No Suitcases, Please

After reading Mariah Avix’s post on Strong Women, I did some thinking.

I am a romance writer, and that’s what a read. Though some men enjoy reading it as well, Romance is geared towards a mainly female market. First time my husband read one of my books, he dubbed it “porn for women”.

Not entirely inaccurate. It’s the portrayal of a fantasy, a female fantasy, and there’s usually sex in it.

Beyond that, though, Romance does something else. It often depicts the issues women have faced and continue to face. Things such as: rape, feeling powerless, being stalked, not being good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough. The heroine then overcomes these things and finds her happily-ever-after.

I’ve heard many complain that finding strong female characters in romance is hard. First thing I ask them is when the book they’re reading was written. While Romance has been around since before Jane Austin penned her first novel, what it has meant to be a strong woman has changed significantly.

Think about it. Back in the 1800s, a strong woman is not the same as one from the 1950s or from 2017. Society changes, culture changes, and to some extent, we’re all subject to the culture we live in.

So what does it mean to be a strong woman today?

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Whenever I ask this question, I ask: does the heroine have agency?

What does this mean?  She cannot be a suitcase the hero brings along for the ride. She has to be actively engaged in her own story.

For me, it means meeting the Princess Leia criteria. It means she’s doing stuff. She’s making things happen rather than things just happening to her. Yes, bad stuff still happens, but she’s Princess Leia doing something about it rather than Princess Peach waiting for Mario.

For example, Leia takes the stolen plans and is trying to get them to the right people. When bad things happen (Darth Vadar catching her and boarding her ship), she still gets the plans to Obi Wan.

Sure, Luke and Han go to rescue her, but she doesn’t hide behind them and wait for them to get her back to the ship. I love it when she snatches up the blaster and shows them how to use it.

She saves Han Solo.

She blows up an Imperial moon base.

She leads a rebellion.

She does stuff.

Does she get captured? Yes. But she resists their interrogation procedures.

Does she lose Han to carbonite? Yes, and she rescues him.

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I think of her a lot when I think of a strong female character. She’s mostly smart, actively engaged, but she’s not invincible. Not perfect. She can’t be, or she won’t be likable.

For the longest time, all we had was her and Buffy, but that’s changing. Our culture is changing. There have been more strong female characters lately, and even Disney has gotten on board with Merida and Elsa.

But we still have a ways to go.

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How about you?  What do you think of when you think of a strong female character? Any examples in modern literature that you use to guide you?

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4 thoughts on “No Suitcases, Please

  1. Good post!

    Since most of the stories I write feature both a little romance and LGBTQ characters, I tend to end up with either the MCs being two males or two females. In either case, though, I agree that the characters should have agency, and should be full-blooded: good at some stuff, sucky at others. They should make some good decisions, some bad decisions and some where the jury’s still out.

    Escaping into the garbage compactor, for example, was a somewhat questionable decision on Leia’s part, though it’s hard to think what else she could have done. No, I take that back. Imperial storm troopers are such terrible shots that maybe they should have held firm in that passageway and fought it out!

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