What makes a good female character? Because I have now done several posts on potentially good female characters undermined by various factors (in my opinion), I’ve decided to try to map out what I think makes a good, solid female character. To be honest, it’s a difficult question. There may be some characters I bring up as good examples that you will disagree about, but I will try to pinpoint the actions and characteristics that bring them to a realistic and strong level.
She accepts or ends up accepting herself for everything that she is and isn’t.
Great example: Yoko Nakajima from The Twelve Kingdoms by Fuyumi Ono
“A young girl who is pushed beyond her limits physically, emotionally, and mentally” –Tokyopop
Yoko Nakajima is a 16-year-old honor-role student from Japan who tries to please. She tries to please her parents, her teachers, and her fellow classmates, but in the process, isn’t really honest with herself or others. But through a series of events, Yoko is taken to another world where suddenly, she is under attack by demons and confront espionage, terror, betrayal, and herself on a harrowing journey.
Yoko’s story is a brilliant mix of action and psychological adventure. She is lost in this new, strange world and travels alone for good stretches of time where she has a lot of time to think. She’s forced to confront her fears and doubts, not to mention how she behaved previously. However, instead of letting that destroy her, Yoko becomes stronger by realizing her mistakes and not letting her fear defeat her.
The other great thing about Yoko is that despite being utterly lost in this other world, she isn’t helpless. She figures a lot out on her own and, although it’s a skill bestowed upon her, Yoko fights off the demons after her by herself.
Here’s how the author of The Twelve Kingdoms series, Fuyumi Ono says she created the story and character of Yoko Nakajima:
Many of my readers end up writing to me and they often share their personal
problems. I was never able to write back to them, so instead, I wrote Sea of Shadow. As for the events that befall Yoko, I feel that all people end up experiencing, to a greater or lesser extent, the kinds of mental and emotional trauma that Yoko does as they grow and establish themselves in the world. – Fuyumi Ono (Interview with Tokyopop)
She can think and decide things independent of the influence of society or other people, is intelligent, and an equal.
Great example: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
“Do not consider me now as an elegant female, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.” – Elizabeth Bennet
Elizabeth Bennet is her own person and not afraid to show it. She’s intelligent and witty and isn’t wholly concerned with marriage. She also “demonstrates her intelligence by acknowledging that marriage does not always bring happiness.” (College Term Paper) That’s part of what makes Elizabeth Bennet different to me compared to other heroines in romance novels, but that’s not all.
Whenever I pick up a romance, whether it’s just my bad luck or a trend, the heroine rambles on about how she’s not worthy to have such a fine man, etc. While there is a point when Elizabeth realizes Mr. Darcy is a better man than what she first judged, she never wallows in feelings of inferiority. Even when they were picking at each other, it was an enjoyable banter of equal wit. Also, I appreciated that the two become friends first before it turns into a romance.
As for Darcy coming to Elizabeth’s family’s rescue, it’s a period piece written at a time when women would not have the financial power to handle that issue even if they wanted to. It just wouldn’t be realistic. Furthermore, the way Darcy handles it is not with a big ego and sense of superiority, but with love and a bit of awkwardness or embarrassment.
She plays an important role in the story (whether she’s the main character or not) and is not limited to love interest.
Great example: Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.” – Hermione Granger
Hermione is a wonderful character. She’s not the main character of the series, but she holds an important spot in the story. (Can you imagine a Harry Potter without Hermione?) She is the last of the threesome to be introduced and is initially a bit conceited when it comes to her knowledge (because, let’s face it, Hermione could beat even that computer on Jeopardy). But soon she becomes one of the group and the real brains behind the operation. She’s also the only girl in the threesome, but that doesn’t make her the weak link nor just an object of awkward flirting. Sure, there is a bit of romance later, but the romance doesn’t become the essence of Hermione and consume her completely (Look! She still has friends!).
As Kathleen Sweeny notes in her article Supernatural Girls, “Harry Potter provides a consistent storyline of cross-gendered teamwork that is not trivialized as flirtation. Harry not only encourages Hermione’s role in the acquisition of power–he depends on her.” Depend he does. There are key things that Hermione figures out and moments when Harry may have been lost without her.
All three of the examples above show a sense of realism that really anchors them in my mind as complete and strong. They all have aspects everyone can relate to and/or admire. None of them are superheroes in the sense that they are supremely better in every aspect than all the other characters and certainly, none of them are the weak female character that borders on ridiculous. Each has her own personality and her character is wonderful and able to stand on its own. I’d also like to point out that her strength isn’t necessarily physical or limited to physical strength.
These are what I would probably consider some of the most important factors in strong female characters and only three examples of female characters that reach this level for me. This is obviously all just my opinion so I would love to hear what you think makes a strong female character and/or who some of your favorite female characters are.