1. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    Femininity not Popular?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Vacuum Eater, Jul 5, 2009.

    Why is it that feminine female lead characters are not that popular? It seems to me that most female leads are tomboys. They tend to act, talk, and/or dress in a masculine manner.

    For some reason, most female characters who are actually feminine are the villainesses. . .

    So, any thoughts?
     
  2. Vapor
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    Vapor Member

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    I think you're going to have to define feminine a little more. The word means lots of different things to different people. I can't think of any villains I would call feminine, usually they are rather aggressive and masculine. One that springs to my mind is Lady de Winter from The Three Musketeers. She was beautiful and seductive yet I wouldn't call her feminine.
     
  3. SA Mitchell
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    SA Mitchell Member

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    Because up until the 19th century almost all writers had been male. It's very hard to fight 3000 years of canon in a couple centuries.
     
  4. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    And even then- going out on a very dangerous, touchy limb here- "feminine" characters usually translate into "passive" characters. They don't do things, they react to things that are done to them. They have extensive internal monologues and minor external ones. They also tend to need rescuing every five pages in a typical blockbuster/fantasy novel, wheras tomboys get themselves out of trouble. Which one makes a better lead?

    But that's assuming you're talking about traditional medieval/victorian femininity.
     
  5. PaganusCrayon
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    PaganusCrayon New Member

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    I think some female leads can retain a certain amount of femininity, without falling into the "damsel in distress," cliché.

    Looking at more modern example, I suppose Lara Croft, as tomboyish as she is, has a very feminine nature about her.

    I agree with B-Gas about the passive nature of female characters, but I think in modern cinema this stock character is slowly diminishing.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You really do have to define what feminine is. Or perhaps let go of the idea that certain things cannot feminine. I've never seen Lara Croft, but I think it's a good example from what people have said. My female characters are individuals. They are not tomboys, nor are they girly girls. They are who they are.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with this, but allow me to refine.

    Under no circumstances does femininity actually translate to passivity, but classic feminine traits written by men for... how long?... did translate into passivity.

    Not the actuality, but the perception at the hands of male writers who dominated the profession for eons.

    So, welcome to the pendulum swing which is so much a part of many a dynamic. Since classic feminine traits = passive characters for so long, now classically feminine traits are passé or (even worse) assigned to the villain because no female human wants to be seen as a passive jellyfish, and rightly so.
     
  8. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    I guess I was thinking more of TV than books when I popped this question. For one, most female leads on TV (and in movies) tend to have a confrontational, in-your-face, domineering, chip-on-the-shoulder type of attitude. Also, a lot of them seem to be for the most part disinterested in, well, dressing femininely. A lot of people equate sexy with feminine, but that is not necessarily the case: for instance, a chiffon blouse and nipped waistline is usually a lot more feminine than tight, low-rise pants and a skimpy leather halter top.

    I don't think passivity has so much to do with it as being ladylike does. One of the most feminine TV characters I can think of is Laura Holt from the Remington Steele series; being the founder and boss of a detective agency does not equal passive!

    So, I guess my definition of feminine revolves not so much on what the character does but on how she looks and acts. A feminine character, in my opinion, is generally soft-spoken, not blatantly aggressive, approachable/friendly, and also refined in mannerisms and speech. She also takes a healthy interest in her appearance and usually doesn't harbor the outspoken hatred some female leads have of pink, frills, lace, and all things girly.

    Nancy Drew was another feminine character. You don't have to be passive and boring to be womanly.
     
  9. TragicJuliet
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    TragicJuliet Senior Member

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    I never saw Nancy Drew as "feminine" She crawled in icky attics, wore pants, ran through fields, fought weird people- played Chess (the one book where she like, is a giant chess piece..) ...Unnnlesss we're talking about the movie and the older books then completely disregard what I just said.

    Feminine doesn't sell in movies and books as heroes because it already sells in Sex, commercials, barbie dolls, doll houses, toys, clothes... the tom boys need some room too! That and maybe you're looking at it in the wrong manner? A soft spoken, not blatantly aggressive, approachable/friendly and refined in mannerism and speech isn't gonna get the creep that stole her sister talking about what he did with her! However- you say "character does" and "acts" as two different things. But ultimately they are the same. The way the character acts is how it's determined how they will react, or do in a situation.

