Girls. You either hate them, love them, or want to be them. You might want to date them, too.
But how do you write them?
Too many times, I hate the women in novels. Which is a shame, because we have so much to offer the world. So why are we portrayed so carelessly? You can write female characters in countless ways, so, instead, I'll outline several things you shouldn't do when writing "strong female" characters:
1. Sex Appeal. This coincides with physical appearance, beauty, etc. I have no problems with women owning their sexuality and dressing in a way that pleases them rather than their male counterparts. But when a female character is thrown haphazardly into a story seemingly simply for sex appeal, then I have a problem. This can be seen in almost any superhero movie, where the female is scantily clad and always has a full face of makeup on, no amount of physical endurance messing up her perfectly curled hair.
Is this inherently wrong? No, not at all! But if you're going to do this, tell me specifically it's because she's owning her body and her sexuality, not because you're trying to sell tickets to horny teenage boys under the guise of "feminism." I'm not trying to start a political fight or anything. All I'm saying is that women have so much more to offer the world than their bodies. Let me see a woman who is so confident in her role as a woman, she goes into battle or even to her desk job dressed exactly as the men. Then, when they comment about her presumed "masculinity," she says, "Sorry, I don't recall asking for your opinion."
She doesn't need a skin tight dress or the stares from every man in the office to know she's worth something and to feel empowered. I want to see a strong woman who earns the respect of her peers through effort, not because she won the genetic lottery. I want to see a strong woman break into top-secret facility because she is incredibly smart with technology, not because she was used as bait to seduce their arch nemesis into letting her in.
Women are people, too. Don't forget that.
2. The Love Interest. This is very similar to the first point, in that some female characters seem to have been curated simply as a love interest. Is having your female character play a role in a romance bad? Of course not. But when they have no real goals other than getting with said love interest, and all their thoughts are consumed with him/her, and their only real problems pertain to how annoying the love interest is or if he/she was talking to another girl, that's a problem.
Women are not afterthoughts. Do not treat us as such, not even in books. Women are complex. Sure, we want love, but that isn't all we want. Don't limit us in your narrative.
3. The Bitch. Another thing I see quite a bit (sadly) is the "strong female" character that is really just a bitch. Writers honestly make women look so stupid and emotional, as though they have no sense at all. An example of this is in love triangles. There's the Main Girl, and she likes the Main Guy, but there's a Secondary Female character who also likes the Main Guy. Secondary Female exists only to try to tear apart Main Girl and Main Guy, and she acts like a bitch throughout the entire book for no apparent reason.
This is horrible. Girls can be mean, yes. But creating a woman in a story that is so ruled by her jealousy that she lashes out like a complete psychopath and makes her entire mission to ruin the happiness of two characters who've never lifted a finger against her? That's just insulting.
Another example is in werewolf books, where the Alpha Male is narcissistic and arrogant (of course), and he has all sorts of rules his pack must follow, presumably for their own safety (just a wild guess, seeing as he is responsible for them). Then, Main Girl decides that, because she is strong and independent and she follows her own rules, she's not going to listen to him. Then, when she gets berated, instead of standing up for/defending her position herself calmly yet unmovingly, she acts like a psycho bitch and immediately resorts to insulting him and all of his friends as though she is still a preteen that acts on emotional whims without any restraint.
Strong women don't give into petty bickering and name-calling. They don't pout and sulk when they don't get their way, and they don't let their rage cause them to throw temper tantrums because everything is just so unfair and they hate Alpha Male. Grow up. Strong women present their case, and if Alpha Male won't hear it, they seek to undermine him and elect someone who will. They do not do this because they want to get revenge or because he's irritating and they just want to make his life miserable.
Strong female characters attack the patriarchy because they're fighting for a real cause far surpassing petty grudges: their rights. Give women a real fight, and give them real goals that don't boil down to just creating conflict for the story. Then and only then will you have a truly well written female character.
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