1. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Tough women

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AVCortez, Apr 6, 2013.

    I write very androgynous female characters. It is very rare that you'll find a soft woman in my writing, and if you do, they're either minor characters or it is to illustrate how tough they inevitably become. While women who have read my writing really like the characters, I can't help but feel that the characters are really just men with vaginas. I can't stand it when women are depicted as manipulative puppeteers, and would rather they be openly powerful.

    So, I'm looking for advice on how to portray femininity in women who are tough. Vanity and manipulativeness are things that a lot of writers use, but I find them to be two of least endearing features in a person, and I want them nowhere near my precious women... Does anyone like Cersei Lanister?

    Or, does gender even matter? Can a character simply be a character without factoring masculinity of femininity.

    EDIT: Great advice, but I failed to mention this is in a medieval fantasy setting.
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    My position is that a character can be a character, without trying to give them traits that are typically thought of as masculine or feminine. But, there are plenty of people who disagree with me.

    You can, however, play around with how the characters react to societal expectations of them as men or women.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It sounds to my that your characters are type-locked. The only way I know to break that cycle is to make a point of writing characters against type, and to practice until thes characters ae believable too.

    A little self-examination can help. What specifically turns you off or frightens you about these kinds of unattainable characters? What is the flip side of the relevant traits, something that can make those traits a strength is some situations? Maybe a breezy, annoyingly cheerful character is better able to resist despair against a crushing emotional burden, or is better able to see the good in someone no one else has any patience with.

    Try to get inside the heads of the characters you have no empathy with.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not so sure it would make the characters 'soft', but I often think writers confuse strength with coldness, and confidence with vanity and manipulation. If you want ideas on what strong women are, look up stories about women (and especially mothers) who lived through the Dust Bowl/depression years in the US. I'm humbled every time I read one, or look at the photos.
     
  5. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Very good point, but my problem is the world I've created doesn't really have expectations that differ from men to women. If you can hold a hammer, you can be a blacksmith. Handy with a blade: Become a mercenary. This is something I've done very deliberately, but now find myself a little bit lost as to how to differentiate men from women... The only real difference is physical strength and sexual objectification. But the women I write about tend to be good fighters (either sword or magic), so they handle the unwanted attention in pretty much the same way as a man would.

    PS. I've always read your name as shick-ah-goliz, but it just dawned on me: Is your name Liz and you are from Chicago? :p.
     
  6. BishipScoundrel
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    BishipScoundrel New Member

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    I think that a good way to give your characters more depth without making them vain or manipulative is to introduce them into situations that will lowly peel back the layers of there personality revealing just for an instant that they are vulnerable before returning to there old tough and gritty selves. In this way all the redeeming quality's that you like about the character remain but the reader gets a sense that there is more than just a man with a vagina here underneath. Of course as you said you don't like "soft women" characters so this advice might be useless. But if you spend a lot of time making your character seem tough and unbreakable throwing something like this at the reader during a time of crisis for the character would be a major curve ball that they would never see coming.
     
  7. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    I got a tad confused here. What do you mean by unattainable characters? Are you saying I should write characters with these traits to later apply them to my favoured characters? Because I do write plenty of manipulative characters but they are generally depicted as villains.

    Confidence is completely different to vanity and manipulativeness. For one thing, vain people rarely possess actual confidence. In my experience they tend to be extremely weak people. Also manipulation requires confidence, but many are confident without being manipulative.

    Completely agree with the strength and coldness thing, though it's not something I think have a problem with. I will most definitely look into it, thought I write mostly about young women who are free of responsibility... I'd say they are "tough" rather than "strong."
     
  8. gwilson
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    gwilson Member

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    I like characters who are both strong and weak, nice and mean, intelligent and clueless, and characters of opposites similar to Al Capone, a murdering philanthropist; Joan of Arc, a pious warlord; Martha Stewart, a successful business woman and an ex-con. It's flaws and virtues that makes characters three-dimensional. There is no problem with creating only strong women characters as long there is also a kryptonite component to their personality.
     
  9. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Thanks a lot,

    Most of my characters are afflicted by some sort of mental illness. Normally based on depression or PTSD. So they are definitely not cardboard characters who charge sword swinging into any fight without a care in the world. Private break downs are quite common. I'm not so much concerned by depth of character, I am worried specifically about portraying femininity in these chracters.
     
  10. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    By unwanted attention, do you mean unwanted sexual attention? I think you absolutely could play around with that. For some men, I'm not sure that exists ;-) Some men would find a woman who was an impressive and capable fighter very attractive.

    You point out that one difference is physical strength -- there are some women who are stronger than some men, and you could even play around with that -- make one woman particularly physically strong and note reactions to that.

    Your question is difficult to answer, just by the very nature of these types of forums. It's difficult to say what might not be coming across in your character without reading the story.

    One possibility is to show how other characters react to these women characters. Just because the male characters might think about the women being attractive doesn't necessarily mean they're objectifying them. (Whenever one character is making a particular note of the physicality of another, that almost always has a sexual undertone.) This issue is complicated by the fact that your characters are in a different world, and I'm not sure if they're human. But for the story to work, they have to have human-like thoughts, reactions and emotions to get the readers to care about them. And sex/romantic relationships are powerful drivers. They can make many folks do illogical or stupid things.

    Yes. My avatar pic is of the city (not the best pic, since it was from my phone, but the best I had available.)
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You may believe strong women are like this, but not all your readers will. It sounds to me like you only want Australian women in your stories. Where I live, women excel at manupulating through using their feminine wiles. And they wield an immense amount of power this way :)
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am missing something, because I don't see where AV implied this at all.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Random thoughts:

    - If expectations for men and women vary in your society, what _are_ the emotional and behavioral expectations? Are you assuming that they parallel the expectations for men in our society today? If so, why?

