Let’s talk about ‘strong female characters’.

I’m currently writing a book with a very emotionally vulnerable female character. She’s powerless, easily influenced, subject to frequent panic attacks, sensitive and lacks self confidence. She’s weak in almost every way you can name: emotionally, mentally and physically.

Despite that, she’s the strongest female character I’ve ever written.


Because I believe that she’s the most realistic, relatable, and well-written of my characters. And that is what a strong female should be.

The phrase ‘strong female character’ is thrown around a lot as a selling point for books.

“Read this novel, because it’s got an amazing strong female character!”

However, ‘strong’ is easily misconstrued as ‘good at fighting’ and ‘unemotional’ when really it should just mean three-dimensional. Women don’t have to be strong to be valid. They just have to be realistic.

The fact that we even hold ‘strong’ female characters on a pedestal is worrying. Our ladies seem to require the typically masculine traits of warriors to be impressive. There’s nothing wrong with that, but people never talk about ‘strong male characters’. Male characters just have to be themselves.

It seems that just existing is not enough for women – they have to be strong too.

Recently, social media ridiculed the Supergirl trailer for being silly and badly written, because she displays typically ‘girly’ feminine traits, which was seen as inappropriate and unrealistic for a superhero. People compared this to a parody which Scarlet Johansson made for SNL called Black Widow: The Age of Me, which played the powerful and emotionally distant character off as a ‘light-headed’ romantic comedy lead.

The implication that this comparison makes is damaging and dangerous. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the way that Supergirl embraces both her femininity and her power. The parody of Black Widow isn’t offensive because it implies that being ‘that kind of girl’ is wrong. It is offensive because it is unrealistic . . . for Black Widow. It ignores her character and storyline in favour of a ‘rom-com’ plot. 

By limiting women to one certain type of character, who has to be strong to be well-written or taken seriously, we risk implying that all women are the same, regardless of their personality – that Black Widow and Supergirl are interchangeable, because why do we need more than one female superhero, when Black Widow is already the perfect female warrior?

Every woman on the planet is different. There is no ‘ideal’ that women have to aim for to be called a strong woman. Supergirl is being herself, and the person she is is just as feminist as Black Widow.

Weak women are worth reading about.

Unlikeable women are worth reading about.

Every woman is worth reading about, as long as they are human: with whatever strengths and weaknesses that includes. They don’t have to be likeable and admirable and special to be deserving of attention.

Being an individual is all women need to do to be strong and respected. That’s it. Wear pink dresses or wear black combat trousers. Long for a relationship or spend your time fighting enemies (or both).

Girls don’t need to prove themselves as strong. They are already enough.

In other news: The Next Together was in Marie Claire! And the Coventry Telegraph! I’m holding a giveaway! Hurray!

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here. 

Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

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