Over the past 50 years, we have witnessed the emergence of intelligent, complex, and fascinating female characters in movies and television. Characters like Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley have left a lasting impact on generations of viewers. However, among these extraordinary portrayals, another type of character has emerged – the “strong female character.” This phenomenon has been criticized for its shallowness, banality, and lack of depth, making it an unpleasant imitation of the excellent female characters we appreciated in the past.
The term “strong female character” has become an overused slogan, losing its meaning in the world of cinema. The “strong female character” has become a phrase similar to soulless corporate jargon used to promote projects. But why has this trend become so prevalent, and how does it differ from a genuinely good female character? Will Jordan from “The Critical Drinker” channel has created a very interesting piece on this topic. Let’s delve into this issue together.
Character Development is Key
One of the fundamental problems with strong female characters is their lack of competence. In any good movie or series, the protagonist must face challenges and obstacles. This allows them to grow and evolve. The journey usually involves struggles, failures, and seeking guidance from mentors. However, strong female characters are often portrayed as naturally skilled at everything, rarely facing serious failures or setbacks. The fear of associating failure with weakness leads writers to deny their characters opportunities for personal growth. By focusing on self-empowerment, these characters undermine the relatability and empathy that viewers seek in a convincing story. How can we identify with a character who is the best at everything?
Physical strength is another aspect where strong female characters often fall short. In contemporary films, petite actresses often defeat much larger opponents, as if physical prowess is the sole measure of strength. This attempt to make female characters physically equal to males ignores biological differences between genders. Men generally have greater physical strength due to factors such as bone density, muscle mass, and body structure. Ignoring these realities to promote gender equality on the screen leads to incredible fight scenes that do not resonate with the audience. If a nearly 100-kilogram MMA fighter were to hit a main female character, who is only half their weight, in the face, it would result in a knockout in almost every case. And this applies regardless of gender.
The Created Character is False
Furthermore, strong female characters often lack human personality traits, transformation, wit, or resourcefulness – qualities we appreciate. Sarah Connor had no chance in a direct confrontation with the Terminator, but she used her wit while fighting him. Contemporary female characters become like Terminators, without any weaknesses – they have great power but no potential – which can only be unlocked by some banal script detail. A prime example of these simplifications is Disney+’s latest production, “She-Hulk.” A lawyer who accidentally becomes a female version of the Hulk. Do you remember the professor who turned into a green giant, uncontrollable and unable to control himself? When he felt threatened, he uncontrollably transformed into the Hulk. He became unpredictable, losing his personality completely, and with each transformation, the risk of never regaining his human form increased. The character faced dilemmas – whether to save loved ones at the risk of his own life. And She-Hulk? The lawyer becomes a female Hulk at will, mainly for making jokes. Then she loses nothing – she still has her personality, can change back whenever she wants, gains super strength and power. What is the cost of such wonderful abilities? There isn’t any, because “she’s a strong female character.”
Filmic Zero-One Female
Instead of embodying altruism, compassion, caring, sensitivity, or eccentricity, women are often depicted as emotionless, dismissive, domineering, aggressive, and impulsive. This approach seems to be a reaction to previous stereotypes, aiming to move away from portraying women as damsels in distress or overly sexualized figures. However, it results in characters lacking authenticity and depth, leaving the audience disconnected and unengaged.
In the pursuit of equality and empowerment, writers often deprive female characters of their femininity and replace it with stereotypical male traits. This excessive compensation leads to the creation of characters and scenes that feel forced and unnatural, as they try to mimic male behavior and manners. Female characters should not merely adopt a superficial facade of toughness; they should have the opportunity to display a range of emotions and vulnerabilities. By diminishing the challenges, weaknesses, and failures of these characters, their courage is undermined, and their relatability suffers.
As a result, strong female characters appear bland, sterile, genderless, condescending, and unattractive. Audiences may have difficulty articulating what these characters lack, but they instinctively recognize the lack of authenticity and connection. Hollywood’s insistence on promoting strong female characters has led to growing rejection among viewers. Ironically, the trope of the strong female character, initially meant to empower, has become their biggest weakness.