How to Write Strong Women in Fiction without Making Them Feminists

Writing Christian fiction involves much more than mentioning God a few times or showing a character attending church once. Christian fiction encompasses the whole worldview behind your characters. Loyalty. Courage. Hope. Kindness. Love. No character is perfect, but the worldview presented and the conclusions reached by the main characters ought to mirror the teachings of Scripture. This is true, not only of emotional and mental themes, but of all the details in your story—including the portrayal of gender roles, which is often ravaged by secular (and sometimes Christian) fiction.How_to_Write_Strong_Women_in_Fiction

I am not just talking about a proper view of marriage or the fact that God created us male and female. In a biblical worldview, men and women have different tasks and roles of authority in which the woman is a helpmeet to the man. This contrasts sharply with feminism that elevates women in the wrong way. The right to vote and receive equal wages are admirable goals. But unbiblical feminism is a mindset in which a woman steps outside of her God-given role to try to usurp the role God has given to men.

What Does a Biblical Worldview of Gender Roles Look Like?

Men and women are different. What a surprise. It is actually cool how men and women are built differently. They see differently (because of minor variances in the eye, men see distance and speeds better while women see textures and colors). They react differently. In a stressful situation, a man’s body tenses up, readying for a fight or flight. A woman’s shuts down in the urge to hide.

Let me be clear, men and women are equal before God and as human beings. One is not better than the other. No soul is of greater or lesser worth. Yet, men and women are different. They are designed for specific tasks and biblically assigned distinct roles.

The man is to be the protector. The provider. He is to head the family, preach, and be a leader in general. He goes to war to defend what is behind him.

Women are to assist the men. They help advance the mission of their husband or father. They also guard the home and raise up the next generation.

It is when a woman attempts to take over the role of a man (such as claiming leadership, marching to war, or getting a job to earn extra money), especially when capable men are present, that an unbiblical brand of feminism can slip into stories.

Must All My Female Characters Conform to This Pattern?

Quite simply, no. Not at all. For instance, Eowyn in Lord of the Rings is a fascinating character. At the beginning of the story, she is hard and cold. Though she may not be purely feministic (most characters probably won’t be), she does disguise herself as a man and ride for war, longing to be able to act as any other man. But at the end of the book she softens, realizing and accepting her own place with happiness.

Characters in a book are not faultless. It would be boring if they were. Each of your characters has his or her own set of flaws. When writing these flaws, a character’s feministic tendencies should be handled like any other problem: the character struggles with her flaws and learns how to overcome them. An antagonist delves deeper into his flaws as a contrast against the light. Some characters continue believing the lies they have been taught while others eventually embrace the truth. The portrayal should be the same whether the flaw is anger, pride, or feminism.

A female protagonist may discover that feminism is false and disavow it over the course of your book. Or a character may remain steeped in feminism, acting as a contrasting foil. She may grow or fall deeper. There is nothing wrong with having feminism in your story as long as you demonstrate how it defies biblical womanhood and what the consequences are.

What about Female Characters in Extraordinary Circumstances?

Since you are writing a story, I doubt any of the circumstances will be ordinary. The girls and women in your book will likely perform extraordinary feats that normally wouldn’t fit in the duties of a woman.

This is fine—expected even. Although there are general roles for men and women, this doesn’t mean a man will never tend to the mundane chores of a household or that a woman won’t ever lead. Whether your character follows feministic or biblical ideas is determined not by her deeds but by her overall demeanor and how she relates to men.

Think about Deborah in the book of Judges. She became a judge (which was a sign of a curse that there were no men suitable to lead), but she didn’t roam the land, mustering an army. The people came to her to be judged. She called Barak to gather an army and only accompanied him to battle when he refused to go alone.

Esther is another example. When she heard of the threat to her people, she didn’t charge off on her own and rally a resistance. Instead, she listened to her cousin, who was the father figure in her life. After asking him and others to pray and fast for three days, she risked her life and went to speak to the king. Esther saved her people, and she did it in a God-honoring way.

