Four Great Female Characters Who Aren’t “Strong Female Characters”

I wanted to name this article a) something catchier than what I came actually came up with and b) something that would accurately represent the kind of character that I’m talking about. “Strong Female Character” is a terrible phrase that I want eliminated from the world immediately. Mostly because I don’t like catchy names for archetypes that the Internet overuses until they’re dead, but also because it shouldn’t be necessary anymore.

There was a time when writing “Strong Female Characters,” in the way that we have come to understand the trope as a woman who kicks ass but has literally no emotions, was necessary to further the image of women in the media. The great female characters of today owe something to these SFCs, who won the rights for girls to fight alongside men in the movies, whether physically or mentally. But that time is over, and I’d like for us all to stop talking about it so much. Now we have better female characters, who are “strong,” but also messy and interesting and complex, to talk about, specifically these four:

Annie Edison

I’m starting with Annie since she is the most obvious choice for this list, considering what I’ve been talking about on this blog for the last month. Annie is at the most formative point in her life, and she continues to grow and rebel against her own images of herself. But, despite this, one thing she never rebels against is her intelligence and her love of school and learning. She doesn’t make it seem like this is something that she needs to shed in order to be accepted into the group (Freaks and Geeks, I’m looking at you). She’s a complete nerd and teacher’s pet, but her entire life isn’t defined by it.

She’s allowed to have crushes and feelings and be emotional, but when the objects of her affection do something that she thinks is wrong, she tells them off and pushes them to be better rather than letting them walk all over her. She has a strong moral compass and no one, not even the people she loves, can change that.

The final reason I love her so much, and it’s the most important to me because it’s unique to Annie and because it’s something I struggle with myself, is that she’s an uptight and serious person, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t have friends. She refuses to bend to her friends’ impulsive and laid-back lifestyles, asking instead that they compromise and accept her the way she is. And they do. Because Annie is worth it.

Olivia Dunham

Like Annie, Olivia is smart and uncompromising, but she’s got something else going for her, too: she could kick your ass. There are many women on cop shows or sci-fi shows that could, but Olivia is unique because she is the only member of the main cast who is able to, and has the authority to, take down the baddies. This puts her in the position to be a one-woman army, saving herself and everyone around her. She shows that she doesn’t need protection from anyone but herself.

Now, if she’s starting to sound like a robotic SFM, please allow me to dismantle that opinion. Olivia repeatedly informs the people around her that being emotional and being powerful are not mutually exclusive. She shuts down the idea that a woman acting emotionally is a weakness, and instead, uses her emotionality to fuel her personal fire. She cries and mourns and loves, but it only makes her stronger.

Juliet Burke

If Juliet were to win an award, it would be “Most Improved Life.” When we first meet Juliet, she’s crying at her own reflection in a mirror and living life on autopilot. Her description of herself: “I’m a mess,” which she says to a man she barely knows while running crying out of a job interview after telling him that she’d like her ex-husband to get hit by a bus.

Cut to a few years later, and Juliet’s kicking butt all across the Island. She’s in a happy relationship, and is finally okay with who she is. She’s escaped her bad circumstances through her own will and effort.

And then, unfortunately, her life goes to shit again and she dies. But she dies saving the people she cares about, and she dies as a well-rounded person who has built everything that she has for herself instead of the shell that she was just three seasons prior. She shows that people, specifically women, can escape their crappy situations, and that things do get better.

Peggy Olson

Yeah, yeah, I know I said that these characters were going to be more unknown, but I can’t help it. While I could write a whole other article about the complex women of Mad Men (especially Betty – don’t get me started on Betty), Pegs makes this list because she’s the star. She goes from a nervous young secretary to the chief of copy in a male-dominated office. She has a baby with a married man, gives it away, then speaks about how she shouldn’t be held back by her mistakes, because a man wouldn’t be. She is critical and picky about men, often to the extreme, until she finds the person who’s right for her. Essentially, she’s complex, interesting, flawed, and messy; everything that a great female character should be.


For me it was just a really big goodbye and easily heartbreaking. It wasn’t one of those things to think about it. Josh [Holloway] is really strong, so I was on this pulley, and I had them loosen the pulley so he’d really be holding me up, and it killed both of us every time. When my hand slipped from his, it was because he couldn’t hold on any longer. So that hit us with a real punch… We were broken-hearted and crying quite a bit.
-Elizabeth Mitchell