the exact opposite in literature. There are no girls who sit on the sidelines. There are no women who choose to be gentle, loving, and forgiving. Being a soft woman does not make you weak. Giving second chances or saying you’re not the warrior type does not make you a traitor to your gender. And for all those young girls and women out there, do not let today’s literature define what it means to be strong. There are so many wonderful ways to be strong, whether it’s physically or not. We are much more than literature makes us out to be.