Funny how what once was a trend now becomes the “norm.” The media is talking about “strong girl characters” as if they never existed until today. However, as we know, trends and norms are cyclical and never new.
Just as strong men have always been a part of fiction, so have strong women. Whether it’s emotional strength or a warrior exterior, strong women have existed over time in film and literature.
The fact that we — as a society — have to point out when we see “strong women or girls” to begin with is an indication that these type of women are quiet rare. Why is this? I don’t think it’s because women are getting stronger; I think it’s that some female attributes are seen as a weakness. We don’t want to label a character strong because she can fight like a boy. That is making the assumption that fighting is the only strength worth possessing.
There are many forms of “strength” in men and women, boys and girls. We’re all measured in the same way. There’s 1) literal strength (the skills to kick butt); 2) emotional strength (the ability to fight through hard times); and 3) moral strength (the need to sacrifice for others or what is right). These are not just male traits, and it’s not news that females possess these traits.
So, based on those three traits, here are my top ten kick-ass females in film and literature:
- Jane Eyre is definitely not a damsel in distress. No matter what, she relies on herself.
- Pippi Longstocking is independent and doesn’t care what others think. And she’s always willing to stick up for the underdog – being one herself half the time.
- Eowyn is a strong and fierce warrior in Lord of the Rings. The woman who took down evil.
- Meg in A Wrinkle in Time sacrifices for her younger sibling.
- Harry Potter’s Hermione shows strength in her intelligence. Without her smarts, Voldemort may have ruled once again.
- Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is strong in skill and smarts. Cunning and brave, she outsmarts her opponents, as well as an entire system.
- Winnie in Tuck Everlasting somehow finds the internal strength to make tough decisions.
- Trixie Belden always goes the extra mile to solve a mystery, many times putting herself at risk.
- In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara makes a constant effort to stand up to the norms and expectations of women in her society and time.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder shows strength in dealing with her sister’s handicap, and as she grows into an adult, she holds her own in a very different economic time in history.
So why are we now talking about strong female characters when they’ve always existed over time? Maybe because we are ready to acknowledge strength is not just something for men or boys. It is a part of character, no matter what gender you are.
When writing Untraceable, it was important for me to give Grace more than just physical qualities to make her “strong.” In addition to survival and self-defense skills, she possesses resolve, determination, and persistence. But her biggest strength is her ability to make a difference and stay true to herself, despite what those around her say. It’s not a matter of whose butt she kicks or how hard she can punch.
So let’s focus our attention on strong people with strong character, with the understanding that physical strength is secondary to what makes men and women strong.
Who are your favorite strong female characters in film or literature?
S.R. Johannes is the author of award-winning and Amazon bestselling Untraceable (a teen wilderness thriller) and its sequel Uncontrollable, as well as the new tween paranormal, On The Bright Side. She has also published short novelettes, as well as a teen romance anthology with 16 other authors titled In His Eyes. She is the winner of the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards (Young Adult category), was recently nominated for Georgia Author of the Year (Young Adult category), and was a semifinalist in The Kindle Book Review’s Best Young Adult of 2012.
After earning an MBA and working in corporate America doing marketing for more than 15 years, S.R. Johannes traded in her expensive suits, high heels, and corporate lingo for a family, flip-flops, and her love of writing. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her dog, English-accented husband, and the huge imaginations of their little prince and princess, which she hopes will someday change the world. Visit her at srjohannes.com.