Katherine Wynter

author of distinctive literary fiction and fantasy

What Makes a Strong Female Character?

The interwebs have been aflutter lately – I know, when aren’t they, right? – about strong female characters, or lack thereof, in a certain movie *coughs – Avengers *. Black Widow played by Scarlet Johansson and written for the movie by Joss Whedon seems to be the locus of interest for this. Why? What’s all the hype about?

Now, in the interest of not sounding like a hypocrite, I was on the wagon at first. I wanted, and still want!, a female Avenger with superpowers to go blow to blow with the guys. She should kick ass, take names, and fight with the best of them. She’d have a cool outfit that hopefully didn’t make her look too slutty (I grew up reading fantasy novels with women in chainmail bikinis on the cover, so my expectations aren’t too high), a heroic backstory, and she’ have maybe some kind of love interest – taking for granted that she’d wear the pants in whatever relationship she ended up in.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, however, and read some of the controversy surrounding the issue – there are some interesting articles by TOR author Leah Schnelbach

, or Alyssa Rosenberg for the Washington Post amongst many others – I can’t help but wonder if we’re having the right discussion. I’m worried that I’ve been thinking about strong female characters the wrong way – and I pride myself in writing about strong women in my books!

Maybe instead of debating an author’s depiction of strong women, we should first analyze our definition of “strong.”

Does a woman have to possess the same attributes as her male counterparts in order to be strong? Are we talking a physical strength? Emotional? Moral? Intellectual?

Is this what it means to be a strong woman?

Or this?                    

What about Marie Curie who died for research and scientific passion, her research into radiation giving her the cancer that would end her life?  She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her work. Shouldn’t she be considered a strong woman?

What about some of my other heroes: Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Valentina Vladimirovna, Sandra Day O’Connor, or *gasp* Hilary Clinton?

What about the single mother who works night shift and raises her family? What about the woman who gives up her career to take care of an elderly parent? What about the woman who doesn’t want kids, never did want kids, and doesn’t feel as though this decision makes her some kind of monster?

Perhaps instead of focusing on what whether or not a certain character is a strong female character or whether Marvel will ever make a movie with a lead female character – which I hope they do! – let’s investigate the men.  Their strength is assumed. They have superpowers and women falling all over them and are often promiscuous and take those around them for granted and make arrogant, egomaniacal decisions that nearly result in the destruction of the human race. They get angry, very angry, and destroy lots of things.  Why do we think these men are strong? Why do movies propagate this ideal of masculinity?

Honestly, one of my favorite male characters is poor Peeta Mellark from Hunger Games. Sure, he may need a little rescuing, but he’s loyal and kind and emotionally aware.

I think we could use more male characters like him. Maybe then, the world wouldn’t need saving so often.


Joss Whedon


An accomplished master of her craft, Katherine Wynter builds fantasy worlds peopled with believable characters and complex cultures. Her original, dark works are captivating. Think you've read all there is to read about monsters and demons? Think again. Wynter deftly walks the razor's edge between fact and fiction to produce fantastic works that are riveting, compelling, and, above all, believable.

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