Writing Tips

Why the “Strong, Independent Woman” Cliche in Literature is Harmful

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.

10 thoughts on “Why the “Strong, Independent Woman” Cliche in Literature is Harmful

  1. So, I agree that women shouldn’t always be “strong emotionless warriors” who muscle their way through the whole story, etc. But, I believe in representing people in my characters, not specifically “women” or “men”. I focus on the person’s individual personality and identity instead of trying to say, “oh, she’s a girl, so she needs to represent this” or “he’s a man, so he needs to act like this”. Because honestly? In my seventeen years of life (which I understand, could be seen as not a lot), I haven’t seen an actual difference in women or men besides physical differences. I’ve met emotional girls, I’ve met emotional boys, I’ve met logical girls, I’ve met logical boys. I’ve met boys who talk a lot, and others who don’t. Same with girls. Honestly, we’re all people, and if we could just look past stereotypes and physical differences, I think we’d find that emotionally and mentally we’re all very very similar.

    So I guess…basically what I’m saying is…when writing your characters don’t stop and think “now how do I rightly represent a woman” or “how do I give a good example of a man” — ask yourself how do you represent the person that they ARE. Regardless of whether they’re a girl or boy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get what you’re saying there. But there are some defining traits that set apart men and women and I think those should be celebrated and not erased (though I do understand not everyone will agree with me)
      My main point was that while there’s nothing wrong with having a woman in your story who is emotionless, warrior-like, etc, we need to be aware that almost every character is like that now and that it’s a harmful portrayal, as a good portion of women (and men) aren’t like that. But thanks so much for sharing your view!

      Like

  2. I have to completely agree with you, Oceane! Our society over looks to strength it takes to be a mother, caregiver, forgiver, comforter, and everything else that we women are highly gifted in. I’m not saying that men cannot have these characteristics (besides being a mother), but we are just created different and THAT.IS.OKAY.

    I always tell people this men and women were created differently. Men were created to be the protector, leader of the household, and spiritual leader, while women were created to be the caregiver, motherly like figure, who show more compassion (again not saying that men cannot be compassionate because they ARE). Though we have different roles to play in the world and house, that does NOT mean that men are high or women are high. It means that we level each other out. Men have strengthens that women do not and vice versa.

    We are all equal in God’s eyes, but He purposefully has different roles for women. However you do get those few women who are more fierce and more protective and men who are more peacemaker, and that also is okay. We all are uniquely created and crafted by God, but God definitely made men and women different! I love this post and I feel life more people need to speak up against this cliche that is so damaging!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. AWESOME POST– I agree with everything you say. Women ARE different from men, and we need to embrace the differences in strength rather than push them aside. By making women like the stereotypical man, we’re still over-glorifying masculinity! It completely destroys the argument.

    Women warriors can be really fun to write and read about, but only if they’re, you know, realistic and relatable and experience emotions. Women warriors can be fierce and gentle. Just the same, male healers and peacemakers (for which I’m a major advocate lol) aren’t any weaker than female warriors just because they prefer healing over fighting.

    And what you say about being harmful to society is so true! Feeling emotion isn’t weakness. Being gentle or wanting to have a family isn’t weakness! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree, it is harmful to say that there is only one kind of strength and women have to conform to that in order to be respected- just like it is dangerous to make magazine women the one type of beauty and tell girls they need to look like that in order to be loved.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Totally agreed! Women are far more complex than our society gives us credit for, and it can be quite harmful to young girls especially. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

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