Today I’m delighted to welcome Erica Hayes to One More Page with an excellent guest post on ‘strong women’. Erica is an Aussie living in northern England, where she’s delighted that the hospitality and the beer are warm even if the weather isn’t. Erica’s hobbies include writing in coffee shops, feeding her enormous cat, and watching TV or reading until far too late at night. If it’s got serial killers, superheroes, monsters or spaceships – preferably all four – Erica is there. On the big issues: Captain Picard is cooler than Captain Kirk, Batman would beat up Superman, and vampires are hotter than werewolves any day. Welcome Erica!
We hear a lot these days about Strong Women in fiction. ‘You should write Strong Female Characters!’ everyone says, and they talk about female empowerment and agency and the Bechdel Test and if we don’t pass it we’re disrespecting the entire female gender.
Hell, yeah, let’s have some stories that are actually *about women* for a change. Enough sidekicks and one-dimensional love interests and femmes fatales. We want women taking charge… But is having a woman front and centre enough? Can a woman be the main character and still be… well, lame?
We could talk all day about what Strong Female Character actually means, and why on earth it should be any different from Strong Male Character. We could wonder why male action heroes can be motivated by anything from politics to revenge to a bad hair day, but for some reason the only valid motivation for a woman to take action seems to be motherhood. We could argue about where the line is between Kick-Ass Chick and Man With Boobs, and why no one ever calls an emotionally sensitive male character Woman With Dick, and why no one ever says Kick-Ass Dude, as if any Dude who *isn’t* Kick-Ass is somehow not dude-y enough to be worthy of the name…
The Kick-Ass Chick is much maligned, probably because in recent years she’s become kind of a caricature of herself, complete with unnecessary snark, tight leather pants, improbable weapons and the famous ‘tramp stamp’ tattoo. But hey, I write about super-powered crime fighters: kicking ass—and lots of it—is what they do. And what’s wrong with having a heroine who knows how to fight her way out of trouble?
Verity, the superheroine in my Sapphire City series, may not have miraculous martial arts prowess and a tattoo above her butt, but she’s unashamedly a Kick-Ass Chick. She’s a crime fighter, so she’s done her share of beating the tripe out of villains. She’s physically tough—she has to be, to survive the wringer her nemesis puts her through. In Book 1, SCORCHED, Verity’s mental strength is also put to the test, when her memories are tampered with and she can no longer trust those close to her. And in the new book, SCARRED, she’s challenged with moral and ethical problems when she must decide how far she’s willing to go to beat some utterly unscrupulous villains.
But her problems aren’t any harder to deal with because she’s a woman. They aren’t any easier, either. They’re gender-indifferent. SCARRED isn’t about a female crimefighter. It’s about a crimefighter who happens to be a woman.
That’s another cool thing about superhero stories: super powers can level the playing field between the sexes. It can reverse the clichés. Men aren’t always ‘stronger'; women aren’t always ‘more perceptive’. Which isn’t to say we ignore gender. We can still have romance and sexual tension, or characters with differing world views. But in my series, when the fists start flying and the action heats up, no one is standing about wondering whether a girl will be up to the job. Verity’s story isn’t about proving that a woman is as strong and capable as a man. Everyone just assumes she will be.
Including the archvillain, Razorfire. Is he too gender-biased to have a woman as his nemesis? Hell, no. He’s an equal opportunity bad guy. Bring ‘em all on, so long as they keep him entertained. And he’s no gallant white knight, either, gifting his female adversaries an easy option. Just because he’s a man, don’t imagine Verity can flutter her lashes and sexx him into thinking with his ‘little brain’.
And isn’t that what writing Strong Female (or Male, for that matter) Characters should be about: showing us a world where gender truly doesn’t matter? Where ‘strength’ is unisex, and expectations aren’t based on body parts but intelligence, personality, resourcefulness, drive and sheer stubborn willpower?
So, yeah, we could talk all day about what makes a Strong Female Character. Or, y’know, we could just let people be people and enjoy some awesome action—no matter who’s doing the ass-kicking.
Scorched is out now in ebook formats.
Scarred is out now in ebook formats and will be released in paperback on 24th March.
Find out more about Erica and her writing at: http://www.ericahayes.net/