Tags:
  1. Spearnymph
    Offline

    Spearnymph Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2008
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Canada

    Protagonists and their gender

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Spearnymph, Dec 28, 2008.

    At least one of my female friends have commented that they prefer reading about male protagonists, who in their opinion, are more interesting than female ones. This is a great mystery to me. What makes female protagonists, and female characters in general, any less flexible or varied? I believe this to be somewhat true, but I wonder why.

    People frequently ask about how to write characters of the other gender. A good piece of advice, and the one I go by, is to treat the character as a well-rounded person. What, then, leads to this gap between genders? Is it just me, or are female protagonists more confined in general?

    One more question: what makes characters overly masculine or feminine?

    I'd love some perspective on this.
    Thanks!
     
  2. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    I completely disagree with your friend's opinion. What genre of fiction does she mainly read?
     
  3. garmar69
    Offline

    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,550
    Likes Received:
    26
    It sounds like your friend's opinion is just that, an opinion. I wouldn't let that effect what you write about in the least.

    What appears to be overly masculine or feminine in the people you see around? That is what you should pay attention to and introduce into your stories in you so choose.
     
  4. HKB
    Offline

    HKB Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2008
    Messages:
    252
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Portland, Oregon
    They're probably reading male writers who relate poorly to females, othering or stereotyping them, and/or about females who only experience redundantly "female" issues. Some people are just sexist, including women, and can't relate to women as having the same universal human qualities as men. A fact that I find ironic since many stories about female protagonists will deal in some degree with oppression, an experience more universal than male (white/american/etc.) privilege.
     
  5. AnonyMouse
    Offline

    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2008
    Messages:
    2,224
    Likes Received:
    337
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    Any lack of flexibility you see in a character is the fault of the writer. To answer this question, you'd really have to ask each individual writer why his/her female characters are so flat. I can't answer for all of them, but I know female characters aren't my forte. I'm not a female, so I can't relate to them as well as I can my own gender. Fortunately, I'm smart enough to not try to write an extremely well-developed female character. I know she's likely to end up as a cliche / stereotype / assumption of what it means to be a woman, so I tread lightly in that area. If only others were as careful....

    The fact still remains that men and women are different. There's nothing sexist about recognizing the differences between the two genders. To not recognize it will give you androdgynous characters who are male or female in name only. I don't like to look at my characters as just "well-rounded people." They all have things in their lives that have shaped them into who and what they are. And, yes, gender is one of those things.

    That depends on your definition of what it means to be masculine or feminine.
     
  6. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    Sorry, going off on a tangent here, but this all reminds me of Jane Austen's novel, Persuasion, in which Captain Harville complains that women are fickle, not constant. He bases that opinion on the many books that show this. Anne, the heroine of the story, points out to him that all those books, however, were written by men ("the pen has been in their hands"). :)
     
  7. Rei
    Offline

    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2008
    Messages:
    7,869
    Likes Received:
    32
    Location:
    Kingston
    Female characters are certainly not less varied or flexible. Women are just sa diverse as men. You just have to know where to look. Besides, your friend probably prefers reading men for the same kinds of reasons that I prefer reading teens over adults. They are not necessarily more interesting, but men they think and do things that women never would, and she just interested by that behaviour more than the behaviour of women. HKB is probably right, too, about the books she choses being written by men who write very bad female characters. One male author I know of who writes amazing female characters is Charles de Lint.
     
  8. Spearnymph
    Offline

    Spearnymph Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2008
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Canada
    Fantasy.
    Rest assured that it doesn't affect what I write. I'm writing in that genre with a female protagonist, and I have no doubts about it. I did have several discussions with other female fantasy writers who chose male protagonists because they're "easier". The idea that females characters are more restricted sparked this train of thought.

    HKB, AnonyMouse: Those are great points. Thanks!

    marina: I always find tangents welcome. :D I love Persuasion. The thing is that it leads to Captain Wentworth declaring true attachment and constancy among men, and I couldn't help wondering if men truly felt that way. :p I guess we really are quite different.

    Thanks again, everyone, for replying.
     
