The Strong Female Character.

Now, this is a topic that I’ve always wanted to discuss, but it’s something that can make me so passionate that I fear I might get belligerent. Let’s talk, if we may, about the Strong Female Character, something that I feel very strongly about, as an independent, strong female character myself.

The other day, Charles Yallowitz posted this incredible defense against the “Rules of Fantasy,” one of which was that “The Female Hero Cannot Accept Help,” which immediately made me think of Serpent in a Cage. Now, it’s probably several years before that book makes it to the bookshelves, but there are spoilers ahead, so if you wish to avoid them, stop reading now and we’ll cut to the chase: females characters accepting help does not make them weak.

Case in point: Auferrix Ferrore of Serpent in a Cage. The Ferrores are the epitome of the Strong Female Character, with a matriarch-based society fueled by oen’s ability to remain strong in combat. They are ruled by a Queen Captain, and, in ancient times, the next Queen Captain was determined by when a daughter of the current Queen Captain challenged her to a battle to the death. If the daughter kills the Queen Captain, she gains the title. If she does not, the current Queen Captain keeps her title and the daughter is deemed to have been ill-fit and not ready to lead the kingdom. I don’t think it gets much more bad-ass than that. Of course, it’s also a little barbaric, so, when Auferrix takes the throne, she changes things up a little so that death is not required, but there is still a battle where the next Queen Captain must defeat the old.

Still, in the course of Serpent in a Cage, Auferrix must depend on the help of the two male main characters in able to rise up and defeat the bad guy. She is still the one to defeat the bad guy, but she cannot do it by herself, especially in her circumstances. She is, quite frankly, being rescued. Big Strong Female Character No-No right there, yes? Well, not if you want to be realistic. And not if you want to prove that being fallible does not make you weak. Auferrix was captured while fighting for her own; her enemy was powerful, and they kept her locked away in a dungeon, to be starved and abused, for years. Her strength isn’t in her ability to “save herself,” but rather in her ability to overcome everything that has happened to her. The fact that she’s still able to get up and fight after all she’s been through is her strength. Her strength is her will and her ability to survive and not to let circumstances pull her under.

But she needs help. You’d need help, too, if you were in her state for several years. The three of them work together to overcome the enemy. And let’s face it: would anyone complain if a male character had to receive help? Were the roles reversed and it was two females rescuing a male, the reception would likely be very different. What kind of feminism is that? I am still of the idea that feminism is all about equality, not a woman’s superiority over a male. Which means no more double standards, no more casting things in the light of one’s gender. Auferrix Ferrore is not a strong female character. She’s a strong character, period. Her gender should not play into it at all, nor should people find her weak because she had to turn to her friends to help her during a time of dire need. No one would hold that against a male character, so why should they hold the female to a different standard?

TL;DR: A strong female character can still be strong, even if she has to get help, even if that help is from (*gasp*) men, Auferrix Ferrore is a bad ass, and Charles’s post is a brilliant deconstruction of everything that’s “popular” in the world of fantasy fiction today. Go read it.


    • Another thing I have trouble wrapping my head around. What brings a person to be that insecure about themselves that they feel threatened by a fiction character who exhibits strength that happens to be a different gender? Mind boggling.

  1. Cozy mystery writer chimes in: strong female lead characters in my genre are very popular; have been for years. As for needing/accepting help, yes, it does happen. In my book, part of the character arc involves how the strong female lead character deals with accepting help she doesn’t want from her grandmother, since it implies she is not ready to be an adult yet. Nothing to do with feminism. As well, the arc involves her psychological development involving needing/accepting help from her future side-kick, a man who at times needs a kick in the… My point, in a thousand words or less, is that gender is really not significant; conflict is – including how to discern one needs help, and then the process to decide if one will ask for it and/or accept it. Great post!

    • Thanks, D.J.! I think the issue mostly comes from a female character accepting help from a man, and I love your take on it. Accepting help from a person doesn’t show weakness, it shows growth and development. I also love the dynamic you’ve got there between the MC and her grandmother. Reminds me a little of my own grandmother. Cheers for creating characters who are defined by their humanity, and not their gender!

  2. This is a point that so many people miss. They think a strong female character has to have no flaws at all to be strong. Where as just making a female character real, with independence, ability but also flaws and her strength to overcome them is what makes her strong 🙂

    Brilliant post!

    • Thank you! Flaws in a character are beautiful and compelling…and I find a character who overcomes her flaws so much stronger than a character with hardly any at all.

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