How To Write A Strong Female Lead

Here’s a Thought Catalog (yes, Thought Catalog. Don’t judge me. I saw it on a friend’s Facebook wall, I swear) piece relating to the things we were discussing last week about Strong Female Characters. Worth a read and a chuckle or two, despite some weird grammar and a few interesting (arguably inaccurate) perceptions of what an SFC is. Also, trigger warning; descriptions of fictionalized rape.

First of all, these women should always have jobs which are typically held by men; to put it simply, any job with authority. Think along the lines of lead detectives, high-ranking military officers, district attorneys, world-renowned surgeons, etc. It takes a strong woman to fill one of these positions. Rule of the thumb: strong women must have successful careers….anytime you write a female character she automatically becomes a role model for all women everywhere. Young girls are very impressionable; They aren’t independant thinkers or good judges of character, so its up to you to help them learn how to be strong. We can’t have another generation of weak females!

Specifically, I feel that the writer sort of goes off the mark when she talks about the need for the SFC to tempt male companions- wouldn’t that be a pre-girl power archetype? And what’s with the  discussions of what “regular women like,” and how the SFC can’t like them? More to the point, the article often trips the line between satire and sincerity- so often, in fact, that it is weakened as a whole. Nonetheless, an interesting take on an interesting subject.


7 thoughts on “How To Write A Strong Female Lead

  1. I just clicked on the Thought Catalog link and saw this:

    “Before you start, you must ask yourself this question: “Am I a male?” If the answer is yes, then you have nothing to worry about: males are generally better at writing strong female characters. If the answer is no, then unfortunately you are a female and this might be more difficult for you. Having first-hand knowledge about what it is actually like to be female can only hurt you in this process: you might write a character that is too realistic.”

    I wonder if this is irony and I am just missing it. But then you would have pointed that out in your post, if it was. In which case, this is one of those things I have come across on the internet and hope never to remember.

  2. Seems like irony to me- satire is a tricky business, though. It’s a very, very clumsy article, no doubt. That being said, that part seems to me like a jab at the fact that writers who do get credit for writing strong female characters tend to be men, e.g. Whedon.

  3. Has anyone else seen the recent UpWorthy post about Joss Whedon’s 2006 acceptance speech for and award from Equality Now? (

    Well, I also found this a smart piece ( that reconsiders assigning Joss Whedon feminist credentials (a problematic set of credentials to assign to someone else in the first place, if you ask me) along with an excellent piece in from yesterday’s Guardian ( that quotes author Sophia McDougall, who rails the notion of the “strong female character” with this gem: No one ever asks if a male character is “strong”. Nor if he’s “feisty,” or “kick-ass” come to that.

    I don’t want to disparage Whedon, but I think Natasha Simons’ critique is spot on.

    • What tends to bother me about critiques of Buffy is that they assign both praise and blame of the series onto Whedon, when, as a television series, it was written, directed, and produced by people other than Whedon, all of whom had substantial input into the series.

      For instance, Where the Wild Things Are, pretty much universally derided as both a terrible episode in and of itself, but also incredibly problematic in terms of sexual representation, was written by someone who eventually only wrote three episodes out of the series’ 100+ run.

      Buffy wasn’t perfect. I accept that, even as I have watched the entire thing several times, and am still a huge huge fan of the series. But to be a feminist in this world is to accept that even things you love will have problematic elements. This doesn’t mean you stop enjoying them, but rather that you take these critiques on board as you watch. Viewing therefore becomes a more interactive experience, possibly more empowering as you combat the traditional ways of looking.

      However, the fact that we KEEP going back to Buffy and to Whedon, despite the fact that the show has been over now for longer that it actually was on air (!) is telling – are we so starved for positive representations of women that Buffy is the only show that speaks to these representations, and conflicts therein?

  4. Pingback: TV’s Strong Black Woman | Girlpower

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