  9. tehuti88
    Offline

    tehuti88 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2008
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Michigan
    I'm female and prefer writing male protagonists. Don't know why, it's just that I find many of my female characters less interesting and wishy-washy.

    Then I started writing my current serial which features not only a female protagonist, but a teenage female protagonist...and I love her to bits. I'm guessing that since I wrote her as the MC, I got to develop her better and spend more time with her and she's fully developed as a person. I planned to write her out of the series and now I can't! I'm betting that if I ever had a reason to write another story with a different female protagonist, and spent a lot of time with her, the same thing would happen.

    There are differences between male and female, of course, but what makes a more interesting character is the fact that they're well developed (as you yourself mentioned) as a PERSON. Not necessarily male or female, just as a person. Your friend would probably feel the same way if she were to just find the right piece of writing with a more engaging female protagonist. Like I said, I prefer writing males, but whenever an interesting-enough female character comes along I enjoy writing her too. Perhaps your friend just hasn't met the right woman yet. :D
     
  10. Demief
    Offline

    Demief Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2008
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    1
    It could be curiosity on your friend's part. She might be curious to know how the male mind works. One of the reasons that i found twilight so interesting was that it was a female mind.

    And it might be resentment. I have a suspicion that my english teacher (a female) resents any male writing with a female persona. She often says that we will never understand how a female mind works. I won't get into that argument but your friend could believe the same.
     
  11. Spearnymph
    Offline

    Spearnymph Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2008
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Canada
    I think that's an interesting point. I like reading YA books too, and your post reminded me of Artemis Fowl. The protagonist does something adults would probably never do, and that's one of the charms of YA fiction.

    Heh, a female mind in one of its most embarrassing form. Well, that's what I think.


    tehuti88: Ah, that's very enlightening. Yeah, I get you. Hooray for you! :D
     
  12. JaM1221
    Offline

    JaM1221 Member

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2008
    Messages:
    31
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Massachuesetts, USA
    Sorry if this has been said before:
    It has been proven than males are more of risk takers than females. I heard this on the news one day. It was talking about Hilary Clinton being president. Some people commented that she would not take the necessary risks. Also, I believe the show said something about women naturally being motherly and the affects of this characteristic as a president.
    Maybe males are more interesting as a character because they take the risks that are needed to start conflicts. Then again, a writer can write a character anyway the want. In a work, a female can be a risktaker.
     
  13. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    Ack! I so completely disagree with the basic premise of this argument, it's hard to know where to start.

    Firstly, you’re saying that female protagonists are generally one-dimensional characters. But how could that be unless it were true in nature? But it isn't. Females and males are complex beings with varied personalities, fears, dreams, and attitudes. This impacts their behavior, which then leads to terrific conflict in a story. Think of high-spirited Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind or the frightened girl who refused to marry the awful man in A Book of a Thousand Days.

    Secondly, though males & females are different in various ways--males are risk takers, females are motherly (see JaM's post above)--conflict in stories are not limited to big risk taking or some other male characteristic but often develop out of difficult situations that the female must strive to live with or conquer in some way. Think of the great classic female heroines and the conflicts they dealt with in Sense & Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Scarlett Letter, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, A Room With A View.

    You'll find the same thing in books today such as My Sister's Keeper, Handmaid's Tale, Cold Sassy Tree, The Truth About Forever, The Awakening, Secret Life of Bees, Life As We Knew It, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Saving Francesca, The Golden Compass.

    So where is the less flexible, less varied female protagonist now? I hope she's been stuffed into the drawer of an old Victorian desk or something.
     
  14. fantasywriter
    Offline

    fantasywriter Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2008
    Messages:
    954
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Oklahoma
    It sounds like your friend has her own opinion, and you have yours as well. Leave it at that. Opinions are opinions, not facts. It doesn't really matter whether the protagonist is male or female in fantasy. I do suppose that some people are sexist and prefer only male characters, but female protagonists are making a big comeback. Just take Twilight for example. It is now one of the most popular books for teens, and the protagonist is a female. Now, Harry Potter uses a male protagonist. That doesn't stop Twilight from making it to the best seller's list, now does it?

