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.)
Crimson Bound will be available in stores and online on May 5, 2015 in hardback, as well as on audiobook. Add it to your GoodReads shelf here!
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.
Alex / AnimeGirl
That was quite fascinating!! I loved this post.
I agree that strength it’s not the same as power and I’m sadden when people use them interchangeably. Because there is more than way path to a strong character, here really is.
I guess that’s why some of my most favorite heroines in history are those who – while being really traditionally feminine and almost saccharine sweet – hold their line in the sand and don’t lose themselves or their own vulnerable hearts to the hardships of life.
Anyway, now I’m super intrigued by Crimson Bound!! I don’t think I have ever read a Red Riding Hood retelling, so that’ll be a first for me.
Thanks for this wonderful post.
Alex / AnimeGirl recently posted…Book Review: Magical Animal Adoption Agency – Clover’s Luck by Kallie George (Illustrated by Alexandra Bolger)
Omigosh! If I had never heard anything at all about Crimson Bound, if I had never previously read and loved Cruel Beauty, reading this post would have me standing in line to buy Crimson Bound the day it is released. Yes, yes, yes — the difference between strength and power! It sounds like there will be even more depth in this novel than in Rosamund Hodge’s previous one. (And yay Fanny Price! So many readers underestimate her.)
Wow–after reading this, I really want to pick up Crimson Bound! I hadn’t really thought before of the difference between strength and power when it comes to the Strong Female Character debate. What a great way to put it!
Martha recently posted…Earth Day nail polish exchange from Zoya!
Fantastic post again. Wow. 🙂
Every time I think of Strong Female Characters now, I think of Kate Beaton’s Hark, a vagrant.
But this post is absolutely wonderful. I’m so glad that Rosamund Hodge took the time to write this out. (I am, if possible, even more excited to read Crimson Bound than I was previously! Looking forward to seeing how it explores the relationship between strength and power, in particular how those concepts are gendered.)
I love (love, love) that you chose to write about Fanny Price here, though. She’s my favorite Austen heroine (in one of my all-time favorite books) for precisely those reasons. (And it’s also why I disliked the Rozema adaptation in the mid-90s, though it’s a fun movie.) I’m also wondering how agency fits into this conversation about strength / power / empowerment – is agency closer to strength? Or is it associated w/ power? Anyway. I think it’s great that this post is trying to parse the differences between them, and Fanny is a good person to think through too, as her access to power maybe shifts over the course of the novel, too.
Thanks so much for writing this.
Layla recently posted…Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light
Olivia @ Fluttering Pages
Fantastic post! That part from Rosamund Hodge has me wanting to run out and buy Crimson Bound right this second. It sounds amazing and wonderful and a PERFECT me book. I’ve been thinking a lot about what a “strong” female character really is. And it’s not just physical strength, but mental and emotional, And the kind of moral integrity that Rosamund Hodge talked about. Great post and thanks to Rosamund Hodge!
Olivia @ Fluttering Pages recently posted…Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard
I loved Cruel beauty and I’m really lookong forward to crimson bound! I love that the respective positions of the guy and the girl are reversed in the retelling (physical strength). I understand what you mean about strong heroines not necessarily needing brute strength, and that in a way, female could be strong character just being the way that they are 🙂
A strong heroine does things outside what society will not accept for a lady to do. she is the one that set standard of bravery and courage.
Slay on, Rosamund Hodge. This entire tour has made me so so excited for her book!
This is a great post on female heroines. 🙂 I feel like a heroine always stands up for what she believes in. 🙂
Tressa @ Wishful Endings
Fabulous post! It is so true. I’m glad this is something Rosamund explored.
I love this. My heart is applauding so much! Strength of conviction is so much better than warrior-type person. How many people do you know, regardless of gender, who are physically and emotionally warrior types? It’s great to read a warrior woman in fiction, but that doesn’t mean I relate at all, or feel inspired by her. But even though I’m doughy and tire easily and have a low threshold for pain, I can take inspiration from characters like Fanny Price (or my persona fav, for the same reasons- Jane Eyre) because ANYONE can have conviction, dignity and honor.
Beth W recently posted…Book Review: Daughter of Troy
This is a great post. I really enjoy the character of Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. I relate to her because I used to be very quiet and shy myself. Now some people just mistaken my quietness for being shy as well, when that is not always the case. Just because someone is quiet and/or shy does not mean they cannot be brave or be a warrior!! They can and they will! 😀
Kaniesha @ Deux Lectrices
I agree so much about this and I’ve never really dug deep into the argument about what made heroes & heroines strong but Rosamund puts it so well! I can’t wait to read Crimson Bound.
Kaniesha @ Deux Lectrices recently posted…Kaniesha Reviews: Shadow, Shadow by V.B. Marlowe
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[…] “The Obligatory Strong Heroine Post” via Cuddlebuggery Book Blog […]
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[…] be an ethical leader. I’ve also been thinking about this a bit since Rosamund Hodge’s post for the Crimson Bound blog tour on Strong Female Characters, but I was struck by how both Laia and Elias sort through their […]
I can’t agree more! We need more strong heroines, they’re the most refreshing to read about. I really enjoyed this, it was spot on. 🙂
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