The phenomenon of the "strong woman" is woefully misconstrued. More precisely, our understanding of strong women and their typical portrayals are rather impoverished.
In most popular works, we encounter merely four strong women archetypes.
The Stereotypical Feminist
The stereotypical feminist is the most transparent of these figures—crudely sketched mouthpieces for the prevailing narrative. They are inauthentic, created to conjure the illusion that they meet the demands of today's society. For while the demand exists, male scriptwriters haven't put in the effort to give these characters depth.
Take, for instance, Captain Marvel. A grand disappointment given an enormous budget spent on celebrated actors and marketing.
Captain Marvel is a heroine whose only remarkable attributes are her physical strength and ceaseless dissatisfaction. She is unremarkable, her story trite. Her entire story of emancipation is reduced to her beating up the main male villain—hurling a handful feminist slogans about strong women in his face.
The Traumatized Woman
Take "The Girl on the Train" and "The Luckiest Girl Alive." One suffers from alcoholism after a divorce, while the other has survived rape and a terrorist attack. I cannot say that these are poor boring stories—they are great, and many women can relate to them.
These stories are necessary, exposing a disheartening reality. Yet, such tales alone are insufficient for representation.
In my opinion, this is the most intriguing archetype among those listed. Psychopathic characters are inventive, intelligent, and their complex stories can be developed in a multitude of ways.
Consider "Gone Girl", where the heroine devises an elaborate plan for revenge, completely dominating her husband's life and bending him to her will.
On the one hand, the female psychopath embodies the quintessential "strong woman", because she cannot be a victim of manipulation—she is the manipulator. She has no interest in conformity and cannot be subdued by guilt. Their resilience makes them almost immune to the patriarchal society. They are the true female superheroes.
On the other hand, fictional female psychopaths are often celebrated by patriarchal culture. To become the object of obsession and acquire a surrogate mother, complete with a sexual component, is the dream of many men—especially as long as these women remain confined to the realms of television series and novel pages.
Intelligent, beautiful, and infinitely charming, the Femme Fatale exploits all her assets to manipulate men. She turns the tables on the patriarchy, enslaving men with her charm.
A nocturnal fantasy for men. An unattainable ideal for women—who among real women can always look flawless, never be at a loss for a witty remark, and effortlessly juggle multiple suitors? In the harsh reality, however, women more likely to end up splitting the bill—rather than be presented with a lover's heart and soul on a platter.
Moreover, the Femme Fatale is always young, while real women age.
But what if your heroine does not fit into any of these categories?
Our novel's protagonist, Freya Akselsen, is precisely such a character. And this has elicited an unexpected reaction—from male readers with conventional masculine socialization.
The Ideal Protagonist: Freya Akselsen
The protagonist of any story must possess agency—an innate will to change the world. This impulse is vital for driving the plot forward. Historically, male characters were more likely to be portrayed as having agency—as they were raised to be adventurers, super-agents, politicians, and detectives.
Yet, I yearned for the central heroine of our novel to be a woman—unencumbered by trauma, devoid of a somber past, and lacking a penchant for love that is often assigned to female characters. Thus, we selected the perfect candidate—a trailblazing business coach from Instagram, Freya Akselsen.
Freya is not just a productivity guru who urges everyone to read "Atomic Habits". Freya belongs to the rare breed who implements new habits before even completing the book. How many habits have you adopted after reading a self-help book? Most likely, your answer is zero. Freya, on the other hand, has embraced at least ten.
“Fake it till you make it”—that's Freya's motto. Her name is not just a symbol (as explained in a previous article), she also uses mystification to reach her goals.
Rather than succumbing to despair, she embraces positive thinking. In moments when she finds herself bereft of ideas or information, Freya does not ponder—she simply acts.
Freya is neither dumb nor exceptionally gifted. She possesses no extraordinary talents, such as a genius for chess. However, she succeeds because she takes one more step than others—and bounces back one more time after a failure.
Yet, in spite of her impeccable qualities as a protagonist, Freya failed to capture the admiration of men who were beta-reading the story. Furthermore, some even loathed her or treated her with caution.
Upon some analysis, I found the reasons why.
A Litmus Test for Patriarchy
Indeed, Freya Akselsen is far from a femme fatale. She doesn't use her beauty and charm to captivate men's hearts, nor does she actively exploit their weaknesses to get what she wants.
