Old post, but new to me: Rebecca at Crunchings and Munchings has a searing essay on why the language we use in fiction matters:
I feel like there was absolutely a moment in my life (early high school) when I wanted to be strong and self-sufficient and was encouraged (by my boyfriend at the time; by well-meaning guy friends) to think of my strength (and tastes—in music, movies, humor) as being in spite of being female rather than a natural part of it. It is such an insidious form of sexism because, of course, it’s praising women who are strong and brave, right? But, to the contrary, every time we reinforce the notion that bravery, strength, etc. are masculine characteristics that some women sometimes have, we imply that the standard for all those other women all the rest of the time is weakness or neediness; that embracing characteristics associated with femininity might mitigate that strength, that bravery, that self-sufficiency. And we imply that the only way to be strong or brave is in the way we typically associate with masculine behavior.
This is my problem with most books about “strong women”—when a female character is labeled a “strong woman,” what the labeler usually means is, “She espouses stereotypical masculine qualities which are inherently superior to stereotypical feminine qualities.”
In other words, what makes her “strong” is being more like a man.
Dead wrong. A strong woman, to me, is any human being who self-identifies as a woman and is admirably competent in some way (physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically—whatever), while also being unafraid to be human.
Favorite fictional example: Ellen Ripley, heroine of the Alien movies. Physically, she’s weaker than the ‘roided-up marines she works alongside. Her strength is all cerebral: she’s smart, skeptical, practical, and gets shit done…but she also cries, feels things deeply, and struggles emotionally and psychologically. Well, no shit: she’s the sole survivor after three movies of face-hugging horror. Watch the end of Alien and tell me that’s not the poster girl for Strong Women—hell, Strong Humans—everywhere: grieving, weeping, terrified, yet mustering incredible courage to defeat a super-predator against overwhelming odds.
And, of course, there’s the ridiculously epic ending of Aliens, which was so good JK Rowling had to
rip it off pay tribute.
That right there? Strong. Fucking. Woman.