Your Heroine Doesn’t Have to “Kick Ass” to be Strong

Your Heroine doesnt have to kick assEveryone wants a strong heroine.

We love characters who can kick ass like Katniss, Tris, Karou, Celaena, and Eowyn.

But what is it exactly that makes a heroine “strong”?

Lately, I’m having a problem with what the definition of “strong” has become in YA. Everyone seems to want a heroine who can kick ass, wield a sword, shoot a gun (or bow), throw a punch, and barely flinch when she’s hit by a bullet. She has to be able to keep up with the boys, and usually is better than them at fighting and can kick their butts too.

But why are we limiting “strong” heroines to girls who are physically strong and can fight as well as the guys?

I think there’s a problem with this, because strength comes in many different forms. What if a heroine can’t drop kick a villain or wield a sword? Does that mean she isn’t strong? No way!!

What about Rosa Parks? Esther? Sacajawea? Helen Keller? Harriett Tubman? Queen Elizabeth I? Eleanor Roosevelt?

Heroines who can kick ass are awesome, but we need more diversity in what makes a girl strong. Not all female readers are the kung-fu type, and they want to see themselves in stories. They need heroines they can relate to, and who show them you can be strong in different ways.

I like how Ava Jae over at Writability puts it:

There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine. We are complicated, and layered, and contradictory, and we are raw, and real, and here.

I have a problem with seeing female characters who are feminine portrayed as weak, fearful, or prissy. I’ve noticed a trend that if a character in a book loves dresses, fixing her hair, and wearing makeup, she’s probably not the heroine. The “girly girl” characters are usually antagonists or obnoxious secondary characters.

Why do we tend to view girls who enjoy being typical girls as somehow weaker? And why is it that when we want to make our heroine strong we give her traditionally masculine traits and have them kick-ass, bottle up their emotions, and hate dresses, makeup, etc.?

I would love to see some heroines who love being girls! Why can’t a heroine love a pretty dress and be strong?

As a writer, I struggle with creating female characters. Why? Because I worry if I make them too feminine readers will see them as weak and annoying. Which is ridiculous! Being feminine does not make a girl weak!

I like kick-ass heroines, but I also like writing characters who are more “traditional” girls but still strong. My heroine in my current novel is a mix between these two. She has been trained as a fighter, but she loves dresses and being a girl. There’s a part in the story where she has to cut off her hair to disguise herself as a boy, and it kills her. She loves her hair, and she loves looking like a girl.

Does this make her weak? I don’t think so. But I’ve been struggling over her because I’m afraid other readers will think so.

Our perception of female strength needs to change. We need to stop labeling “feminine” traits as weak and “masculine” traits as strong and let our heroines be strong people no matter which traits they have.

We need all types of strong girls in YA. We need girls who can wield a sword like Katsa, and girls whose cleverness saves the day like Hermione Granger. How will you make your heroine strong?

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18 thoughts on “Your Heroine Doesn’t Have to “Kick Ass” to be Strong

    1. Yes I completely agree! I love female characters who are emotionally/internally strong because they can be anyone.

      My great grandmother was in Prussia during WWII and hid Jews and had to flee her home with her children and relatives when the Russians invaded. She was their “rock” and kept everyone going. She may not have physically fought Russians or Nazis but she was an amazing, strong woman. I want to see more girls like that in YA!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Here here! I also like seeing a variety of characters in YA fiction, as well as other genres. Then again, I feel guilty at the same time, because the MC for my novel (YA epic fantasy) is good with a sword and a bow and arrow, and has magical powers. But I’m trying to make her strong in other areas, too. Not a Mary Sue, by any means – but she’s also good with languages, reading maps, and plotting travel routes; and she enjoys teaching hunting and self-defense to both boys and girls. She’s clever and caring as well as kick-ass, and the challenge is to balance all of her qualities so she doesn’t come across as Miss Warrior all of the time.

    Another thing that’s equally important as strength is vulnerability. We don’t want to make our characters too strong, either physically or emotionally. The right flaws can make them believable and relatable to readers, and can add “oomph” to the story as well.

    Funny thing is, I have an idea for a future story, a YA contemporary fantasy with a much different protagonist. I already picture her being more feminine than my current MC, with no weapons / combat training whatsoever. But I also see some of her strengths being curiosity, courage, and – the key word here – emotional strength. Those are all admirable qualities for any female character to have, and I look forward to the day I can start writing about her. Which won’t be for a while, but that’s OK.

