What does it mean to be a Strong Woman?

pink-hair-1450045.jpgIn every movie, every book, and quite a few TV shows, we hear people talking about “strong female characters” but what are they?  Is a strong woman someone who can lift 100 pounds?  200?  More?  Is she the person who can’t feel hurt by something as pathetic as an insult?  Are these fictitious creatures able to bend steel with their mind?

Maybe – or maybe not.  You see, a strong woman is one that fails and tries again.  She’s the one who took a risk because the chance of reward seemed worth it.  Her strength may be physical, mental, emotional, or any combination of those.

It does not mean she’s invincible.

Strong female characters are the ones that get bullied, cry their eyes out, and still go to school the next day.  They’re the ones who get pushed into a new situation and make the most of it, even when it’s hard.  These are the ladies who realize that no one else is going to do it – whatever it is – for them, so they decide to do it themselves.

That’s basically it.  They aren’t SuperGirl.  They don’t have to be butch, girly, or androgynous.  They sure as hell don’t have to be pretty.  They just need to face a challenge and at least try to deal with it on their own.  Weak female characters are the ones who whine, cry, and break the heel of their shoe just before the bad guy gets them.

Oh, sounds easy to write/film, you think?  Uh, no.  See, the moment you put in a man who’s ten times better, you just destroyed your strong female character.  In modern movies, she’s the girl that can be as good, but never better than, the leading guy.  Just look at Rogue One as an example!

According to the trailers for that film, some scenes didn’t make it to the final cut.  Jyn kicked ass, right up until suddenly, the hero arrives (who she hated for most of the movie) and then she swoons as he cuts down the baddie for her.  You know how it goes because we’ve all seen this before.  Dude looks dead, but at the last minute, he summons up just enough strength to save the day, because that poor chick couldn’t do it without a penis around to…

Er.  Sorry.  I think I let my bitterness show a bit there.  The irony here is that I loved that movie.  I typically love all Star Wars things, but I was very disappointed to see that Hollywood had reshot the ending to be more in line with modern mentality.  SAY WHAT?!  Yeah.  The idea of that girl being a bad-ass was just too much, and you know that would definitely kill sales (or something).

And this is why women get so annoyed with the whole strong female character thing.  Granted, some of us don’t notice it.  My mother, for instance, was raised at a time when the women in our fiction would be considered shockingly equal.  To her, it’s nice to see women who aren’t scorned for acting like Princess Leia.  Me?  I was raised to think critically, and I kinda like the idea of a strong woman being perfectly ok without a man to back her up.  Know what?  I also like the idea of a weak male character being portrayed as heroic.

The problem is that “strong female character” has become a buzzword, and so few people really understand what it means.  It doesn’t mean having a smart mouth, just so you know.  It doesn’t mean spending the whole book fighting against what has to be done, just to trip and fall into it at the last minute.  Those books/movies have their place, but they are NOT strong women.

In a world where women are still judged by their perceived value to men (usually by their looks) most of us find ourselves drawn to the strong women who can fall in love but don’t NEED to in order to complete the task at hand.  We like the women who are leaders, regardless of whether anyone likes it or not.  And, deep down, we want her to have a few insecurities inside, too.  Being strong doesn’t mean being invincible.  It means falling down seven times, but standing up eight, even when everyone is screaming at you to just give up already.

 

Advertisements

Love – in a good way

41SOJMWOYZ.jpg

I’ve been writing lately.  A LOT of writing.  Between Rise of the Iliri #7 and Wolf of Oberhame #3, and all those annoying ideas that pop into my head and HAVE to be jotted down so I won’t lose them, I’m basically a writing machine.  Interestingly, almost all of these books have some aspect of love in them.  Love of friends, love of family, and of course, lovers.

And, because one can not live on writing alone, I read.  All too often, I get so far and just can’t take it anymore because the relationship has turned toxic.  Oh, the reviews all say it’s sweet and amazing, but I’m reading about a guy who is making the girl feel bad about herself, has so few redeeming qualities outside his sex appeal, and her hormones are just driving her to obsession.  Not. Healthy.

So, because I’m the annoyingly analytical type, I plop myself down in my husband’s lap and just ask.  “Honey, why do you love me?”  Now, keep in mind that my man is, um, perfect.  I don’t mean perfect for me.  He’s completely perfect in a way that is a little intimidating.  Like, women write about men that are half as good as him.  (I might be biased here.)

Mr. Perfect doesn’t even hesitate on his answer, though.  “Because you’re my partner – in everything – and you always appreciate that.”

Hmm.  I think he’s onto something, but again, that annoyingly rational mind isn’t satisfied with such fluffy and romantic type language.  “How so?  Why are you still happy with an old, fat, dorky, neon-haired bookworm who spends all her time living in a fantasy world?”

“Because I happen to LIKE women who look like women and have curves, I’m older than you, and while you might be a dork, I am definitely a geek, and your writing time lets me play video games.  Plus, I like the hair.  Who cares what society says we should be like.  It just works because we work together on everything.  Even our hobbies.”

BINGO!

Because he likes me.  He doesn’t just love me, lust after me, support me, want to protect me, or all of those other great things.  He likes me for who I am.  He doesn’t want to change me.  He doesn’t try to fit me into a mold made by society.  He likes me, which I can honestly say isn’t the same thing as love.

See, I’ve loved a lot of people.  My parents, my brother, my friends, and even guys that came before.  I didn’t always like them.  But when I think about that line between loving and liking, as compared to loving and liking (at the same time), well, I realized that some of the old wisdom we’ve always heard is wrong.

