Recently I've seen a surge of media promoting the strong female character. You know, strong females have to be leaders. They have to be determined. They have to be able to fire a gun, or arrows, or some sort of powerful weapon. This shift is a good thing, because it means we're starting to stray from the stereotypes, right? We're showing women with inner and outer strength.
Well, not exactly.
See, people often confuse "strong female character" for "emotionless kicka** character."
There were a lot of complaints when Metroid: Other M came out. Samus Aran, coolest bounty hunter in the galaxy, and hot blonde babe under the mask, was one of the strongest females in video game history. And then they supposedly ruined her. "She's such a girl." "Too soft, 'Lady'." "She's not gonna use her weapons just because some guy tells her he has to authorize it first? I mean, come on!" (Aside from the fact that this was an excuse for the mechanic of unlocking powers without her losing them again...)
So what changed?
She was shown as feminine.
Heaven forbid she has respect for her former commanding officer, someone who acted as a sort of father figure. Heaven forbid she talk about her feelings as she explores the Bottle Ship, and her underlying fear of her nemesis Ridley. Heaven forbid she has any feelings at all. This, in many people's eyes, made her into a weak character. Emotions, in women, are associated with weakness--and that's a major problem.
The fact that Samus is able to conquer her inner demons and most definitely kick alien trash as she uncovers various mysteries and lives through explosions, gravity shifts, Metroid queens eating her, and watching men around her die proves that she is very strong. So why all the complaining? Again, because emotions are seen intrinsically as a weakness.
What has happened, I believe, is that in creating a standard for the strong female character, we've taken away the feminine part, and created masculine characters that happen to have girl body parts. This is not the way to remove a stereotype, it is a way to perpetuate it. If Samus was instead a man, and said that he'd feared Ridley, that he respected Adam enough to follow his orders, it would be seen as a military understanding, as strength. But because Samus is a girl, and feminine girls=weak girls, the character was "ruined."
However, there is hope. Just as bad as people complain about Samus losing her awesomeness status, the female Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series is adored and praised. And she shows many times throughout the games just how sentimental she is. How much she's affected by the deaths of those around her. How well she manages a romantic life alongside her duties as a military leader.
And that really is what a strong female character can be.
In my book Tsirash, there are two girls traveling with my strong, yet struggling, POV character Octras: Tsira and Shenra. Both of them have dealt with loss, pain, and fear in serious ways. They're capable of feeling respect, love, empathy, hope, sadness, and longing. There are feelings that drive them, motivate them to push forward even when faced with adversity.
Perhaps people will see Tsira and Shenra as they do Samus in Other M--weak. Every character has weaknesses, you know. But emotion is not inherently bad. If people can see what strength there can be in emotion, perhaps then they'll see the girls as I do.
I strive to create strong female characters with feeling. What about you?