We’ve all been there, watching a show, movie, web toon, anime atc and then there is that character, the strong woman. The one who’s supposed to be there for women to look up to and men to want to be with, the one that is supposed to make feminists happy alongside giving positive role models for everyone. So where can they go wrong? At least not all the women are domesticated.. right? Well, the strong woman is not real, she’s a male fantasy and ridiculously 2 dimensional, it’s kind of sad when she appears in popular culture, because it shows how difficult the typical writer finds to write women.
We call this character many things, a strong female character, a manic pixie dream girl but my favourite is the Mary Sue.
Bijhan Valibeigi puts it brilliantly:
You’ve met this character before. She has black hair with a colorful stripe, wears green or purple lipstick with chipped painted nails to match; she wears black leather clothing that’s cut a little short in place, designed to help her while she skateboards or rides a motorcycle; she has a series of skills which are “for boys” and has interests which are “for boys”.
She portrays a version of strength through heightened masculinity whilst also adding nothing to the plot. Sometimes she exists as the romantic interest, sometimes she’s just there to shake things up, but every time she’s there she lacks an actual personality.
Let’s look at Steven Moffat’s version of the strong woman, they’re usually witty, feisty, have red lipstick on, dress masculine and flirt a lot with the main character. But that’s all they are, they exist to wind up the main character whilst also needing him, whether it’s by being saved or by needing his knowledge, they can’t function without the main protagonist and it’s sad. It’s also weird how they all look the same across Doctor Who and Sherlock – if you can’t tell I’m comparing Missy (the master) and Irene Adler.
I’m all for a cheeky side character who exists to just shake things up, but throwing these boring women at us and expecting us to be inspired is just insulting. They’re not real, they exist only on the surface and mainly for the male gaze – so how can we relate/look up to them?
Mary sue’s are also infamous for their internalised misogyny displayed as strength. They tend to pioneer the idea that they’re not like other girls, whilst also dragging down every other girl in order for them to look good. They see other girls as the enemy, as well as seeing femininity as their greatest disgust. But here’s the thing, they also display feminine traits, but those traits are the ones that weaken them. Whether it’s to do with emotion, or secretly liking makeup, they see anything girly as a negative and that is inherently toxic.
These traits are also what keep them caged away. We call good female characters badasses or strong, but really good writing of a character is someone who has layers. Yes they can be strong, but we also want to see flaws and a character development that exists outside of romantic interest. We want to see them be strong and weak, and allow them the freedom to exist outside of the 2 dimensional idea of strength.
Sometimes true strength is being able to cry, and I want to see more multi-layered female characters. I want more character likes Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy, she’s brilliant, smart, focused but also very flawed. She’s emotionally distant, vulnerable and goes through a lot of trauma. One thing the show refused to do was skip over her trauma and that was what made her shine, she wasn’t able to just brush off situations, she had to move forward. With every achievement and failure she grew as a character and it was brilliant.
We’re not asking for tough, we just want real and reality involves struggle and weakness. Let your strong female characters go through a journey that gives us vulnerability and how they overcome life’s hardships.