Strong female characters have gotten a bad reputation over the past few years. It seems that very few people know how to create them without falling into bad stereotypes and misogyny. I have, however, seen LOTS of really well-written strong women in romance novels, and I think the world at large can learn plenty from them. So, here it goes…
“Strong” doesn’t mean unfeminine
Strong female characters don’t have to embody traits that some folks deem “manly”, for lack of a better word. Female characters can cry and still be strong. They can wear pink and still kick ass while doing it. They can be open and honest about feelings and express their emotions, and that doesn’t make them weak. They can long to be parents and spouses (more on that below). And just for the sake of clarity, men can do all of those things and not be labeled as “feminine”, too. Labels are boring.
The point is, strong female characters don’t have to be written like emotionless robots who reject all things that have traditionally been considered “feminine.”
A couple of great (and hilarious) examples of strong female leads in romance novels who aren’t afraid to let their emotions (and spectacular fashion sense) show are Queen Betsy from Mary Janice Davidson’s Undeadseries and Astrid from Robyn Peterman’s Hot Damnedseries.
Wanting love and a family doesn’t make you weak
I’ve seen lots of commenters on the interwebs bitching and moaning about why-oh-why can’t there be more strong female characters who don’t fall in love, and “women don’t need men to be happy and fulfilled.” While I totally (and I mean TOTALLY) agree that women can be alone and be happy and plenty fulfilled, I’m also convinced that wanting love and a family absolutely does NOT weaken an otherwise strong, female lead. Romance novels know this. I mean, you can’t swing a dead cat in romance land and not hit a kickass heroine who eventually finds a love interest who adores her strength and wants to make babies with her.
Long-story-short, strong women sometimes want love and babies, and that’s OK. It’s also OK for strong women to NOT want love and babies. Female characters shouldn’t be criticized for wanting what they want. End of story.
In romance land, a great example of a strong, female lead who continues to kick ass even after getting married and having a baby is Harper from Isabel Jordan’s Harper Hall Investigations series. Same goes for Charley in Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson series.
Strength isn’t always physical
Heroines don’t need to be physically able to kick ass in order to contribute mightily to the story. There are plenty of romance heroines who save the day thanks to their brains, wit, and determination. Need proof? Try these.
Falling for the “bad boy” doesn’t make you weak or stupid
I’m going to use a Star Wars example to illustrate this one. Lots of folks online were appalled when, in The Force Awakens, there were rumblings about the sexual tension and chemistry between Rey (the main heroine) and Kylo Ren (the main villain). He’s evil...how could she be attracted to him?? *clutches pearls* Then, when that sexual tension and chemistry was cranked up to eleven in The Last Jedi, those same appalled folks were straight-up pissed off. They saw the connection between Rey and Kylo as abusive, and thought that weakened Rey as a character. They felt that her feelings for him demonstrated a “I can change him” mentality that was a bad message for young girls. And finally, some even questioned why Rey wouldn’t instead fall for Finn who was, by all accounts, a “good guy.” Well, to all the pissed off and appalled folks, I say:
But I digress. Point is, in romance novels, there are PLENTY of tough, smart, strong romance heroines who fall for redeemed bad boys, just like Rey did. Don’t believe me? I don’t know why you doubt me at this point, but OK...check these out.
But that’s just my opinion. What do y’all think can be learned from strong female romance novel characters?