“We need more strong female characters!”
I’m sure you’ve heard this battle cry before. Whether it be in books or movies, we hear the mainstream media and our peers clamoring for more “strong female characters”. And you know what? I agree with them; we do need more strong female protagonists in our stories.
Of course, I disagree with the Feminists over what “strong” looks like for women and girls. For the Feminists, a “strong female character” is a woman who knows martial arts, and can beat up all the men with kicks and punches. She wears a sly, confident grin, and never needs any help, especially not from men. She is Independent and deadly. She is equal, if not superior to, men in physical strength, and she curses just as crudely. This is a “strong” woman. In other words, an arrogant self-centered man…in female form. This is not strength, but brokenness and weakness.
When “Strength” is Weakness
But how can I say this is weak? Well, what makes something strong? What makes anything strong? What makes a strong computer, or a strong rope? Whether or not something is strong depends on how well it is able to perform the task it was created for. A slow computer is not very strong. It is not performing the way it was created to perform. What makes us strong people depends on whether or not we are doing what we were created to do. A man is strong who behaves the way he was created to. A strong woman is a woman who acts the way women were created to act.
We learn from Genesis that God created the woman to be a helper to the man. Not an underling, but counterpart. (Genesis 2:18, 22-24)
We are told that, “A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth,” (Provebs 11:16). This is an interesting verse, as gaining wealth is portrayed as being worthless in comparison to honor. A kindhearted woman is greater than a “strong,” ruthless man. Yet, our culture credits ruthlessness as being strength.
Proverbs 31:25 tells us that for the ideal woman, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” She is fearless! Not because she knows Kung-Fu, but because she knows God.
We need more strong women, both in stories and real life, but this strength doesn’t come from acting like a man. One of the sad ironies of Feminism is that it is always comparing women to men. Feminism has made men the standard for women. I think it’s rather insulting to women to insist they must act like men in order to be “strong”. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a woman knowing how to defend herself, it’s great if she can, but muscles don’t make one truly strong. Additionally, it’s just a reality that women are the, “weaker vessel,” (1 Peter 3:7). Many of the “strong” female characters we see in stories today, in addition to not actually being strong, aren’t really women either.
So, what is a good example of a truly strong female character? Well, let’s look at a real woman.
Can you imagine the story of Esther being told today? A girl who is forced to undergo months of beauty treatments so that she might attract the favor of a king she doesn’t “love”, and then subsequently being forced to join his harem?
If rewritten today, no doubt this female protagonist would have rebelled at such circumstances. To do otherwise would be painting Esther as a weak character and insulting women, right? Retold, she would have taken up the sword and formed a rebel army comprised of the other women forced to participate in the beauty pageant. Perhaps Esther would forge a romance with an old friend from her childhood, and he would become her sidekick. On occasion, she would rescue him from peril, and he would make witty comments in return. They would be so “cute” and all the readers would “ship it.” At the end of this swashbuckling tale, Esther, using guerrilla tactics and ninja skills, would have over-powered the king’s army, and taken his throne. You go girl!
But that’s not what the real Esther did. Despite her difficult circumstances, she trusted God, and became the queen. Five years later (yes, five stinkin’ years!) she would learn why—to save her people. With guns blazing! Right? Not quite. Esther went defenseless before the king, uninvited, risking her life. She was willing to die to do what was right and to save her people. That is strength, but she didn’t need a sword. In fact, one might say this takes more courage than merely engaging in hand-to-hand combat. She could not rely on her own strength or skills. She had no defense but God.
Strength In Virtue
We seem to falsely believe that feats of fantastic physical power and violence are the only ways to show strength, or that demanding others submit to our will is somehow “empowering”. Your character may be a tough guy, (or girl), but that doesn’t make them strong. It doesn’t make them a warrior for Christ. Strength is found in virtue.
A person can, “shrug off pain and deny his need for medical attention, though his leg has been all but amputated, and still be a true wimp. A man may be willing to fight, persevere, and endure pain; but a true wimp knows only how to fight, persevere, and endure pain for one thing: his self.” – Eric Ludy
The “self” is the greatest obstacle to strength. A person who only seeks their own well-being is a coward and a wimp, yet a person who gives up everything for others is a mighty warrior. If you want to portray a strong female character, give her a character of humility and modesty; have her see others as more important than herself. The ability to physically defend one’s self is only superficial. Give her a heart of courage and love, and you have yourself a truly strong female character.
So does this mean we can’t write stories with women in combat? Not necessarily (more on this in part 2). The truth is that true strength, for both men and women, comes from acting how we were created to act, and we were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
We don’t glorify God when we act outside of His intention for our lives. We don’t glorify God when we are too busy glorifying ourselves. Yet, frequently, what our culture calls “strength”, is just selfishness. Ambition, and a determination to “get to the top” at all costs is considered strength, but it is actually weakness. Doing what is right, despite the consequences, is where true strength is found. Anyone can risk it all for selfish gain.
Men and women are different, and therefore have different roles, so how these truths manifest may look different between the genders. How specifically will these differences look? Stay click here for part 2 to find out!