Women are not Men

When I was in highschool, and mind you this was a very small school, or what I say next would never have been possible, I narrowly missed winning the Presidential medal for fitness. Because I could not for the life of me do three pull-ups. I could do one, and did meet all the other requirements for what I dimly recall after this passage of time, but my upper body strength was inadequate to a test regime designed mostly for guys. Do I want to go back and redesign the test to give myself the kudos I wanted then? Heck no. It’s just that even then I knew if it meant using my arms alone, I’d never make it. A year later while learning rock climbing I knew not to try to hang or pull myself up by arms alone. But give me a toeholds to employ the leg muscles, and…

That was a long intro to something else. In a group I’m part of, someone asked for help in finding books with strong women characters, because a woman had dismissed all SFF as having women who had to be rescued or just wanted to get married. I got tagged into the conversation because they wanted a list of books like that, and I’m known for making lists. Two days and several hundred comments later, the list was taking shape, and it was pointed out that perhaps it would be shorter to make a list of ‘weak’ females in SFF. This is not a genre where the women are commonly wimps. In fact, you’re more likely to find, as someone vulgarly put it, ‘men with boobs on’ in a book. Because women are different from men, an undeniable biological fact, if you choose to write a woman who can do pull-ups all day long and fight off gangs barehand and so forth, you need to hang a lantern on *why* she isn’t normal. In SF this is simple enough – genetic engineering makes great handwavium. But you also need to keep in mind that if similarly engineered, her male peers will be stronger than she. I’m not saying there are no exceptions. I’m saying that for them to be exceptional, we have to populate our books with averages as well.

I put the call out for self-rescuing space princesses, damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed, and boy, did I get nominations! But it also got me thinking. What’s wrong with needing rescue once in a while? If I wrote a male character, cast into Durance vile, who had to be rescued by the woman in his life, that plot would get all sorts of happy responses, yes? But if I flip the role I’m a misogynistic sexist.

I like in fiction, as in life, a complementary pair. She has weaknesses, but so does he, and their weaknesses aren’t in the same place, so together they are stronger than alone. Which is much like real life. What I don’t like to see is a strong female character surrounded by milksops she needs to constantly belittle and drag out of truffle-flavored (damn you autocorrect! I meant trouble, but I have to admit that’s funny) so the author can show how smart and awesome she is. People like that are not fun to hang around with, and as characters they make me stop reading. Instead of writing the five-foot nothing waif who can toss grown men around the room (side-note: this can actually be done, but the girl has to be very high on PCP and it will wreck her body later. Source: my dad, the paramedic) all day long, why not do some research into bad ass women of history and see how they did what they did?

Women like Virginia Hall, who spied on the Germans from occupied France for years. Not so big a deal? She was also missing a leg from a hunting accident, and hiked through waist-deep snow in her wooden leg to escape capture at one point. She was definitely an amazing woman. Women have held down the fort for time immemorial while the men were out to war, or hunting, or just gallivanting. That doesn’t make them weak, because it wasn’t always an easy job. Women have also been portrayed as mere pawns, historically, but the simple truth is that far from always needing to be rescued, including seeing marriage as a form of ‘rescue’ from uncertain fate, women have been a force to be reckoned with. It’s just that they are different from men, so other than the rare exception who took up a sword (usually under great duress) a woman’s way was more subtle and hidden. She might not have the strength of arms, but she did have ways to influence those who were doing the hacking and bashing.

So write strong females into your stories. But keep in mind that ‘strong’ isn’t always about the muscles in your arms. Sometimes it’s the bit between the ears.

137 Comments

Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: ART

137 responses to “Women are not Men

  1. Pingback: Strong Women in Science Fiction: Book List – Cedar Writes

  2. paladin3001

    I like that phrase “men with boobs”. 😀
    I agree with what you are saying though, woman need to be written to their strengths and not be shown out competing men all the time. Reading some history the strong woman didn’t do a man’s job, they did do a lot of heavy lifting so to speak. Of course in this modern age of SJW if you show a woman doing strong woman stuff you would probably be cast as a misogynist. :/

    • Any woman who can bear sixteen children (Susannah Wesley) and then live through most of them dying to raise the rest to adulthood is no wimp. But yes, modern mores dismiss that and want more swords and sorcery. Because only sorcery explains what the women I see on TV shows doing…

    • This, though, gets into the difference between how men and women think and not just act. And, to be honest, I’m at a loss here.

