Apr 02

Girl Power

I never set out to make most of my protagonists female, it just kind of turned out that way.  When you look at the Revivors series, you could say the ‘main’ protagonist (Nico Wachalowski) and the ‘main’ antagonist (Samuel Fawkes) are both male but the story is told from four viewpoints and Nico shares the stage with Calliope Flax, Faye Dasalia, and Zoe Ott, all female.  Even the sort of secondary antagonist is female.  The Burn Zone (scheduled for a 2013 release) is told from a single, female point of view.  My stab at YA (still in need of a home) features a female lead as well.

Not all of my stories do…one finished manuscript sitting on the back burner features a single male protagonist, and another follows a young boy, but when I tallied them all up I realized a lot of my leads were female.  I wondered why.  I realized I wasn’t totally sure, but decided I was okay with that because more strong female characters in the wild is a good thing, and if I can provide even just a few more along the way then great.

An author friend of mine once told me that my female characters were ‘mannish’ and that as male authors we ‘lacked the equipment’ to write female characters well, but I don’t buy that.  I don’t write my female characters as ‘girly’ but I don’t write them as male analogues either.  I just assume that in spite of the fact that there are obvious differences between men and women, there is a lot that is the same.  Maybe I’m wrong but I write women under the premise that it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, the things that affect us all the most deeply fall under the umbrella of ‘human’ and not gender.  I write women under the premise that there isn’t a ‘female’ and ‘male’ way to respond to every different situation.  In State of Decay Nico and Faye are both obsessed with their jobs, and their individual investigations, for two different reasons that have nothing to do with their genders.  They’re a male and female investigating (as they come to find) the same case.  They react differently to the things they encounter but not in a male and female way – they react in a Nico and Faye way.  The two other female leads in the series (Calliope and Zoe) are polar opposites even though they’re both women of roughly the same age.  Calliope tends to go straight for the throat and Zoe tends to clam up and retreat inward.  Those same two personality traits could be applied to two men.

I don’t buy that a man can’t write a woman well and visa-versa because we lack the other’s ‘equipment’.  We all have brains, and we all have vulnerabilities and desires.  The degree to which we’re willing to share them, even, isn’t strictly a male vs. female thing.

Here’s the thing – there are exceptions of course but the media in general, and Hollywood in particular, tend to offer a never-ending parade of completely shitty role models for women and girls.  The so-called ‘tough’ ones tend to be model beautiful with curvy figures, only with short hair.  The so-called ‘smart’ ones tend to be model beautiful with curvy figures, only with glasses.  Female roles (more so it would seem than male roles) are cast with a big emphasis on looks, even to the point where no one seems to care if the women playing them are even old enough to hold the positions they supposedly hold (scientist, detective, etc).  When I saw Cowboys and Aliens (horrible film, btw) and Olivia Wilde first appeared, I commented to my wife ‘how long do you think it will be before they strip her?’  Sure enough, it wasn’t long.  The message is pretty consistent and clear in a lot of movies, TV, websites and magazines – as a woman you only count if you’re pretty, and sexy.  Those things are prized more highly than ability, intelligence or strength.  It bugs me.

Years back, I was at a karate tournament where males and females of all ages were competing, and a friend of mine was one of the judges.  I remember after one of the matches, he handed a little girl who had been competing her trophy for first place, and he told her he was proud of her.  She looked at the trophy, and the little plastic figure of a man throwing a kick on top, and wondered aloud ‘why can’t there be a girl on top?’  He smiled, not really having a good answer for that.  The girl was gracious, but I could tell she thought it was bullshit.  I did too.  It wasn’t a ‘girl’ reaction on her part, it was a human reaction to not being represented even though she’d done the work to earn it.

You don’t need to be a girl, or a woman writer, to understand that.


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  1. Peggi Tustan

    Hooray for more female main characters in your books. Also seems to be a trend in sitcoms lately – strong female leads. Agree – male and female may react the same to certain situations. But, generally men and women do view things from widely different perspectives. It wouldn’t hurt to have a trusted female read over your manuscripts and make suggestions from a her perspective. Just a thought. LOVE the photo!

  2. James

    Thanks Peggi…and I do have a trusted female source (my wife) who helps steer me if I get off track. I love that photo too – the looks on both their faces are priceless. The boy has just realized he’s in trouble…

  3. Thomasena

    Kudos for this post James! I so agree with you with respect to the ability to write opposite gender characters if you’re open and vulnerable to truly telling the story. I also agree that pop culture is completely looks bias regarding how female characters are often depicted. Thanks for sharing this honest outlook and also for that story at the end. My sister is a 5th degree black belt, and I’m sure she’ll get a kick out of this little girl’s reaction.

    1. James

      Thanks Thomasena, and yeah, that kid hit the nail on the head didn’t she? The judge kind of sheepishly recommended she could glue a ponytail on when she got it home and she had this look on her face like that was kind of half-assed…the whole exchange was kind of telling.

  4. Nicole L Bates

    I love this post, and your perspective. It bothers me as well when female characters, in books or movies, lack real depth or development. It quickly becomes obvious they are there because of how they look, not because of what they can bring to the story. While this is occasionally true for males, there seem to be far more exceptions. Your characters all felt very real and true to themselves no matter the gender. Well done and I look forward to reading more!

    1. James

      Much appreciated Nicole – and I agree that while it does happen, it’s far less common with male roles.

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