How many times have you read a story or fanfic or watched a movie and you knew the lady was going to be badass because she ordered a beer/hard liquor and not a Cosmo and because she doesn’t give a shit about her hair or makeup or clothes? Introductions like this make for an easy shorthand that ‘this character is a hardass and worthy of your respect’ but they also reinforce the stereotype that for a woman to be respected, she has to perform stereotypically masculine gender roles.
Female characters have been portrayed for so long as frail, rescuable love interests, and in a sort of backlash to that, we have been trained to see anything that calls out to traditional ideas of femininity as inherently bad, weak, or disempowering. This is patently untrue. Women can be feminine and still kick ass. Femininity is not inherently anti-feminist.
Think about the character of Uhura in the new Star Trek movies. It’s clear from the ensemble scenes that Starfleet uniforms allow women to choose to wear the dress or pants ensemble (unlike the TOS uniforms, where all women wore dresses). So Uhura wasn’t forced to wear that dress—she chose it. Does that make her weaker, or less of a character? Absolutely not.
Demonizing traditional aspects of femininity—such as wearing pink, wearing skirts or dresses, enjoying ‘girly’ drinks, cooking, or painting your nails—and insisting that strong women act in traditionally masculine ways if they want to be considered strong, is in and of itself misogynist. It says that if women want to be treated as equal to men, they have to discard the markers that society says are female and therefore bad.
The first time I read A Game of Thrones, I thought Sansa was super-annoying and Arya was the bomb. And then I went back and questioned myself. Why did I hate Sansa? Yes, she was annoying at first, because she was crushing on Joffrey and ew, Joffrey. But why did I see her as inherently less than Arya? Because she didn’t want to fight and get dirty and roll around with the guys? Not everyone wants to be a sword dancer. Some girls do want to be princesses, and that’s okay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look, dress, or behave in a way that is traditionally girly. And you can still be kickass in any possible way, from being a great political schemer to a badass warrior woman, while also having a great manicure or snazzy outfit.
One show that balances this concept really well is Once Upon a Time, possibly by dint of having so many strong female characters. Snow White has a cute pixie haircut, wears a lavender cardigan, and kills an ogre with one arrow. Other women are shown to have more or less devotion to traditional femininity, which is how it should be—a diverse range, with no particular iteration being praised as better or worse than the others.
Sailor Moon also shows that you can be both feminine and strong—heck, magical jewelry is what gives Usagi the power to tranform into Sailor Moon—and again, because it has a large, diverse female cast, it portrays women realistically as being more or less in tune with their feminine sides according to their personalities.
Basically, what my point boils down to is that in a perfect world, the way a character behaves, dresses, and reacts has literally jack to do with whether they are a strong character. Being feminine doesn’t make you instantly weak just as being masculine doesn’t make you automatically strong.