- To be perfectly honest, I normally dislike female main characters - to the extent that when I see a YA book with a female on the cover, I tend to shove it back onto the shelf without even opening it. I was examining myself the other day (something I shouldn't make the habit of doing, as it can be depressing) and I was wondering why I react so strongly to a female lead in books. Needless to say, I seldom react this way when reading older literature. It's normally modern books that I have the problem with.
I think that it's easy for authors to fall into tropes when it comes to portraying female characters. The same is true, of course, with the men. It just doesn't annoy me as much, perhaps because I'm not a man. I can't exactly look at the depiction of a man in literature and say: "That's not what it's like to be a man." However, I do have that privilege when it comes to reading about women. Here are a few of the things I've noticed that annoy the heck out of me.
1. Tears. I admit that I'm very guilty in this area, and I often only discover it when editing. Consistently having one's female characters dissolving into tears is a cop out when it comes to exploring the more complex emotions in a story. Not only that, but some females aren't wired that way at all! Nevertheless, I've noticed a number of authors who have the tendency to describe their women characters sobbing whenever things become tough, unsettling, or just awkward. Hermione Granger in Harry Potter is a good example. In the later books, when Harry has his yelling fits, Hermione often cries in earnest. However, once you've been exposed to this sort of thing repeatedly - or once you've been through some really tough stuff - would you really cry every single time it happened again? This is doubtful. An example of a sterling female character who I really enjoyed would be Chelsea in Queen of the Tearling. As an aside, I skipped passages in this book, because the author seemed to enjoy being raunchy in places. This is something that I felt cheapened an otherwise excellent book. Chelsea is a strong female character, determined, but clearly understanding the limitations of her gender and working to overcome any disadvantages a woman leader might have. She cried only occasionally, and with good reason. Hence, I didn't get sick of her. She also considered screaming when in trouble, but bit it back multiple times. This young queen worked against the stereotypes of her gender to become a good leader, capable of inspiring the men around her. Excellent job, Chelsea.
2. Screams. I have this niggling feeling that many authors believe females are prone to screaming. This is only the case with some females. Females who repeatedly scream in books when they are confronted with villains, when they are in pain, when they hear a large explosion, and so on, have the potential to irritate readers. Also, I find female characters like this undermine the believability of the story, if they get out of hand. Again, once you've been in those situations enough, you're not likely to keep screaming your head off. Additionally, there are some women that don't scream when in distress. Ask a midwife. Even I, when I've injured myself or had a shock, don't scream. The same was true of me when I was a little girl. At eight, I broke my nose, and I didn't scream (although I was saying some not very nice things on the inside). Having all your female characters scream too often is just too simplistic.
3. Dresses, tresses, jewellery, and make up. This especially irritates me. Why do many authors feel the need to make their female characters excessively beautiful and elegant? Or especially well put together, with regards to clothing? Why must the females all be finicky in this department? Again, not all women are like this. This is one reason I did like Hermione overall in the Harry Potter series. She was bookish and geeky. Marvellous. A female character that is not stereotypical. I loved it. However, one only needs to look at the covers of many YA novels to see that a lot of authors - and publishers - prefer beautiful females in fitting dresses, their hair so well-groomed it looks like they've just been in a salon. Again - not all females are like this.
4. Helplessness. On occasions, I've also come across authors who continually portray their female characters as helpless. One only needs to look at history to discover that this is not particularly true to womanhood. Queen Victoria and Margaret Thatcher were not helpless women. Joan of Arc was not some sort of damsel in distress.
In summary, I wrote this post because I get irritated when reading about female characters who don't feel real. It's a challenge to both myself and other authors to write more complex characters, rather than over-simplifying how women behave. The above check list may or may not be helpful to you, but I hope it made for diverting reading. (I can stand being wrong - so long as I'm interesting...)