Saturday, October 20, 2012

In defense of girls - when they act like girls.

I'm a strong woman. That's no secret. I'm proud of it too, which I think most of us are. We all want to be strong and not perceived as weak. Sometimes we're so scared of being weak, we lash out against anything considered less than strong.

But there’s a dirty little secret no one gets about us. Part of our strength is allowing ourselves to cry, to mourn, to stay in sweats for days (not that I’ve ever done that. *looks away*), and basically be a non-functioning member of society for a bit until we get over or learn how to deal with our pain. You know, basically allowing ourselves to be human.

Most of us make really stupid decisions. We fuss over hair, make-up, nails, tight fitting pants, the number on the scale, and even if we claim we don’t, we hope on the day we see the horrible childhood nemesis or the ex that broke our heart that we look as fantastic on the outside as we know we are on the inside.

You might even blare Taylor Swift in your car and sing while driving, even if you’re a grown woman, because her words just say the perfect things about ALL THE FEELS. (Again, not that I’VE ever done this, but I’m sure someone has. *shifty eyes*)

But there is a huge trend right now bashing the human element in women, especially in books, and calling them weak. Several characters are always slammed and others are brought up as counterpoints. So I’d like to take a moment and defend the “girlie” moments and show you that even the hardest edged one have those moments too.

I mean, I believe you can be a strong, independent woman with a brain who stands up for herself and still enjoy a man opening a door for you. Or crying when he is an asshat. I don’t see that as weak. But I think there’s an all or nothing thing going on right now that wants to obliterate the complete need for a companion and I just think that’s very unrealistic.I also think it has more to do with fear of being weak, rather than an actual dislike or disconnection.

As I writer, something I often think about is how would my character handle this situation? Is their reaction cliché? Does that make it the wrong choice? Did it become a cliché because that’s the normal human response?

Sometimes what is now looked at as a weak response is the best choice for my characters and the story. So my question is, when did showing real emotion make you a weak, unworthy heroine?

There’s a lot of complaints right now that the heroine doesn’t find herself until she finds the boy. Everything in her world is about the boy. She can’t function without the boy. I’m not saying every girl needs someone, but I am saying that the majority of us, at some point, have been ‘all about the boy’. Especially in YA, this is a major complaint. But I work with teenage girls. Even the cool indie chicks with genius heads on their shoulders get nuts over the boy.And very few connect to everyone like love.

Let’s take a look:

First off, this is not a comparison, which is my biggest complaint in the world. Heroines are in different books in different worlds. They all have strengths and weaknesses and those are different to every person who reads them. But love them or hate them, I think they have value. Also - Want to compare characters from different books? Write a new book then.

1. Bella Swan. We’ll start with you. She’s the girl people love to hate. I’m not a huge Bella fan, I admit. (And it doesn’t even have to do with her real life counterpart only being able to make one facial expression) She’s got things that bug me from the “I’m a pretty girl and all boys like me but I still can’t believe this one guy does too” to “hey, I’m really smart and I will show that to you by reading Classics.” But I digress.

There are many technical things about the Twilight series that bug me, but I admit freely I ate them up when they came out. And the story does pull you along. And I have a huge soft spot for Edward.

But the point is, why does Bella have such a bad rep? I blame the movies. Book Bella is far more clever than Movie Bella. But let me ask you this…

-          Do you know at least one pretty girl who has crushing insecurity and doesn’t think she’s pretty or worth the fuss?
-          Ever been a teenager and had that first break up and thought you might die because you were sure you’d never love like that again?
-          Have you ever thought no one understood what you were going through and withdrawn to your room to listen to sappy love songs and mope around?

I bet you did. I did. And I moped and was overly dramatic and just knew I would never stop hurting because that’s what teenagers do. They feel things in the purest way because every single thing is new. That’s my point. Bella is 17. She’s supposed to feel that way.

Does she make all the right choices? No.
Does she wallow? Yes.
Is it unrealistic that a teenager with hormones could resist a usually half clothed Jacob for that long? Probably.
But I think most teenage girls might make a lot of those same choices. And it obviously connected. So are they weaknesses? Or is it human?

