Sunday, August 18, 2013

Looking for Ms. Right

Posted by: Evey Brett

So there's an article making the rounds recently called, "I Hate Strong Female Characters." There are several good points, including how many princesses now know "kung fu" and prove their strength by beating up the bad guys and/or their love interest. It also points out via three movie posters--Smurfs 2, Inception, and Avengers--how the groupings seem to be a ratio of five guys for every girl--and that girl better not be weak in any way, shape or form, but has to be a total badass and keep up with the boys.

It got me thinking as to why I write so few female characters. Part of it relates to the article mentioned above--I'm tired of the kickass women, and the women who are there only to be rescued, and the ones there just to be a sexy sidekick, love interest or one-nighter for the hero. I don't want her there to be sexualized (although, since I write erotic romance, the sex is going to be there at some point.) I want her to have brains, and a life, and to be something other than the stereotypical female we so often see in movies, TV and books. 

I'm not a girly girl. I don't relate to fancy clothes and make-up and gossip magazines. I think I'm looking for a female protagonist that can simply be human without being subjected to the stereotypes of what women are and have to be. Equal footing with her counterparts, whether male or female, without having to sacrifice who she is because of what she is. I don't want her to have to learn kung fu or be a braniac to keep up with a guy just because he's a guy and automatically gets the deference due.

I suppose that's why I write gay fiction. It's not because I find men sexy. I don't, usually (though I'll make an exception for dancers and performance artists.) But as a lot of other authors have said, gay fiction is a means to explore gender and sexuality without having to worry about the usual gender inequalities.

Looking at my book Eliana, which has one of my few female protagonists, I think for parts of it I fell into the same trap--girl has to be tough. I gave her a painful, chronic injury, put her through a lot of bad stuff, gave her a willingness to hurt people if she had to and gave her the roots of becoming a Mistress--but she has very few moments of weakness while I gave the guys plenty.  

I suppose I don't know exactly what I'm looking for in a female protagonist. If I did, I'd be writing her. I just know that, like the article's author, I'm tired of "leading" ladies and sidekicks that have to be kickass and surrounded by guys, carrying guns and black belts just to be equal to their male counterparts. Talented, yes. Brains, wit, personality, yes (although overplaying high intelligence isn't necessary.)

How about you? What trends and stereotypes in your leading ladies and female sidekicks are you tired of?

Evey Brett


  1. It's the ratio that really bothers me. If we had more female characters they wouldn't all have to be 'strong'. Hello, fifty percent of the population here.

    I recently watched Rise of the Guardians with my family and was really bothered by the fact that only one out of five guardians (the Tooth Fairy) was female. Villain also male. Human child whose belief was pivotal, also a boy.

  2. I don't get why the definition of "strong" has to involve punching someone in the face. I always thought strong characters were characters who are larger than life, who do things we're afraid to do in real life, who leave a deep impression on the reader. By that definition, a strong character can stake vampires or be in a wheelchair. I don't know who decided that strength only applies to the physical and not a character's emotions, fortitude, and heart, but they have done a disservice to both female and male characters.

  3. I wrote about this myself when Valor of the Healer came out, yeah. My Faanshi? NOT a physically kickass character. ;)

    I myself am very weary of urban fantasy heroines whose primary attributes appear to be "how many weapons can she wield?", "how smartass is she?", and "how many supernatural males can she boink in the course of the series?"

    There are a great many more ways of having a character show her strength.

  4. When I started writing the Monster Haven series, I worried about whether it would sell. I wrote an urban fantasy with a heroine who's got no physical prowess, no weapons, and no snark. I intentionally set out to counter all the stereotypes, yet still make her strong. Her strength lies in her ability to understand others and help them, even when they don't know they need help. She's not broken. She's not outwardly tough. Yet, she's a pretty strong female lead. It's what's inside that matters. I think sometimes we have to break the stereotypes on purpose in order to create new patterns. (And yeah, the one tough female to every five tough males in movies irritates me, too.)

  5. I'd like to see the kick ass heroines better rounded (and I try to write them that way lol). I was a soldier and a cop, so weapons and physical conflict don't bother me. But I have a lot of female friends who are still in those fields, and I gotta say, we are not all the same and we are not all in work mode all the time. Some of us are even *gasp* girly. Now, no doubt, this is a tough group of women. But they'd all tell you that the thing that makes them successful is intelligence and being able to relate to people. (Being able to kick someone's ass is just a bonus lol.)

    I don't like characters who don't have a weakness, and that seems to be a problem with this heroine type. I mean, I give my heroes flaws so why not my heroines? I usually make those emotional. (I write a lot of soldiers and cops.) And I have heroines who acknowledge their physical differences. Most of us really aren't as strong, but we compensate in other ways. I roll my eyes at some of the heroines I've read. Especially if they are human fighting the supernatural with little to no training.

    I could go on but I'd probably write a book lol! So I'll shut up now lol.


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