Whenever I read the phrase “strong female characters” I immediately imagine a huge, muscular woman wielding a battle axe or something equally threatening. I mean, is she a wrestler? A kickboxer? A soldier? Well, if your character is one of those things then this would be an accurate description. The thing is, people, especially authors and publishers, are using this phrase to describe books where the female lead is an actual person with flaws and has a real purpose.
My problem with this phrasing is this: aren’t all female characters supposed to have a real role in a story anyway? The point of using this phrase is to shout out to the world that your book is different from other books because your female is, like, so relatable and stuff. She has feelings and junk. She makes mistakes and, like, isn’t the smartest person in the story but she’s doing her best, okay? (I don’t know why I imagine a teeny-bopper accent with this, guys.)
I hate to break it to you, dear readers, but this is not the right kind of phrase to use. I think the phrase you are looking for here is something like “real female characters” or even “developed female characters.” The thing is (Surprise!) your book should have that anyway. In this day of sexism, feminism, anti-feminism, and feminists-who-are-not-actually-feminists-but-play-one-on-TV, we shouldn’t have to explain to our readers that our female characters are any different than our male characters. It isn’t like every female character in every book before this phrase came about was some kind of sad side character whose only purpose was to show everyone how wonderful the male lead was. Believe it or not, there were plenty of female characters, some even written by men, that were well developed and relatable.
So why is this the phrase of the hour? Are books like Twilight or Fifty Shades, whose female leads have no real substance, to blame? Why do we feel like we have to slap this strange and completely irrelevant label on our characters? I have no idea.
If you feel that for some reason you must tell your audience ahead of time that your lead female has a personality, a backstory, maybe even a sense of humor, how about phrase it differently. Because saying she is “strong” may not be accurate. Plenty of females are physically weak, emotionally broken, cowardly, mentally impaired, etc. Does this make them bad characters that we can’t love or root for? Absolutely not. In fact, those are the kind of characters that I relate to the most.
Think about that before you throw around an overused phrase that actually tells us nothing about your lead female at all.