Alastair Roberts has a really interesting article at Mere Orthodoxy titled “Why We Should Jettison the ‘Strong Female Character,’” in which he argues that the current trend of strong female characters in pop culture, while attempting to be feminist, actually degrade the value of women and their femininity because they subtly teach a woman’s value lies in how well she succeeds in acting like a man.
The article is quite long, so here are a few of the relevant quotes to give you an overview (and hopefully inspire you to read the rest):
The female action heroines may have many relatable personal traits, interests, and concerns for the typical girl or woman—as I have already noted, few of these heroines are merely clumsy gender-switches of male characters. However, all too often, their prominence and the recognition of their importance in the narrative rests almost entirely upon the fact that they have in some crucial respects followed a typically male path, or that they exhibit relatively male tendencies, interests, and aptitudes in key areas. Their claim to strength and the stature of their personhood lies, less in the confident development and pursuit of determined and unapologetically womanly character—with the considerable scope that provides for resisting flat stereotypes—than in their capacity to prove themselves on men’s terms, as fighters who can excel at typical male interests and activities.
Were such characters rare or occasional exceptions, it could fairly be claimed that they serve to resist the closure of certain possibilities to women—a worthwhile end indeed. However, when they increasingly represent a norm among the most prominent female characters in popular culture, they cease to be a message of empowerment and become something closer to an indictment upon the natural strengths and tendencies of women relative to men as a sex….
The recurring characterization problems with such Strong Female Characters arise in no small measure from the struggle to show that men and women are interchangeable and can compete and cooperate with each other on the same terms. As I have already noted, this falsehood serves no one. It sets women up for frustration and failure as they have to justify their agency on men’s terms and it produces an embarrassment about male strengths that should be celebrated rather than stifled. It reflects a drive towards intense gender integration and de-differentiation in the wider world….
The fact that women’s stature as full agents is so consistently treated as contingent upon such things as their physical strength and combat skills, or upon the exaggerated weakness or their one-upping of the men that surround them, is a sign that, even though men may be increasingly stifled within it, women are operating in a realm that plays by men’s rules. The possibility of a world in which women are the weaker sex, yet can still attain to the stature and dignity of full agents and persons—the true counterparts and equals of men—seems to be, for the most part, beyond people’s imaginative grasp….
The problem also lies with the lack of female characters that teach men to respect women as women, not only to the extent that they can play to male strengths. Without denying that some women can and do effectively play to male strengths, they should not have to do so in order to be valued as full agents.
Roberts then explains how the Bible succeeds in showing the value of women in their full, unapologetic femininity. I encourage you to read what he says.
I’ve been thinking for a while about our culture’s push to make everyone and everything the same. We have confused equality with sameness—believing that equality can only result from sameness (and in this case, everyone must be the same as a man). I’m convinced this is a result of our society’s loss of belief in intrinsic human value. If we are all made in the image of God, then we are all equally intrinsically valuable, regardless of our traits and natural abilities. This means we can recognize and embrace our differences without fearing any loss of dignity and value. But if we deny intrinsic value, if we believe our value comes from the characteristics we express, then how will we argue that men and woman are equally valuable? The only way to get to equality, on that view, is to deny all differences.
And that is what our culture has been feverishly doing for a while now. The denial of differences doesn’t reflect reality, and it leads to a loss of appreciation for the diverse male and female traits, squeezing everyone into the same mold, but it’s the only bulwark against inequality of value a godless society can offer.