    I, too, write fantasy. I'm a female, but all of my protagonists are usually males. I do have female main characters; don't get me wrong. I don't know why I choose the perspective of a male, and I don't think I ever will know. In my opinion, it doesn't really matter.
     
  15. Spearnymph
    Offline

    Spearnymph Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2008
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Canada
    Males in general are more of risk-takers, yes; but in the broad spectrum of personalities, there are men and women who take risks and those who don't.

    Not exactly. I was saying that female protagonists are portrayed in a restrictive manner. Going with what I was saying above, it's like saying female characters can't be risk-takers because it's unrealistic, even though we are, like you said, complex beings and not just generic representatives of our gender. Sometimes I feel like male protagonists can push the boundaries while female ones can only do what is appropriate and expected. (If Batman were a woman he'd probably be called a big ol' Mary Sue.) Again, that's just something that has occurred to me which may not be accurate.

    If anything, I'd say this is a modern phenomenon. With more women doing the work of men, there seems to be more scrutiny and a tug-of-war between femininity and feminism.

    I think that is the most sensible thing, at the end of the day. :D
     
  16. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    Spearnymph -

    Your original premise was that female protagonists are less flexible/less varied, so consequently they have less opportunities for conflict.

    I rejected that and provided many examples of books in which females had lots of oppotunities for conflict and had varied character traits.

    You then clarified your premise and said that female protagonists, unlike male ones, are "restrictive" and can’t "push the boundaries" but can only do what is "appropriate and expected." You then gave Batman versus Mary Sue as an example. You also said femininity and feminism were opposites.

    When I read all of that, I see that you are painting a picture of female protagonists that I don’t recognize in any of the books I read, either for school or for pleasure. Even Bella Swan (Twilight) doesn’t really fit it because she pushes boundaries and asserts herself.

    Unless the story is about an action hero like Batman or Watchmen comic series, or some other action/thriller, the protagonist does not need to physically or mentally dominate. Your view of a flexible, varied character seems to be all about the ability to dominate. And actually, a story in which a female protagonist is being dominated can provide great conflict—see Jane Eyre, but then those tend to be Victorian novels.

    Conflict happens in many situations: quiet, loud, physical, emotional. Read some of the books I mentioned before and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    My “opinions” can actually be backed up by the many examples and explanations I’ve provided.
     
  17. Spearnymph
    Offline

    Spearnymph Member

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2008
    Messages:
    29
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Canada
    ^ I really don't disagree with your opinion at all. I just realised that these "boundaries" are based on the perspective of the reader or writer, and you are right - I have not backed up any of my claims. I think I misunderstood you because my premise was based on characterisation at the start of the story, while you're talking about what the character does during the story.

    I should really have mentioned this earlier, but what prompted my friend's and my opinion was, in fact, a smattering of fantasy and science fiction books. Of course, that's far, far too limited a selection to make any kind of claim for all books. I have been stretching the matter and I feel rather hypocritical now, but I believe you've gotten to the root of my thoughts with the dominating versus being dominated. You've provided some fine food for thought. Thanks for sharing!
     
    1 person likes this.
  18. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    Like most other people posting on this thread, I'm going to generalise. The reason I (usually) prefer to have a woman as my MC and main POV is that
    a) women internalise and more and in a way I can better relate to, being a woman myself, and
    b) The life experiences I write about refer more specifically to women.
    If I write more mystery type, action-based pieces, then I occasionally have a male MC's POV.
     
  19. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    Ah, fantasy & sci-fi! Yes, I get you now. We actually had a really interesting thread a long time ago about how there are fewer female protags vs male protags in fantasy...and I think the same would be said about sci-fi? Yeah, it does seem there are fewer females in the 2 genres, and I bet it's because they tend to be more action-based, and maybe, more men writing in those genres? Most of the books I read are general fiction and realistic fiction, and there the protagonists are represented well by both genders. Thx for the dialogue.
     
  20. Hetroclite
    Offline

    Hetroclite Member

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2008
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    0
    Whether a person is interesting or not is based more on individual personality rather than gender. It's the same in literature as in real life. If you make the character alive in your story, readers will be drawn in without prejudging a female character.
     

Share This Page