Your strong female protagonist does well for herself. Her life, neatly folded into drawers, doled out to the correct plastic wells of a pill-a-day container. She likes her coffee black (or with cream and sugar, or a latte for that matter, because screw men’s standards), and she has sass (or punches to the face) to spare for anyone who gets in her way or on her nerves.
Maybe your strong female protagonist is a businesswoman, or a detective, or a journalist. Maybe she’s been struggling in a man’s world all her life, having to fight for every success she gets. Every day, the oppression of men bares its ugly, green teeth, animals sitting atop the canopy of a forest of plastic cubicles, gazing down at her chest, or simply looking down on her for her chest. But she perseveres. She wins out by sheer will and tenacity.
Or, perhaps your strong female protagonist is a high schooler, or a vampire, a werewolf, or all three. She’s the object of everyone’s affection, or perhaps she’s the object of no ones. She is happy with herself either way, the ‘ugly’ outcast or the ‘beautiful’ paragon of the community. She discovers powers she never knew she had, and it both scares and excites her. Now, the tables have turned. Her powers, despite her beauty, make the community that once loved her throw her out. Or, perhaps her powers take this once ‘ugly’ outcast, and make her popular, and everyone realizes how beautiful she really was.
Or does your strong female protagonist walk down a darker path? She could be any of these, detective, vampire, space pirate etc. In a previous story from her life, an episode unseen except in darkened, sweaty fever dreams, someone victimized her. The ravages of sexual assault threatened to completely tear down the curtains on her life. Maybe it still haunts her to this day, but she walks on with the heavy boots of a soldier, trying to make a better life.
But then it, or rather he, happens.
A picture perfect gentleman, complete with strong character and abs to match, a bad boy with a mean streak, a heart to fix, and abs to match, a better detective/journalist/businessman/highschooler/vampire/werewolf/anything than she will ever be, and abs to match. She fights it at first– she has a chip on her shoulder after all– but eventually she swoons. They all swoon. She loses control. The walls come down, and the man comes in, and she learns something about herself.
She needed men all along. She needed their perfection, their badness, their fixer-upper heart. All along, her life was missing something, and she never knew. Not romance, not genuine love built on honesty and equality. Abs.
Then it all comes falling down behind her. The strong willed protagonist we knew is laid bare. What is her favorite color? Her favorite television show? What words and pictures and life altering questions bubble up when she walks through a forest? She is sassy, she has a chip on her shoulder, she won’t let anyone tell her what to do. But what does she tell herself to do? What defines her? What moves her? What holds her back, other than men and their damned beautiful abs. But it’s over, now. The secret is out. The reader knows. The protagonist is hollow. Her life is defined by the men around her. Every problem she has to deal with in the novel is caused by men, and every problem she has is solved by them.
Her only weakness, her only flaw, the only thing holding her back is that she is a woman.
I implore those writers out there whose characters these are– stop writing female protagonists. We are full to the brim with them, and our toilet runneth over. Stop it.
Where are the world saviors, the space captains, the detectives, the (dare I say it) vampires, the women with more to say, with more to their souls than sass and a healthy dose of hatred and sexual tension toward men? Male protagonists can be alcoholics, gamblers, afraid to leave their own doorstep, scared of their own strength, arrogant, excessive, naive, constantly enraged– myriad flaws and character arcs varying in intensity like lines of colored ink splashing and dancing across a page. Women, however, have access to only one flaw– their femininity.
For the love of god, stop. Stop writing worlds full of ape-like men and one broken woman who is saved by one shining set of abdominal muscles.
Stop writing female protagonists.
The excess is bursting out the seams, and the world still lacks for something.
I want, I need more Korras, more Zoe Washburns, more Samus Arans. But I also need more Kataras, more Dana Scullys, more Hermoines, more Kawinnet Lee Fryes. We need more women on our pages and in our games and lighting up our screens. We need more who don’t need to be rescued.
I want, and we should all want– and expect– more out of all of our female characters. The bar is set high, but still yet by very few.
So stop writing female protagonists.
Stop thinking about even writing strong ones.
Worry first about writing good ones.