What do you think of when you think of a strong female character?
On the one hand, we have the woman who can do anything a man can do. Think Captain Marvel, Commander Holdo from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Ruby Rose’s version of Batwoman. These characters are often feel flat and uninteresting because being a strong-man woman seems to be their only personality trait. They lack depth, and consequently, they’re boring.
On the other hand, we have characters like Black Widow, Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones, and Gal Gadot’s version of Wonder Woman. These characters have depth, embrace their femininity, and are often strong beyond their physical ability or supernatural powers.
I prefer the second type of strong female character because I believe they’re a more accurate representation of female empowerment. They often have struggles to overcome and are emotionally strong, which I love to see because being emotional and feminine are often (wrongly) seen as being weak. These characters prove that feminine and emotional strength are just as important as physical strength and that women have more to bring to the table.
Netflix’s new fantasy series Shadow and Bone provides a perfect example of the second type of strong female character with Inej Ghafa (played by Amita Suman). She’s as badass as she is beautiful, has plenty of depth, and is proof that traditionally feminine qualities can make you strong.
Reader be warned: minor spoilers are ahead.
Despite Everything She’s Been Through, Inej Is Still an Optimist
Inej’s backstory is heartbreaking, but it’s important because it explains what motivates her to keep going. When she was 14, she and her brother were stolen from their family (in the books, she’s a part of her family’s traveling circus troupe, where she learned how to be an acrobat and perform knife tricks) and sold into sex slavery. She was shipped off to Ketterdam (a city inspired by 19th-century Amsterdam and London) and sold to work at a brothel called the Menagerie. She never finds out what happened to her brother or her parents.
When Kaz Brekker, a rising star in the criminal world in Ketterdam, discovers that she was an acrobat and can perform knife tricks, he buys out her indenture to be his spy. Her skills help her get away with crimes quietly, but she maintains her moral code by refusing to kill.
Inej has been through hell and back and has endured more trauma in her 16 years than most will in a lifetime. She’s surrounded by people who have given up hope and morals, but she doesn’t let her trauma change who she is. Raised in a family-oriented and religious environment, religion is the greatest comfort in her life. Inej holds on to her religion and hopes she will be reunited with her family again someday.
Inej Is Loyal to Her Friends and Family
Another great thing about Inej is her loyalty. Despite the slim chance of her ever being reunited with her family, she’s still loyal to them and their values by refusing to let traumatic events change her. She wants her family to recognize her if and when she sees them again, which is why she refuses to give in to cynicism, violence, and murder. This takes an immense amount of emotional strength, but she still refuses to bend her morals.
When it comes to her friends, Inej is loyal to the girls she met in the Menagerie and tryies to help them find ways out of slavery as she did.
However, her main friendships are with Kaz and sharpshooter Jesper Fahey, and the three of them make up the Crows. Like Inej, Jesper also works for Kaz, but their work relationship doesn’t lessen how real their friendship is. The three of them genuinely care about each other, and Inej motivates both men to be better people. Her undying loyalty to her friends is one of my favorite parts of her character, and the banter between the three Crows never gets old.
Inej Inspires Her Love Interest Kaz To Be a Better Man
Very few things annoy me more than the idea that a female character isn’t strong if she has a love interest. Does Inej need a man? No, but her relationship with Kaz adds so much more depth to her storyline. Despite being in Kaz's debt for saving her from the horrors of the Menagerie, Inej ends up saving him as much as he saved her. I won’t get into too much detail because I want to reveal as few spoilers as possible, but it’s clear that he values her for more than her skills as a spy.
Kaz is a career criminal, and nothing seems to faze him. Though Jesper also sees the good in Kaz, Inej has the most faith in him. She helps him realize that there’s more to life than crime and being the best at what he does. He’s skeptical of her faith, but recognizes that her optimism is valuable and that he doesn’t have to be miserable all of the time. Her feminine traits help bring out his softer side, and you can see it simply in the way he looks at her and what he’s willing to sacrifice to keep her safe.
Kaz also challenges Inej. He sees the world in her and wants her to realize how special she is. He also shows her that not everything is black and white and that it’s often necessary to make sacrifices for the ones you love. This not only helps her survive in her harsh situation but also helps her grow as a character. Both characters add depth to each other, and despite being strong on their own, they’re stronger together. If he wasn’t too stubborn to tell her how he feels about her, they would make an incredible couple.
Though Inej is skilled at wielding knives and at acrobatics, her strength goes beyond the physical. We all know that women don't need superpowers and weapons to be strong, but we don’t always see that represented stories today. Take away Inej’s knives and physical skills, and she’s still a total badass.
What makes her truly strong is her emotional strength. She survived the horrors of sex slavery and doesn’t have a bitter bone in her body, and she motivates those around her to be better people. In short, she doesn’t need to be physical to show her true strength, for her inner strength is what makes her such a strong character. It’s time we see more female characters like her.
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