    If you're talking about looks alone we can look at some books: we have that lady in Eragon (i only read the first book terrible book) she was that pretty elven lady thing, she was feminine, speaking of elves, we have Arwen was a pretty kick-butt leading lady and very feminine. Legend of the Seeker has Kihlan, beautiful to boot, loved to look pretty but could hold her own, we have Chun Li (either from the game or the new movie Street Fighter Legend of Chun Li ), who loved to play Piano but brought justice to the big bad, or even Mikaela in Transformers (played the beautiful Megan Foxx) tell me she wasn't feminine and tom boy rolled into one! Is that the kind of feminine you're talking about? Sexy but still can fight with the toughest of tough?
     
  10. Vapor
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    Vapor Member

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    Majority of TV seems like pretty hollow, cardboard caricatures. In a character driven show like The Sopranos, there were some good characters that I thought were both strong and feminine. What do you mean by "how she acts, not what she does"? Seems like the same thing to me. If you meant feminine based solely by appearance, well fashions come and go.
     
  11. Rosetta Stoned
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    Rosetta Stoned Member

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    It depends on the role the female character has in the story. If you try to make a female fighter curl her hair and apologize every time she punches someone, it would just seem like really bad fanfiction.
     
  12. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    It is unnecessary to act all threatening and aggressive (like Xena, for instance) and to talk "butch" in order to do, well, nasty things. For instance, an employer can act all sweet and caring while she is firing you.

    Dolores Umbridge is the ultimate feminine character. But then, she's a villainess, of course.

    Remember Theodore Roosevelt's famous quote: "Speak softly and carry a big stick?" Lots of ultra-feminine villainesses I've seen in TV and read in older books follow that philosophy religiously.
     
  13. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    I seem to remember a Buffy: the Vampire Slayer episode that went like that. :)
     
  14. Vapor
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    Vapor Member

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    Oh god from Harry Potter? I thought she was anything but feminine. More like piggish and adrogynous.
     
  15. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    By how she acts, I mean how she talks and interacts with people. For instance, is she loud-mouthed, braggart, meek, or whiny? Fidgety, nervous, temperamental, or reserved?

    By what she does, I mean jobs and pastimes. Does she run a bakery? Is she a homemaker? A detective?

    It's wholly possible for a homemaker to be really butch and dominate everyone around, including her husband, parents, in-laws, etc., and it is possible for a detective to get information by being charming, agreeable, and
    manipulative. Thus, I don't think occupation is such a good judge of femininity/masculinity as attitude/behavior.
     
  16. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    Well, she physically didn't look feminine, but she surely behaved and dressed accordingly. Walking around in Jackie O.-type outfits, complete with bows, and giving the meanest orders in a sweet, girly voice. The unusual combination of traits she presented (sweet girlishness and venomous brutality, feminine outfits and a near haggish appearance) was very unusual and memorable. Needless to say, I enjoyed despising her.
     
  17. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Feminine is one of those vague terms -- the ones that vary in interpretation from one person to another, even from one culture to another, and certainly from era to era.

    Are there only two points of reference? Must one be either the feminine girl or the tomboy? Doesn't it flow along a spectrum?

    By your definition, I'm certainly not feminine. I loathe pink, lace, ruffles and fussiness of any kind. never wear make-up, shower and braid my hair and forget about it for the rest of the day, and am not by any stretch of the imagination soft-spoken. Yet, I've worn nothing but skirts and dresses since I was old enough to pick out my own clothes. Some even call me too girly-girly.

    The behaviors you cite in modern female characters are behaviors that, in a man would be viewed as positive things, maybe even admirable.
     
  18. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    In some cases, it might work better. Especially if the woman under discussion is very good-looking and knowledgeable in the ways of manipulation and the creep is James Bond.
     
  19. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    Hmm, a good deal of tomboys I read about in various books seemed to spend a lot of time regretting they weren't born boys and hating on all things having to do with being female.
     
