1. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Does a heroine need to be a feminist paragon?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Man in the Box, May 28, 2014.

    I don't know where to take my MC. The problem is that she's not exactly a strong girl, she needs a little push to set things into motion. Her mentors are her mom and a guy, and she leans more towards the guy because she had a fight with her mom.

    In this age, it seems that every book with a female MC that isn't what the feminists like (isn't "empowered") is going to be lambasted and mocked. I just want to write whatever I feel like, without necessarily creating examples of good people, or people who fall under a politically correct stereotype.
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Don't think in terms of what people want. Think more in terms of the mc's reactions and decision making process. If that's believable, even if the reader's aren't okay with it, they'll understand it. You don't necessarily want the reader's absolute love - as long as you can stir them up - that's good enough.
     
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  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I wonder how the "public" viewed Sophocles' Antigone back in the day. I always think of her as the very first "feminist" heroine.

    I agree with @peachalulu. There have been many characters that people have not liked but have found riveting. Besides, trying to "pitch to" any current fashion is short-sighted and impractical. Write the best you can, and that goes for plot, characters, endings...everything.
     
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  4. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    The whole point of writing rather than passively reading is that you want to create a world and characters that flow from your imagination, beliefs, and feelings. Trying to please a particular constituency while writing is ultimately futile unless you are actually targeting that constituency.
     
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  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Just write her as a person, make her reactions authentic and plausible. If she feels real, if the reader can connect with and relate to her, you have succeeded. Real life girls and women are not feminist paragons either.
     
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  6. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    The term "heroine" reminds me of the swooning women from the traditional Romance novels where a big man would swoop in and rescue them into a life of marriage and dutiful respect. Your main character should be just that. Regardless of if they are male or female they can have whatever strengths and drawbacks you can imagine. Not all girls are "empowered" and stand on their own two feet and literature should reflect that. So long as your character is believable and has a story goal that we can root for, your readers will love your character .. flaws and all.
     
  7. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    Modern entertainment has a tendency to write a diverse male cast and then add in one or two token "strong female characters" and make a big spectacle out of their strength, probably to avoid looking sexist. The end result is something that still treats women with less respect than men.

    From my perspective, writing women who don't fit into some two-dimensional stereotype is more important than making them "strong". As long the females in your story had diverse personalities and weren't a bunch of caricatures, I doubt I'd have much of a problem.

    Some people might still get offended, though. There's always that possibility.
     
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  8. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Thanks for the replies so far.

    I asked because, well, being the leftist I am, I read some feminist media, even though I'm a man and not always agree (apparently according to a test I'm feminist regardless of what I think :p ). In these places I see advertisment for stuff like "feminist toys" and people asking about "children stories with feminist tones", which makes me cringe a little. I know these people have good intentions but sometimes it seems excessive. I just read a list of "21 things you should do to give your children a feminist education" and really, it's too much. Our society is still sexist with more or less "defined" gender roles, and something subconsciously slips under your attempts to follow these politically correct rules, and you can't isolate your children from the world. So they may absorb gender roles regardless of your attempts to educate them otherwise.

    I'll stop writing before this turns into an essay on sexism, but I think having freedom in art is the norm (unless you're promoting prejudice). I agree with you guys, making her realistic (as a person) is more important than making her an example of something.
     
  9. tupbup
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    tupbup Member

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    Feminist toys... made me laugh. Interesting name to call them. In reference to the children's stories I thought they would be free of all that stuff? Personally I thought children's stories were about engaging their imagination.

    Feminism and other social / political thought processes can be used as part of the conflicts and environment without having to inform your choices about character.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2014
  10. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Geez, I hope not. There seems to be a trend in mystery/suspense fiction these days to write female characters as strong. fearless and perfect stereotypes (most of whom are named 'Kat' for some reason), as unrealistic as the manly male stereotypes of years past. making your characters human strikes me as a reasonable policy.
     
  11. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    The stories you tell end up reflecting some of your values and can be critiqued by others who read into the values you've espoused. If you care about what "feminists" think at all(as if they're a homogenous group, all with the same attitudes and beliefs about gender and such), maybe start reading some feminists and find what you like and what you don't. There have been three main waves of feminism in the United States, as well as various critiques and outward branchings of certain theories such as Womanism, which was a response to feminism being dominated by white women. Feminism has a rich, complex and intellectually stimulating history and I think instead of worrying about what "they" think, you might want to figure out what you think. Developing a stronger sense of empathy and political intelligence about issues around gender, sexuality, power, etc etc, is a nice thing for us all to be doing. With the exception of people who assume they have it all figured out and have nothing to learn from other perspectives.
     
