Why I Don’t Write ‘Strong’ Women

I started the process of talking about this on Google+, but I felt this is a discussion that really belongs on my blog. You can read the original post here. 

In the original post, I begin by stating that I am amused when people get upset over the lack of strong women in two of my novels.

The two books in question are The Eye of God and Storm Without End

These novels are traditional and epic fantasies. The Eye of God is more of a traditional fantasy, focusing on one region, while Storm Without End is far more of an epic, telling the story of how a few good people–men and women–can change their entire world.

I write stories that are realistic to the situations of the men and women in the societies they are from. While this will earn me negative reviews–it already has–I do not write in strong women for the sake of writing in strong women. The odds are against women in this world. If they want to be strong, they have to get off their skirted asses and make themselves strong.

That is not easy for them. In The Eye of Godwomen are treated like slaves. They are prizes, adornments, and property. The so-called ‘free' women must work from the shadows, using diplomacy, coercion, and silky words to manipulate their men. Power, for them, is a poison-laced cup given on the sly. It is not in strong–or strong as we see it–personalities.

The strong women of this world become slaves in all things, and if they do not bow to the will of men, they die in the arena.

It takes a very special sort of woman to rise above that, and that sort of woman is rare. I write them to be that way; rare, prized, and a force capable of changing their world.

But they must earn it. It can't be cheapened by handing it to them on the grounds that they were born with breasts. There, I've said.

I don't write women who are strong for the sake of writing strong women. Women make their appearances as their personalities allow. A woman who becomes strong in a culture and world like this has to be special. Special women, women who are willing to risk everything, do not come along every day. They often do not live long, either. That's an unfortunate truth about history.

I look deeper than the feminist approach of needing a strong woman in a fantasy world dominated by men. These cultures are realistic, and even in modern society, there is a dire lack of truly strong women.

I do not write women who are strong for the sake of their inclusion. When a woman comes along who rises above the men, it is because she is special. She has something that lets her stand up against the history of her past and her upbringing. She has something that forced change on her. Women are not born strong in a world where men are expected to live and die by the sword to protect their families–their women, and their children.

Women must be motivated to break free of the chains of tradition and heritage.

In Storm Surge (Book 2 of Requiem for the Rift King), they begin to rise–quite notably among mercenaries. And these women are not shining, they've endured a lot to get where they are, including coping with rape–a very realistic issue for a woman in a male-dominated group in this sort of world and era.

And these women are all the more strong because of what they've endured, but I don't just write a strong woman character in for the sake of writing one in–they need to have reasons to endure the risks and consequences of participating in a war in a society where men are viewed as superior. They are a society where in court, their words are their swords, and their influences are often not known, manipulating things to their liking from the background.

The story doesn't take place in the societies where women are equals and strong; it takes place in the societies where change is needed, not where change has already happened.

And some people just will not like that; nor will they want to sit around and wait for these women to finally decide the only way they're going to get change is if they reach out and seize it on their own.

I may be a woman writing epic fantasy, but I don't give my women in these novels anything.

They have to earn it.

This is a choice I made on purpose with my novels. I may be a woman writing epic fantasy, but because of that, I want truly strong women. I don't want women who have power, strength, and courage handed to them in order to pass the Bechdel test for novels.

I want people to see weak women who rise above it all. At the end, I want people to see these women for the strengths they have earned. When a woman rises, only to fall as consequence of being something rare and special, I want them to reach for a tissue because they understand what the world has lost. I don't want a strong woman in my novel who is there just because society thinks all women deserve to be strong.

I want to create real women, women who claw their way from the bottom and rise to the top. I want to see them struggle, endure, and become more than just a weak woman in a world dominated by men.

If anything, I have a higher expectation for my women in my novels. They must, time and time again, prove their worth–to themselves, and to the men who have been raised to believe it is their duty to protect or use women.

Royal Slaves Cover

I'm going to take a minute to draw your attention to the cover art for Royal Slaves. This is for Book 2 of the Fall of Erelith. The Eye of God is the first book of this series.

Royal Slaves is where the women begin to rise, and where change begins. It started in The Eye of God, although it is extremely subtle. It started with the salvation of a single woman, who at the time, had a spark of stubborn pride–it was that spark that sent her to the arena to die.

