1. TessaT
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    TessaT Contributing Member

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    Female Protagonists & How They Grow

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TessaT, Nov 12, 2013.

    This was stemmed by the 'offensive' thread, simply because it reminded me of a blog I had read. I forget who it was by or when, but the article in question was talking about how women characters are always made 'strong' due to some sort of sexual violence. Whether being raped, or sexually harassed, beaten or used... she made the case that it's degrading and... offensive to see women going through this constantly in literature, as a mechanism for her maturing and growing.

    Thinking about the books that I've read, I find this to be more or less true. But then again, it happens so much in real life, that I think literature just happens to be reflecting that. She suggested that writing a female character who is abused is a crutch.

    I'm curious what other writers think. Do you use abuse to help your character grow? Do you think that she's oversimplifying the connection between maturity and hardships, or do you think that her points have some merit? I'll try to find the article (I'm sure its in my history somewhere).
     
  2. redreversed
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    redreversed Active Member

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    I don't have such a problem with abuse being used to make characters grow, I just have a problem that the way they are abused are never very imaginative or original. There are probably exceptions to that, but still..
     
  3. Wild Knight
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    Wild Knight Active Member

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    To answer that question in order...

    I do have some characters who have gone through abuse in their background. But all in all, I do not use abuse to help my characters grow. I most certainly haven't grown as a person due to that. So why should I believe in having my characters go through abuse to get stronger?

    As for the other question, I honestly can't say whether or not the writer of that article is oversimplifying the connection or not, because I'd have to see this article for myself. But I do believe that it's possible she is oversimplifying the connections, and perhaps she may even have a point.

    That's just my opinion, anyway.
     
  4. Wyr
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    Wyr Active Member

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    While I can think up several instances of writers using abuse as a catalyst to make their characters (both male and female) mature in some way, I can think of just as many who used some other hardship to accomplish the same thing. Though, granted, I do see sexual abuse more commonly against female characters than male.

    I think that abuse, be it physical, sexual, or verbal, is a common theme simply because it is unfortunately a very universal thing and has been around since the dawn of civilization. It can easily fit into a story in just about any genre or setting.

    I wrote a short story a long while ago in which both characters (a brother and sister) where physically abused as children. While it certainly did make them change, it wasn’t necessarily in a good or “strong” way.
     
  5. Aurin
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    Aurin Member

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    In my novel the female MC goes through abuse (emotional) and she does grow from that, in how she deals with other people in her future. As I have gone through it and done the same. But one doesn't need abuse to do that, they can have hardship instead.
     
  6. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I ever did, I would only reference it in short little doses. While a lengthy abuse story will no doubt have a powerful ending, I wouldn't make it past the first chapter.

    Lisey's Story by Stephen King is a great example of a female protagonist, in my opinion. No sexism, and no reverse-sexism. While I wouldn't call her relationship with her husband a hardship, others might.

    Hurry up and find ye article! We want to read it:).
     
  7. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    I inspired a thread? Ohsnapson.

    But anyway as for your question I kinda am guilty of this. My MC, Tonya, is supposed to be a lobotomized blank slate of a woman and because of this fact during her stint in the military she is used as a sexual object by several men because she's not "supposed" to know better and supposed to have a damaged short term memory. She has to pretend to be a blank minded individual and she sees the Country she serves from basically all sides because nobody watches themselves with caution around her because they think she'll forget.

    It helps her grow to be a justicar-like character later on, but yea now that I think about it I kinda fell into the stereotypical zone didn't I?
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Growth doesn't have to be positive. But abuse is over-used, IMHO. There are plenty of traumatic events that can happen to characters outside of abuse that can change them, and I find those more interesting. I'd probably put down a book that contained sexual abuse, not from discomfort but from boredom.
     
  9. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it happens so much in real life, it simply follows on from that. There are badly written books though, that used this stereotype to make their character more 'complex' and ended up making it gratuitous and lame. But I would strongly disagree that seeing what women in real life go through reflected in literature is in any way 'offensive' or 'degrading' to women per se. If the person who argued that is offended, that's perhaps a personal issue she should explore further.

    I have several female characters who experienced abuse, and each reacted differently, some became stronger, some didn't.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This reminds me of a controversial line in the controversial movie Happiness in which a poet played by
    Lara Flynn Boyle wails - oh, if only I'd been raped as a child.
    She assumed it would bring greater depth to her work, or perhaps give her an edge as someone who conquered.

