I’ve been enjoying Sunil Badami’s blog posts on Southerly lately and so when the latest hit my inbox I began to read eagerly… then I stopped.
The first paragraph read “As I mentioned in my previous post, most of my characters and protagonists aren’t named; and nearly all of them are women. I couldn’t tell you why, other than that I was raised by a strong woman, most of my friends are strong women, and I’ve always felt more comfortable and able to relate to women than men.”
It’s that phrase, ‘strong woman’ for some reason I found it jarring. I’ve heard it before as well. Joss Whedon frequently attributed his penchant to writing ‘strong female characters’ to being raised by and surrounded by strong women. Now I know two cases don’t make a pattern but it’s almost as if male writers need an excuse to be able to write, ‘strong’, never mind interesting or complex, female characters. I’ve never heard of a female writer being asked why she writes such good/strong/complex/etc. male characters.
What is a strong woman anyway? Is it the same thing as a strong character or is it more that they’re a strong person. The term seems dated to me, as if a strong female goes against the norm therefore must be classified. Similarly, men are strong by nature and so it only needs to be pointed out if one is weak. The old binary oppositions remain ever present.
It’s not so much the phrase that bothers me it’s the idea that it’s still odd or surprising for men to write about women and do it well*. Women have been doing the same for men since they first put pen to paper.
*Or that good (strong or otherwise) female characters are few and far between. If they are, they shouldn’t be.