Ah, women in stories. A very interesting topic. I would agree that they must be strong of spirit and of character to be interesting heroines. I do not think they must be strong of body. Not that they can't just that they don't have to be.
I find that if the female characters are as good as or better than the guys in all physical activities, I don't like them. It isn't realistic (assuming your guy doesn't have a reason to be weak or isn't a wimp). Girls may be strong but, to borrow from Beowulf "Her strength--the battle-strength of a woman--was less than a male whose sword can shear through a helmet."
This is not to say that I think the heroines should be weak and soft, unable to defend themselves without the hero. Far be it from me to say such! My heroine can wield a sword with considerable skill and has made several attempts to brain uninvited visitors to her tent but it is only when she must fight that she does. And she doesn't act like a boy. And I think that if a spider does come crawling over her things, she just might freak out a little--much to her brother's amusement.
I think that the heroines can and often do inspire the heroes to fight harder. As I understand it, guys want to protect their women regardless of said women's ability to protect themselves. (I have five brothers so I think my source on this is fairly reliable :-D) I'm no weakling--my brother's know it--but still they will defend me if they think I am in any way threatened, be it physically or just by disrespect. The guy I admire most outside my family--though he might as well be another brother--has done the same thing. Even if they are not physically present, a simple token can remind the guys what they are fighting for (think Aragorn when he receives the banner Arwen has been weaving for him for years). So while other motivations do spur the heroes on, knowing there is a girl looking on/waiting to hear about it/joining him in the fight can inspire them to even greater deeds.
And what’s to say that physical fighting is the only way a woman can fight? Or a guy for that matter. What if your heroine isn’t a swordfighter but can wield words with such skill that the enemy is confused, or the hero gets the much needed aid. Perhaps the hero is on the battlefield while she remains at home guarding the keep, inspiring the men who remained behind for age or weakness, refusing to give up hope that her hero will be successful.
Modern literature seems to have forgotten that there is more than one way to fight and has placed the heroines in the battlefield alongside the hero at every turn. The stories in which I admire the heroine most are not the ones in which she is fighting with the hero at every turn, proving herself as good as a man. Rather, I enjoy those wherein, even outnumbered and with no hope of escape, the heroine holds firm to her convictions and fights back with every means available and does not give up hope that her hero, be it Christ or a man, will deliver her. There is no weakness in admitting you cannot wield a sword. There is in yielding to the slightest pressure and losing hope in the darkness.
So, it is my opinion that the heroines should be strong of spirit and character, as stated above, and when they are fighting physically, they should not be besting the guys at every turn. I also argue that there are other ways to be a strong character than simply physically.
After I had posted the above, "Squeaks" wrote:
"I agree with much of what you said, but I do disagree with some of your comments about the physical strength of women. I myself know a lot of girls who are more physically courageous at doing things than guys are. And that's here on earth. I think the whole girl vs. guy thing started back during the suffragist wars."
To which I respond:
I agree that there are many girls who are more physically courageous than guys. That, however, I would classify as strength of spirit, not strength of body. I simply wish to point out that it is usually unrealistic to have the girl be stronger than the guy at every turn. In general, a average strong girl will be weaker than an average strong guy. I am fairly strong for a girl but my brothers could all best me at feats of strength by the time they were in their teens. Hence my statement that guys are generally stronger than girls.
Now, on the subject of simple courage, far be it from me to say that guys are always braver than girls. That is a far different matter entirely. In fact, I think it may deserve a post of its own on my blog. :-) Courage is hard fought for some and easy for others. Some have it in greater measure. Some can face certain things but not others. (For instance, I would fight tooth and nail if someone tried to harm me or any member of my family but I cannot stand spiders. I have trouble getting within a few feet of those tiny creatures.) So a girl may be more physically courageous, but it does not mean she is more physically strong.
I would also add that I don’t think the girl vs. guy thing started with the suffragist wars. Rather, I put it much, much further back—the Garden of Eden in fact. Genesis 3:16b states “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” So I think that is where it started. Sin has exacerbated the problem and the feminist movement hasn’t helped. But it began there in the garden long ago.
What say you?