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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Strong Women

I have plenty of thoughts about the topic that gives this post its title, enough that I may have to revisit it from time to time. I like to think as myself as a strong, competent, capable woman, and I like to read about the same. After all, don't we try to identify with the characters in the stories we're immersing ourselves in?

"Strong female characters" has always been a hot topic in literary circles. (It arguably comes up when discussing movies, too.) There have been articles and interviews and whatnot all over the place when it comes to which authors write women well, which fail miserably at it, and which seem to ignore women altogether. And as always, opinions vary greatly as to what constitutes a "strong" character, regardless of what's between his/her legs. I'm not going to make a list of links here or try to reinvent the wheel, but this is something I think about while writing.

I freely admit that not every single thing I've written passes the Bechdel test. Considering my primary genre is romance, the vast majority of it heterosexual, I don't feel a lot of self-loathing about that and I'm not going to kick myself down a shame spiral. However, I do often try to write exciting plots outside of the romance, and considering how plot-heavy this current project is, I've been examining the characters' personalities and actions more closely.

Let's take a look at a very short snippet from Chapter Ten:

Mielle raised her eyebrows. “I still don’t get it,” she said. “What’s so special about these things?”

“First of all, they’re not things, they’re people.” Ro folded her arms across her chest. “It’s easy to say they were people, but I know that whatever Zedek does to them in his lab, he can’t fully erase what they used to be.” 

Her words hung heavy in the room. No one responded. “However,” she continued, “they’re designed to be deadly. They’re stronger than us. Their reflexes are faster than ours. They can sustain more damage than us even if we go in wearing full body armor.”

The redhead blinked her long lashes. “So how do we get around them.”

In the following chapter, Mielle seeks out Ro to apologize for possibly being insensitive, and then they have a chat about a couple topics, not all of them about a man. So yay for passing the Bechdel test (which had already happened earlier in the book anyway), but the scene got me thinking - if it were a male character, would he have come to apologize? Would the original exchange have been more heated? Would the following conversation have been any different if it had been between a man and a woman?

I don't know. Obviously by this point, the characters are fleshed out enough in my head that they drive the action and the dialogue. I'd like to think that a male character could be sensitive enough to apologize for a potentially off-putting remark, but does that mean it's bland or almost expected for a woman to do it? If it had been a man, would the resulting conversation have eventually evolved into the characters trying to get into each other's pants? If it had been two men just talking about stuff, would this even be an issue?

The "what-if" games can be crazymaking, but if we don't overthink things, the problems never get better, right? And I know, of course, that I am just one tiny, tiny drop in a vast ocean, but we should all be trying to do well by our characters. Or else they might come after us and exact revenge.


  1. Doing well by our characters is exactly right. I think some people feel pressure to make strong female characters who always get along and girl power, but that is unrealistic.

    I have heard about the test, but I think people are forgetting that sometimes even incredibly sexist things can appeal to women, like video games. I enjoyed speeding through Grand Theft Auto and picking up hookers just as much as my brother. Maybe even more so because I wasn't trying to win or advance in any way. Hunger Games is one of the best selling books of all time, and Katniss spends half the series falling apart and crying.

    I say that, but Katniss's blubbering is exactly why I hated the last book. But that's me. My sister loved that book the most.

    Something for everyone, right? :)

  2. I don't know, I read it and was surprised when you said there was a subsequent apology. But, I in general think people are too sensitive (mostly because it's easier to think that than to be conscious of what's coming out of my mouth).

    That said, I feel the Bechdel Test is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is endless conversations between two women about only men is BORING. To me, anyway. Obviously, there are certain stripes of story and genre that revolve around such conversations/situations, and the readership expects (and wants?) it.