The Mystery of Strong Female Characters & Romance
Sometimes I wonder if other bloggers and I are reading the same book. I have a major beef with young adult books and that is how they often portray female characters. Nothing ruins a book faster for me than the female main character being stupidly focused on the male main character, making choices that no person with a pea brain would make, or being a caricature of a troupe. I often see reviews calling the female main character in that book strong and independent. ‘Strong Female Character’ seems to be a buzz phrase these days. But then I read the book and am left wondering how the other blogger could see the female main character as strong, often while screaming into my pillow in frustration.
I have to say, that about 85% of the young adult books I read have the female being overly occupied and focused on the male lead. I often find myself thinking ‘Yes, he’s stupidly hot and you have some sort of magical connection that sounds like the early onset of menopause. Can we get on with the story now?’ I roll my eyes so hard I’m surprised they don’t fall out. The female main character spends a lot of time in the book chasing after her love interest because he doesn’t want anything to do with her (often for her own safety) and is being a big old dick about it. Most of the time, he’s a bad boy on the outside but really has a heart of gold on the inside and he may hold the secret to why all this shit is happening to the female main character. But she’s a strong female character because she’s not letting that stop her from getting what she wants! (Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter, I’m looking at you here.)
The other 15% of the young adult books I read have the female hating the male lead’s guts but slowly falling in love with him because he really has a heart of gold on the inside. (I swear to god, there are like two types of male leads and that’s it.) Either way, a good portion of the male love interests in young adult books start out as being dicks to the female main character but there is always a really good reason for it that she can later forgive him for. (The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett, you’re guilty of this.) Nope. Nope. Nope. Why should any girl take that level of shit from a boy? (Hold still so I can set you on fire and toast marshmallows over your flaming corpse.) Then there are the tiny amount of young adult books that has the female main character creepily codependent on the male main character to the point where she really can’t do anything by herself. (Splintered by H.G. Howard, this is you.)
These are not strong female characters. These are female characters following a distressing pattern in young adult where actual plot development is overtaken by teenage hormones. This is the pattern where most of the book consists of the main characters snogging each other, trying to snog each other, or hating each other while secretly wishing they were snogging each other. It’s getting to the point where I see a new young adult book, take one look at the blurb, and think ‘not another one’.
There are a few lights in the darkness however. Katniss Everdeen is pretty much everyone’s go to girl for strong female character and I can whole heartedly second that. There are two love potentials in the Hunger Games and Katniss pretty much has nothing to do with either of them. She states several times that she has no romantic feelings for Gale, that he’s just a friend, and she never makes her connection with Peeta as anything but close quarters in a horrible situation and a tool during the games. She has more important things to worry about (like the damn plot) and it’s refreshing seeing a female main character focused on something besides the boy. But beyond the rather forward take on the love interest in the Hunger Games, Katniss is strong is ways not often assigned to female characters. She makes it through a grueling test of survival, is actually prepared several times to kill Peeta and the other contestants, she is mature and focused, and is driven by other things besides romantic love. Katniss volunteered to save her sister, which is a type of love but not one we often see focused on. She is motivated by her will to survive and Katniss is often ruthless in achieving that. I can’t think of a character more real.
For me, a strong female character would be able to take care of herself and take charge of a situation without using the love of a man to bolster herself or using her love interest as the measuring stick for her actions. It’s not about a female acting like a man in a story. It’s about a female acting like a person, with complex reasons for what she does that include self-interest, compassion, and with motivation besides ending up with the hottie at the end of the book. She is focused and driven and can get shit done by herself, thank you very much.