      • I’m a little confused by your comment but ….
        I also read a blog written by a shepherdess (and she says that’s what she is so I don’t want to hear about it) who regularly points out differences between the rams and the ewes. Her latest is that when she’s fixing equipment out in the field the ewes could care less and the rams end up swarming her and climbing into the equipment. She has to move fast and hold onto her tools very tightly. Amusing.

      • For lack of better description, looking at life differently. It’s like what came up about romance: a tendency for women to look at relationships, and men events. I fake it with my characters. One girl really gets into the relationship thing; another a tendency to mother; both I’ve observed, and essentially faked with these characters, and if the POV is male, that’s fine. But processing how both think differently from the males is difficult.

        Add to this personal variations, and it’s more difficult still. The one whi’s reaction to mother indulges in some romantic ideas, but not like the one who really dotes on this sort of stuff. But the latter character has a mean streak that the first doesn’t. When her friend (another character) has her knife almost stolen by a footpad who thought the strap was a money bag, she says “Show him what you can do with it.” The first character would never think such, and so forth and so on.

        • Jane Meyerhofer

          Got it. And I don’t really think I understand men in my heart … but then I’m just writing from a woman’s point of view, so far. That’s what makes good books fun. A different point of view.

  3. Tolkien’s greatest love story, “Beren & Luthien,” features Luthien having to rescue Beren from the captivity of Sauron.

    • In the story of Virginia Hall, there’s a bit of story that isn’t delved into, but a woman whose husband and a bunch of Allied pilots and spies were all locked up in a horrible German prison managed to get them all out. She and Hall worked on that, along with I think another woman as well. They basically bribed gaurds, gave them food, and managed to smuggle food into the men, including a tin that the men fashioned into a key – I would love to see just that interlude made into a book.

      • I’m determined to find a place for the story of the Jewish actress, taken to Auschwitz. Did a sexy striptease for the guards – and at its conclusion, grabbed the gun from one of the bedazzled, killed three of them, and made one unable to ever reproduce.

    • Mary

      There are plenty of straight out fairy tales that have the heroine rescuing a man or men. The first being cases like the type “The Girl Helps the Hero Flee” where he’s the love interest; the second, like the type “The Brothers As Birds.”

      • It’s as old as Rahab, actually 🙂

      • During the American Revolution, a Georgia woman helped a small man escape the British by letting him crawl into a large basket of laundry and carrying him to safety.

      • There’s also the straight up ‘girl wins man’s freedom’ where she is the hero. The Russian Legend “The Queen of Copper Mountain” comes to mind. (Short version: husband and wife jewelers live near Copper mountain where a Fae like woman is Queen. She is said to be the best of all Jewelers, but no one who goes to learn from her is ever allowed to leave. The guy goes up the mountain and doesn’t come back. The Girl goes after him after receiving a sign he’s still alive and manages to convince the Queen not only to let him go but let him go with his knowledge intact as long as he doesn’t teach anyone but HER the Queen’s secrets.)

        It’s more Orpheus and Eurydice, only they win free rather than getting trapped back into it. It doesn’t seem to fit into the ‘Brothers as Birds’ mold or the ‘helps hero escape’.

  4. Short of Honor Harrington (or Friday) levels of genetic manipulation a woman cannot compete head on with a man of similar training or age in any contest of strength or endurance.

    All you have to do is look at real life sports where the top women in just about every sport are nowhere near the same level as the top men – the only exception is the equestrian ones where they compete on an equal basis, but then the majority of the endurance/strength is in the horse not the rider. Thus the most believable fantasy stories have the women as cavalry scouts and messengers because being lighter they can go further, faster on the same horse than a man. There are plenty of other similar places in SF where a smaller person has an advantage and so on.

    In fact it seems to me that stories that pretend that women and men are physical equals are actually dangerous in that they may lead women into not running away from a physical confrontation when they should do so

    • Yep. Research, since I can’t offhand find the chart I wanted. Start here:
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8477683

    • Oh wait, I found it. The weakest males are weaker than the average female, but the strongest females are still weaker than the strongest males. Basically, male strength is greater, but more variable. (Actually, that applies to traits across the board.) With discussion and more links:

      This is one thing I’ve had to consider with my nonhumans, who are less sexually dimorphic than humans (in fact, the uninitiated human eye might not immediately distinguish their males from females) — pound for pound, they are more similar in muscle strength than are humans (and less variable overall).

    • Terry Sanders

      IIRC some of my random reading, it has been suggested that the Amazon legends were based on Scythian female horse archers. In an age when we hadn’t yet bred big horses, women had a major advantage on horseback; and an archer doesn’t fight hand-to-hand if he can help it. As auxiliary troops, they could be downright unpleasant.

