Rosamund Hodge burst onto the YA literary scene last year with her fantastic debut Cruel Beauty. As is rapidly becoming her signature, Rosamund’s protagonists are layered and complex women who navigate their lives with depth, feeling, and strength that is not necessarily linked to a sword. Below, Rosamund talks about strong heroines and deconstructs the idea of strength and femininity.
I’m calling this “The Obligatory Strong Heroine Post” because let’s face it: people love talking about the idea of “strong female characters.” You have probably seen every one of these ideas in a blog post somewhere:
- We need more strong female characters.
- But not strong female characters who are just men in dresses.
- Shut up! We need to lose the idea that strong = masculine and “real women” can’t have badass fighting skills.
- Badass fighting skills alone do not make a female character strong. She needs to have character development and agency in her own story.
- Don’t write strong female characters, write interesting female characters.
- Oh my gosh, [girl] in [book/movie] is such a weak, spineless character. Think of the children!
- Oh my gosh, stop acting like girls have to be “strong” enough before they’re worthy of sympathy. Think of the children!
So what is there left for me to say? Well, I think it might be worthwhile to talk about exactly what “strong” means. Because we use that word in a lot of ways, and I don’t think we always use it very well.
In all our arguments about Strong Female Characters, what do people generally assume the average Strong Female is like? She is:
- willful and outspoken
- not very worried what people think of her
- probably a badass warrior
- anyway totally awesome at Getting Stuff Done
But do you know who is my favorite strong female character?
Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.
Fanny Price, in case you don’t know, is the least liked of Austen’s heroines, mostly because she’s very quiet and shy, and she has some rather strict principles that make some people feel she’s a prig. She lives with much-richer relatives who generally ignore her or take advantage of her. She’s hopelessly in love with her cousin Edmund (it’s 18th-century Britain, okay, just go with it), but he only sees her as a sister (pretend this is a bad thing). Meanwhile, all her family is pressuring her to marry the rich, charming, and utterly unprincipled Henry Crawford.
Does Fanny ever defy them in a really dramatic, girl-power way? Does she suddenly inherit riches, or challenge Henry to a duel, or run away to sea and save the British Empire, or do anything that we would call “empowering”?
Throughout the novel, Fanny remains almost completely powerless. And yet she also remains true to herself. No matter what anyone says, she trusts her judgment of Henry’s character. She trusts that her love for Edmund is true. She will not compromise herself by assenting to the marriage, no matter who pressures her.
And in the end it pays off. Henry is revealed for the scoundrel that he is, Edmund realizes that Fanny was the girl for him all along–I know, but like I said: 18th-century Britain. They thought marrying your first cousin was normal–and Fanny gets to live happily ever after.
Strength is not the same as power.
As I see it, power is being able to control the world around you. Strength is being able to control yourself. They’re both great things to have. But the thing is, power can always be taken away from you. If you’re Superman, there’s kryptonite. If you’re Sauron, there’s dumping the Ring in boiling hot lava.
But strength is what nobody can take away from you unless you give it first. Strength is what you have when you’ve got nothing else.
I think that makes it pretty important. But that kind of inner strength–especially when it’s expressed through endurance rather than violent action–is often both coded as female and looked down on as “weak” or “passive.”
So when I wrote Crimson Bound, I decided to play with that a little.
Rachelle, the heroine of Crimson Bound, is a Strong Female Character by almost anyone’s definition. She has supernatural badass fighting skills, and she uses them, and she loves using them. She’s blunt and angry and impulsive; she often speaks without thinking, and when she does think, she usually goes ahead and says what she wants anyway.
And yet Rachelle sees herself as horribly, shamefully weak. Because the way that she got those supernatural badass powers? She met one of the forestborn–the heartless, magical race that lives deep within the forest–and he forced a choice upon her: kill or die. She chose to kill and live. When faced with the threat of death, she broke, and she has never forgiven herself.
Her love interest is Armand, who does not have fighting skills. He does not even have hands: they were cut off by a forestborn. He’s not really politically powerful, either–though beloved of the people, he’s become a figurehead controlled by his father. At the start of the novel, Rachelle is made into his bodyguard, but she’s also supposed to be his jailor as well, making sure that he remains obedient.
All Armand has is this: himself. Like Rachelle, he met a forestborn who presented him with the same kill-or-die choice. And he said no. He didn’t bend, he didn’t break. He lost his hands, but he survived, and he kept saying no.
And that’s why Rachelle hates him when they first meet. She thinks he’s a fraud, because she doesn’t understand how he could have survived the choice that the forestborn love to force on people. But she also hates him because–if he’s telling the truth–he was faced with the same choice she was, and he didn’t break. He was stronger. And for Rachelle, moral strength will always be more important than physical strength.
(Spoiler: she doesn’t hate him forever.)
Thanks for the wonderful post, Rosamund. It was a pleasure reading it. If you guys enjoyed this post, check out the other stops in the tour:
Crimson Bound Tour: April 20th – May 1st, 2015
Monday, 4/20 The Midnight Garden Fairy Tale Inspiration: Little Red Riding Hood & The Girl with No Hands
Tuesday, 4/21 Mundie Moms Cosmetics for Badasses
Wednesday, 4/22 Two Chicks on Books Audiobook Clip + Interview
Thursday, 4/23 YA Romantics Flash Fiction #1
Friday, 4/24 Cuddlebuggery The Obligatory Strong Heroine Post
Monday, 4/27 YA Midnight Reads Writing a Bad Girl/Good Boy Romance
Tuesday, 4/28 Alice Marvels Flash Fiction #2
Wednesday, 4/29 The Daily Prophecy Interview
Thursday, 4/30 The Social Potato Death Before Dishonor
Friday, 5/1 The Starry-Eyed Revue Flash Fiction #3
Remember, Crimson Bound is out in stores everywhere on May 5th. Read my review of it on The Book Wars and preorder your copy of it now!
When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.
Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?
Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.
(This is a standalone novel, not part of the Cruel Beauty Universe.)
Thanks to Harper Teen, we’re giving away two prizes! The first prize is a bundle of Rosamund Hodge books, including hardback copies of CRIMSON BOUND and CRUEL BEAUTY, and the second prize is a giveaway for the fantastic audiobook narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden. Let us know in the comments which of the two you’d prefer, or if you’re open to either one.
- To enter, please fill out the Raffelcopter form below.
- The giveaway is open to U.S. and Canadian residents, see entry form for complete details.
- When the winners are chosen, it will be announced here and the winners will be emailed by The Midnight Garden.
- Please enter your email address in the Rafflecopter form and not the comments.