On Wednesday I explained that as far as I’m concerned, Artemis was the original strong female character. When I think of modern day examples that best reflect Artemis, Buffy the Vampire Slayer springs to mind. But lately, strong female characters have gotten some bad press lately.
This article and this article (seriously read them, they’re great) explains the issue with the strong female character better than I could, but it basically boils down to the fact that strong female characters have become a gimmick. Someone the hero can impress and use as a bench mark to move past or someone who’s given a moment of beating someone up to make viewers happy before the hero has to save her. This, by the way, is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer at all and by the way, Buffy does not fall into the other strong female character trap, which is to make her the only type of female character. Buffy is strong but she’s also multi dimensional, there’s more to her than that she can kick but and on top of that, the cast is exploding with examples of different female characters with different strengths, weaknesses, and complexities.
If the Greek myths had been written today, I’d want Artemis to be a Buffy figure. A single, strong and otherwise complex character who exists to do more than just motivate the hero and who is just one example of what a goddess could be like out of many. Part of my motivation for writing the Daughters of Zeus series was to do just that.
Persephone is an (I hope) complex character with different strengths and weaknesses. People in the book keep calling her strong and brave and all these wonderful things that shallow-strong characters are supposed to be, but she’s the first to point out that they’re wrong. She’s not strong in the physical sense, not because of lack of ability, but because until she ended up down in the Underworld, it never occurred to her to try to be. She’s not the brightest crayon in the box but she’s resourceful. She’s naive and idealistic and that naive idealism helps and hurts her at different points in the plot. Her plot is a romance and but she exists outside of her relationship with Hades. She has strengths but she also has flaws, enough of them that some readers can’t stand her, which is a great thing. A character that everyone loves is a flat character. Universal appeal doesn’t exist in three dimensional characters.
Aphrodite isn’t a strong character at all. She’s weak. She’s one-hundred percent defined by her relationships. She’s confident to a fault and on the surface seems very shallow, but inside she’s dealing with a lot of pain and that confidence and those relationships are the only thing holding her together while she deals with that, and that’s okay because there are people like that and they deserve to see themselves in fiction too. Also, she’s not static, she’ll grow as her series does, but in ways that are very different than Persephone.
Artemis is strong and confident and unlike both Persephone and Aphrodite she’s not trying to live up to some self-imposed ideal, she’s completely happy with who and what she is. Her arc won’t deal with growth but with other things I can’t get into because of spoilers. She’s had relationships but they don’t define her and they aren’t important enough to the plot to bear much mentioning.
There’s different ways to be strong and there’s room for all of them in fiction. Don’t settle for shallow “strong” characters who don’t even pass the sexy lamp test.