      • Zsuzsa

        Interesting. The one flaw that I see in that theory, though, is that archery isn’t the minimal strength activity that it’s usually portrayed as in modern fantasy novels and video games. It took a lot of upper body strength to be able to draw a bow, and I don’t think there were many women who could do it with any kind of speed or accuracy.

        • Kind of depends on the bow. The Mongols used shorter bows, but I could find a draw strength on a quick search.

          • Luke

            You can’t get energy out of a bow that you didn’t put into it in the first place.

            The Mongols had bows made of laminated layers of horn, hide, etc. that allowed them to store a lot of force across a short bow. But the draw weight was still EXTREMELY high. (Actually, quite possibly higher than long bows, because you had to store relatively the same amount of energy in a significantly shorter draw. And fire a smaller arrow that didn’t retain momentum as well.)

            To get a let-off on draw weight, you need the mechanical advantage of pulleys and cams.

            • If you’ve ever drawn a compound, the interesting part is that they’re very hard to pull and then they suddenly get a lot easier. The major advantage, as I see it, is more the ability to hold it back more easily. If you’re hunting, for example, that is a great improvement to your aim.

          • Beginner medium-frame females (~130-160 pounds in weight) have a recommended starting point of 25-35 pounds draw. (That’s a recurve bow, which IIRC the Scythians used.)

            Now, that is a modern recommendation, for soft modern people. I would bet that a Scythian woman could at least start learning with a draw of 40-50 pounds. OK, not a Mongol bow, which was 150+, but plenty to be dangerous with. (Chart I just looked at starts large framed modern men at no more than 55 pounds. Training, training, training…)

            I did know one very tall woman who shot longbow, which is around 70-80 pounds. I probably know several who could handle that, if they were only tall enough.

            • When I was teaching archery at summer camp, I think the strongest bow we had was a 30 pound recurve. Since these were kids, we also had what we called the Ham & Cheese bows, which had something ridiculously low like 5 pounds. I had brought a 70 pound compound bow that was on loan to me and which was too short in the draw, so I didn’t use it much. (I had also not been taught about eye dominance, so I had no idea until partway through the summer that I was cross-eye dominant and should have been shooting with my non-dominant hand.) (There is debate about this; my take is that if I take a firearms course, I will want to learn with the off hand.) If I were to start shooting today, I’d probably work up from 30 pounds simply for the accuracy.

              Anyway. A summer or two later, when I was no longer the archery instructor, a kid broke his arm by pulling his leader’s bow—which I think was 100-pound draw, compound. And vastly wasted on our small range.

              • IIRC, the highest I ever went when I was doing archery was 50 or 60 pounds. Although I was still able to draw the future son-in-laws bow, which he told me was a 90 (I think he was overstating, however – maybe a 70 pound draw.)

                Of course, I learned the “Mongol” draw – push the bow, not pull the string. I’ve heard that gives you the ability to use a heavier bow, although I really can’t speak personally on that.

            • I did know one very tall woman who shot longbow, which is around 70-80 pounds. I probably know several who could handle that, if they were only tall enough.

              You shouldn’t need to be particularly tall to shoot longbow. Generally, despite some modern stories, longbows were no more than five and a half feet long, so the arm only needs to be three feet off the ground to draw it.

        • sam57l0

          I recall reading somewhere that Welsh and English archers holding an arrow ready to fly from a yew bow was like holding a 150# weight in one hand.

        • Terry Sanders

          Also depends on the quality of the armor you’re up against. Women are quite capable of hunting deer, etc., with pre-compound bows. The powerful weapons we talk about were useful for two things: range and armor-piercing capability. A horse archer, shooting from twenty yards out at a man in Iron Age, non-full-coverage armor, wouldn’t need massive power to be effective.

          In fact, in my boyhood, people talked about the English/Welsh longbow and the Mongol horse bow for the same reason–the experts of the time considered them massively powerful. Far stronger than most modern (at the time) bows, and similarly stronger than the common bows of their periods.

          In fact, the really nasty missile weapon of the Bronze/early Iron Age was the sling. Xenophon, for instance, mentions that the Greek slingmen outranged the Persian archers. And the Babylonian/Assyrian carvings of an earlier period showed the slingers arrayed *behind* the archers. Oddyseus and his really strong bow were treated as something unusual.

          So women on ponies taking potshots at half-armored troops from pstol range might not have been that wimpy.

          • Joe in PNG

            Brings to mind David vs Goliath.
            People forget a couple of things- one, that David was very likely an older teenager* during the showdown, and two, that the stones used in a sling were typically about the size of a baseball or larger.

