Though I found myself nodding along and agreeing as I read the article, something concerns me. Though I certainly agree that Strong Female Characters are a stereotype unto themselves and we need more realistic female representation in movies, books, and TV, I can't help but beg for a Strong Female Character who is also disabled.
This is the problem with mainstream feminism. Mainstream feminists advocate for more realistic female characters, a noble goal for sure, but they conveniently forget that we're begging for any disabled characters at all, especially disabled female characters. A strong disabled female character would be a dream come true.
Even throughout history, disabled women's stories have been tweaked and manipulated to cast them in the weakest possible light, poor helpless creatures who need to be rescued from the plight of disability. Think of Helen Keller. The mainstream narrative casts Annie Sullivan as the heroine who rescued Keller from the depths of darkness and silence. Helen is given virtually no agency of her own. Almost no one knows that Keller was a radical socialist and a fierce activist. And it is never mentioned that Sullivan herself was a disabled person, with poor eyesight from glaucoma that progressed as she got older. When disabled women who have played a prominent role in the disability rights movement, like Judy Heumann or Nadina LaSpina, are mentioned, they are usually unheard of.
Most female disabled characters in fiction are one-offs, created and utilized solely for a Very Special Episode about disability. Those with any sort of recurrence at all are often painted with the damsel in distress brush that has plagued nondisabled female characters for decades, sometimes even centuries. Clara from the classic novel Heidi is described as an "invalid", "confined to her rolling-chair". Heidi is sought specifically as a "companion" for Clara, because obviously there's no way Clara can have an honest to god friend. It is implied that Clara focuses on her studies because she is unable to leave the house. Heidi, instead of simply accepting Clara for who she is, disability and all, teaches her to walk, the feel-good moment of the novel. She is the heroine for helping Clara "overcome" her disability.
Nessarose from Wicked (both the book and musical adaptation) is another good example of this, demonstrating how this mindset has spanned into the modern times. Nessa is always having to be cared for, by her grandmother in the novel and later by Elphaba, especially in the musical. In "What Is This Feeling", Elphaba sings "But of course I'll care for Nessa!" Nessa has no drive, no personality of her own, and she never does things for anyone else - she is constantly being done unto. Boq is convinced to ask her to the dance out of pure pity - it doesn't matter what she wants. Only when Nessarose obtains the ruby slippers that allow her to walk does she have any sort of agency or goals. These two examples seem to suggest that it is impossible for disability and strong will to coexist - once disability is out of the picture, the character comes into their own and becomes a proper person.
And then we have Toph Beifong, from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Toph can be described as your stereotypical Strong Female Character - she's a gritty tomboy who flings sarcastic one-liners as often as she flings rocks - which, if you think about it, is representative of the way she was written. She has all the usual qualities of a man, including being the Avatar world's equivalent of a professional wrestler. In fact, Aang and the gang are shocked to find that the Blind Bandit is not only, well, blind, she's also a girl. She looks like a boy, acts like a boy, talks like a boy. She serves as a foil to the more reserved, feminine girl of the group, Katara. It's almost as if the writers wrote her as a boy first, then hurriedly changed her gender when they realized there was only one recurring female character in the show. Oh, look, they did!
But when it comes to the star of the show, that is undoubtedly Aang. Toph backs out of the way for the male character to save the day. Typical of a Strong Female Character, who can't seem to save the day all by herself (though Toph does cross that boundary several times in the show, most notably when she escapes from her kidnappers by inventing metalbending). Despite all that, I have a deep undying love for Toph Beifong. Why? Because her disability is just one of the things that make up who Toph is. She's witty and wonderful and caring underneath her gruff exterior. Her blindness isn't ignored and there are still ways it limits her, even with her ability to "see" with her feet. She is still disabled, and her earthbending does not negate that. It aids her, much like a crutch assists someone to walk, but it does not magically cure her disability.
Though Toph has her flaws, she's the one of the best representations of disability on TV that I've ever seen. That's the type of disabled character we need - someone whose disability is just another part of their identity. Of course, it would be incredible if we could get a female disabled character who breaks out of multiple stereotypes, but lets face it, we have about as much chance of that happening in the near future as we do of having a female, disabled character of color anytime soon. I have to settle for what I can get, unfortunately. It shouldn't be that way, but it is.
So I'll take a disabled Strong Female Character. Until and unless we get more Toph Beifongs on our screens, I cannot, in good conscience, demonize Strong Female Characters who are perpetually nondisabled.