The Myth of the Strong Woman

This post has been brewing for a long time but all that kept coming out was:

“Gahngh! I’m gonna cut you, motherfokkers!” So as you can imagine the pot stayed on the stove.

But if I see “It’s a great story with a strong female character blah,blah…” one more time without writing this post, I swear I’m gonna…well, you know the rest.

Let us begin with the sliming couplet itself:  STRONG WOMAN or strong women if you’re really pushing the boat out.

By stating that the female character in a novel, film or TV programme is ‘strong’ does that mean that all other female characters are weak? Also, strong how? Is she emotionally strong or does it mean she can bench a baby elephant?  What in the name of Marie Curie does it mean?

I read a lot of reviews of films, books, and occasionally TV (It saves watching the pixel-shit that gets pumped through the old colon ray tube.) I cannot recall ever reading, “It’s good, it has a strong male character…” Why is this?

Seriously, I could shake you all. Lemme ask you, is the surgeon who made your grandpa’s ticker work a strong female surgeon or just a surgeon? Is the inspirational teacher who you will never forget (Maggie Reay) a strong female teacher, or just a teacher — she was good, but I don’t recall her picking up cars or standing up against a gang of hoodlums. I don’t go see a strong dentist, I go to the dentist.

D’you see? *shakes you* Sorry…I get carried away sometimes. I swear I will break your face if you make any cracks about hormones or ‘that time of the month’.

C’mon chaps, why do female protagonists need to be strong in order to be valid? It’s like people are justifying having a female helming a story or film, etc. How would this sound…

“The book has a very westernised African male lead.”

“The protagonist is a non-predatory, gay male.”

The above are extra unpleasant examples just to illustrate how crap it is that ‘Strong’ has to be applied to female in order to explain why anyone other than members of the WI might want to read or watch something with a  female lead. And you know what? I’ve done it myself (Oi, the shame). But I’m going to stop, already have in fact, been clean for a few months.

I will not justify the existence of females in places other than the kitchen or bedroom any more and neither should you.

I got news for you. Women have existed throughout history. Take a moment, let that sink in. You okay? Good. Not only that, but they haven’t just been knitting casseroles and popping out the next generation of menfolk.

Women, ordinary women, have been right there along side men, doing… much the same shit. Mining? Yup, stripped to the waist covered in shit, just like men.  Fighting on warships? You betcha, battle of Trafalgar and everything. Mountaineering, chemistry…all of that and more. I know! It’s mad isn’t it?

Just about everything and anything men have done to build the world we live in, ordinary women have been there as well.  And you know it; we all do if we think about it, if we open our eyes. Don’t believe me? If you can’t see examples of regular women, doing regular work (rather than Strong women rising above the tide of weak willed ninnies) where you live, check out the developing world.

Women (the ordinary variety) are doing, in many cases and places, exactly the same grindingly tough work that the menfolk do as well as being doctors, teachers, architects, farmers, soldiers. Not one of whom would (I imagine), describe herself as strong, just, you know as Parveen or Maria or…

Historians and the media do not help (I won’t even start on business culture or politics). They mostly ignore women or if they really have to acknowledge their presence or achievements, speak in terms that highlight that any woman of note is an exception: a rarity amongst her kind.

This is crap. It is crap when compared to the terms used to describe men who achieve equally. Male leads in stories/films/TV are not referred to as ‘strong men’  unless of course you’re talking about superheroes. Jack Bauer isn’t a ‘strong male character’ he’s just a guy, fighting against the odds etc…

When you next take a tumble and the paramedic who comes to treat you happens to be a woman, I promise it won’t enter your head to check if she’s a strong woman. You will just be a grateful slob begging for morphine (that may just be me). Her gender won’t matter, how strong (whatever that means!) won’t be an issue… because it isn’t. Now, let’s have a practice, repeat after me.

“The story has a female protagonist.”

“There are a lot of good female characters in the play/book/film/show.”

“The hero of the novel/film/book/show is flawed and troubled.”

Okay, I admit the last one is a big step. Just take your time, don’t rush, it’ll come. Practice the first two for a bit and, you know, ease your way into being conscious of the equality of spirit we were born to, but were somehow convinced isn’t real.

 

7 Responses to The Myth of the Strong Woman

  • John says:

    Hello Ms. Davies,just finished reading The Red Knight and thought it was excellent!

    Is there any tentative publishing date regarding the sequel ? Will we get to read it this year ?

    John

  • jkatjovi says:

    So I agree with everything you say but have one thing to say. Your last quote making no comment of whether the hero is male or female, the assumption is going to be the hero is male, because the world is rubbish.

    I’m a fan of commenting about the heroine being female because maybe it’ll push sales up and more people will then write good female leads. But you’re right in a just world it would never need to be mentioned.

  • Pingback: Genre and Gender : Shadows of the Apt

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