I Have Strong Feelings About Strong Characters

I'd like to take a moment and point you to another post here where Sophia McDougall writes about hating strong female characters, nailing something I've been trying to express for years. You see, I *love* strong characters (both male and female) but what I love about them isn't, perhaps, the usual definition of "strength" but that they are complex, strong in many different ways, even when that strength can be perceived as a weakness (e.g. the ability to cry without apology).

I love what Sophia writes about Sherlock Holmes, one of my favorite characters and reboots of the current generation. Is he strong? Of course, but not, like, that way. [Caveat: unless you are played by Robert Downey Junior who played up the badassery of his boxing days in the steampunked film version.] Sherlock Holmes is, as she puts it: "a brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, polymath genius."

All true. Is there strength in the character? Sure! But he doesn't need to have a weapon or punch people in the face to prove it. He has an unparalleled mind (except for his nemesis, Moriarty, and a certain woman who got away, Irene Adler--look at that: a 1:1 ratio!) and some serious issues including weaknesses of character that would be glaring without strong counterpoints: drug addiction, arrogance, socially grating, egotistical and smug. Yet we LOVE Holmes. Like Dr. Watson, we can't seem to help ourselves. Plunk these sorts of characteristics into a female lead, and who do we get?

Lisbeth Salander is no Sherlock Holmes.

We are less forgiving of *most* kinds of characteristics to be placed into our female protagonists save they be "strong" or "unique" in their power. Why is that? Why when we see them being reserved, introverted, artistic, sensitive, quirky, geeky, brilliant, or shy is it perceived as a weakness? When they are arrogant, socially grating, egotistical and smug, they are even more weak and so are the writers who write them. Woman-haters. Slut shamers. Anti-feminists. Self-haters. And maybe, sometimes, this is true; and maybe, sometimes, we write about the *HUGE* variety of characteristics that exist inside the human experience regardless of their exterior plumbing!

I write strong characters. I write weak characters. I write characters that I admire for their idealism, loyalty, tenacity and self-confidence. I write characters that make me cringe, making bad decisions and wrong decisions and faithfully believe things I do not, myself, believe. What I try to write are TRUE characters and those are the ones I like to read most (with a particular soft spot for tragic heroes, those who stand by their beliefs despite everything) and think there is a strength in that which belongs to ALL of our characters, because that's what it's like to be human.

Have a comment? Comment! I want to talk about this one.


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