She was a strong female character and a strong character that was a female.
On absolute write (a writers forum), someone posted the question about which type of female character do you prefer a strong one who does the rescuing or a weak one who needs to be rescued. My answer is I enjoy both as long as they are interesting and fit the story being told.
There is nothing wrong with a damsel in distress as long as she is not saccharine sweet who would never hurt a fly and is beloved by all woodland animals and small children (or dwarfs). Some idealized version of what some think a woman should be. Or a plot device to show off how amazingly awesome the hero is and a reward for him once he saved the day.
A weak female character can be compelling. She can be a delusional faded southern belle, so damaged that she hides from truth of her past, preferring magic to realism and what should’ve been to what really happened. She can be past her prime and no longer able to rely on her charms and beauty to get by, completely at the mercy of the kindness of others.
A damsel in distress doesn’t have to weak. She could be a strong, smart, witty woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and follow her heart but is constrained by social conventions and therefore is unable to save herself and her family from disgrace and poverty. It is okay for a female character to need to be saved especially if she is saved by a hero as awesome as Mr. Darcy.
And sometimes that damsel in distress grows into the strong-save-the-day heroine, and yet is still deeply flawed and emotional scarred by what she knows is coming but can't stop.
Just because a strong female character saves the day does not make her a good character. She can be smarter, stronger, and braver than every male character, but be as two-dimensional as a damsel in distress and feed just as easily into a male fantasy. Just a different idealized version of what a woman should be, only this time with a big-ass gun.
But a strong female character that saves the day can be a compelling and amazing character. One who doesn’t show the men up, but holds her own among them. Who speaks her mind and fights for what she believes is right and even has a maternal instinct. Who isn’t afraid to use a big-ass gun but does so wearing sensible attire.
The thing is that making a female character physically or mentally strong does not necessarily make her a good character, and having her save the day does not automatically make her the embodiment of feminism. There is a difference between a strong female character (a female character that is strong) and a strong character that is female. Explained much better here (read it; I promise it is worth three minutes of your time).
Strong characters (male or female) are ones that are well-rounded, compelling, complex, contradictory, and real. They don’t have to be strong people, they can be weak, but they have to be interesting enough to carry the story.
I think sometimes writers are so afraid of showing weakness in female characters that they go to the other extreme and think every female character needs to be like Buffy (for the record, I love Buffy). But if this strength is forced on the character, she can come across as just us two-dimensional as the Princess who sits in the tower waiting to be rescued.
Don’t be afraid to let the female characters have some weakness, vulnerability, and even be saved every once and a while. Even Katniss was saved by Rue and Peeta, and indirectly by Cinna and Haymitch.
Remember it is more important to have a strong character (male or female) than a character that is strong.