            *big enough to wear King Saul’s armor. He turned it down not because it didn’t’ fit, but because he was not used to fighting in armor.

    • …of similar training or age in any contest of strength or endurance.

      Agreed regarding strength, but I question the assessment of endurance. I had always heard that women had more endurance, that is the ability to persist longer with physical exertion. I’m curious…does anyone have fact-based information about endurance?

      • This is interesting, but it’s the elite distance runners, not men vs women as a whole. And given the sedentary lifestyle of the western world, I don’t think the “natural” endurance of any group could be measured in any significant manner, here. Go find a nomadic society where both sexes are regularly on their feet and moving daily, and perhaps you could come up with some sort of comparison.

        https://www.outsideonline.com/2169856/longer-race-stronger-we-get

        • It’s a difference in the muscular system. Males have more fast twitch muscles, for short sprinting, then a recovery period – women have more slow twitch muscles for prolonged effort, without a recovery period. (Basically, the fast twitch muscles can run without oxygen, the slow twitch work only so fast as the oxygen can be supplied.)

          Reference: http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/287/6/E1125

          • Luke

            Yet in endurance sports, the women elite simply cannot hang with the elite men. We see this in marathons, triathlons, biathlons, and even soccer.

            So we can safely call this hypothesis disproven. It is not supported by real-world observation.

      • I have masses of observational data that shows that women can’t maintain the male pace (or if they do can’t maintain it as long). Just about every marathon or long distance cycle event will have the top 10%-20% of men come in before the first woman. And I will note that in most cases there are far more men than women taking part in these events which means that the average woman has even less endurance

        If (and I’ve done this) the men stay with their womenfolk on a ride/run/hike then at the end of the day/event the men still have plenty of energy and the women are wiped. That’s a good thing when hiking because the men can make camp, put up the tents and start the fire going while the women recover but it still shows which sex has more endurance (also in almost every case the men will be carrying far more than the women)

        • Luke

          More weight in absolute terms, and in proportional terms.

          I used to be a pretty avid backpacker. The rule of thumb was that men could carry 1/3 of their weight, and women could carry 1/4 of their weight without unduly encumbering themselves.

          As an aside, when I was in the military (AKA, the reason I don’t backpack or go camping anymore) I was generally carrying significantly over 3/4 of my weight, before even grabbing my piece of crew served weapon (which pushed the total above 100%).

        • And speaking of outliers, a woman just won the NYC Marathon for the first time in forty years.

        • Chrismouse

          That’s not the right metric to determine if women have better capacity for endurance than men do, however. The proper metric would be length of time at max rated capacity for women. If a woman can sustain her top speed for longer than a man can his, she does have the edge in endurance, even thought the absolute speed would certainly be higher for the man.

    • Mary

      I warned her as graphically as I could that she was already well down the slippery slope leading to poverty and misery—that, as I knew from the experience of untold patients, she would soon have a succession of possessive, exploitative, and violent boyfriends, unless she changed her life. I told her that in the past few days, I had seen two women patients who had had their heads rammed down the lavatory, one who had had her head smashed through a window and her throat cut on the shards of glass, one who had had her arm, jaw, and skull broken, and one who had been suspended by her ankles from a tenth-floor window to the tune of, “Die, you bitch!”

      “I can look after myself,” said my 17-year-old.

      “But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

      “That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

      A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

      “But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

      “It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.

      Theodore Dalrymple

      https://www.city-journal.org/html/tough-love-11787.html

    • As a side note, this one of the key reasons why the Sothoii War Maids from David Weber’s Bahzell series aren’t utterly infuriating–they’re light infantry scouts, not frontline fighters.

      • Weber gets a lot of things right.

        Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarion books to pick an obvious alternative get everything right except for the men are stronger than women thing.

        It’s actually somewhat surprising because she absolutely got the rest right (for example how far an army can march, effect of (lack of) food, map accuracy…) but she totally tweaked the overlap between male and female strength/endurance distributions in her world so that it’s more like the top decile of women are equal to about the 3rd to top decile of men instead of it being more like the 2nd to bottom.

        I haven’t read the Lackey Valdemar books enough to remember off hand but I’m fairly sure they suffer from the same fault and probably others as well.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Barbara Hambly’s warrior women never try to match strength against their male opponents but work on being faster than their male opponents.

        • Lackey spends very little time with the military in most of her Valdemar books. It’s mostly the Kerowyn books, and even her mercenary group is mostly cavalry-based and scouts, which balances the strength advantages out. It’s glossed over either way, which means that readers could get a mistaken impression. She does have extensive scenes in several books where the concept is “use whatever you have” as well as “running away is often an optimal tactic.”