  20. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    So did Jo in Little Women, and I think at least one female character in Lord of the Rings. Some women are like that in the real world. Disliking the restrictions that some systems impose on females is not necessarily a bad thing. Honestly, at some points in most girl's lives, it does look like boys have it better.

    Even for adults, if a single mother supports her household and holds down a job, it not seen as a big deal. Let a single father get custody and hold down a job and raise a kid, and people act as if he's swum the Atlantic with one hand tied behind his back.

    Maybe the characters reflect a bit of the modern world.

    If you were born with red-hair, in a society where redheads were thought only fit for menial labor and deservng of no advantages whatever, would you regret being born a redhead. I wore a corset for a play once, and I can pretty much imagine how quickly a woman could come to loathe it, if it were a continuous requirement.
     
  21. RedWingEagle
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    RedWingEagle New Member

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    I do believe that the problem lies with the definition of femininity. AskOxford.com defines feminine as 'having qualities traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.' So from there we need to determine what qualities are traditionally associated with women; are they qualities such as vanity, vulnerability? Or are there less stereotypical qualities such as; caring, resourcefulness?

    If we go with either of those qualities then femininity is not gender specific, but obviously throughout literature, which is still male dominated, women have always been the feminine characters and men have been masculine characters.

    In my opinion there are many strong yet feminine characters. For example, Ruth in World's End by Mark Chadbourn is thrown into a world she has no idea about. She emerges as a strong woman, who can kick ass but still remain her motherly persona.

    As I previously said, femininity and masculinity don't need to be gender specific, and a good dose of the two is welcome by me in any literature I writeor read.
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield often wrote feminine characters...though they had many issues with their sex, with how women should behave, things like that. But only because that's realistic - everyone struggles with gender expectations, sexual politics and their own individual notions of themselves. Tom boys are, for that reason, maybe, easier to write, since they're more or less rejecting the feminine aspects of themselves and embracing what may be seen as a less complicated male outlook.
    Obviously that had literary fiction in mind when I was writing it, but if it was fantasy you were writing its even easier to create strong female characters since you don't have to deal with the tradition of male dominance in western culture (and most other cultures, really)
     
  23. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    Could you list the books that you believe exemplify this? Otherwise, I have no idea if "a masculine manner" to you is what, to me, is an educated, independent, and assertive woman.

    I read about 50-75 books a year, and I have to say that I don't see writers mainly portraying tomboys for their female protagonists.
     
  24. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    I think the feminine female role has always been more prominent among YA and teen literature. Even now, I have noticed a strong resurgence in interest among female readers towards the female lead.

    As an aside, its important to foster that role though good writing. And there is a great need for strong writers to correctly write portray the feminine female characters.
     
  25. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    Wow, you're a voracious reader! :)

    I find that the most masculine female characters are on TV and in movies. For instance, Xena of Xena: Warrior Princess, definitely Red Sonja of Conan, the Barbarian, and most female action heroes. A lot of these are feminine enough in looks, but they tend to have an in-your-face, brazen, brash attitude and exceed even their male counterparts in violent behavior and crass language.

    In books, most feminine leads that aren't that feminine seem to have a chip on their shoulder about all (or most) things girly/womanly. [And then some of them have the audacity to complain when they can't attract the guy they like.] An example of an unfeminine character is Jo of Little Women. Another is Rose Rita Pottinger of the John Bellairs horror series. Bella of the Twilight series - yes, she was the stereotypical weak damsel in distress, but lacked any feminine charms and had absolutely no interest in her appearance. Alice from the same series, however, is an example of a very feminine (and capable) woman.

    I don't think being educated, independent, and assertive has anything to do with femininity or masculinity. It depends on how the character behaves. Does she boast about her independence and constantly assert that she doesn't need a man's help ever (and right after that, she gets rescued by a guy - that's Red Sonja for you)? Or is she very charming and alluring in mannerisms?

    One of the most feminine characters of all time, I believe, is Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series. Assertive yet charming, fiery-tempered yet sweet, independent yet endearing - you get the picture.
     

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