Bella puts it all on the line for her family. She is honest with Jake about her feelings. And whether or not you have issue with the no sex before marriage thing, Edward is actually the one to make that decision. Bella wants to get it on.

So her exact weakness is she loves too much? Can’t get over it fast enough? Or do you just hate her because her story has a sparkly vampire in it?

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I love Buffy. And she is often called on to slay Edward and Bella because she’s a bad ass. Which she is. But let’s look closer.

First, she would never slay Edward because she knows what it’s like to love a vampire and wouldn’t do that to Bella. Second, Buffy has a boatload of weak moments.

Yes she does!
Don’t argue, I’ll show you!

If Buff were 100% slayer 24/7 no one would care about her. The reason she’s adored is because she is vulnerable, confused, and human.
She’s 16 and scared. She hates being the Slayer. She wants to fit in. She moons over boys, wants to hang out with her friends, loves shopping and always has on make-up and cute hair. She hurts when Cordelia makes fun of her. She makes bad choices and hurts her friends. She wants to rebel against the rules like any normal teen.

But here’s what people forget. She cries and withdraws when Angel goes darkside and leaves her. She cries again when he moves away. How does she cope? By dressing slouchy, not fixing hair or make-up, moping and laying in bed crying. For months. There is almost a whole season of this and she doesn’t really get over it for years!

Then she repeats most of this again after Riley.

And then she even dates Big Bad to prove she’s tough and over it, which clearly she is not.

All the normal things most girls do. And she’s probably the strongest of them all. Was that really any different from the example above?

3. Sookie Stackhouse (Holy Vampire Theme, Batman!)

She knows about all the Supes there are. She has to protect most of them with her super mind reading abilities. And she’s used to taking care of herself because most see her as a freak. So what does this independent woman do?

Fall in love and into bed with the first Vamp she meets due to his quiet mind. Is that rational or strong?

Hell no!

But the sex is good and he says “Sook-ay” in such a way she can’t help herself. And then she’s in peril. All. The. Time. Cue the entrance of Mr. Northman. This throws a wrench (and a love triangle) in the picture, and who can blame her? Hot, tall Viking? Yes, please.

But again, She goes all damsel in distress until I want to roll my eyes. But here’s the thing about Sookie. She’s strong when it counts. In the end, she saves the day and reminds us all that a mind-reading waitress that paints her nails, tans, has great shoes and the perfect pony tail can be ‘a girl’ sometimes because in the end, when she saves you, you’ll know why she was worth saving to begin with.

4. Katniss – Oh Miss Everdeen. Another one who can fend for herself. And she is compared to all of the above, but why?

Of course she can defend herself. She’s raised in a society that has televised death matches for children. She has no choice. She doesn’t live in a world comparable to any of the others.

But first, before you tell me all the ways she’s better than everyone else…are you Team Peeta or Team Gale?

Uh-huh. That’s what I thought. And I’m just as bad. I complain about girls not needing a man and blah, blah, blah but I was not alone in not really liking the ending of Mockingjay.

Prim still dies! Why is she whining? She got Peeta! She’s ungrateful she survived! She’s settling! It was all for nothing then I guess. You know except for that whole revolution/liberation thing.

We’re all hypocrites. Of course she feels that way. It’s called PTSD, people and no one who goes through all that is going to come out singin’ show tunes and living happily ever after.

I mean your heart has probably been broken by a couple people and you might already be bitter and ready to give love the boot. Katniss goes through hell – twice, loses her family and her best friend and we have the nerve to expect a happy ending? I know, I know. I was too. It’s an accurate ending, but is it because of weakness or strength?

5. Hermoine – The Braniac. Long live the Know-It-All! And her big brain is what saves Harry and Co. repeatedly. Even when she’s petrified (literally) she solves it for them.

