Well, I’d say not the female protagonist(s) in the series that inspired last week’s “Wolf of the World,” or in several other pop culture books, movies, and TV shows. But that’s just me. Strong doesn’t mean shrill, or shrewish (with apologies to four-footed shrews), or “I’m going to be stupid and irritating to show you how independent I really am.” I don’t think it means “able to drink most guys under the table and beat up 250 lb Judo masters even though I weigh 95 pounds when I wear heavy boots,” either. But I might be behind the times, as usual.
When you look at what pop culture calls “strong women,” they tend to fall into a few broad* categories. You have the professional woman who behaves just like her male colleagues, including sleeping around, acting like a jerk, intimidating people, and who just happens to wear skirt-suits or high heels. You have the female super hero, sort of Superman™ but with curves, who is smarter, stronger, braver, and more competent than the males. You have the female head of the household who might or might not be married and who is sarcastic, demanding, runs everything, and cuts down the men around her (more of a sit-com trope than others). In all of these examples, the woman has a high paying job** and no need of other financial support.
Some romance subgenres have “strong female” as a woman in a professional field, often a “traditionally male” field like law enforcement, construction/general contracting, criminal law, certain medical specialties, the military, the sciences, and so on. She is doing her professional thing, or on vacation from her professional thing, when she meets the hero. Sparks fly, and she whines about how it’s unfair that he acts stronger/more knowledgeable/what have you. She’s going to show him . . . by acting like, er, well, not a hard-core professional in some field.
Um, you know, if a civil engineer actually acted like the character in a sample I skimmed, water spirit boyfriend dude or not, she’d get fired so fast she’d break the sound barrier. Not for moral terpitude, but for gross incompetence and unprofessional behavior around a client.
I really start to wonder if any of these writers/screen-writers et cetera have actually met a real live professional woman. You know, geologists, engineers, real attorneys, federal judges, or women who run businesses. Given how Hollyweird seems to select out the normal and well-adjusted professionals, at least outside the tech-theater side of the business, you start to suspect that the writer doesn’t understand that strong is not shrill or faux-masculine.
In the spite story, I have to sort out “how would a petrogeologist deal with [uncanny thing here]?” Based on the petrogeology folks I’ve met and worked with, her first response will be “rule out someone being silly or trying to chase us off.” Then “is there a natural phenomena that explains X?” Then “um, you know, it’s a really sucky thing that the government here does not allow us to have firearms.” Only after that does she think, “right. What we have here is the Uncanny. What do I remember about dealing with this, assuming what I read or heard is based on truth?”
Whining, shrieking, complaining because the male protagonist is making her feel weak, or whatever’s not on the list. Male, female, or other, you do NOT last in the oil business if you whine. 95% of other fields either, for that matter.
She probably won’t be wearing a skirt suit or heels. She might think fondly about getting home to something frillier, or more feminine. She might snarl to herself about having to depend on a guy to move that one piece of equipment that she’s just got the wrong physical leverage for, if she can’t find a cart or lever. She might oogle the guys in the privacy of her mind when they finish the job and get back home. Or she might not. They are coworkers, not date material.
In other words, she’ll be strong, womanly, and level-headed as much as possible given the situation she finds herself in. If she falls apart, it will be after the fact, when she has the luxury of time and safety. She’ll be *gasp* an adult.
It’ll never sell. 😉
*Yes, I went there.
**Superheroes might be an exception, although in the recent movies none of the female characters seem to be on unemployment or depending on their spouse for support.