PREACH IT, JOSS.
And this is exactly what I dislike about Joss Whedon’s writing: He still considers “heroine” subordinate to “hero”; that is, a woman must adopt what society typically identifies as masculine behaviors or thought processes in order to be considered compellingly strong. She must suppress her treacherous emotions or her fears in order to get the job done — or, in the case of Black Widow, she’s allowed to turn her fear into a weapon to manipulate the men who underestimate her. (And if she doesn’t suppress her emotions, then she destined to be a victim, like Penny in Dr. Horrible.)
And while that is one way of writing a strong female character, it’s not the only way, or even the best way. Inherently it’s a man’s idealization of what female strength is — it’s essentially male strength mapped onto a female form — and thus Whedon’s much-lauded “strong female characters” all end up looking and sounding and acting very much like men as a result. There’s a reason so many men love Joss Whedon’s work; his women are essentially men with boobs, and I’ll even go so far as to say that Whedon’s work reinforces the patriarchal ideal.
As revolutionary as Buffy was when it first came on, times have changed, but Whedon’s writing hasn’t. He still thinks “heroine” is synonymous with second-class character, or with someone that needs saving. But you can be a strong woman, a strong heroine, without needing to be a woman playing by a man’s rules.
Case in point: Isabela, from Dragon Age 2. If only more female characters were as self-empowered and liberated as she, I think we’d have a much healthier generation of young girls as a result. Forget Buffy. Give me a pirate with some Antivan boots every single time.