I've often noticed that on sites where people can upload stories free for others to read the authors will claim they have “strong female characters” as a way to get readers. In my mind that has become a phrase with less and less meaning having been distorted to mean a female fighter type heroine. While I love and will always love female fighters, I think a female can be strong and not be someone who's trained to handle weapons. I also tend to see it meaning a “smart ass”, “sarcastic” woman. Now I love a good bit of sarcasm as much as the next person but sarcasm but doesn't automatically make a person a strong character.
In my Honor Bound series my female characters are all different, they are all coming at the plot and their abilities in different ways. I made a point to only have one character that has a truly horrible, abusive background that she has to overcome. The other three come from completely different socio-economic backgrounds, from Clara who is very successful and wealthy to Sarah who's mother has passed away. She is being raised by her firefighter father while helping to raise her younger brother Chad. When I was writing these books I didn't think “Oh this is a female, I had better write her this way, make her feel like this, describe her in that way.” Clara is stunning, she's a model, Jessie is attractive, Min-Ji is horribly scarred and Sarah is the girl next door, average girl. To me their emotional development as they react to the circumstances is what matters, not their gender. I have my male characters be just as emotional and troubled as the women are. John is Clara's twin brother and they are entwined down to their soul. They're in many ways one person in two bodies, writing them I could explore both the brother/sister dynamic and male/female dynamic in how they react to different situations. John ended up as the more fiery, emotional one, that's the way it felt right to me.
Min-Ji vacillates from trying to become “normal” after her traumatic childhood to becoming a cold hard killer to protect others. She goes through a wide range of decisions and emotions as she fights to control both her ability and her flashbacks. The rest of the characters help her in anyway they can. It's her struggle to overcome her past and her inner strength that makes her a “strong female character” not any fighting skills she may have.
I think often we get caught up too much in gender and the idea of how a woman or a man should act and may think gender first, character later. To me gender is not nearly as important as character and how they serve the story. When I am thinking about a new story I don't think “Well I should write this from a male perspective.” I just get a cool idea of character in my head and usually the gender pops up along with who they are, I don't really mull it over. I let who they are drive the story, not what they are. I think that is the most exciting thing about writing, the visual aspect is the least important. It's your words and how they affect people that are.