As a writer of romance and as a feminist, I believe it is my duty to create characters who do not fall short as simple romantic heroines, but who are three-dimensional women, capable of making their own decisions and saying yes or no to love when presented.
I am aware of the the Bechdel test and am in complete agreement with its importance and believe that there can be romance in a story without love consuming a female character or snuffing out any agency or equality she has. I have not personally grown to be someone who relies solely on my love life and have several other interests, ambitions, friends and conversations that have absolutely nothing to do with men. I respect my female characters enough to give them the same luxury.
There is a common misconception of what exactly feminism is. There are those who believe that a feminist must not be feminine, that they cannot swoon at romance movies and “chick lit” and they have to be masculine. This isn’t true. A woman needed to be masculine to be respected is the whole point of feminism. It is all about a woman being equal to a man. I don’t want my characters to fall short to gender stereotypes. I owe it to them to let them tell their own stories. Having said that I am currently compiling a list of what I know to be true of strong feminist characters;
1.)She has a goal for herself that has nothing to do with her love life; example She wants to go to school, she has interests or she needs to figure something out within herself to better her person.
2.)She is flawed. I don’t think that any strong character is perfect. It’s their mistakes that help them grow and get stronger. Perfection is unrealistic and gives the character no real life experiences to shape their choices.
3.) She can be feminine. Something I’ve noticed about common strong female characters is that they are masculine. This is an incredibly narrow minded stereotype. For example Katniss from The Hunger Games. True, Katniss is a good representation of strength, but she doesn’t represent all she-heroes. A woman can be emotional, wear makeup and like clothes without being weak. I think it’s important to show that.
4.)She stands up for herself, her beliefs and for the people who she cares about. Strength is often shown through how the character is with other characters.
5.) Agency is a big one. She needs to be able to make her choices without the influence of others. She needs to know her own mind and even when the choices are bad she has the ability to choose. They do not need to be rescued. They can take care of themselves.
6.)Independent. This one kind of goes hand in hand with having agency, but even a romance novel she needs to be able to survive without a guy. Her life keeps turning even when she misses someone. She has more to go off of and doesn’t feel tied back to someone.
7.) I think all strong female characters need to be feminists. They can’t stand in a room of a men and be snuffed out like a candle. She glows. She isn’t just a pretty face either. She demands respect and her opinions to be taken seriously.