Why the Phrase “Strong Female Heroine” Needs to Die

First and Foremost… Because “female heroine”, guys. Think about it. Wince with me.

Not My Type. Maybe the kickass, badass, hardass, [insert any other ***appropriate*** “ass” term here] heroine really resonates with/appeals to some people. Fair enough. Just don’t give me the stink eye if “strong female heroine lead” isn’t that high on my list of things that excite me about a book. Tell me she’s a British thief? I’m all ears. Tell me she’s strong? Meh.

And that’s okay! There’s no one-and-only right way to write a heroine or to feel about her. The best thing we writers and readers can do for female characters is to let them breathe well outside of an arbitrary, restrictive box.

The kind of heroines I tend to most enjoy and relate to don’t kick butt for a living. They’re goofy (not like “lol, look at me, I think I’m so awkward…”, but like actually kind of insane), dramatic, maybe a bit stuck on themselves. They sulk, they stew, they hurt and maybe don’t bother to hide it. They love their friends, and hate their friends, and lament to their friends that they have no friends. Sometimes they do things I wish I could do, sometimes they do things I would totally do, sometimes they do things I cringe at them and/or me for having done. Maybe “heroine”s not even always the word for these girls; there are times “anti-heroine” might better apply. But they make me laugh. They make me nod and sigh and ache. They make me want to shout at or shake them. I feel like we’d understand one another. I don’t know about females in general, but feeling understood means much to me.

Could You Be More Specific? Speaking of understanding, can we get some clarity on what everyone even means by “strong”? Because the more I see it slapped with seeming carelessness onto the front of the words “female lead/character/oh, mercy, no, not ‘heroine’, not again”, the less weight it carries with me. It’s like people use it to avoid having to actually think about how to describe the character. And y’know what that is? Weak. Here, let me show you how it’s done. I’ll use some of the leading ladies in my own writing as examples.

Wilderhark, Inspired Covers Lineup

Sula (The Swan Prince, The Seventh Spell) = surly, resistant, mistrustful, thoughtless

Rosalba (The Stone Kingdom, The Seventh Spell) = gracious, straightforward, quick-tempered, practical

Laraspur (The Sun’s Rival) = insecure, compassionate, meditative, courageous

Annabelle (Inspired) = imaginative, sensitive, excitable, immature

Uri (Inspired) = cynical, antisocial, pious, mouthy

You see what I did there? A well-rounded girl is more than “strong”; more, even, than “feisty”, “plucky”, “headstrong” and “snarky”, other go-to adjectives for female characters. If you call my characters strong, I’ll assume you meant it as a compliment and will take it as such. But if you label my characters something a little more unique to who they are as individuals, I will be all the happier.

Who are some of your favorite fictional girls and women? What non-“strong” words would you use to describe them? Just, whatever you do, please: Never, EVER call them “strong female heroines”. We all deserve better than that.