No, not necessarily one who is physically strong. Definitely not someone who hates other women.
Throughout the centuries, writers struggled with what makes female characters strong. Often, they mistake it with physical strength and create characters who are emotionally weak — characters who suppress their feelings, believing emotions would make them appear “delicate.”
Sometimes, all it takes to create a strong female character is to look at the women around you:
• Your mom, who has lived through decades of hardship and still has reservoirs of love for you—whether you deserve it or not.
• Your sisters, who make difficult choices in a society that is bent on judging their smallest actions.
• Your friends, who take care of each other and themselves, unafraid to stand up against injustice.
A Strong Female Character Is Sometimes Just
… someone who makes their own choices, even if they’re mistakes. It takes a great deal of courage to believe in yourself when you’re surrounded by pessimists, and to learn from your mistakes.
… someone who is the hero of her own story, whether or not she wants to be. Often, we spend our lives like side characters in a story, waiting for someone else to bring about a revolution — not realizing that that someone else might very well be ourselves. In a patriarchy, a female character bringing about change is the very definition of strength.
… someone who doesn’t wait for somebody else to solve her problems, who takes control of the situation because she knows she can handle it.
… someone who follows her heart while also being considerate about the feelings of those around her. It isn’t a weakness to feel the urge to cry or to want a hug. It isn’t a weakness to want affection, and to show affection. Some women simply want to stay at home; some enjoy cooking and taking care of kids. It doesn’t make them any less important. What makes these female characters strong is the fact that they do what they want.
A Strong Female Character Is NOT
… someone who disregards the people who care about her.
… someone who mocks or belittles other women. I am tired of reading books about women who take pride in saying they’re “not like other women.” They dislike wearing dresses; they hate fashion and make-up and the color pink. In fact, it’s okay to hate all that — as long as you don’t belittle the women who do like those.
… someone who tries hard to win the approval of men. If you’re writing about women who go into battle and do all this cool stuff just to impress their male companions, you have misunderstood your assignment. Your female characters can be badass just because they want to be. “Want” is a valid enough excuse.
The key to writing strong female characters is to have them follow their hearts, despite what society has deemed for them. Sometimes, all they want to do is sit and have a good cry when things get overwhelming… and that’s okay. Sometimes, they can yell into the void and punch the walls. That’s okay, too. Neither of these characters are less strong than the other. What is important is realizing that they are both courageous in their own way.
Sharika Hafeez is a nerd, and she’s proud of it. Growing up, she fell in love with books and writing, and is currently following her undergraduate degree (for some mysterious reasons) in Physics. She likes procrastinating by watching the stars with a steaming cup of tea, composing poetry in her head.