Let’s Talk Bookish: How Do You Feel About ‘Strong Female Characters’?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Today’s topic is ‘How do you feel about strong female characters?’ and I think there’s a lot to say about this subject! But what do we mean when we say ‘strong female characters’? The phrase has come to mean female characters who are basically badass at fighting, smart etc. These characters are great, but that’s not what the phrase ‘strong female characters’ should be about. The ‘strong female character’ has become as much as a cliché as the damsel in distress.    

To have a strong character, you don’t have to have female characters who are epic at fighting or who are tough. They don’t have to be physically strong to be a well-developed character. A strong woman doesn’t have to be a woman with all the attributes typically given to male characters. What we actually want when we talk about strong female characters is female characters who are developed as much as male characters. We want complex heroines as much as we want complex heroes.

So I’m not keen on the phrase ‘strong female character’ because it doesn’t really convey what I actually want from my characters as the word ‘strong’ is so loaded and misleading. I want to see realistic, well developed characters. I don’t want to see female characters who are ‘strong’ but lack depth. I want to see a variety of personalities in the female characters I read in books and see in TV/film.

A strong female character should have depth and development, strengths and flaws, and have a role in the story which is important for the plot.

One measure for the portrayal of female characters is the ‘Bechdel test’ which is not a perfect measure but I will mention it for the purposes of this discussion. In order for a book or film to pass the Bechdel test there have to be at least two female characters, who talk to each other, and who talk about something other than a man. When you look at books and films it’s shocking how many fail on something so simple.

I want all characters to have depth and development. Unfortunately, in books and film it’s most often male characters who have depth and development and female characters are just two-dimensional. This has been changing in the book world. I’m reading so many great books with good female characters, particularly in YA. But there is still a way to go with how female characters are represented in books. Then there is the problem with films. Why are there so few female-led films? We need more movies with developed female characters!

Do you have any thoughts on strong female characters? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish: How Do You Feel About ‘Strong Female Characters’?

  1. Great discussion!
    And I agree, to be a strong female character they don’t have to be an epic fighter (although I do love this!)


  2. That was exactly what I talked about in my discussion as well! I love all the current strong female MCs, but I also want to see them being shy, quiet, everything that is opposite of the cliche strong woman today. I don’t have to be throwing daggers and slitting throats to be strong. I can be a thinker, I can be quiet, reserved, shy even and still be as tough as steel. I really really hope that more women/girls like these can be included in books because the reality is, there is a large percentage of women and girls who are nothing like the women in books today. Which is sad, but there’s still hope that one day this will change :)

    • Yes I like characters who are strong for other reasons, perhaps they use their intelligence or have great mental strength to overcome things. I think things will change, but it will take time. :)

  3. Totally agree with your thoughts! The book “The Nightingale” from Kristin Hannah showed us real strength from women! It’s a World War 2 story, one woman is part of the resistance and one woman stayed at their hometown with the strategy of just blending in. Both women were equally strong for me.

    • I’ve not read that book, but I like how it sounds like it portrays two women who have different roles in the war and who are strong in different ways.

  4. I’m glad we agree what a “strong female character” means! I just want female characters who are well written and have stories and personalities that don’t revolve around whatever man is prominent in the story. I hate how female characters sometimes get absorbed by their male counterparts and used just and pieces to develop them.

    I think this is also an interesting discussion for every form of media as well, not just books so I love that you mentioned movies!

    • The film industry needs to work on female representation. As well as how female characters are portrayed on screen, there is also the issue with there not being enough women behind the scenes too, such as directors. That’s one of the reasons I loved Wonder Woman. It’s a female fronted film, with a female director, and although Diana is totally awesome at fighting, she’s also an empathetic person, there’s more to her than just her fighting ability.

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