I wrote a series of posts a few years ago about strong women characters in sci-fi and fantasy. My goal was to highlight some well-written female characters who are strong leaders, every bit equal to men, and yet still feminine. I’d like to continue that series with another few posts discussing some other strong female characters.
First off, a strong female character is not a male character in a woman’s body. Women are inherently different in more than just biology, and those differences are important to portray well in fiction if a strong female character is to be believable. Yes, women can be warriors, leaders, and protectors (traditionally male attributes), just as men can be gentle, calming, and nurturing. We’re all human, after all. But in a story, a strong female character needs to be so much more than just a gender-swapped man.
Many fantasy and sci-fi stories have an overwhelmingly male cast. All too often, the “token female” is just that—serving either as romance/sexual tension, and/or to simply say “this story is all about equality because look a woman.” I want to cover three female characters (from film, TV, and books) who I believe are excellent examples of well-written strong women. In this post, I’ll discuss Wonder Woman—specifically, as she’s portrayed in the 2017 film.
Wonder Woman is an iconic character who’s been written, drawn, and performed admirably by so many different people over the years. And of course she’s strong—she’s a superhero, after all. She’s got to flip a few tanks and deflect a few bullets regardless of her gender, because that’s the way comic books work.
What goes into making a strong character, anyway? In some of my previous posts, I covered aspects such a bravery/boldness, intelligence/creativity, and character development during the course of the story.
Diana embodies all of these. There’s no doubt about her boldness, as she tells off male generals who refuse to fight, and marches solo against enemy machine guns across a barren battlefield. She’s smart, and grows as a person and as a hero. She also learns to overcome her weaknesses, as any character must in order to grow. Yes, even superheroes must have weaknesses, and the female ones are no exception. She’s sometimes selfish and stubborn, and sometimes a little too confident in her abilities.
However, it takes more than using her bracelets to deflect bullets and never getting her hair mussed to make her a strong woman. If all characters—superheroes and otherwise—need to have strengths and weaknesses and growth, what sets her apart as a strong female character? Her femininity, of course. She does not try to act like a man. Though she wears armor, it’s not masculine-looking. Even in the heat of battle, she can stay calm and compassionate. And even in the face of overwhelming tragedy, she chooses to believe in love and keeping fighting for good.
Working Together—Strong Women and Strong Men
One of the most important aspects of a truly strong yet feminine character is her ability to be strong both without a man and with a man. A strong woman (in both fiction and real life) does not need to show her strength by emasculating the men around her. True strength comes from standing on her own, not by making others look weak.
When no one else will lead or take charge to right a wrong, Diana steps forward—and by doing so, she gives courage to others and they follow her. She does not boss the men around, though, and she treats them as equal partners, even in a battle situation where clearly she has the strongest physical advantage. Diana relies on Steve’s strategic mind and skill with a gun while she fights with her sword and her lasso. They work together, filling in for each other’s weaknesses.
A strong female character can stand on her own, and therefore the author (or director, actor, etc.), does not have to constantly tell the audience how strong and independent and intelligent she is. It’s the old “show don’t tell” thing that every writer learns about. A character’s strength should be apparent through her actions, choices, and words, not because the author steps in and says “dear reader, see how strong she is!”
In this example of Wonder Woman, Diana never brags about how strong she is, or shows off for the sake of showing off. In fact, her title of “Wonder Woman” is never used in the film. She also never “pulls rank” by using her title as princess to compel people to obey her. She is humble and quiet in her strength. Her determination, humility, and unending compassion make her a woman of strength.