What Does A Strong Female Character Look Like?

August 30, 2015

How do you best portray a strong female character, either in TV or in film? That’s a question culture critic Tasha Robinson has been asking herself for a long time now, first during her 13 years as an editor for the A.V. Club and most recently as the senior editor of the movie commentary site, The Dissolve. She tells Charles Monroe Kane that it's relatability — not toughness — that defines a strong woman on screen.


You discussed women's roles in action movies and women's roles in reality television, but you did not discuss women's roles in action television.

To take on example of an action television series I've recently watched, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the agents are roughly a 50/50 mix of men and women and the women are every bit as smart, resourceful and kick-ass as the men. The villains too are as apt to be female as male, and they too are every bit as smart, resourceful and nefarious as the men.

Moreover SHIELD's leader, Phil Coulson, is notable for traits we usually identify as female: Coulson is reluctant to unnecessarily leap into action and is alert to the emotions of those with whom he works; he works hard to create team consensus and is conspicuously solicitous of team members' thoughts and feelings. Characters also include a pair of SHIELD scientists, a man and a woman so closely bound together that they are referred to by the conflation of their last names into a single word, FitzSimmons. Most often, the female half of the team is the more bold and daring and the male half the more tentative and reticent.

Change may be happening more quickly than this discussion credits.

And I should have added, that the characters male and female are "relatable".

The demand for "strong" female characters is the limiter on diversity, it denies the spectrum of characters and human experience to have women put themselves back upon the pedestal.
There is a reason for the trinity effect but its not for the reasons she claimed. Trinity exists to pander to her ilks demands. Its a bad example with Trinity as its a good character in a good movie, a better example would be black widow from the avengers. The demand for diversity creates tokens, and there is only so far you can stretch credibility. The moment you have 100lb women punching out 250lb men, it becomes absurd, and suspension of disbelief is lost. People are limited by who and what they are. To complain about trinity is about as sensible as complaining that most old people in stories are also just guiding the protagonist. Alfred to the Batman, they lack the physicality to be the action man and that is fine, not everyone has to be the same.
While she gets something right by mentioning Katnis from the Hunger games who does behave rationally and uses a bow to compensate for her lack of physical strength, she fails to mention Alien, a story where the protagonist is normal, and has to over come her circumstances in a story which isn't a simple gender swap as the themes of motherhood are interlaced throughout the story of the first two films. It's essentially a story of mother against mother, its well written and compelling. But as the films progressed, Ridley became the super woman, and the results were plain to see, the subsequent films are best forgotten.
The idea that everything must be propaganda has been ruining female stories for a while now. And the complaints are misguided regardless. Look at university enrollment rates for men and women in the US and uk, the gender skew is becoming ever worse against men. The clinging onto the narrative of an emergency of sexism against women is simply disconnected from reality at this point. TV is filled with shows with middle aged female leads for a simple reason, they are the primary demographic at this point. Women watch the majority of tv, if anything this misguided demand for more more more misses the point that maybe..just maybe women shouldn't be encouraging their kids to watch so much media in the first place.