I would like to revisit the meaning of “strong” heroine. Lately, I’ve noticed the term coming to mean some varying degree of a weapon-wielding succubus whose alleged lack of fear and ability to dominate men are interpreted as being powerful. But I don’t think those traits make an individual “strong” at all.
Fighting skills are one of the main things that dub a heroine “strong.” I think this is absolutely unnecessary. Miri from Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy and Intisar Khanani’s Thorn from Thorn are excellent examples. A character who faces more powerful enemies with nothing but a touch of bravery and a desire to do what’s right has just as much right to be called “strong” as the one who faces down armies. (Though I admit I do like warrior girls every now and again.)
Another trait that is sadly often associated with “strong” female characters (male characters, too), is a certain alluring something. I think this too, is rubbish. The number of partners or eager potential partners an individual has is in no way reflective of anything but their appeal and/or seductiveness and is moot in determining strength.
I have said before that a lack of fear does not require strength. Suppression of fear and control of fear, on the other hand, require a great deal. The person who goes into danger even though they’re afraid needs true courage as well as the presence of mind to do what needs to be done, whereas the person who isn’t afraid going into the same situation doesn’t face half the challenge. (But I do concede “fearless” characters can be very compelling when done right.)
There seems to be some preconception that one must be a leader, an alpha, to be “strong.” Again, I think this is completely wrong and things like loyalty, service, and devotion to someone else are drastically underrated alternatives. One thing that drives me crazy is the double standard with heroines, mainly those portrayed as warriors. In Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, Katsa is physically abusive toward Po, her love interest, and people seemed to think it was fine. If Po on the other hand, had socked Katsa in the mouth, drawing blood and knocking her to the ground because he didn’t like what she was saying (which is what she did to him), people would have called him an overbearing jerk and written him off. Dominating people for no reason merely makes a character—male or female—a bully. (No concessions here.)
What do I think comprises a “strong” heroine? A girl who stands up for what she believes in and does what she needs to do, even if there’s no one backing her and even if everyone else is against her—it’s just that simple.