    I think the idea is overdone in that often, it's not done well. I've met a lot of abused, raped, molested,
    verbally abused people - boys, men, girls, woman - they don't seem to 'triumph' or grow quite so
    easily like they do in books. So sometimes the idea comes off rather pat or artificial. I don't think
    the issue itself is offensive only the way it's handled.
     
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  11. MsScribble
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    MsScribble Member

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    How many women do you know who are stronger due to rape/beating/sexual assault?
     
  12. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've come across this blog post about a similar issue.

    What bugs me about this is the kind of atmosphere that seems to harm (women) writers who want to discuss e.g. their own experiences in their writing through an abuse story.

    Note this submission guideline:
    We are extremely unlikely to be interested in rape stories. We encourage you to find other dimensions for your female characters besides their rapeability.

    And I do think it's a good idea to explore other ways to make your female protag grow than abuse, but on the other hand, I find it distasteful that someone would react this indignantly towards such stories and content. It's almost like disapproving of a story about a cancer patient, "Another cancer story, you say? You can't make your characters learn important lessons about life in any other way, huh?"

    That said, yes, I've developed my female protags in a number of different ways. Abuse is one, but there are so many other stories that "deserve" to be told as well, and many other ways to make a character grow, and they are worth exploring, but at the same time, deciding not to write about rape 'cause it's [insert something negative] and won't sell or gather readers even when one would like to discuss it feels wrong to me.
     
  13. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think abuse - verbal, physical, sexual or otherwise does anything to make someone stronger and that goes for either male or female. There maybe the exception, but on the contrary, abuse of any nature usual make the victim timid, weak, anxious, apologetic and lacking in confidence and can cause mental issues.

    In fiction, these things may make a protagonist stronger - but that's fiction for you. As to real life, if you want to make someone strong and confident, then praise their efforts and make them feel good about themself.
     
  14. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As some others here, I've written male and female characters who grow through abuse of some kind. Some grow and become stronger afterwards (a sum of several things, not solely because of the abuse, whatever its kind), some are destroyed by it. As it seems to be in real life as well. I've met broken girls who've experienced abuse and I've met some who have turned their negative experiences into something positive. Sure, when you get wounded, you'll get scars, but that doesn't necessarily make you weaker (or stronger). It depends on what happened, to whom, under what circumstances, and how the person deals with it.


    I'd say it doesn't automatically make anyone stronger, but neither does it make anyone automatically weaker. Usually there's a reason for the birth of cliches, and we've all heard the expression "what doesn't kill you..."

    I haven't experienced sexual abuse myself, but physical and verbal abuse, oh yeah, and I don't think I'd be the same person I am today if I hadn't gone through that process of... tempering. As a kid I was a softie, but some people eventually grow tired of taking hits and then start giving some back, something they might not have learned to do if they hadn't been exposed to that side of life.
    And I do find absolutism ridiculous. Like Kat said, why should we strive to bar victims of abuse from writing about their experiences? What makes them worse than, say, the aforementioned cancer patients? Should we really start insisting that homosexuals shouldn't write about the prejudices they have faced just because some writers have written badly about the subject?
     
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  15. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    Not at all. Not in the way you mean.

    Massive oversimplification.
     
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  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Am the only one who read this as meaning that the only way a female protag can grow is through some kind of sexual violence? Because that's not only silly and unsupportable, it's extremely offensive. I think it much more likely that what was meant was that female characters who suffer sexual violence always grow from it, which may be a trend in fiction but, as @Trilby points pointed out, is much less likely in real life.
     
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  17. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    First of all, I think it is pure balderdash to think that a female character cannot be strong without having suffered some kind of sexual violence. Strength - mental/emotional - is a psychological quality and women as much as men can be strong without any negative or debasing experiences in their lives. This is such an archaic century old mindset that I hardly knew how to respond - with shock or laughter. But the fact that anyone in this day and age still clings to that kind of thought processes is just sad. And for writers to cling to this kind of thinking, to me, only indicates a need to examine their own attitudes toward women overall.

