Strong women characters – on and off screen

Sigourney Weaver as RipleyOn screen, there are many “strong women” who inspire us. I have felt real pleasure and admiration seeing a woman character take action against an evil force, for example – Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens” and Helen Mirren in “Prime Suspect” to mention just a couple of “classics.”

And Geena Davis as the President is at times thrilling with her decisiveness and assertiveness.

And those characters can be role models of how women can be complex, intelligent, attractive and capable, even for the strong women who play the characters.

Jennifer Garner has commented she felt “empowered and strong” after seeing “Charlie’s Angels” and “Crouching Tiger” and that acting in “Alias” she “never felt more powerful as a woman.

“I’m stronger and more confident, and I know it’s from the character,” she once said.

“When I play the role, I feel that I stand up straighter, and if somebody confronted me, I would be ready for them in a way that I never have been.”

[Quotes from my article Warrior Women On Screen.]

Breaking the rules

But women being strong and assertive in real life can evoke not only admiration, but also fear, threat, even irritation over “violating” the “rules of gender” which still affect how people respond to women, consciously or not.

In my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression, I note that one aspect of identity often related to giftedness is androgyny, a concept developed by Stanford University psychologist Sandra Bem.

She does not view femininity and masculinity as opposite poles of a single continuum, but rather as parallel sets of traits.

An androgynous person will have high levels of both so-called masculine traits (e.g. independence, autonomy, dominance) and feminine traits (warmth, awareness of others’ feelings, expressiveness).

Variations of masculinity and femininity

In her book “The Lenses of Gender” Bem argues that gender polarization can be very destructive personally and socially, and that there are many more variations of masculinity and femininity than society usually considers.

A number of psychologists and others have commented that creative people and gifted women tend to be more androgynous, and thus possibly seen as strong.

Being strong – and more to the point, seen as strong – is probably a matter of a number of personal characteristics, intelligence being one.

For many gifted and talented women, that can be a problem, as Sharon Stone once noted, “If I was just intelligent, I’d be OK. But I am fiercely intelligent, which most people find very threatening.”

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One of my related articles: Psychological Androgyny and Creative People
“A writer should be woman-manly or man-womanly…” Virgina Woolf
Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that psychological androgyny refers to “a person’s ability to be at the same time aggressive and nurturant, sensitive and rigid, dominant and submissive, regardless of gender.