On Praise for Strong Female Characters

There is nothing that makes me lose interest in a story faster than the hollow praise of it having "a strong female main character."

There are two reasons for this aversion of mine. It’s not that I hate strong female characters. I hate reviews that praise stories specifically (or exclusively) for a strong female lead, like that means something special. Praise of this type is meaningless. Worse than meaningless, it is positively insulting.

It is meaningless, because if "has a strong female main character" is the first, best thing you have to say in praise of a story, you know what you’re saying? The author was not incompetent. Any main character ought to be a strong character. A strong character is a character as fully realized and well drawn as an author can manage. In the case of a talented writer, like Rosamond Hodges, it is damning with faint praise. If I hadn’t already been a fan of her short fiction, I may never have read her fantastic debut novel, Cruel Beauty, because the first review I read praised it for it’s strong female lead. Nyx is a strong character, and she’s certainly a component in what makes the story so good… but singling her out as the first, most important area of praise is absurd.

(Incidentally, I can’t praise Cruel Beauty enough. Go read it.)

Also, it has not passed my notice that in some works praised for their "strong female main character", said character maybe only meets the female part of that description. The character is just an avatar for people to identify with an experience vicarious life triumphs. Boring. If I want an avatar, I can go back to playing WoW.

It is worse than meaningless, because the review frequently goes something like this:

X story is to be praise for it’s strong female main character and realistic depiction of her struggles with [blank] in life. Women everywhere will appreciate this inspiring portrayal.

(…that was extraordinarily disgusting to write. Let me go wash my hands real quick.)

Now we’ve really gotten to the meat of what makes me so angry with these sorts of reviews. The idea that, as a woman, I need a female POV, a "strong female character" to enjoy reading a work of fiction is a deadly insult. It insults my reading comprehension, my empathy, and my intelligence. Such reviews have insulted me in every possible method, and this is not a good method to convince me to read a book.

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2 Responses to On Praise for Strong Female Characters

  1. melaniebett says:

    So very yes.

    I’ve been recruiting readers for you among my facebook friends by posting links to your blog.

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