She was spared, barely. And her salvation becomes the seed of her rising above her status as a slave to become something more. But she is still a slave, to her past and to her culture. But she will be given the chance to become something far more than a beautiful slave–if she makes the right choices, and works hard to become something more than what she is.

I am not afraid to write real women. I am not afraid to write strong women, either.

am afraid of writing a story adhering to the expectations of society. No, I will not write in strong women for the sake of writing strong women.

I will write women who are the product of their environment and society.

Then I will give them the chance to become strong.

It is up to the women to decide whether or not they become strong. I will not give it to them. It is something they must earn on their own, through their actions, through the things that happen to them that force them to change, and through the choices they make.

I am not ashamed of this, nor will I be. I will not cheapen the women in my stories because they're women.  But when they rise, they will burn in a blaze of glory–for better or for worse.

And it is my hope they will be remembered because a truly strong women in this sort of world is a rare and special thing.

There is nothing wrong with a ‘weak' woman. They are real, they are products of their environment. But they haven't made the choice to rise above it all and seize their strength with their own hands. I will not write women who are added in as strong for the sake of having a strong woman in the story.

When you find a strong woman in these novels, she made herself that way.

Go ahead, ladies and gentlemen. Have the strength and courage to write ‘weak' women. Then give them the chance to become strong.

It's far more satisfying to see a woman rise above the odds and become something special, than to read and write about a woman who was made strong for no reason other than society thinks women should be strong.

That's the price of writing a truly strong woman in a world where women are not expected or raised to be strong. Most women will be weak. They will have bowed to the yoke society has given them. And they will take pride in what we perceive as weakness; they believe they are good women, doing the right thing. And we are shocked, as always, that women are content in these roles they have been given.

When a woman makes herself strong in one of my novels, I want my readers and fans to remember her, because she is special and she is rare. I want my readers to see all of her, from what we perceive as weakness, to the strength many desire. And I want my readers and fans to appreciate her more because of all she endured to become strong, and understand the price she paid to become that way.

And when her flame goes out, I want her to have risen so far above expectation that it is understood that the world has lost something truly precious.

And to me, that is what a strong woman is: Someone precious, who can't be replaced, who can't be found under any old rug, and who has earned everything she has gained with her sweat, tears, and blood.

And if that means having one hundred weak women for each strong one, so be it.

I will not be afraid to write women as they are: Diverse–weak, strong, and somewhere in between.

Leave a Comment:

Ehtisham says April 25, 2014

I agree with you on this. When telling a story, I always place my characters in different situations, and I let them choose their own actions and reactions. In this way, they decide whether they are courageous, strong, weak, or cowardly. Putting a strong or weak character in the story just for the sake of it doesn’t make sense to me. Some people are strong, and some are not. Strength comes from values not gender in my opinion. Great post by the way, it made for an interesting read.

    RJBlain says April 25, 2014

    Thank you!

    Yeah, I often find myself losing interest in books where characters are strong just for the sake of being strong… I hate feeling like they haven’t earned that rank. I guess I prefer to grow with the characters, and see them become strong.

    And sometimes, I do have characters who start out strong, but are brought back down, knocked down a few pegs, and brought back up again. Sometimes I have people who have earned it, but not on the screen, but I always feel like the character must have room to sink or swim, and grow, or the character feels flat to me.

Alex Clifton says April 25, 2014

I am truly grateful for this blog post. I’d argue that many writers and their stories have become quite prescriptive, where it is felt or assumed that there has to be particular types of characters: the strong woman being one. As a writer I have many different stories with many different world’s which produces a host of characters that react and respond differently. I allow the specificity of the character to shine through, not a mere overall agenda to have a strong female character just to do it.

Random Rambles: Why is it OK to Damsel Men but not Women? says May 4, 2014

[…] A woman? Weak! Useless! Sooo stereotypical. Against the demand and criteria that women be strong under any and all circumstances! I’ve talked about this before. […]

Random Rambles: Why is it OK to Damsel Men but not Women? | On Writing says February 27, 2015

[…] A woman? Weak! Useless! Sooo stereotypical. Against the demand and criteria that women be strong under any and all circumstances! I’ve talked about this before. […]

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