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Life, Law & Libros

Discussion: "Strong" Women

14 comments
What makes a "strong" female protagonist?

It's a question I've been pondering since I ran across a Twitter conversation wherein several authors were discussing the new "Cinderella" live-action remake. They talked about how the MC wasn't "fierce" and how stories about quietly strong women are good, but there are already enough of them out there. I saw another author give a series of tweets explaining why she saw this same Cinderella as a survivor of abuse who went on to find happiness in life.

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There are lots of different ideas in there--lots of food for thought. What makes a woman "fierce"? Are stories about certain types of women unnecessary or unwanted because similar characters have already been written? (In which case, why do we ever bother writing anything "new"?) Are we trying to downplay or ignore a part of many women's personalities? Are we saying certain kinds of women aren't worth talking about?

Tabitha (Not Yet Read) did a fun, snarky interview with urban fantasy author Faith Hunter a little while back (which I recommend reading in its entirety), but this particular quote caught my eye:
FAITH: All females are strong. Or we should be. Pollyanna went out with the fifties. We have female warriors serving in dangerous places, lives on the line. .....
This struck me because, as annoying as Pollyanna can be, I often envy her unquenchable optimism and faith in people. Being joyful is something I struggle with. To me, Pollyanna is pretty darn strong. I don't say this to belittle the strengths of women serving in dangerous places or in other capacities; but I think there are different kinds of strength, and women span the entire spectrum.

How do we define "strong women"? Jane Austen wrote opinionated, sarcastic Elizabeth; kind, quiet Jane; sensible, practical Elinor; passionate, impulsive Marianne; and meddling Emma. They were all strong, and weak, in different ways. Doesn't that describe everyone, men and women?

I think we all identify with different types of characters. I think we all respond differently to what's in front of us based on our experiences, beliefs and hopes. I'll admit to connecting more with Lizzie and Elinor than I did Jane and Marianne, but their different brands of strength don't make their stories any less valuable or worth telling.

What do you think makes a "strong" woman? Are there are any characters or people in your life the term brings to mind? And (controversy ahoy), who do you think is the strongest Disney princess/female, and why?

14 comments :

  1. This is an awesome topic, Kel, and I really agree with you. You don't have to be outwardly fierce to be strong.

    I don't know how I think the strongest Disney princess is. I love and admire all of them! I think they're all pretty equally strong in their own ways. It's hard to judge them when they all have different circumstances and personalities.

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    1. Thank you! I'm not sure which Disney princess/character I'd pick either, though I'm interested to see what everyone comes up with. I naturally move toward some of the more modern characters like Esmeralda and Mulan, but Snow White and Cinderella made it through pretty tough situations, too.

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  2. Great discussion topic! I always feel like when people say they like "strong" female characters, they are really talking about physical strength, but mental and emotional strength are just as valuable.

    I really enjoyed the new Cinderella movie, because to be so kind and so forgiving in the face of being treated so horribly, that takes an amazingly strong person.

    Basically, the only representations we should be worried about, are when women are relegated to merely objects to be desired or owned (emotionally or physically), etc.

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    1. I hope "strong female" isn't all about the physicality because, if it is, I'm in trouble. *runs away from gym...Scratch that--too much exercise. Gets in car and drives away from gym.* ;)

      I haven't seen the new Cinderella movie yet, but I wonder...would the evil stepmother fit the definition of "fierce" going around? That's a whole other discussion post... >.>

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  3. I think its sad really that every woman has to kick butt and never fall in love just to be 'strong'. I just want to be me, whether that is strong or weak or loud or quiet. And sometimes being quiet is the best sort of strong.
    Also, isn't the 'strong' female character being overdone now as well? I wish authors would just write people and not stereotypes

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    1. I came across a post yesterday on Shaina Reads that talked about Cinderella as a survivor and also delved into the notion that seeking love is anti-feminist. I think you'd like it.

      As far as "overdone," I like to remind myself, you can't write anything "new"; but you can write something in a new/original way. Beyond that, write the story you want to read and let the marketing people worry about the rest. ;)

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    2. Just found this share - thanks so much and glad you enjoyed!

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  4. Pulling out the "big topics"! ;) In general, I think a strong woman is someone who doesn't allow her spirit to break. This can be expressed through any number of actions - big and small. Ella in the new live-action movie rebelled by continuing to hold what her mother's words as true, no matter how badly she was treated. Mulan was more forceful in her strength, by joining the army and fighting for her emperor even after she was discovered and cast out. Elizabeth Bennet fought with snark and kept a humorous outlook even when high society looked down on her.

    I never like a book that is written solely to "represent strong women" or to "fight cliches." Write the story for the story's sake; not to make a point. But I of course do like strong female protagonists, and I like to read about all different types of strength. Quiet and outspoken alike.

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    1. Strength of spirit--that sounds like a good summation of the idea. :)

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  5. I think there are many different types of "strength". Women shouldn't have to be one way - they can be fierce or sensitive, loud or quiet. I often relate more to the vulnerable heroine than the warrior, but I love that there are both types out there.

    My problem with Cinderella was more about the message. To me, it seemed to be saying that "kindness" and "courage" = to be silent. Cinderella didn't have to be particularly fierce or independent, but she's not an ideal I would want girls to emulate. She got her happy ending by accepting her fate in the upstairs attic! Yikes!

    Great discussion, Kel!

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    1. I completely agree. Having reflections of all sorts of strengths in literature is a very good thing. Options!

      I really need to see this movie. I'm getting awful curious about these different scenes people are describing. Would you say the new Cinderella was more or less independent than the old?

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  6. I love that quote so much! It is definitely true that strength can show up in lots of ways, though I think it's dangerous for that to be used as a superficial excuse for men not allowing women to stray outside of their designated roles too.

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    1. Agreed! There are different kinds of strength, which will likely result in different personalities, approaches, mindsets, actions, careers, etc. Some women are naturals at filling "traditional roles," and some should not be left alone with children...for the children's sake. ;)

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