In 2015 I was enjoying Sunil Badami’s blog posts on Southerly. One in particular made me think.
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. 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. The need to classify these women as strong suggests the default for women is weak. No one ever says they write strong male characters because they were raised by a strong man. The default for men is strong, therefore it is only necessary to label them if they are 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 or that good (strong or otherwise) female characters are few and far between.
If they are, they shouldn’t be.