Don’t be afraid of thrusting your women into difficult situations. They can lead. They can spy. They can even fight. You just need to consider one question when deciding how they react to the scenarios you’ve placed them in.

Why?

Why are they leading? Is it because there is no one else to do the job? Is it because the men are fighting or wounded or in need of aid? Or are your female characters pushing forward to seize the task from those who ought to be leading?

Feminism is about attitude more than actions. A woman washing dishes in her own house can be bitterly feministic, whereas a woman standing beside her husband to protect her village and children from raiders is completely within her role and ability.

The same concept applies to female warriors and spies. Are they opportunely positioned to find information that no one else can? Are they volunteering to save numerous lives? Do they have the blessing of those around them? Or are they sneaking off in the middle of the night to prove that they are as good as any man?

It is not wrong to have a female character who is skilled with a sword, bow, gun, or weapon of any kind. Although it is the man’s responsibility to protect his family, there are times when your female characters may be forced into combat. If women are attacked while their men are absent, they will fight. If their children are in danger, they will fight. Heroically serving as the last line of defense for hearth and home is entirely different than disguising oneself as a man and riding to war in search of glory.

Depending on the culture of your story, you may have female characters resisting norms which would keep them in restricted circles. Still, they have choices about how to approach what they must do. Will they rise up like a feminist, demanding to be treated like a man, or will they submit to rightful authority while exemplifying the full scale of their roles and abilities?

The Key to Writing Strong Women

The key to making your women strong, and even leaders, is how they view men. Do they heed, honor, and help the men in their lives? Do they work with men, or do they try to break free and somehow prove they are as skilled as men (which ought never to be questioned since the success of both genders is outwardly measured by different actions)? Focus on the motivation and attitude of the women in your story, which will cause them to be either feministic or supportive of the men in their lives.

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Hope Ann is a speculative fiction writer who lives on a small farm in northern Indiana. She has self-published three Legend of Light novellas and is the Kingdom Pen Writing Team Captain. Reading since the age of five, and introducing herself to writing at age eight, she never had a question that the author’s life was the life for her. Her goal is to write thrilling Christian fantasy and futuristic fiction — stories she longed for while growing up. After graduating from homeschool, Hope now teaches writing to several of her eight younger siblings. She loves climbing trees, archery, photography, Lord of the Rings, chocolate, and collecting shiny things she claims are useful for story inspiration. You can find out more about her at: http://writinginthelightpublishing.com/
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Comments

  1. Yes.
    I don’t usually address the issue of feminism when I’m talking to other writers because I feel like my argument is inherently compromised, me being a guy and all. From now on, I have this article to link back too. THANK YOU.
    Just a fantastic post that makes some really great points that apply not only to the feminism conflict but also to so many other issues that we face in today’s world. “There is nothing wrong with having feminism in your story as long as you demonstrate how it defies biblical womanhood and what the consequences are.” That applies to so many things other than feminism…
    In a nutshell, that idea is the key to developing a theme in your story.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pretty much all of this. I like how you pointed out that leading in this like defending your home isn’t inherently feministic. Sometimes you have to because there’s no one else. I have a girl character who goes and gets a job outside of the home because all the men are off in the Civil War. It was a job that wasn’t considered “women’s work” at the time, but under the circumstances it wasn’t wrong. I got a job outside home this semester, not because I want to prove I can do anything a man can do, but first for responsibility and second to help pay for school (and since the job is at school, it’s handy).
    I notice that a lot of women warriors are archeresses. In the Iliad, Paris shoots a Greek warrior (I forget who) in the foot, pinning him to the ground for a bit. The Greek responds that the bow is a coward’s weapon, because with it you can injure people from a distance without ever risking yourself, and that if Paris had only attacked him like a man, things would have gone differently.
    And of course when someone they love is in danger, women will fight. That’s just part of being a mama bear. It’s not so much the fact that they’re fighting, but *why*, that makes them feministic or otherwise. A lot of people seem to forget that, and I’m glad you mentioned it.

