That’s the definition of [a Strong Female Character]. A character whose exterior qualities and achievements are designed to stand in contrast to her inner feminine vulnerability. She is given value because of her masculine traits; she is kept from being the protagonist because of her feminine traits.

A character who is strong is not necessarily one that is well written. A character that is female does not have to be defined by being female. A character that is designed to evoke a trope or fill a perceived voice is barely a character, and more like a caricature.

Bijhan Valibeigi on bad female characters.

Valibeigi then goes on to talk about Kimberly and Trini from Power Rangers as examples of characters who are allowed to be both feminine and heroic. I can’t talk much about Power Rangers, because I never really watched it, but my example for this would be Sailor Moon (and, more recently, Steven Universe). I confess I never really “liked” Sailor Moon (the character) when I watched the show as a kid; I was more into “Strong Female Characters” Rei and Makoto.1 It’s only later, as an adult–and watching remakes like Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, and Sailor Moon Crystal–that I really started to appreciated just how subversive it is to have a hero who succeeds entirely because of her “femininity”. Usagi is routinely derided as a crybaby, and yet this over-empathy is the very same trait that makes her indefatigable as Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon isn’t tough and she doesn’t have “masculine” skills or interests,2 yet she’s going to save you and the entire universe, probably three times before her afternoon exam (which she’ll flunk, sorry Usagi).

Like I said, it took me a really long time to realise just how subversive this is, and I still struggle to come up with other media that so unironically follows the same formula.3

  1. Quotes, because it’s worth pointing out I am ancient and thus was watching the shitty DIC dub, which significantly alters the characters from their original selves. []
  2. Unless you count playing video games, which the show itself very obviously doesn’t. []
  3. As mentioned, Steven Universe is one, MLP:FIM is probably another. Both are very obviously heavily influenced by Sailor Moon, as are any other magical girl series you could name. Up until recently I would’ve also suggested Gravity Falls here, but it’s gone down the whole femininity-bad-girl-in-peril-Strong-Female-Character-male-saviour path in its last arc which, yeah. Still kinda bummed out by, hey. []