        • snelson134

          The other thing Weber gets right especially with the war maids is the emphasis on endurance.

  5. Real strength of character is hard to write. It takes more work to set up situations in which protagonists overcome obstacles through persistence, discernment, or temperance than to have a character solve problems through being endowed with unearned gifts of martial prowess or some other super-power.

    Science Fiction and Fantasy, by their nature, allow writers more justifications for characters to have easy “Get Out Of Jail Free” abilities.

    • Which makes me wonder, is Mystery then a really good place to find Strong Women of the non-obvious type? You have nearly as many female protagonists in Mystery as male, and because it’s all about deciphering clues, it’s a game anyone can play.

      • I’ve been reading a lot of Christie and Patricia Wentworth over the last year. Miss Marple and Maud are indeed women of steel. But the steel grey in their hair means that it’s certainly not a physical strength, it’s a psychological one.

  6. And don’t forget that for every woman who finds herself in an arranged marriage, there is also a man in the very same arranged marriage, who may be no more happy about it.

    Indeed, this largely explains the custom of mistresses. Well-paid mistresses. (“Why should I do harder work that’s no fun for less money?”)

    • Zsuzsa

      True, although to be fair, the mistress was much more of an option for the unhappy men than the handsome young stud was for the unhappy woman. I know there are good reasons for the double standard, but it was still the case that if a man didn’t like his wife, he did his duty and sought pleasure on the side, while a woman just had to suck it up.

      • Central Europe at the time of World War 1 and afterwards was quite different. “Once the first slice has been eaten, who cares who gets the next slice?” Mt grandparents on my mother’s side left central Europe and moved to America over this. As will be recalled, when Schroedinger went off to a spa to derive the Schroedinger equation…he succeeded… he was accompanied by a colleague’s wife. His own wife did not complain, because she was having a physically vigorous affair with one of the other famous quantum mechanicians. The options were equally open for both spouses.

      • Joe in PNG

        In Victorian England, the classic upperclass arrangement was that after a proper number of sons was born, both spouses were free to do whoever as long as they were discreet.
        A good number of Prince Edward’s conquest were married women (including Winston Churchill’s mum), and the affairs often conducted with the knowledge & consent of the husband.

        • Mary

          It was, in fact, considered in bad taste to seduce the still unmarried.

        • Mary

          I must add, however, that the proper number was the heir and the spare, and the reason why they could pull it off was that owing to improving food supplies, sanitation, etc, it was improbable that the third son would inherit. Leading to such sage axioms as “Never comment on a likeness” for children born after the second son. (why, yes, I did draw on this for Never Comment On A Likeness.)

          Earlier, however — remember that both Alfred the Great and John succeeded to the throne in spite of having several older legitimate brothers. This was not regarded as something astounding.

    • This. It’s a factor in some tales I’ve set in the 14th Century. Two characters marry because their families saw it as advantageous, and never love each other. Years later, the man harshly reprimands his son at the idea of marrying for love. A noble couple does love each other – now. They had only met each other twice before the wedding. She warns her daughter that she will never marry for love, and gently condemns such romantic notions as a way toward heartache and misery, at least for nobles. She never spells it out, but what’s going on there is how many nobles sought romance outside their marriage.

  7. I’ve known five-foot women who could throw around six-foot men — in the right circumstances, and with the element of surprise. Good throwing techniques are a matter of leverage, getting below the target’s center of mass. Women start with a lower center of mass, due to broader hips and smaller upper bodies. A short woman’s is lower still. So if a guy gets too close and friendly, these women could suddenly drop them.

    But it wasn’t something they could count on in a straight-up fight. Running away or drawing a weapon are more reliable.

  8. One might commend your attention to Maria Fuentes in The Amazon Legion.

  9. aacid14

    Ah yes, PCP. If you want to write a berserker start there.

    And how is getting in over ones head and needing rescue a bad thing. It’s just as much a cliche to have the squad/army backed into a wall until captain white hat comes over the ridge with reinforcements as the damsel in distress. As long as the character isn’t a rescue macguffin (only there to be captured) it is a viable tool.

    • Alcohol works too. Drunks do not feel pain. Important safety tip, pain techniques do not work on drunks and druggies.