  12. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm actually writing a feminist villain (grated she's so over the top that other feminist characters reject her) so my heroine is an empowered career woman but not feminist per se...inasmuch as she is not down with radicalism or. Man-hating. So in my case she would have been a feminist paragon in 1955 but not in 2014
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also Amen to what lewislewis said. Focus more on who your character is and what she thinks, then do your research on the political ideologies and situate your character in a complex political reality. And there are different waves and definitions of feminism itself - your character likely meets some definitions of others. Also consider reading some of the recent article s about the role of the character Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones fur some fun thoughts on how women can exert power within the traditional construct if femininity.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm very confused about this. Are you under the impression that feminists are required to hate men?
     
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  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't care if your heroine was feminist or not. I would care whether she was really the protagonist of the novel. By that I mean that events should be driven or triggered by her. Maybe she makes a decision and marches out there and executes it. Maybe she sweetly and pseudo-passively manipulates the people in power into doing what she thinks should be done. Maybe she gets forced out of a passive life and has to do something because there's no one else to do it. No matter how many ruffles the first girl wears.

    But she shouldn't just be the passive instrument of someone else. A girl who masters the art of embroidery due to her own interest and wins a prize at the county fair is a stronger, and for that matter more feminist, protagonist than a girl who, say, is discovered by a kickboxing coach and, through his training and planning, wins the world championship in kickboxing.
     
  16. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I didn't say feminist s hate men - that's not true at all. However certain trends within academic feminism do trend toward supremacism and discrimination. They are minority within feminism but they do exist and I've read the literature...literature on which I'm basing my own villain and off of which I'm playing my protag. So I offered that trait as something that certain feminist thinkers value that isn't required
     
  17. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Quite honestly, I can always tell when an author is deliberately trying to write a feminist character, because they always end up with either a laughable caricature or an exceedingly nauseating one. Nothing wrong with a woman having a male mentor/advisor/respected friend. Like writers, characters can ask advice/counsel of anyone, but the decisions should be their own.
     
  18. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It all depends on what you want to say with your character/story and what fits them. I believe it doesn't matter so much what your character's strengths and weaknesses are as much as what you do with them.

    For example, in my and @KaTrian's current WIP, my MC is a physically strong and capable woman with a good heart and a strong drive to make things better, but since nobody is perfect, it was only natural for her to have some weaknesses as well: she has self-esteem issues, lacks confidence in some aspects of life (partly due to inexperience and youth), and isn't the smartest character in the story despite a good education.

    Does that mean I want to say women are insecure, mentally weak, and stupid? Definitely not. Do her strengths mean I want to say women are physically strong classic hero(in)es? Again, no.

    What I do want to say through the character are things related and conveyed through her actions, experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Her strengths and weaknesses described above are just elements of the character, tools that I use to build with, things that help me craft and present the things I'm looking to portray through my writing.

    Sure, some such elements can be used to make a statement and those elements may or may not be seen as statements by your readers, so it's a good idea to be mindful of how others might perceive your character.
    For instance, in this story, I don't really sexualize the character. I don't write sex scenes for her or show her dressed in scanty bikinis or anything because it wouldn't fit the character, and I wanted a change of pace: so often the strong female heroines are sexualized quite a bit, from Lara Croft to Daenerys Targaryen (despite her young age) to Xena.

    Sure, there are strong female characters who are not sexualized, but usually they are strong in different ways, e.g. mentally, psychologically, they are socially powerful (e.g. have a high social position) etc, but the more physical, younger kickass heroines (except children) are often sexualized.
    At least with a borderline asexual character I can better focus on the plot and other things more relevant to the story than e.g. fan service.

    So no, your character doesn't have to be perfect. Sure, if you give a female character any weaknesses, there will be some extremists who will criticize you for it, call you a misogynist etc, but is that really a surprise?
    No matter what you do, whether your character is female, male, young, old, strong, or weak, someone will always end up whining about it for one reason or another because it's impossible to please everyone (and some people are impossible to please anyway). Just do what feels right to you and what serves the story and chances are, you'll be all right.
     