    I have written some pretty strong, tough women. Not because they have been abused in their lives but because they simply grew up with respect for their intelligence, abilities, and personal (inner) strengths. Confidence gives more strength than abuse. Courage gives more strength than violence. To stick all strong women into a sexual violence cubbyhole is to fail your characters as well as yourself and your readers!
     
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  18. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    My story is also about a female MC who is a very strong person. But in my case, it is the fact she had an inappropriate affair ( teacher with student) and was stupid enough to send him a compromising email with photos, that is causing all the conflict and problems later on. One person asked me: " is it a cautionary tale?" and I didn't see it like that. She doesn't really deserve to lose her husband as well as her career.Of course, she will come out on top. But the knowledge that the tragic events were the result of her own stupidity is something she will have to come to terms with. In a way, that's worse than being able to blame someone else.
    Hetty
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  19. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Didn't think much of that expression when I was a kid and I don't care for it now. It seriously over-simplifies the complexity of human beings.

    That is absolute, one hundred percent truth. NO ONE would be the same if they had a different set of experiences throughout their lives. What we live through molds the person we become at every stage of our life. But there is no guarantee you would not have been as strong a person without abuse as you suggest you are because of it. Perhaps not. Perhaps so. There's no way of knowing that other person you might have become with a different life line.
     
  20. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    I've met a lot of abused, raped, molested,
    verbally abused people - boys, men, girls, woman - they don't seem to 'triumph' or grow quite so
    easily like they do in books. So sometimes the idea comes off rather pat or artificial. I don't think
    the issue itself is offensive only the way it's handled.[/quote]

    In Australia we're going through a royal commission in child abuse by clergy or other persons in charge. The victims who came forward certainly didn't show any kind of triumph over adversity. They are all still deeply traumatised and extremely angry. Maybe those who 'moved on' didn't need to come forward?
    Hetty
     
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  21. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Of course it over-simplifies, just like almost any other such one-liner. 'No pain, no gain' can be seen as a motivational tool that helps us push through adversity or it can be the idiot's guide to chronic injuries. The way I see the 'what doesn't kill you...'-business:


    We shouldn't go out of our way to abuse our kids or anyone, but if you do end up abused, you have essentially two choices: learn to deal with it, i.e. overcome it somehow, or let it destroy you. Unfortunately, some do end up eaten alive by their negative experiences, but those who eventually learn to cope with their pasts usually come out stronger out of necessity: they must grow in order to overcome a devastating ordeal or they wouldn't make it. Again, often experiences that bad leave life-long scars, that's pretty mucn unavoidable, but, then again, scars should be borne with pride.
     
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  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Mutation is an important driving force in evolution.

    Many mutations have little or no observable effect on the organism or its descendants.

    Of the rest, well over 99% leave the organism dead or unable to reproduce.

    The few that are left have roughly a 50% chance of reducing the organism's species' survival potential.

    The miniscule remainder are what improve the species over time.

    Based on these kinds of statistics, deliberately causing an increase in mutations would have to be considered a criminal act, because the vast majority of those receiving the mutations are harmed. Nevertheless, without mutations, the gene pool would never produce new traits.

    Abuse is not quite as grim as mutation in its outcomes, bad as they are. More harm than good arises from abuse by far, so it is rightly condemned. However, there are many who do better themselves from having been abused. Some developed strong coping mechanisms that help them through other hardships. Others vow to never visit such injury on another human being, or allow it to take place.

    These are the ones who become models for heroic characters. In no way does the use of such characters serve as an endorsement of abuse. They are simply an affirmation of the strength of human will and spirit. In other words, it isn't the abuse we celebrate, it's the capacity to survive it and to find one's fortitude through it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2014
  23. HarleyQ.
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    HarleyQ. Just a Little Pit Bull (female)

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    Well said, Cog.
     
  24. AJC
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    AJC Active Member

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    I had an abused character in the very first story I wrote. It was a male character, however. After that, I stopped writing abused characters. There wasn't any specific reason for that. I just didn't feel comfortable writing it. There are many other ways to show character growth. It can be as simple as a character refusing to cheat on a test.

    While we are on the subject, I've always had trouble writing female characters, so most of my characters are male. All of my female characters are minor characters, so I don't spend too much talking about how they grow or change over the course of the story.
     
  25. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    When I read "blog" I found it rather difficult to take this seriously.
     
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