      • Yes, alcohol works. When I started college (small college in Alaska) the husband of the Head Resident of my dorm was Army Special Forces (Green Beret) and had just gotten out of the Army after spending several tours in ‘Nam. He had more than one black belt. Our dorm had two wings, one for girls and one for boys. One of the Eskimo boys, Charlie, had a drinking problem. He was a sweetheart when he was sober, but when he was drinking — our resident Green Beret almost couldn’t put him down. Dale wasn’t a large man, but he was taller and quite a bit more muscled than Charlie.

        • A grandfather told me how his “friends” used to get him drunk where he’d fight. His wake-up call was when he came home and my grandmother lit into him about “laying off on a drunk and not a stick of wood in the firebox.” He grabbed his ax, went to the woods, carried the wood back on his back, tossed it on the porch, said “Here’s your wood, woman,” and went to sleep it off. They cooked a week off that wood, and he said he’d go out and stare at that pile of wood. That stopped his drinking. he said. “I won’t drink anything that’ll make a man carry a week’s worth of firewood on his back.”

    • Luke

      Schizophrenia works, too.
      Also, amphetamines, including ecstacy.

      I… Might have worked as security in an inner city hospital ER for a couple of years. There are stories I can’t legally share.

  10. Zsuzsa

    I noticed the bit about “women who don’t need rescue” in Star Wars VII. Poe needed to be rescued at the beginning. Finn needed to be rescued at the end. Rey, however, might have been captured, but she was perfectly capable of rescuing herself. That bothered me a bit. It seemed like a little too much “grrrl power,” we couldn’t possibly have our heroine need the same sort of help that the boys needed in the same circumstances, girls can do anything don’t you know.

    On the presidential fitness thing, were there not separate standards for boys and girls? I didn’t have a hope in Hell’s chance of making the standard because I’m about as flexible as your average 2×4, but I don’t remember the strength standards being unreasonable for girls.

    • Joe in PNG

      Princess Leia, on the other hand, was often captured but never really in distress. In each case, she was an active participant in her own rescue- feigning compliance until the right opportunity presented itself, then act decisively. Such as in Jabba’s yacht.

    • I think there were. Two of my older sisters made the grade – while I did not. (Running is my bugaboo – much over 50 yards, and my sides cramp up. Boom, on the ground. If only it had been hill climbing…)

    • Laurie

      Heck, Rey had never picked up a light saber before, but was able to defeat a master, had never flown a space ship before, but could fly better than Han Solo. If the actress didn’t have so much charm, I’d have found the character absolutely intolerable. Mary Sue, sucks all the air out of the room, can do everything perfectly with no struggle at all, and everyone else is incompetent.

      • Eh, you’re overstating things a bit there. She was able to defeat an already-weakened (seriously, how was Kylo Ren able to stand up after taking a bowcaster shot to the torso?) not-really-master Sith, and while she did perform better on the Millennium Falcon than she should have, I think Han Solo was still presented as being better at flying the thing.
        But yes, she does veer very close to being a Sue, and the next movie will be make or break time.

    • When I was in school, the standard for the girls regarding the chin-up bar, was the “flexed-arm hang”, where they had to get their chin over the bar and hang there for, IIRC, 30 seconds. I don’t know if the standards changed after I was out, or if Cedar’s school just didn’t follow the different standards, but that’s the way it was in the late 70s.

      Push-ups were different for the girls, too, resting on the knees rather than the feet. Can’t remember any of the other differences, if there were any. Heck, I can’t remember any of the other requirements, except 50 sit-ups in one minute.

  11. Meet Alice Haddison, queen of the Mobile Infantry jump suit. What makes her the queen is situational awareness, a peerless ability to incorporate data from diverse sources into her picture of the battle space, and a nearly magical ability to know where she needs to be during a fight.

    She is also a shit-magnet. If anything weird and wrong is running around loose, it will go right to where she is every time. She was employed by Canadian Special Forces in Afghanistan to hunt zombies. The strike force could never find them unless Alice was there. Then they came out of the woodwork like roaches.

    In “normal life” Alice has a lot of issues, including bad dreams, a lot of scar tissue, and a tendency to default to the yelling and hitting. Most of her issues are due to being the center of attention for every weirdo, pervert and freak in a hundred miles. They are constantly coming after her. Shit-magnet doesn’t shut off when you come home.

    Alice likes long walks in the sun, swearing at her equipment to kill the gremlins, redundancy, and large caliber guns. Her hobbies are shooting and overkill.

  12. sam57l0

    “…truffle-flavored…” Black or white truffle? (Never had one, myself.)

  13. Luke

    I always like to enthusiastically agree that we need more strong female characters “like Mattie in True Grit, or Rose Sayer in The African Queen!”
    Mostly, they don’t understand the point, but sometimes I get to see heads explode.

    • Well, I write strong women – Margaret in Daughter of Texas, and Deep in the Heart. Magda and Anna, in the Adelsverein Trilogy. Jane, in The Quivera Trail, and Sophia in Sunset and Steel Rails. But they are all 19th century strong women, so the requirements are a little different…

  14. First time I’ve heard about that Virginia Hall example.

    • Perhaps you should read more.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Haven’t you been banned? Like lots of times?

      • He’s scouring the comments section to see if anybody says something -scandalous!- that he can squeeze a post out of. Let me try:

        Most chicks are weaker than most dudes. Also smaller.

        He may also trying to prove he is not a floppy cameltron sock puppet. Has anyone ever seen CM and floppy cameltron in the same room? Hmmm…

        • Virginia Hall’s exploits were not publicized immediately after WWII, because she went from being employed by the OSS to being an officer in the CIA, up until sometime in the 1960’s. (I don’t think I heard anything about her until the 1980’s or 1990’s, when stuff started getting declassified.) She was a legend in the CIA, suitable for terrifying and inspiring the newbies.

          And yeah, she was one of the main reasons I had trouble suspending disbelief enough to watch the Peggy Carter TV series. (Did a lot of yelling at the TV over a wide variety of factual historical issues… then took pity on my neighbors and stopped watching.)

  15. I just read a YA end-of-the-world book where a fifteen-year-old girl miraculously survives the death of almost everyone else in the world to some horrible fungus. Eventually she encounters a boy a couple of years older than she is, and they end up together by the end of the book, but through the whole story, the boy is weak. She rescues him, or attempts to. He got her captured in the first place. I finished the story, but I was shaking my head through it, and only gave it three stars on Amazon.

    • In my WIP, two characters rescue a girl condemned to be sold as a slave because of a villain’s dealings with her father. At this point she’s exhausted her options, but when they encounter her, she’s on the run. Her goal is an Aunt’s home in another country, far from the reach of the villain and the laws that will sell her as a slave. When various things don’t pan out, she settles in on another option. It’s only when she’s captured by the law that she’s really a damsel in distress, but while she was able to act, she never just passively waited for her fate and a hero to come along. She acts on the assumption that there would be no hero. And when one of the heroes offers to sell himself as a slave in her place, and the other to literally fights for her, she begs them not to, because she does not want to see them come to harm. She is never passive.

      • That’s fine, but what I objected to in the story I was reading was the the male character WAS passive. And yes, there are guys like that, but IMO the story would have been better if he wasn’t one of them.

    • Australian cyborgs.

      That’s what my daughter and I use to tolerate stories that are enjoyable except for the asinine depiction of a 5’8″ cutie able to go hand-to-hand with a Correia-sized bad ads because of her awesome kung fu mojo.

      She’s part of the super-secret all-girl Australian cyborg program. It’s A Thing.

  16. It’s been a long time since I saw the serials, but I recall Dale Arden rescuing Flash Gordon – and vice versa.

  17. L. Jagi Lamplighter (Wright)

    Being rescued is a wonderful thing…it should not be taken away from us. 😉

    • Synova

      I was thinking something similar but probably wouldn’t have said it so well. My inclination is to turn everything on it’s head. Why *not* have the damsel be rescued by a hero? Being rescued, and heroes to do it, are good things.

      No, needing rescue doesn’t bother me in a story. I don’t mind a whole lot who does the rescuing, when it comes down to that, and I love “kick *ss” female characters. But what bugs me is when someone is stupid. A lot of 1980’s film had “strong” women, and what they meant by strong was “pig headed”. But dang, she could do anything a man could do! And then she’d get in trouble and need rescuing. *shudder*

  18. Matthew Asnip

    In re strong women: The Catholic list of martyrs has almost equal numbers of women and men. I know that they are people who refused to rescue themselves, but they had strength that I do not. So there’s that.

    • I don’t know that those martyrs “refused to rescue” themselves. Sometimes you can’t. Some of them were arrested after rescuing many others/because it was realized that they were rescuing others, but they couldn’t save themselves. Nicolas Owen and Margaret Clitherow of York come to mind.

      • Mary

        Circumstances vary. Under Roman law, you could acquit yourself by stating that you were not a Christian. At some points, you also had to offer sacrifice to back it up, but no matter how damning the evidence against you, you could get off.

  19. Reblogged this on WyldKat's Lair and commented:
    Cedar makes some very good points here. Vive la difference.

  20. I hope you included James H. Schmitz in your book list. He’s the gold standard for action adventure SF ladies. My favourite is Nike Etland.