  19. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    +1
     
  20. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short answer: NO!

    Long answer: ('I never do anything small'.) Heroine? Is this a fantasy novel where the damsel swoops in to save the day or something or is she merely the MC who finds herself in a situation where she is called upon to resolve the problem? In real life many 'normal' people, men and women, sometimes find themselves in situations where they are called upon to do extraordinary things. These are people who live ordinary lives but who have an ingrained sense of integrity and honor and decency by which they live their lives. They don't necessarily think about those things, they are just the standards by which they live. They find themselves in unusual or extraordinary situations and those standards move them to do extraordinary things. Do you imagine that, when he was in high school, the guy with the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor thought for one moment he would deliberately put himself in the line of fire for someone else? Do you think that woman who saw someone trying to snatch a kid from the sidewalk thought when she woke up that morning, "I think I'll go thwart a kidnaping today and maybe save a kid's life"?

    Had a professor in college who had an interesting philosophy and definition of a hero. He said, "A hero is someone who has a choice between intervening or not and chooses to intervene."

    It's not so much that "heroes" live a life different from the rest of us and you could never pick out from a crowd the ones who will choose to do the right thing when circumstances call upon them to do so. It's simply a matter of how their minds are configured to conduct their lives.

    Your heroine actually sounds like she might well be that kind of person. You said "she needs a little push to set things into motion." Implied is that, with that little push, she is willing to act. So maybe her problem is just self-doubt. That's not unusual, actually. But, when the adrenaline kicks in and we are able to bypass the brain and act on instinct, we tend to 'do the right thing'. Some people find that easier to do than others. Maybe your MC has all of the right qualities but doubts herself until the moment when she is not allowed that luxury? Or maybe the "reward" is enough to push her in the right direction. In any case, whatever her 'push' might be, you have already determined she is capable of it. You just have to find the emotional or psychological push that will move her past the built-in stops in the brain.

    How far have you gotten on this WIP? Just mapping it or have you already started the writing process? I look forward to reading some of it in the future.
     
  21. pirate1802
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    pirate1802 Member

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    *bows down*

    There ought to be more people like you writing comics video games, TV shows.. heck everything. :p
    Can I be blessed with a glimpse of your WIP? Because I'm kinda writing a similar character, physically capable but mentally messed up, prone to substance abuse.. on a sort of self-destruct mode. So I might learn a thing or two.

    To OP, well to put it in short: haters gonna hate. If you write a 'weak' female, feminists are going to cry. It you write a badass character people are going to say she's not feminine enough, that she's a man with boobs. You can't please everyone so just write what you consider the best way that is reflective of her.
     
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  22. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    I think the only thing characters have to be are real people. Sometimes they're feminist paragons and sometimes they're not. Just write what makes sense for her, not some amorphous crowd of fictional character critics.
     
  23. Kekec
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    Kekec Member

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    If you want a realistic female character, then stay as far away from feminist propaganda as you can.

    A woman once asked me to review a character of hers. The character was a beautiful, just over 5 feet tall, fair-skinned cleric. She wore plate armor, wielded a shield and a mace. When I told her that men twice her size, and wearing all that, would have difficulty fighting for more than five minutes, and that her character would barely be able to stand, she said that we have very different views on gender roles. Well, sure, mine were axiomatic, hers were delusional.

    The point is, keep the character real in terms of the real world, not the political world, and, as a writer, you must bring yourself to disgorge all that the media has been feeding entire populations with.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    a hero/heroine doesn't have to be anything in particular... s/he can be whatever you want, whatever your story calls for...
     
  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Media literacy should help at differentiating between propaganda and real stuff. I hate it that feminism seems to have such a bad name considering the rather admirable goals it's trying to reach.

    But speaking of propaganda:
    I was watching Feminist Frequency the other day, and I was amazed that there was no discussion of Samus Aran. This gave the video series a bit of a propaganda air in my mind. I mean, despite Samus's looks having changed to more sexy over the years, she still is independent and active in the games, and right there with Mario Bros and Link when it comes to popularity.

    On a sidenote, it's funny how Lara Croft, on the other hand, has become far less porn star -like over the years. Her newest incarnation looks amazing (she wasn't discussed either, by the way).

    Reality can be oh-so-inconvenient at times :D
     
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