Every so often I run across a book review that beats to the drum of, “She’s running around thinking about boys and crying. I thought she was strong. She’s so fracking weak!!” Let’s get this one thing straight. Falling in love doesn’t make your character weak. It takes strength to fall in love. Second, strength doesn’t mean your character never cries. Strength means that when life beats them down, their ass gets back up again. Crying doesn’t make you weak. Weakness is being afraid. Weakness is falling apart and staying that way. Strong people admit when they feel pain. Strong people cry. Weak people don’t cry because they don’t have the strength to heal. Weak people don’t fall in love because they’re scared. And you know what else, it takes strength to admit you’re scared and embrace your fears and face them.
I don’t know why there’s thing out there that makes people feel like strength is kicking butt and nothing else. A woman doesn’t have to kick butt to be strong. Let’s look at TV’s Xena, Warrior Princess.
Xena kicked butt, yeah, but she also got her butt kicked from time to time, and sometimes it got kicked HARD. What made her so strong was her will to survive. That even when she was near death, she still fought to get back on her feet. In fact, that’s part of her origin story. Her crew turned on her and forced her to walk down a line while every single one of those bulky-armed men beat the living breath out of her. And you know what, at the end of that line, she stood back up again, with some difficulty, but she stood. Thus we have “Xena…Warrior Princess, a mighty princess (but not really a princess) forged in the heat of battle.” Let’s look at some other things she did.
–She cried. Several times a season.
–She made mistakes. Several a season.
–She fell in love. A few times.
–She loved people. Friends, family, even a few people who hated her.
–She tried to kill her best friend. With reason, I might add, but still.
–She sacrificed herself for strangers. And people who didn’t even like her.
–She seduced one archangel and attacked another. Again, with reason, but still.
She had faults, and she was a hero. And this is why people love her so much. Notice I didn’t include fierce ass-kicking on that list. Yeah, she was physically strong, too, and that was super exciting. But so was Ares. And when he was human for awhile, he got whipped. And fell apart emotionally. And hid out on a farm like a coward. He had the giant arms, but he was not strong like Xena. If he was strong, he would have fought back. He could have taken anyone who came after him. He didn’t because as a man, he was afraid of getting hurt. As a man, he was pathetic. And weak. And sad.
This said, I did give Katniss quite a bit of grief for all the blubbering she did in Mockingjay because there are limits to how much crying and whining and morphling addiction I can stand before I want to slap a character in the face. But that is a different rant.
So, yeah, whenever I run across someone going off on a character and saying they’re not strong because they fell in love and had the audacity to let a tear or hundred escape from their eyes, I immediately stop listening/reading. That person doesn’t know what strength is, and they are not someone I want to take book advice from.