    • Schmitz’ women were nominated many times. My favorite is Telzey Amberdon.

      • Terry Sanders

        I prefer Nile. Telzey was a psionic demigod. Fun to read about, but not, shall we say, someone you could emulate.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Trigger wasn’t bad either.

        • well, she was my intro the Schmitz, and there was a big telepathic cat. Teenage me wanted to be her,

          • Terry Sanders

            Oh, she was my intro, too. And she was wonderful to read about. She was just too d— powerful. And got more so with each story. It would’ve been like wanting to be Superman.

            Nile Etland, on the other hand, routed an entire alien invasion force, almost single-handed. And did it with nothing but guts, bluff, psych-outs, and a little help from an old hermit biologist.

            And the epilogue made it clear she was nothing unique or special. Exceptional, but not “magical” in the least. Which was why only idiots tried to invade the Hub Federation…

        • Telzey was a fine person. She was, however, a bit limited in dealing with firearms, because she did not have the “aim” concept, so she liked point and spray instead. There is a funny discussion between her and Trigger Rgee on this point, Trigger being dismayed by Telzey’s ideas on firearms.

  21. In re women not needing rescue, while not being men with boobs, I’d like to direct attention to Alma T. C. Boykin’s protagonist in her “Colplatschki” swords-on-another-planet series. The character, Elizabeth von Sarmas, deals with her sexuality, medieval views of women by society at large, and a marvelous panoply of relationship, medical, and military issues in credibly feminine ways.

    Don’t take my word for it, *please.* buy at least thr first volume, “Elizabeth of Starland,” and give it a fair trial. The whole series collectively feels a bit uneven but the first volume and most of the rest range from pretty good to excellent.

  22. Indeed. Women historically have preferred not to go head to head with men, because they had no illusions that they were physically capable of it.

    Instead they’d take an enemy into their tent, make them a nice meal, find them a comfortable bed, and then, when they are asleep, drive a tent peg through their skull.

    Women as women are far more interesting than the “strong woman” trope can make them. How a woman really deals with her enemies should make the reader wince involuntarily, and make sure there’s nothing sharp or solid lying around the house. Sleeping with one eye open might become a habit too.

  23. cedarmum

    (No relation to Cedar, here – my name is geographical). The extraordinary woman can be stronger, faster, and have more endurance than the average man. But the average woman can’t hope to defeat the average man in a fair fight. My daughter is aware of this, and her self-defense involves several unfair moves, screams, and running. (Unfair moves may or may not include weapons – I consider not giving information about who has what weapons part of security.) Unfortunately, not all self-rescuing princesses are well-written – self-rescue can occasionally start with “I will help you get what you need if you help me get out.”

  24. pdadalt

    I played competitive judo (badly) in college. I took it up as a junior, and was in the smallest adult weight class (132 lbs). Having said that, I could easily do 20-30 pullups and well over 60 pushups. So I was a nominal adult, and fairly srong for his weight man. I got beaten like a red-headed stepchild by a 115 lb, 16 lb girl. But she was junior national champ (we were visiting her dojo), and I was still a relative noob. So an extremely well-trained woman can beat a relatively poorer-trained bigger and stronger male. But even then, she had trouble when it came to the mat.

    And there are videos of Ronda Rouses (who for a while was treated as though she was some kind of superhuman) being dominated on the ground like a child by a male MMA practitioner who had 30 lbs on her. There are reasons why fighters have weight classes. Skill beats strength, but there there has to be a LOT of skill difference to beat a strength difference.

    • A bit of a side note… I’d rather fight a man much larger than me than one closer to my size (All other factors being equal), especially if I can get into a grapple. I’ve done this dance, and by and large, I have more options with a male who is larger, than one who is close to my size height wise. More wiggle room, and they’re still stronger than I am to a significant degree. It’s not a good situation to be in, but if it’s a choice between the two, the big guy gives me one less round in the chamber of that Russian Roulette. Still not a fight I want to fight for any REAL stakes.

  25. Cedar, thank you for your very thoughtful essay.

    Rhonda Rousey lost the two matches in which she ran into women who had been taught how to punch. But she was good and had a superb publicist,

    I started writing strong female characters in the mid-70s, when this was uncommon. However, let’s see, one had a grand[parent who was a dragon, several others were benefits of 22nd American thinking on how to make people better, so they were as strong as the guys, one was pinnacle of very good training, etc.

  26. Pingback: Strong Women in Science Fiction: Book List | Diane Morrison