It's sometimes easy to forget how ubiquitous it was for female characters to do nothing but repeat the computer, get in trouble and complicate rescues. The idea that the girl could save the day instead of shrieking in the background is one we've rediscovered again and again throughout history.
Even Xena's over-the-top action sequences and (I have to admit it) bizarre yet hilarious plot lines didn't take away from the fact that she was strong and independent. She wasn't looking for someone to take her away from all the fighting, it was what she craved and lived for.
Buffy managed to combine a kick-ass ability with the challenges of a secret identity and a desire to find someone who would connect with her on her own terms, rather than expecting her to take a back seat. She may have longed for someone to take on her burden, but I always felt it was more a Lone-Guard-At-the-Gate attitude, not a "looking for a man to solve my problems" approach.
I love strong heroines. Nothing frustrates me faster than watching someone do something which is nonsensical and obviously designed to make things harder for the "real heroes". I enjoy stories about capable women even when they aren't toting guns or have superpowers (although those two factors are always a bonus). I enjoy stories where women find out they are capable of more than they dreamed they could be. And I enjoy stories where those women find love and support from someone who wants them to shine as brightly as possible.
There are all kinds of strength. There's obvious physical strength and skill, like the action heroes above. But there's also strength of mind, character and personality, the sort of woman who can run a multimillion dollar business /country or organize disparate personalities into a cohesive whole (I'm thinking of Dame Judy Dench's M in the James Bond series and Cate Blanchett's Queen Elizabeth).
There's the strength of determination, of a woman who will not allow obstacles or ridicule to stop her, no matter what. She has no special abilities or authority, but keeps getting up even when common sense would tell anyone to back down. She pushes through situations which would send most of us home crying. (Angelina Jolie in Changeling.)
There is the strength of personal integrity, refusing to compromise who she is at the core even when everything would be simpler if she did so. We all face pressure to conform and so I really enjoy stories about those who have the internal strength to stay true to themselves. (My example is Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, who ignored the expectations of the village around her and the initial threats of the Beast. She insisted on telling the truth and being herself even when it cost her dearly.)
The urge to explore my own strong female characters is one of the reasons why I began to write in the first place. Dani, in Revelations, is the epitomy of my favourite action heroes, strong and powerful but with hidden vulnerabilities and doubts. She has to battle her own demons as much as her external enemies.
My two upcoming projects have very different but equally strong heroines. Jessica (Whispers in the Dark) struggles against ridicule and ostracism to pursue her chosen field of scientifically exploring paranormal phenomena. Lily (Metamorphosis) is strong and capable with great responsibilities, but she's not seeking escape. She celebrates her own strength and refuses to compromise it.
Characters in stories should always be at least a little larger than life. That's why we follow their journeys. But I like to believe every person, every woman has a core of strength inside her, no matter how much she has had to face. And that's worth celebrating.
Come back tomorrow for a new special Friday feature!