But that’s not why we love her. We love her because she cries when Ron makes fun (Lev-ee-OOO-saw). When there’s a school dance, which is never complete without a pretty girl crying in the hall, it’s Hermione doing the crying. She aims her ire with Ron snogging another in the form of a spell coming right at him and splatting on the wall. She’s conflicted, worries over her hair, gets jealous, says dumb things all because she’s flustered over a boy.

Because brainiac or not, at the heart of it, she’s a girl.

So what have we learned? That girls acting like girls is why we connect. If they were only the rough edges, we wouldn’t care. Why should we?

Some may call it weakness and say it needs to go. I call it being human. And in my book, being a kick ass woman AND a heart broken or love struck girl all in one is the total package. And as long as my heroine can be both, with or without the guy, I’ll always be Team Girlie!

We all want strong, relatable female characters  but we have to stop acting like the bitchy girls we claim to hate and see each one for their strength and weakness. You don’t have to like every character, but do you really need to get other people to hate them to make your choice better? Anytime someone picks up a book, reads it, relates to it and has a new hero and it’s a girl, I call that true strength, even if the story makes you cry.


  1. This is so true. I've found myself trying to make my female mc too strong sometimes when all she needs a good cry.

    1. I'm bad about that too. But sometimes, they have to have a bad or 'weak' moment otherwise the action becomes a plot device as opposed to what the character would do.

  2. THANK YOU for this. Female characters that are TOO strong fall flat, to me. I like when I see a natural reaction. So often people will say "she cries too much," but really - how would you handle it if you were in the situation??

    I'm glad someone else thinks like I do. :-)

    1. Thanks Vicki. I agree. I like depth. i don't want to read or watch someone who always makes the right choice or who is completely unaffected. Because that's not what real people would do.

  3. I'd say you're a freakin' genius, but that would seem self-serving considering we share a brain and are essentially the same person. Oh, heck, YOU'RE A GENIUS! No surprise here that I totally agree with all of this.

    I think taking the time out to show vulnerability in our characters is important whether they are male or female. What matters is, they're HUMAN. That's what makes them relatable. And perhaps what makes us all pointy fingered and judgey is noticing the flaws in them that are really flaws in ourselves. But they're not really flaws at all, they're just moments of weakness and humanity. We simply need to know that that's OKAY. We are supposed to have ALL THE FEELS then we can heal and move on, and that's what makes the characters appealing.

    1. <3 Yay for appealing characters! And thanks, your comment is lovely! Just like you!!

  4. AH! I love this post, Angi!!!

    My MC has been compared to Bella Swan. People have complained that she's too "all about boys." I could go on and on about the things people have said about my MC's emotions and reactions. It's frustrating, and no offense to Bella Swan, but because of her bad rap, the last person I ever wanted my MC to be compared to was Miss Swan. (And I'm a HUGE Twilight/Stephenie Meyer fan.)

    I can't even begin to tell you how many times I fell IN LOVE as a teenager/young adult. And I mean, full blown "the world revolves around The Boy and I'll die if he breaks up with me" IN LOVE. When people tell me that's not realistic, I wonder what the heck they were doing as teens! Where were they? What High School did they go to? What WORLD did they grow up in? I know I am not the exception here.

    My MC reacts to the situations she's in because frankly, it is probably how *I* would have reacted.

    Maybe my next book.series will have a kick-ass heroine who doesn't take sh*t from anyone. I don't know. But what I do know is that a character like that will take a lot more work to write because I won't know ANYTHING about her. Those kick-ass heroines are nothing like the girl I was - always wearing my heart on my sleeve and making every bad decision I could. Every single one.

    1. Thanks Jessa. I can't wait to read Ever! It's going to be one of my December reads and I'm so looking forward to it. Even more now!

  5. "Vulnerable" girls can rock things in their own way. What is one thing that almost always beats guys? Tears. Don't deny it! Own it!

  6. Love this! Even the most badass heroine is human, after all. Butterflies in the stomach do not care whether you are wielding a machete or not. Great post.

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  8. Love this post and your survey of heroines!