Different women do different things to empower themselves and others. Some go to rallies and protests. Some give speeches. Some run feminist-geared magazines.
I don’t do any of these things. However, there is one thing I do to be empowering: I write fiction. More accurately, I write fiction with strong female characters. I’m inspired by a great many gurls and ladies I know to write entertaining and likeable characters. It’s something I’m passionate about and I want to share it with fellow readers and writers.
One of the first steps to empowerment is changing the way we’re seen by mass culture. As a writer, I have the power to do that. I want to share the leading ladies I think are great and the writers that make them so. I also want to give others advice on how to create these great ladies themselves.
There are pitfalls to making female characters. Female characters will be criticized far more harshly than male characters. Part of the reason for this can be traced to the female identity – or, rather, the lack of a female identity. Men are men to our collective minds, but there is no universal idea for what a “woman” is. Women all have different ideas for what it means to be a woman.
Writers, I don’t want you to worry too much about this. Your female characters will have two big critics: Feminists and fans. Both will be harsh on your characters for different reasons.
Most feminists will know a well-written character when they see one. However, there are always those who take things too far. I’ve seen good characters accused of being “weak” because they have to be saved by the male hero or have some “gender appropriate” hobbies such as baking or wanting to have kids. No two women are exactly alike. We all have different goals and hobbies and personalities. Do you want your protagonist to be a stunt biker who likes baking cookies after a long day of practice? Do it! Do you want her to be an engineer who loves having her nieces over and has tea parties with them? Go ahead!
The other people who will be cruel to your characters are the fans. This isn’t something to be as concerned with. Experience has shown me that a lot of characters called “bitches” and “sluts” are called such by fangirls who want to be with the male lead. Love interests get a lot of this. Plenty of fans will find any excuse to call your character by the dreaded moniker of “Mary Sue.”
It’s not going to be easy for these female characters. There’s much scrutiny up ahead. But it’s something I’m ready for, and you, my fellow writers, should get ready for it too.