As a writer I get the awesome experience of exploring a variety of personality types, loosing myself in the different ways people cope. I, an anxious self-conscious person, can write a character who is confident and decisive, who battles her enemies by looking them in the eye and raising her chin. I love that, but I also can write a character like me, which actually I have discovered is harder. That character has trouble looking friends in the eye, much less enemies. She stammers over her words and hides her hands in her sleeves so you can’t see her fidget. She gets anxiety in the supermarket just as much as the battlefield.
The thing I find frustrating is that one of those types of people reads better in a book about teenage heroes. Who do my CP’s love? The character who faces her fears head on or the one who cowers a little and struggles but does the scary thing anyway? Well, the answer is obvious and I think, and this is just my personal suspicion, that they love the strong character and judge the timid character even more because she’s female. People yearn for strong females, but I think there’s a misconception about what that means.
A strong female character isn’t necessarily the ambitious take-charge woman who outshines all the men with her courage and daring. I don’t feel like I’m dishonoring my fellow women by writing a character who is always afraid and has a quiet voice. I don’t feel like I’m portraying a weak female. Women shouldn’t have to outshine men to prove our strength. A strong female shouldn’t have to be kickass and boisterous, she shouldn’t have to be the one with all the solutions. The key to a strong female character is making her human, with all the complexities and weaknesses and strengths that go along with that.
A reader mentioned to me that they hoped my anxious character would become stronger later in the book and she does, but not I think in the way this person means. She faces hardships and fights, but she’ll never have the confident swagger of my other character.
I personally struggle with anxiety, it has always plagued me and I’ve accepted that it always will. I’m not bold and probably never will be. My voice is small, but when it comes down to doing what I have to do I have discovered I can do it even though I have to overcome a lot of personal challenges that some people perceive as weakness.
The danger of thinking kickass means strong and meek means weakness is that it does to women what societies have done for ages, stripping us of our humanity and painting us into a role. That thinking is just as dangerous as the one that relates girly characters to “weak” females. Like a love of pink and polka dots somehow diminishes the strength of a woman.
My job as a writer is to portray all of my characters as diverse and complex, thinking, feeling people. I’ve discovered the challenge of writing a character with more obvious weaknesses overshadowed by a character who is more conventionally strong. The comments of my readers just make me realize I have to work a little harder to paint these two different kinds of people in such a way that we can empathetize and root for them both. Somehow, I have to show my readers bold and brave don’t have to be synonymous.