So the other day I read an incredible book that featured a strong, layered female protagonist (and I’m not going to say more about it than that because reasons.) After I finished reading, I headed over to Goodreads, as I often do, to check out what others thought about the book. While for the most part the reviews were positive, a good chunk of them, even some of the four and five star reviews, complained about the female protagonist. The general consensus amongst these reviewers was that the female character wasn’t strong, like they’d been deceived into thinking by the book jacket. If she was supposed to be strong, then why did she cry? If she was supposed to be tough, then why did she think about boys so much? If she was supposed to be badass, then why did she like dresses and makeup and shopping? One reviewer even called her a walking contradiction.
Well. This really disappointed me. Basically, what they were saying is that to be truly strong and badass, this character should have been less stereotypically feminine—especially troubling because most of the reviewers were women themselves.
Listen—female characters can be strong without being stripped of liking dresses and makeup and boys. They’re not signs of a weak character. They’re not flaws. Which leads me to the thesis statement of this blog post:
Being feminine and being strong aren’t mutually exclusive.
There was a quote going around a few weeks ago from Natalie Portman that perfectly summed up my feelings:
“I want [female characters] to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.” —Natalie Portman
Yes. YES. YES. YES. To hand a woman a pair of pants and a weapon and have her unflinchingly mow down everyone in her path doesn’t alone make a strong character. It’s like Portman says—that’s just macho. (And archetypical. And boring.) We owe ourselves more than that. We owe ourselves nuanced, layered female characters. And if that character happens to like makeup and dresses? That’s great.
There’s nothing wrong with being a girl.
(Side note: if you figure out the book, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back, but please don’t name it here. I don’t want to single out any reviewers. Thanks )