Today, I want to talk about the Strong Female Protagonist. There is definitely more to be said on this and I anticipate at least one more post sometime in the future.
Something that independent authors (those not published through traditional publishing houses) have brought to the table in piles is the strong female protagonist. You see these characters more and more, but indie authors are truly making them something that is common in fiction. Women are taking the spotlight, especially in the paranormal and urban fantasy genres. You have women assassins, warriors, private investigators, and more.
It is somewhat painful for me to say that the strong female protagonist is often an illusion. It seems, in the hunt for a woman who is “badass”, we have forgotten a few really important things, pushing our SFP so far into the realm of “badass” that she pops right out the other side into “damsel in distress”. Only, instead of just needing saved from the villain, she now needs saved from herself.
The most common thing I find in SFP is that she tends to be pridefully stupid. I have a hard time finishing books where the SFP is pridefully stupid. What does pridefully stupid mean? Well…let’s say the SFP has a partner (usually male who has more experience and/or knowledge). They are sent to do…something…that requires action. The SFP tends to take action without consulting the partner, often in an attempt to prove that she can do it. She, instead, fails spectacularly and is rescued last minute by the much more knowledgeable male lead. This is generally the climax of the book. Suddenly, our strong, “badass” female is now a damsel in distress. Something that could have been avoided, had she been written less like an impulsive male lead and more like a female…you know…the one sex that stops and asks for directions because it’s okay not to know everything? Some SFPs do this repeatedly throughout their book or series, not only showing that they are pridefully stupid, but also incapable of learning from their mistakes.
Which leads me to my next issues with mand SFPs. There is no growth. There are some really good, action-packed series out there where the SFP shows little to no growth. Book after book, action scene after action scene, she repeats the same mistakes. They usually are tied in with being pridefully stupid and seem to center around asking for help, sacrificing themselves in an attempt to ‘save’ the others (when, if they all work together, nobody needs to be sacrificed), and ignoring advice from more knowledgable sources. In young adult books, this often includes breaking household rules like sneaking out at night and skipping school. That is, if they have a home or school that would care.
These SFPs tend to reject any and all assistance. Whether it is from a misguided attempt at saving everybody, or a deep-seated belief that they need to prove they can do it, SFP frequently finds herself in a damsel in distress situation because of these actions. And while it’s acceptable for the SFP to not EXPECT help, as many characters are traumatized and abused and this is a general characteristic of a person who has had this background, the outright rejection of all help doesn’t fly. Expectation of help and rejection of help are treated as part of the same characteristic of self-reliance, when in reality they are far from it.
So, as a reader, I’m begging for different trope than the damsel in distress to teach and SFP about trust. Or I’m begging for an SFP who does trust and does recognize that one of the greatest weapons in her arsenal is her team or partner. I want to see SFPs written as what we view a strong woman to be. She doesn’t have to be a cowboy with a vagina to be strong and appeal to readers. She doesn’t even have to be described as “badass”. I just want a female character who plays on the strengths of being female and who recognizes that there ARE some things she can’t do alone. I want a strong female protagonist who doesn’t become a damsel in distress as a result of her own actions.
This is not to say these characters aren’t strong, or that a strong character is perfect. Far from it, in fact. But these are a couple things bothering readers that have been brought up in discussion with friends and colleagues. What are things that are common in SFPs that bother you?