    And before I forget: I love the haircut idea you’ve incorporated into your story. Most of the girls-masquerading-as-boys in fantasy novels I’ve read don’t give their hair a second thought. It sounds like the touch you’ve added could help make your MC’s struggles even more realistic. 🙂


    1. It is tricky to balance characteristics, but I think it makes a character more interesting and complex rather than having them be just a stereotyped tough girl or girly girl.

      And you’re right, I think vulnerability is something we need to pay more attention to. I think writers tend to skip over it because they don’t want their female character to look weak. But I think it makes the character more realistic and gives her the opportunity to show her strength and overcome her vulnerability.

      Your future character sounds interesting! I love characters who are internally strong. It will be fun to explore and write a character without any weapons training and is more like an average girl.

      And thanks so much, I’m glad you like the idea! I thought it was more realistic as well because I know I love my hair and if I had to chop it off I’d be super upset! It wouldn’t be an easy thing for me (or a lot of girls I know!). It’s not like yay yippee let’s go play boy! With her situation it’s not something she wants to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for this! I feel like it’s a very prominent problem in YA. I also love that your main character in your book actually likes being a girl.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! 😀 I’m glad you like that because I really have struggled with it. Writing her character has helped me realized the problem I have with YA heroines. I finally just had to be like screw it, she is who she is and if people think she’s weak for liking her gender then that’s their problem lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Preach, girl! Haha! I absolutely loved this post. Diversity is so important, and literature needs more of it.

    I’ve got a few strong females in my current WIP. One is very tomboyish, good with a bow, but she is also wise and compassionate. She uses these traits to help a male character overcome his sense of insecurity and self-loathing, which I think is an interesting twist on typical gender stereotypes. My other two females are much more feminine, and both use their positions and intelligence to make their ways through life.

    All the same, I think I could still be doing more to diversify my characters. Thank you so much for the reminder that everyone is different and everyone deserves recognition in literature! I will definitely be pondering my characters when I get to revisions 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! 😀

      Your characters sound very interesting! I like how the first one you mentioned you balanced her traits and didn’t make her all tomboy. And I like the angle you’re using!

      I have my college classes to thank for my diversity awareness, my university is really big on it. And studying abroad in Ireland really helped me to look outside of my own culture. I have so many stories I want to write using mythology from other cultures with diverse characters because I feel we need more of them in YA. But one book at a time! haha.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “One book at a time!” <– That is the hardest part of being a writer, isn't it? *sigh*

        Yet another thing we have in common: a love of mythology! Celtic, Norse, ancient Briton…European mythology could enthrall me for life!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh my gosh yes! I get so distracted by story ideas but I can only focus on one novel at a time. I don’t understand people who can write multiple stories at once.

        Yes! have a whole encyclopedia of mythology on my bookshelf because I’m a nerd xD It’s such a good source of inspiration though!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is ABSOLUTELY true and I COMMEND you for writing this post. I’m all for the super strong, kick-butt heroines. But it bothers me when those characters start to overshadow the more timid girls. Or the girls who like makeup and dressing up. Or the girls who can’t shoot an arrow straight to save their lives. Because those things don’t make them any less worthy of being a true heroine.


  5. I totally agree. I actually have a lot of trouble with female characters that are too masculine. I think part of the awesomeness of being a woman is graceful strength. I don’t mind character’s that are amazing fighters as long as they are both feminine and skilled. And I also don’t mind characters who don’t fight but still show bravery and honor and loyalty in ways of healing instead of killing, keeping her baby when the father wasn’t a good man, or speaking out about something wrong to pave the way for right. I had a friend who pointed out one of the most masculine female characters I’ve seen and thought she was a good role model and I promptly corrected him. For a woman to be strong, she does not have to be like a man.

    Stori Tori’s Blog


    1. “part of the awesomeness of being a woman is graceful strength.” Great point! Being a woman is awesome, and it bothers me how YA seems to send the message that in order to be strong you have to be masculine.


      1. Thank you. 🙂 I wouldn’t say /all/ YA, but a lot of YA does. It’s just one of those things for the next generation of writers to change. 🙂


  6. I recently read “Shadows on Snow” by Starla Huchton, where one of the characters says, “Strength comes in many forms. Beauty is but one.” Yes, strength comes in being about to kick ass, but it also comes in quieter ways of other virtues, and we shouldn’t forget the women who represent them. This is an excellent point, and definitely goes along with what Ava was saying earlier. 🙂


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