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Cogito Ergo Scribit is where I write about writing. I'm a writer with more than a decade of experience, and I'd like to lend my experience to others while I continue to learn myself.

Everything here is copyright Carrie L. Eckles unless otherwise stated.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

The X Chromosome Factor: How to Write a Strong Woman

In the above picture, you see the Greek goddess Athena. What does she say to you? What type of feminine air does she invoke in you? Is she timid, fussy, or frightened?

Take a closer look, and you'll see the answers to the questions I'm asking. She may be wearing an elegant gown of gold; however, she's anything but fussy: she's fierce. She holds a spear and a shield. She wears the headdress of a warrior, because that's exactly what she is: she's the goddess of warfare.

But, just like every other woman, she's more than that. And that's the most important thing to understand when writing a strong female character. People tend to make their strong woman stereotypically harsh and cold, lacking all feelings and emotions. And usually, quite frankly, she's a whore. Because that's the biggest stereotype of all, isn't it? The stereotype that women gain power through sex.

Athena didn't. Throughout mythology, she remained a virgin. The Dark Ages are gone, fellow writers! Women in this day and age don't have to rely on sex to gain the benefits of society and power, just as the goddess Athena didn't.

And like Athena, other strong women have countless layers. Athena wasn't only the goddess of war. She was also the goddess of peace, which many would say is the flip-side of war. She was the goddess of wisdom, reason, handicrafts, and strategy; just as well, she was the patroness of heroes.

Athena represented the practical aspects that make women strong. While Hera, Artemis, and Demeter represented the other feminine attributes, Athena represented those which rivaled men. And still, she was revered.

Why is that? Why, in what we call the ancient times, did people -- even men -- worship a goddess who was strong, virtuous, and dynamic? I think we all know the answer to that: it's because she seemed so human.

And that's what you want to convey, above all else, when writing a strong female character: you want to convey her humanity. You want to show all of her layers. A woman might be war, but that same woman might also be peace. And it's not because she contradicts herself; rather, it's because she's real.


Brian, the old man said...

Excellent! I think you have described strong women extremely well. I will take your advise as I am developing my characters. Thanks. Have a good week.

Al said...

I have been surrounded by strong women all my life.
None have been cold, all of them have been multifaceted people of great character. All have approached strength in a particularly female manner, it has been through communication and conviction, not through browbeating (at least as a general rule).
I think your point applies well to all characterisation. No well developed literary characters should be two dimensional.

Anonymous said...

You are right that strong women are often portrayed as cold and with a chip on their shoulder. To me, that is a weakness.
When I think of a strong woman I think of a woman strong in her convictions. Not a thing to do with her appearance or occupation.
Thanks for another great post!

PrettySiren said...

Guys, thank so much for your wonderful comments and insights! I've been so sick (flu and sinuses) that I haven't been able to blog, but I'll be back soon. I wish I could've responded to you guys sooner! You all raise excellent points, and thanks for sticking with me.