Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Strong Female Lead

Something's been bothering me in recent years, and it has to do with the whole female rights push. Not that making sure both genders are on equal footing is a bad thing, it's good for us to balance one another instead of one dominating the other. But that's just it, I find there's a lot of over-correction various places. One of these is when authors intentionally set out to write strong female leads.

The problem is that when this is the goal or motivator for you when you're developing your characters, the male lead tends to end up weak. Which is not to say that I don't enjoy a weak man paired with a strong woman on occasion (see The Catbird Seat, my favorite short story), but I'm getting tired of how many forgettable, sidelined, sniveling wimps of male leads I've been reading about recently.

I saw a blurb for a book the other day that's the perfect example of this. It said the heroine has to save the male lead, then take over leading his side in a war because he's not doing it well enough himself. Which I find goofy, and here's why.

Just because men and women should be considered equal, we shouldn't be considered equal in all things.

Men are stronger (physically) and more prone to the "fight" side of "fight or flight," etc. And women are stronger (emotionally) and more prone to the "flight," etc.

That we are different in this way is good. It gives us natural roles that let us partner well together. And it's why reading a blurb that says the woman physically saves the man and goes on to lead a fight makes me look elsewhere when finding a new book to read.

I completely agree that not all stories should involve a princess sitting trapped in a castle, sighing for her prince to come. And not all stories should model Twilight, with the female lead completely emotionally crippled when her male lead is gone (and the male lead is the perfect, sculpture of a man, who's strong and amazing in every way). But just as unbelievable as these stories are the ones that--let's face it--belittle men. Let's not throw our male leads in those castles, sighing because they're impotent. No, men are not perfect or to-be-worshiped-like-gods. But neither are we.

And your characters, regardless of gender, shouldn't be either.


  1. Thanks for shedding some light on this issue. I'll admit that when I saw the title, my first thought was "oh no, I wonder if my female lead is too weak!" And then I read on and immediately thought "uh oh, what if my male lead is too weak?" Now I'm thinking that they're both fine. I've just never thought about this before. I think that all of my leads are strong, because I like strong people, and I like to write about people I like.

    1. No problem. I think most people would like both leads to be (or become through the story) strong.

  2. I like characters who can play off each other's strengths and challenge each other with equally strong personalities.