    If little girls are no longer praised for being passive and pretty and a little bit stupid, are little boys no longer praised for being rambunctious and cleverly aggressive? Are young women no longer told to "Smile!" when they're being insufficiently decorative?

    I would argue that today's expectations for men are as artificial as the expectations for women. If that difference is gone, it makes sense that variation in behavior would be distributed across both sexes. If your goal is to demonstrate vulnerability, you could start your experiment with a vulnerable man. If it's to demonstrate femininity...yeah, I have to think more. If behavioral expectations are gone, what is the differentiator? You may have to decide.
     
  14. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Yes, it was a somewhat subtle implication. Murdering rapists are common in my world. This is a good example: The character and her partner (also a woman), join a group heading north on a boat. After a few days aboard, some of the ship's crew get a bit frisky, things escalate and the women throw two overboard and slit another's throat... Now you never actually "see" this happen. It comes from another character reminiscing about the incident, and then again when the woman involved, herself, thinks about it.

    When she thinks back to the event, she is quite logical, essentially thinking: 1) They were idiots 2) They will now be mutinous 3) I don't particularly care, I used to be a pirate so if they turn mutinous my partner and I will sail the ship ourselves.

    You don't have much to work with here, but the issue is not that she thinks this way, but whether or not people like the idea of a woman thinking this way. If she were male, people would say "he's a badass". But as a female, they could be more inclined to say she's "cold" and "heartless." Which isn't really fair...

    Also, they are humans. Sexism is just too complex a beast for me to get involved in. I have quite a few opinions on the matter, but including them in a work of fiction I think would take the light away from the story itself... It could also offend people.
     
  15. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    I think he was talking to me... I am also quite confused. An interesting take on Australian women.
     
  16. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^^*sigh* I noticed the OP was from Australia, and women from there are renowned for being outspoken and feisty--nothing bad in that, and no offence meant. Before you point it out, I know that there are feisty women in other countries, and gentle types in Oz also.

    I find the "strong woman" epithet, the blacksmith-becoming, androgynous, openly powerful types, very Western-culture-specific. Women can be very strong in many ways but they don't have to stop being women--there's something pretty wrong with that idea.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I mean the characters it sounds like you are having trouble getting a handle on. The ones you can now only see as villains or victims.

    Perhaps I misunderstood your point. I thought you were lamenting that all your leading characters fall into a small collection of typecasts, and that you were seeking a way to broaden your range.
     
  18. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Are they?... Either way, nobody is debating in what ways women can be strong - I'm essentially looking for advice on portraying femininity in female characters who pursue very masculine careers. As well as whether or not it is even necessary.

    EDIT: I think that was more concise than the OP.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ah. This isn't really a gender issue at all. It only seems that way because the perception of "being feminine" is so far removed from the perception of being tough.

    What it really comes down to is a character having a life outside of his or her career, and being able to put the job aside to let the human out to play.

    Not surprising that it is difficult to write, because it is also one of the hardest things to live. Witness how many people cannot strike a balance between work, family, social life, and self in their daily lives.
     
  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write strong female characters, always a bit odd and on the surface not mushy at all. But they all have their girly-girl moments, and emotional lives, you have to think of the whole person, not just about what they do.
     
  21. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    No offense taken. I've just never heard this. Either this idea hasn't made it to the US or I've just been oblivious. The latter is certainly possible.

    I'm not sure this specifically is necessary. It's *possible* people might think "a woman [or man] wouldn't say or think that," in which case it's easy to respond that any one particular woman or man might. If it's all women or men in the story, or it's somehow otherwise incongruous with other positions or mindsets the character holds, you might need to tweak it. This is all highly dependent on your particular story, though. But in general, I wouldn't say it's important to make women in the story "feminine," and any attempt to do so could even come across as forced.
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In my freshman year of high school - an all-boys parochial school - we had a class discussion about what we would consider admirable characteristics in men and in women. I don't remember how it came about (I may well have not been paying attention when it started), but it was, believe it or not, in Religion class, taught by a brother. For women, the class offered up characteristics like strong, principled, loyal, outspoken. For men, compassionate, caring, gentle and patient. It was only after the brother had listed all of the characteristics on the board that he pointed out that almost all of the characteristics we considered admirable in men were stereotypically considered feminine, while the ones for women were stereotypically considered masculine.

    As writers, we can usually create memorable characters in part by going outside expected traits. I think the problem the OP is highlighting is that if we create a new world in which ALL men (or most men, or the men who appear in the story) have what many would regard as feminine characteristics, and the women have what we would normally consider masculine characteristics, the reader can lose his/her bearings. We remove the common point of reference. I'm not saying this is necessarily bad - it may very well serve the writer's purposes. But it's something I think the writer needs to be aware of when (s)he does it.

    Like Cogito, I took the OP to mean that she was concerned that her female characters were uniform, and that's certainly not desirable. But if the question is how to portray femininity in female characters who pursue very masculine careers, I would think that the best way is to show more nurturing tendencies when not engaged in career-related activities. I've seen TV shows, for a simplistic example, where women who were police were also portrayed as mothers. In a group of episodes of "Law and Order", Van Buren had to deal with breast cancer.
     
  23. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    I think you're right. It's just a matter of avoiding the character [male or female] appearing cold, but this could be avoided by an insightful look at the way they bear the weight of their actions.

    Very true, but as sword and sorcery adventuring types, they don't have a great deal of downtime.
     
  24. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Haha, I wonder how many people here think I am a woman...
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think your avatar invites such a conclusion.
     

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