Why This Male Reader Loves Strong Female Characters
A Guest Post by Thaddeus NowakI've mentioned it before, but my formative childhood years were spent with the neighborhood girls. My family had the only boys for many blocks and with my closest brother being four years younger than me, the only people my age to play with were girls. I learned all about Barbie and Ken and playing house. I'm not complaining, we also romped around the woods, got covered in mud, had snowball fights, and played ball just like any group of kids would. To me, they were just my friends. There were no boys versus girls attitudes between us (that concept came later when we went to different schools and I had to make new friends). And even when faced with that concept, I always preferred to be on the girls' team, because that's where the girls were.
Due to those early years--to this day--I always think of women as equals, and probably superior in many cases. So when it comes to reading novels or watching movies, I have no trouble identifying with a female lead. In fact, I think female leads actually make stronger characters than their male counterparts.
What is a strong character?
To me, a strong character is one who's personality can be felt. They may have inner fears and concerns, but they make the hard decisions and are decisive when it counts. They know what they want and actively make plans to get it. A strong character is a leader, someone the other characters look to for guidance. That is not to say they are hard-headed and stubborn; they have to be smart enough to know when they need to ask for advice and be willing to admit when they are not able to do something themselves. Delegation does not have to be a weakness--when done right it is a strength.
It may seem counter intuitive, but physical strength and prowess do not make a character strong. In fact, it can make them weaker in the long run. A bully lashing out and attacking may be able to overpower and intimidate others, but they still lack the strength of character that someone standing up to them possesses.
For male characters, physical strength and skill in combat (especially in fantasy novels) is a socially expected norm. A male character, who is not stoic in the face of danger can't overcome his foes and has to rely upon others, is perceived as weak. The problem is, being a stoic loner often overshadows some of the character's personality and limits how dynamic the character can be.
Whereas a female lead, while she may be physically adept, is not expected to use brute strength to overpower her foes. Society accepts the fact that she can have doubts (which are perfectly human, regardless of sex) and allows her to use her mind and intelligence to overcome obstacles. She has to decide to stand up to the stronger bully. I personally feel it makes the character richer and more balanced--more human and more like the girls I grew up with.
It's not what's on the outside that counts
The other reason I prefer stories with strong female protagonists is that they do not usually feature the females as window dressing--on the cover or in the story. While I have my share of traditional fantasy art hanging on my walls, my childhood influences don't align with the concept of the half-naked damsel in distress unable to do anything for herself. Too many of the stories with male protagonists tend to have the main woman of the stories hopping along on the man's coattails, doting on his every action. The girls I grew up with definitely did not dote; they knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. So when I read a story, I want to enjoy a little nostalgia and see women as I know they are.
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