How to Write Strong Female Characters

Signs at Slutwalk

On the blog today is a guest post by Lazlo Ferran on writing female characters and male feminism. I often writes ensemble cast fiction, many of those characters male, his points about writing the opposite gender rang true for me. As a reader, can you tell when writers are taking on a voice other than their own (done well or otherwise)?

“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” ―Gloria Steinem

Writing allows one to create better worlds. It’s why I became a writer. Some authors create cultures that either have no sexes or multiple ones, for instance The Gods Themselves by Asimov, one of my earliest influences. Some create worlds where women and men are truly equal, but many men have difficulty taking the first step to highlight women’s issues; imagining how women see the world.

I am a heterosexual male and a feminist. Maybe feminism is something in my blood; two of my distant female relatives were guillotined in the French Revolution, simply because they were dependents of an accused, but I think it’s because of my childhood. Born in the liberated 1960s, I became very introverted when my parents moved to a new region, so my sister, always my equal, became my only friend. I read voraciously: Brontës, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Asimov and Cosmopolitan (women’s) magazine. I saw that women made things happen.

Only when I tried to form romantic relationships, did I come unstuck. My friends talked about, ‘How different women are,’ and I believed them. I struggled, until my convictions solidified. I was, and am now, passionate about three things: Equality! Equality! Equality! In this spirit, I wondered what would happen, if I treated all women as if they had my drives and dreams. It worked! Women suddenly wanted to be with me, and I felt comfortable with them.

Now, sexuality never causes me difficulties, because I know that women enjoy sex too. When I write a female part, I imagine I’m an attractive woman (vanity on my part), but with her situation, weaknesses and strengths, and how I might achieve my goals. Easy! Here are a few examples of ways I have tried to highlight feminist issues:

I had fun creating an alien culture (the Ischians), ruled by physically and sexually dominant females, and more seriously, rape from a male victim’s perspective. In the same series, Muna, a rape victim herself, rules the Rebel Alliance, most of Earth.

I had even more fun with The Synchronicity Code. Satan is murdered. By a female! She turns out to be just as lethal as Satan and likes haute couture.

If you layered the plots and subplots according to subtlety in my new romance, the main character would be operating at the very deepest level. Yulia, a WWII, Russian engineer, attempts to control her destiny for love in a culture that was both oppressive and liberating for women at the time.

Something happened to feminism during what I call the post-feminist 1980s. Perhaps countering a traditionalist reaction, some women seemed to pursue empowerment, rather than equality. These women, as did one of my younger characters, Jay, seemed to take ownership of their own objectification, but not strive for true equality. Only recently have public figures like Angelina Jolie and Hillary Clinton emerged to show what true equality for women means to us all. Men too will at last be liberated and able to dance in the light.

However, I’m fully aware that women within many cultures and religions have even more challenges than those within my own, mostly Christian Europe, so let male writers everywhere lead the call to pens and write about worlds that women want to inhabit!

Thank you Mohana for inviting me to make this post, and to conclude, here’s a soundbite of my own:

I will be happy when women no longer need the word ‘feminism.’

Lazlo Ferran


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