What Makes a Strong Female Character?

In my bio, I say that I like to write about strong female characters…what does that mean exactly?

I read a great article about Strong Women – 10 Things Emotionally Strong Women Don’t Do – which has some really good points, but when I think of the women in my books and the women I want to write about, it goes beyond just being successful in a career.

I was born in the seventies and grew up in the eighties and was discovering myself in the nineties.  This thirty year span was a time of discovery for women.  What had begun in the sixties with the Women’s Liberation Movement was fleshed out in the seventies and eighties. All young girls (well the ones I knew at least) dreamed of having it all – beauty, brains, career and family, but the outworking of that dream was tough.

The eighties, in my opinion, were some of the hardest on women.  There was a great push for women to have careers, sometimes to the detriment of other parts of their lives.  This carried over into the nineties where women were made to feel bad if they chose to stay home with their children.  Women were meant to have powerful careers, be thin and beautiful, to have a perfect home and have dinner on the table by six.  And maybe there are women out there who can achieve all of that, but I am not one of them and that doesn’t make me any less strong.

strongwomanquoteThe ugly side of feminism, to me, is the one that makes women feel less than because of their life choices.  Just because we can have a successful corporate career, doesn’t mean we have to.  To me, Women’s Liberation and Feminism, are about choice.  Women should have the choice to stay home and raise their children or to pursue a career or do both.  A woman pursuing a career that she hates because she feels she has to is just as oppressed as the woman told that she cannot pursue a career because she is a woman.

Now I say all that to make the point that a strong woman doesn’t necessarily only exist in the corporate world and being a strong woman has nothing to do with feminism.  I suppose what I am really talking about is strength of character.

In my own life I have faced many trials and tests of character.  I know that up until I was in my mid-twenties, I had a weak character.  I was married with two young children and my life was a mess.  I did not have the emotional maturity to cope with the things going on in my life so it felt like my world was crumbling around me.  In that moment I was faced with a choice to either grow some cojones and take control of my life or fall into a heap and live the rest of my life as a victim of circumstance.  I chose to take control.

The journey has not been easy and I am by no means perfect, but I know that I am a hell of a lot stronger than I was back then.  Every time I am faced with a challenge, I still have the choice to face it head on or to lie down and let it beat me.  There is a constant struggle between my weak inner self and the strong person I want to be.  And that’s what I like to write about, that struggle to be a better person, the struggle to find that inner strength.

I like my characters to be flawed, but to know their flaws and to be determined to grow.  That’s how I like my people too.  I strongly believe that there is opportunity for growth in every situation – good or bad – and the willingness to grow, even though it hurts, is what makes a character (and a person) strong.

Strong female characters are not necessarily aggressive either.  I know when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, some women felt that to be taken seriously or thought of as strong, they needed to behave like men.  Femininity fell to the wayside and was replaced with power suits and shoulder pads.  But femininity is not weakness and being a bitch is not strength.  It is possible to be a strong woman and be feminine and I think that it is important that we know and understand that.

These are the type of women I like to write about.  They may start out weak, but they choose time and again to grow and learn from their mistakes.  They might not always be successful in a “career” sense, but by the end they have an inner strength that is far more valuable than anything money can buy.

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