Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games. Princess Cimorene, Dealing with Dragons. Alanna the Lioness, Song of the Lioness.
All of these ladies are, for the most part, decent role models for young girls. They are showing that women are just as capable as men at accomplishing the same tasks. No longer are girls sequestered to waiting in the tower for their knight to save them. They are saving themselves, and everyone else along the way.
So, what are writers getting wrong about these characters?
Simply, a lack of balance. What do I mean by that?
Since this major push to have stronger and more developed female characters came on the scene (I would say around the 80’s give or take), it seems as though we are beginning to swing too far the other direction.
Alanna The Lioness always seems to be the one that saves the day in the end.
Instead of a weak woman who isn’t good for anything except making lemonade and showing the vacuum who’s boss, we now have woman who are incredibly one dimensional. They are physically strong. They are mentally strong. They have little emotion. They always have the answers. They are proficient in one or more weapons, and don’t seem to need to work very hard at it. They really don’t need any of the other characters to get the job done.
In short, these women don’t need anybody, and THAT is sending the wrong message to our young girls today.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe girls need strong female role models just as much as the boys have strong male role models to look up to. But young girls should not be growing up believing that they have to do everything on their own. As soon as they fail at something, it’s going to mess them up for life. They need to be shown a balance of both strength and leaning on others for help. There is nothing wrong with needing help on occasion, but by giving young girls role models that don’t need anyone, aren’t we telling them that they shouldn’t need to rely on anyone? Aren’t we showing them that if you can’t do everything on your own, you are a failure?
Katniss Everdeen seems only to have true love where her sister, Prim, is concerned. Everyone else can shove it.
And this isn’t just about young girls. There are plenty of boys who look up to female characters as role models, either for themselves, or what they would like to see in a partner. Is it a realistic for men to expect their women to never have a moment of vulnerability over a miscarriage? Is it right that a man should never expect his lady to need them, either emotionally or physically?
Relationships are not built on sex and fun times hanging out together alone. Relationships are made when one person leans on the other for support and that person helps build them back up. It’s a back and forth, a give and take. Women should not be made to feel that they must carry everything that makes them a human being inside at all times, and men should not be made to believe that if a woman needs a shoulder to cry on every once in a while, she isn’t “worthy.”
Princess Cimorene seems to always have the answers and doesn’t need anybody to do anything for her.
The problem isn’t that we are going from weak women to strong women. The problem is that we aren’t finding the balance somewhere in the middle. And not just for women. Our male characters should have a balance between physical and mental strength, and a plethora of healthy, controlled emotion.
So the next time you begin to write a new character, take the time to develop them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually (if that applies). Do a character interview. Have someone else write up character interview questions – they might ask questions you hadn’t thought of. Ask yourself what your character would do in another character’s situation from another book.
Let’s create healthy role models for our kids, not just strong ones.