Today’s media produces entertainment featuring strong female characters.1 However, in depicting such characters, there is an over-emphasis of physical strength. Is this the only way to show feminine prowess?
In Star Trek: Voyager, B’Elanna Torres is a human/Klingon hybrid. She is known for her volatile temper, her strength, and her aggression. In the episode entitled “Living Witness”, the Doctor in reminiscence, makes this comment: “B’Elanna Torres. Intelligent, beautiful and with a chip on her shoulder the size of the Horsehead Nebula. She also had a kind of vulnerability that made her quite endearing.”
Let me state here: I’m glad more women are being seen in roles of strength. There are more diverse stories, interesting conundrums to ponder through, etc. Wonder Woman can flip over cars, deflect bullets, and keep her hair from getting dusty while debris is flying all over the place. Captain Marvel can take a punch by Thanos. Heck, I once got hit in the face by a baby and got a black eye.
The women are kicking butt just as hard as men…which I think it part of the fascination and the problem. These characters, along with others, focus on physical strength. There is an over-emphasis on physical strength as the deciding factor of strong female characters.
Ultimately, I believe it comes down to this question: Does having a strong female character simply mean having a girl kick guy in face or is there more to her than just physical strength?
Let’s explore some iconic and well-known fictional female characters. This list doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive by any means. I know I could have chosen dozens, perhaps hundreds more.
But then Speculative Faith would probably send me a reminder that brevity is an unacknowledged fruit of the Spirit. ?
Chun Li, Streetfighter Game Franchise
When I think of a strong female character that fits the ‘girl kicks guy in face’ like a glove to a hand, I think of Chun Li. According to trusty Wikipedia: “While she isn’t the first playable female fighter, she is the first playable female fighter of any fighting game franchise to gain mainstream recognition…”
Within the context of this character, there is still remnants of a softer femininity that the game creators kept. After she wins a round, she does this cute little laugh and jumps up and down like a young girl while the poor warrior is wallowing in his blood.
Weaker sex, my big toe!
Of interest is Chun Li’s backstory. She trying to take Bison, the man who killed her father. Her motivation remains the same throughout most of the incarnations and reincarnations of the game and the films. However, after she defeats Bison, she says something to the effect of she’s going back to being an ordinary girl. In this context, she was already trained in various martial arts but it was for a specific purpose. Physical strength was not her for all and be all of existence.
Okoye, General of the Dora Milaje in the Black Panther Universe and the fictional African country of Wakanda.
Since I’m not a comic book fan I can only discuss her portrayal in the movie.
This character can kick a guy in the face. And stab him while he’s still recovering from the blow. Her physical strength is what made her an asset to King T’Challa.
Yet it is her sense of duty that really struck me as a core element of feminine strength. Duty and honor go hand in hand. Okoye’s duty lies to the king of Wakanda even at the cost of her own desires. This is made evident when Kilmonger usurps the throne. Believing that King T’Challa is dead, despite her feelings, she gives her allegiance to the new king.
When it’s discovered that King T’Challa is still alive, which still makes him the king to serve, she does so by fighting against Kilmonger. Though her strength is an asset, it is duty and honor that makes her strong.
The Mistress of Storytelling – Scheherazade
Far as I know, Scheherazade wasn’t strong in the physical sense. Most of the tales she told the anthology were tales from antiquity.
According to the English translation of Arabian nights, she is described as: “Scheherazade had perused the books, annals, and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples, and instances of bygone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts, and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.”
Imagination and creativity was her strong suit. She saved her life by telling bedtime stories. Stories are the universal language of the planet. It builds bridges, and cements relationships. When we share in story, as Scheherazade did, we share in the human experience.
Sarah Connor – The Terminator Franchise
Sarah Connor’s character grows as she works to give her son every advantage to fight against the machines destined to take over the world. In Terminator 1, she’s just flimsy thing, very soft and just a regular girl.
Now, in Terminator 2, she becomes this hardened and cynical warrior. If you notice, her appearance has changed drastically, bearing more muscles and leanness, erasing the softer part of her character. Now, we do know her story arc. She’s doing everything she can to prevent Judgement Day. There’s a scene in the movie where she must decide between killing an innocent who may be guilty one day or not. It’s an interesting scene because she comes to the realization that she’s doing the exact same thing the murderous terminators from the future are doing – taking care of a problem before it becomes one.
At the end, it’s not her physical strength that takes precedence but the compassion for another human being that makes her strong enough to NOT kill the person.
Dana Scully, The X-Files
It would be remiss of me to not mention everyone’s favorite female skeptic, Dana Scully. Throwing aside all tropes about green-eyed redheads being temperamental and emotional, she took the stand as level-headed woman, only interested in what science could tell her.
This shows a characteristic of feminine strength is of logic and reason. Women are cerebral to the extreme. Generally speaking, women talk. Contrary to popular belief, they talk over things not always because it is an emotional outlet though it can certainly be that. I’ll be the first to admit that. Sometimes, we’re working out a problem.
A woman may not want a solution at that moment but while she’s talking it out, she is expressing a lot of things about whatever is on her mind. Is this not what analytical fields do – explore a variety of avenues until they come up a solution?
Ellen Ripley, the Alien Franchise
Sacrifice is another aspect of feminine strength. The female character that comes to mind is Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise.
Ellen Ripley sacrificed being with her daughter, in the first movie, to provide a better life for her. This action leads to an event that changes her life forever. Encounter with an abandoned ship which leads us down the path of meeting a murderous alien species who uses us as incubators for their young.
In Aliens, the second movie of the franchise, there’s a marvelous battle between Ripley and the Alien Queen. It’s probably the best cat fight ever.
Allow me to wax on about the scene from Aliens. These are two females showing the fierceness of the gender in a maternal role. Both are females protecting their young – communicating their intentions and willing to go head to head to protect them…or avenge them!
I’m sure there are more characters I can pull from popular culture from all over the world that would depict women as strong characters bereft of physical strength.
It brings me to my conclusion as I parallel this to the Bible and what woman personifies what a strong woman is.
Proverbs 31 is a message from a woman to her son. It’s well known in all of Christendom. The verse 10-31 are often cited as The Virtuous Woman. In these few verses, we gain insight to a woman who is an entrepreneur, a housewife, mother, lover, a safe place, and a blessing. She’s not subservient, not chattel, not a second-class citizen, not an afterthought. She is front and center. She is a strong female.
The person who I can best see who embodies all the aspects of the virtuous woman is you, my sister in Christ. It is He who lives in you that makes you strong. All these fictional female characters must rely on themselves. We, virtuous women, we don’t have to rely on ourselves.
Our sense of duty and honor, our compassion, our reasoning, everything is based in Him. He is what makes us strong and all others are poor imitations.
What attributes did I leave out? What fictional female characters can you think of? I kept it in the speculative fiction arena but I know there’s more? What are your thoughts?
- Travis Perry here for just a second. I’m yielding my regular Thursday slot to Parker J. Cole this week. ↩