I went to DragonCon over Labor Day weekend. It was pure chaos, spread out across four massive hotels with nary a sign in sight to direct you most of the time. DragonCon has panel tracks, and there was a writing track, so I trekked my way up the hill to the Hyatt and then down into the bowels of the place in search of a panel called Strong Female Protagonists. Ah, I thought. Someone was going to talk about the Anti-Bella. Yay feminism!
Not so much.
Some of the authors on the panel talked about how their female protagonists aren't really strong -- they're just so incredibly vulnerable that they have no choice but to buck up a little bit to survive. Others talked about how their heroines' strength was born out of how much said heroines hate themselves. (Which is, sadly, a cliche of the urban fantasy genre.) It felt like half of them were apologizing for female characters who were seen as strong.
And then the whole thing devolved into a discussion of how explicit your sex scenes should be.
You know what I learned from the panel? How incredibly uncomfortable our society still is with strong, independent women. So uncomfortable, in fact, that people retreated into a discussion about the most primitive way for men and women to relate: sex. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good conversation about sex as much as the next person, but not when it's a way to avoid the elephant we really came to discuss.
In fact, the only truly useful part of the panel was when one author mentioned that the role of Lt. Ripley, the heroine of the Aliens movies, was originally written for a man. When Sigourney Weaver was cast instead, nobody bothered to rewrite the script. What we got was one of cinema's most unapologetically powerful women.
My favorite strong female character is probably Jennifer Garner's Sydney Bristow from TV's Alias series. I was so impressed with Sydney's toughness and independence because it was balanced with heart and intelligence. Sydney was competent and confident, and nobody questioned that. If she and her partner Michael Vaughn got in a tight situation, you know who fought their way out? Well, they worked together, but Syd just happened to be the better fighter. Sydney did dress up and emphasize her sex appeal from time to time, but it was a tool in her arsenal, her way of taking advantage of stereotypes, and just one of the many approaches she was capable of using.
Who are your favorite strong female protagonists? Why do you like them?