Love isn’t about giving without expecting to get.  It’s about expecting to get something so much bigger than flowers or power tools.  Loving someone is about giving them confidence, compliments, and a pillar of support.  Being loved is about finding a person who gives those things back.

For me, it’s having someone who is willing to understand that writing time is not to be disturbed.  My “work” might be fun, but just because I’m sitting in my jammies with my feet on the desk and tossing a ball to my dog doesn’t mean I’m not working, or that my work is somehow unimportant.  It’s knowing that sly little smile that says he likes how I look even when I don’t.  It’s never doubting that he thinks I am good at something.

For him, it’s having someone understand that the dinner he made and set quietly at my elbow is his way of saying he loves me.  That when he needs help, I’ll leave in the middle of a sentence because he’s the most important thing in my world.  And, a little of it is that when things go bad, the first place I turn is him – even if it’s just smudged mascara – because he’s my eternal protector and I believe he can always fix it.

In other words, Love is what happens when someone else allows us to feel good about our bad parts as well as our good ones – and we’re allowed to expect that.

So why don’t we see much of this in literature?  Because it’s so easy to fixate on the superficial stuff.  It’s harder to write the vague and ambiguous feelings.  It’s almost impossible to be sure your reader will grasp the idea if you can barely wrap your own head around it as the author.

Still, I find myself wishing there was more of this type of things in books.  Someone should fix that.

af7c20194303f6a9984279a1407d58d7And what do you know.  I happen to be an author.

Let’s just say, I’ve been inspired.

I keep thinking about writing a male lead…

background hands.pngMost of my released works are from the perspective of a female character.  This is for two main reasons: 1. being a woman, I understand that point of view and 2. Women are still underrepresented as heroic figures (sad as that may seem with the rise of YA novels).

But, I haven’t gotten there yet.  I do have a few stories in my “to be released” folder with a male main character, but they always get sidelined.  Often, like in the Rise of the Iliri series, or even in some chapters of The Wolf of Oberhame series, males share the spotlight as one of many main characters, but they have yet to be the primary.  I’ve been pondering this a bit lately.  First, because I really enjoy writing from the male POV, because it allows a degree of freedom not accepted from female characters.  (More on that later.)  But I also want to challenge my writing.

So why haven’t I?  Because there are so many things that can’t be shown as well from a male’s perspective.  Let’s be honest.  The horror of slut shaming isn’t the same for men (in most cases!) as it is for women.  Pregnancy?  Again, not as easy to show the myriad of problems that can run through a woman’s head.  Men do have their own issues that deserve the spotlight, but women still end up the one carrying (pun intended) the burden.

And then there’s the current political climate.  To me, it’s simply disingenuous for someone so strongly opposed to sexism and misogyny to take the easy way out – and writing from a guy’s perspective is often the much easier path.  Just look at how many people complain when a female character uses foul language in a novel, but expects a man to speak like that!  They aren’t even aware they’re being sexist, but… someone needs to poke the bear, and I’m totally up for it.

In fact, the current oppression of women has compelled me to write even more.  There are these topics that need to be discussed in a way that removes the political party preference from the conversation.  Fantasy is a wonderful way to do just that.   There is no American president in a world with no America, so it no longer matters who supports and who resists his policies.  The point becomes nothing more than if it is or is not proper to enslave humans for crimes, or to discriminate against a man-made species, or even to dwell on the lack of awareness of evolution and the possibility of divine intervention.

A new setting and new rules make all of us rethink the problem and readdress the situation from a whole new starting point.  It’s no longer about who we know/knew, how we were raised, but rather it comes down to which side we’re rooting to win.  Is the story told from the POV (point of view) of a selfish jerk?  Maybe an orphan with a heart of gold and a depressing back story?  Does that change how you feel about them stealing and the potential punishment for it?

Now, what if we took all of that and made it about women’s issues?  Pregnancy and the rights of the unborn.  Should a warrior fight for her freedom and potentially risk her unborn child’s life for the chance that they may live in a better world?  What about the sexism of work valuation?  And how about gender roles?  Oh, I play with that one a lot in the Rise of the Iliri series, and I’m still not sure how many people notice the angle those little beasties took.

But I do have this book in my work list with a male lead…

I promised my husband I would write something steam punkish.  Now, since I’m not a big reader of the genre myself (no time!) I won’t even try to be true to it.  Mostly, I’m playing with a Victorianesque setting, steam type technology, but in a second world fantasy that focuses minimally on the tech.  I am, however, dwelling on the secondary character’s gender.  Mouse is… let’s say confused about gender.  Taught that boys do somethings and girls do others, Mouse has chosen a more male dominated profession, but still has a weakness for feminine things.  Mouse’s exceptionally masculine mentor is beyond frustrated at trying to figure out whether or not external genetalia has any bearing on Mouse’s gender identity – and I’m not sure Mouse knows either!  In all honesty, I have no clue what decisions Mouse will end up making about gender roles, or how the mentor will adapt to their friendship, but I have a feeling these characters will be the ones figuring it out.  And don’t worry, Mouse’s gender is a very minor role in the whole story.

But, I still have one very jealous gladiator who demands that I write the next chapter.  Tristan is adamant that his story will be finished sooner rather than later.  The problem is that Sal doesn’t like to share the limelight.  There are days that I wake up and I’m like “Ah ha!  That’s what happens in chapter 42!” so I’m writing the book that grabs me.

I just need more time, more hands, and a few more keyboards to get all of these stories out of my head.  How else can I dive into the diversity of my imaginary friends?  Needless to say, if you don’t hear from me for a bit, it means I’ve stepped into another world…..and am writing like mad!

Even when I should be sleeping.