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‘Strong Female Character’ has become a dull cliché

IndieWire published an article back in 2023 in which Annette Bening, an actress, said she had no interest in pursuing ‘Strong Women’ roles.

She called them ‘really boring.’ Naturally, she rubbed some people the wrong way, as she fed the gender war that continues to rage online. Her critics thought Bening was undermining the work feminists had done to change the way female characters are portrayed on screen.

However, majority of readers agreed with the actress because they understood what she was trying to say. Most people roll their eyes when they hear ‘Strong Female Character’ because the term is so narrow. The individuals promoting the concept misunderstand the factors that make the best male characters so compelling.

When I was young, female characters sucked because they were damsels waiting for a hero to save them. You had exceptions like Ripley from the Alien franchise. However, most heroines fell short. By the time I entered my 20s, Hollywood was bending over backwards to redress the imbalance by making strong female characters a priority.

But they got things wrong. In fact, they continue to fail even today. They seem to think that a strong female character is just a man in a dress. They celebrate depictions of heroines that blur the lines between the genders, which defeats the purpose.

Think about it. If you only watch male-led movies, and I’m trying to convince you to give female-led films a shot, but all my female characters are no different from the male characters in your favorite male-led movies, why would you leave your comfort zone?

Storytellers should lean into the differences between the genders. I have seen John Wick kill dozens of men over the course of four movies. I know how he operates. I will watch the Ballerina film (John Wick spinoff) because the female protagonist can’t hit as hard as Wick. She can’t physically overpower her male opponents.

I want to know how she will overcome her strength and size limitations to vanquish the same threats and obstacles Wick faced during his original run. But Hollywood disagrees with that mindset. Film studios continue to sell heroines with masculine traits, and audiences keep rejecting them.

They want to blame sexism for the negative reactions their movies receive, which is silly. I keep attacking movies, but books are no different. Many writers think that being an ‘Independent Woman’ is the same as having a bratty, sour attitude. Fortunately, the tide is gradually turning.

The powers that be have realized that ‘writing a female character the same way you would write a male character’ does not mean making your heroines masculine. Rather, it encourages writers to treat female characters like human beings.

Tony Stark is not a ‘strong male character’; he is a struggling alcoholic with an empathetic heart that frequently clashes with his inflated ego. In other words, he is human.

We don’t want ‘strong female characters’; we want complex, three-dimensional women. Give them distinct goals and motives. Give them flaws to balance their strengths. Let their femininity shine. If your male and female characters are interchangeable, some people may question the need for female-led stories, especially if all they consume is male-focused entertainment.

Fight the urge to make every female character a sword-wielding badass who can kill ten men without breaking a sweat. Hollywood movies and TV shows are full of male characters who cannot fight, yet they are still captivating.


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