    • Archeresses are cool! Do we need a better reason to have them? 😉 But yes, there are many things that the situation and attitude determines what is actually feministic more than the actions.

  3. Thanks so much for this article, Hope! Feminism and female and male roles is something I’m concerned I’ll misrepresent in my stories. This post has defiantly helped! 🙂

  4. Awesome article Hope.
    On the topic of the differences between men and women, I’ve also noticed that we’re wired to want different things. Deep down in her heart of hearts, even the most belligerent feminist has to acknowledge that the thought of someone stronger than her who would protect her is inherently beautiful. As with so many other things, true womanliness is not a lack of strength, but the courage to be strong in the way you were made to be. Which is why feminism, at its core, is so empty. It rejects the belief that woman was made to be something in particular, and in seeking to fill the hole that rejection leaves, it must take on a role it is not and push it continually. Also belligerently— in the way all deeply insecure and foundationless things are belligerent. In committing to be (and to make the world acknowledge that they are) something they are not, women reject their inherent worth. The error is not in the desire for strength, but in the rejecting of the strength they were created with.
    *cough* Anyway. Yes. Mini-rant over. 😛

  5. This is a great article! Strong, non-feminist women are something that I want to display in my stories, especially since I read so many books where the main character is feminist, and always going on about how they are equal if not better than men at fighting.
    I once wrote a 12 page paper on the difference between men and women (Yay homeschooling!) and something my dad pointed out to me while I was writing it was that the Bible says that men should lead in the family, and in the church, but it does not say that it is wrong for women to lead in the workplace. While the Bible absolutely affirms wives submitting to their husbands, it does not tell women to submit to men in general.
    Articles about feminism, and correctly portraying women are some of my favorites on Kingdom Pen. Great Job!

    • Yes, while a woman is under her husband, or a daughter is under her father, it isn’t that a woman is under any man she comes across just because he is man. Good point. 🙂

  6. May I just point out here that feminism is not trying to prove a woman is as good as a man or better? There may be misapplied concepts in places such as abortion or military service, but it is necessary in countries where men see their masculinity as an excuse to trample women by giving them lower salaries or abusing them. Feminism is not mysandry. It’s not saying women are better than men or anything. There can be feminists that are married in Christian homes and don’t work because they are raising families. Yet, a married woman working doesn’t mean she’s a mysandrist. The proverbs 31 woman sells and makes money for her family withiut being distant or rebelling against her husband. Strong female characters don’t have to be warriors, but they can stand up for what is right, even while being a feminist or at least holding to at least a few of the principles. Forgive me if this is not very concise. Just spouting my thoughts here 🙂

    • I agree that there are various definitions of feminism and that there is nothing wrong for standing up for basic human rights. In the article, I attempted to focus on an unbiblical brand of feminism that goes beyond advocating for women to be treated fairly and instead tries to give women the roles which ought to be held by men, such as leadership in the home.

      • Ok. I understand what you’re saying. Generally people like that would be mysandrists, although they do have a tendency to label themselves as feminists. Perhaps you could have explained that better. Other than that, great job!

  7. Sarah Spradlin says:

    “The key to making your women strong, and even leaders, is how they view men.” Great point and very thought-provoking article! 🙂 It is always a challenge to keep a Biblical perspective when writing anything–particularly with gender roles. *thumbs up for tackling a hard topic confidently*

  8. YES. Finally, an article I can show people and say, “See? I’m not the only one!”

  9. Excellent point that many of the women in our stories will face extraordinary circumstances that will force them to take on unusual role (but that shouldn’t be portrayed as the norm). After all, we don’t often expect the boys and men in our lives to lead rebellions or fight villains in single combat 😀 Top notch work as always!

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