Back again today is author Hazel Butler to talk about strong female characters and what makes hers different. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!
One of my favourite writers (and directors), Joss Whedon, famously recounted an incident with a journalist during an Equality Now speech in 2006. It went something like this: the journalist asked, ‘So, why do you write these strong female characters?’, and in the style we have come to love and adore from the man who brought us Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and The Avengers (amongst other things), Whedon simply responded, ‘Because you’re still asking me that question’.
I’m fairly certain that everyone who has ever written a tale involving strong female characters—in particular a lead character—has been asked some variation of, ‘Why did you make your women so strong?’, and/or, ‘Why did you make your hero a woman?’
I find it mildly ridiculous, but sadly not surprising, that this still happens. But it was a comment from a friend of mine after she read my first novel, Chasing Azrael, that really got me thinking about this. The friend in question is no chauvinist. She’s no stranger to strong female characters, in fact she’s all for them. What surprised me was her assertion that it was the first time she’d read anything wherein there was a strong female protagonist whose strength depended, not on her physical power or supernatural abilities, but due to her strength of character.
Andee Tilbrook is not a strong character because she’s a slayer, an assassin, a world class spy, or physically capable of kicking the arse of anyone she pleases. She’s actually physically very weak, being extremely petite and rather frail. She suffers from depression, which weakens her further, and when we meet her at the start of the novel she is so lost in grief for her husband that she’s close to ending her own life.
Doesn’t sound too strong, does it?
But Andee’s strength is something that is demonstrated throughout the novel as it is slowly revealed what she has been through, and how she has endured these events. Her strength is revealed as she gradually comes into her own, accepts her powers, and uses them for the benefit of herself and others, not because she can fight for them, or protect them, or magically save the day, but because she’s independent, tenacious, intelligent, and driven.
My friend enjoyed Andee as a character—despite her prickly appearance at the start of the novel—precisely because she demonstrated that it was possible to be strong, and a woman, and un-reliant on others, and save the day through sheer force of will, strength of character, and smarts.
She wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider that gave her superhuman powers. She has superhuman powers, but if anything these weaken her. They make her question her place in the world, they damage her grasp on reality, and for many years she can find no tangible benefit to them.
Her powers are not a gift, they are a curse.
She is not strong because of them, she is strong in spite of them.
I was extremely pleased my friend had picked up on these aspects of her character, and encouraged to find that she—and later others—really appreciated them. When I came to write Bleizgeist, I wanted to further explore this notion of a strong female lead whose strength came not from any special powers or abilities, but from her character. While I wanted her to have special abilities, I also wanted them to go beyond being a mere hindrance and became an actual threat. I wanted a girl whose ‘gifts’ had no tangible benefits and were weakening her more and more with each passing day.
I wanted to heap a world of hurt on this girl and see how she dealt with it.
I wanted her hurt, and vulnerable, and threatened at every turn by emotional, psychological, physical, and social hardships.
I wanted a character who wasn’t just strong enough to endure, but strong enough to rise above and emerge victorious. Beyond victorious, I wanted her to emerge glorious.
Whether I have succeeded in this endeavour remains to be seen, but while reading, should you find yourself wondering why I chose to write a strong female protagonist, my answer is simply this:
Because you are still asking that question.
Ingary is a harsh land. Cursed by a perpetual winter, the isolated little town has all but forget why they worship the wolf.
Marked by magic she cannot control, Marishka is an outcast. Alone and starving she is plagued by geiste, the unconscious minds of the people of Ingary, roaming the wilderness as they sleep. Attracted to the gramarye in Marishka’s blood, the geiste give her no rest. Losing herself to madness, she is saved when she chances to fall in love. But when her affair is discovered, all hope is taken from her.
Beaten and lovelorn, she resigns herself to death.
And then the wolf walks through her door, and Marishka recalls the meaning of Bleizgeist—the spirit of the wolf.
About the author
Hazel is an author, artist and archaeologist from Cheshire, England. She is the founder and owner of The Bookshine Bandit, a business dedicated to helping authors, writers, bloggers, and those looking to self-publish achieve their dreams and maximise their writing potential.
Since 2010 she has been working on a series of Gothic Literary novels, the first of which, Chasing Azrael, was released in April 2014. The Deathly Insanity series is a set of Urban Fantasy novels with overlapping character and plot-lines. Hazel’s other published works include ‘Grave’, a short Dark Fantasy story, and an additional short story and novella published under a pen name.
While her primary interests are in Gothic and Fantasy art and fiction, Hazel reads a wide range of subjects and enjoys most forms of art. In addition to this, she runs The Bipolar Bear, a blog on bipolar disorder, and loves dogs. Her King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Dexter (yes, after the serial killer), is her near-constant companion.
Hazel is currently in the final year of her PhD, which focuses on Gender Dynamics in Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Britain. She studied at The University of Manchester for her Undergraduate degree, then Bangor University for her MA and PhD, spending the two years between her MA and PhD doing corporate archaeology and research excavations, both in Britain and in Austria. She has two papers published in international journals.
Don’t forget to check out the Rafflecopter, and stay tuned – the fun continues tomorrow! 🙂
(c) 2015. All rights reserved.
One thought on “Why Write Strong Female Leads? Because You’re Still Asking That Question.”