It would have been prudent to respond neutrally, diplomatically, as befits the confines of the Deep State. However, Freya found herself unexpectedly seething at Mister K's audacious display of candor over the phone.
"So what do you want from me?" she asked with deliberate indifference. "I don't understand where you're heading, Mister K. You're not taking any risks: I'm sitting with my knight in my cell, as ordered."
Yet Freya Akselsen is a reflection that every patriarchal man can relate to.
She is stubborn, riddled with flaws, and yet she possesses an enormous ego.
“There must be a reason why, out of all the confidants, Mister K chose you, milady Freya" The Doctor said. "I don't understand it yet."
Freya merely shrugged.
"He didn't choose," she replied. "It's just that on the Night of Merge, I chose to save New York and captured the aliens to restore our Future.”
Throughout the story, she adamantly refuses any proffered help— and sabotages all attempts to rescue her
"I could have saved you only by harassing you enough to force fleeing to Texas," said Mister K, "You would have lived to the age of ninety-two on the ranch."
Freya slapped the table in front of the curator with a loud clap, trying to sober him up.
"A ranch?!" She exclaimed. "I would never, ever go back to Texas!
It's difficult to compel Freya to be grateful.
"I didn't ask for this," Freya retorted sharply. "And never asked to be saved."
Moreover, Freya can't be called a good person. Though she commits no evil deeds, it is sufficient to acknowledge her thoughts—calculating and shrewd.
Freya acts as she deems fit, allowing herself more than she might be entitled to. She takes risks, much like James Bond.
Had Freya been a man, no one would have thought to label her a bitch or a Mary Sue. Which happened soon after men read first few chapters of her story.
A New Strong Woman in Literature
Freya Akselsen is a daughter of Scarlett O’Hara in the modern world. She is a warrior, yet her past doesn't bear a terrible tragedy that she must struggle throughout the story, reconciling the old Freya with the new one.
Even when her personal video is leaked at the beginning of the story, it is not Freya's tragedy. It is the tragedy of a society where a woman's confidence, reputation, and career can be threatened by the release of intimate footage. It is not the heroine's trial, but a litmus test for the reader, determining their stance.
Importantly, Freya Akselsen is neither a psychopath nor someone seeking revenge against men or the world. Men occupy far less space in her thoughts than productivity hacks. Throughout the plot, Freya pursues her goals, never seeking to win male attention or love.
"Business is not a substitute for a man, and a man is not a substitute for a life's purpose. Business doesn't need to be appeased like a lover, and the right business will always have your back," Freya smiled here, "which, you have to admit, is a great advantage over men.”
Freya Akselsen does not even call herself a feminist. Feminism is simply another tool she employs to earn money and build an audience in her quest to break into the world of real business.
Trolls were broke kids who got a measly five bucks from their moms for lunch. So they got crushed by Freya's loyal fan base, who rallied to her defense from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. They were moms at home, nail techs, and small-town girls who ditched their dead-end lives. Freya's chivalry was made of housewives who swapped their pots and pans for shovel-size phones, heeding the siren call of the economy, and now dug hard for success. And the men who craved the attention of all the aforesaid women. They fawned over Freya's fans without noticing how much they were splurging on Freya—as much as twenty dollars a month per male specimen, according to analytics.
Not the ideal audience for a serious woman who shared the secrets of a serious business, but a loyal one. And loyalty was priceless in the cutthroat world of business.
Freya lives in a world of the success culture, forged by men, and falls a victim of this world. However, she is not at all upset by this fact. Freya believes so deeply in the philosophy of success that she does not need anything or anyone else.
That’s why Freya frightens male readers
For in the presence of a woman like Freya Akselsen, men are rendered naked as if before God. They stand before her, like at the Gates of Judgement, with nothing to offer but their own personalities and virtues.
The femme fatale legitimizes men's weaknesses because she exploits them. This way, patriarchy allows men to be in demand—even if for a fleeting moment, and for purely selfish purposes. To be used by a woman who surpasses and eclipses you is not humiliating. For you still find yourself needed and desired.
But Freya Akselsen does not even notice unsuccessful and unremarkable men. While being as imperfect as one can be, she is still able to compete with any man on equal footing.
And men can do nothing to her but loathe.