Fierce Femmes: The Problem with Strong Female Characters

Rachel Wayne
12 min readAug 10, 2018

As a young film buff, I idolized Strong Female Characters in movies. From Thelma and Louise to Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, I saw engaging female characters who led their own plotlines, rather than being the “sexy lamp” that feminist film critics talk about.

Despite recent fanboy complaints, Strong Female Characters are nothing new in TV shows and films. It is true that in many blockbusters of the ’80s and ’90s, women and girls had a secondary role, though, and so any woman shown with both physical and moral strength, wit, and ingenuity was very exciting for me to see.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve started to question what made these characters “strong.” I’ve also paid close attention to what male critics and fanboys are saying about these characters. And I’ve realized that many Strong Female Characters still aren’t as fully fleshed out as their male equivalents.

First, let’s take a look at some male characters who have gripped the popular imagination.

Adventure Time: The Boys of ’80s Science Fiction and Fantasy

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) of Back to the Future is a well-developed character who embarks on complex adventures, while facing personal challenges such as bullying and questions of his own potential. He’s likable, unique, and smart. Elliott (Henry Thomas) of E.T. is a bit of an outcast with a complicated home life, but discovers more about himself through his interaction with E.T. The Goonies celebrates bonds of friendship among a band of boys who encounter a larger-than-life experience; a similar premise appears in throwback series Stranger Things. All of these stories revolve around the boys’ spirit and friendship ties in the face of grand adventure, thus positioning them as the classic folk heroes: those whose cleverness, survival skills, and moral integrity enable them to win the day.

Badasses: The Men of ’80s and ’90s Thrillers

Whether it’s hanging from helicopters or crawling through ducts, action heroes take folk heroes to the next level. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) straddles the science fiction and fantasy genres, representing the quintessential folk hero in the space opera Star Wars. On Earth, John McClane (Bruce Willis) in Die Hard is the everyman hero who saves his friends from terrorists…



Rachel Wayne

Artist/anthropologist/activist writing about art, media, culture, health, science, enterprise, and where they all meet. Join my list: