On Good Female Characters (Or: Women Are People Too)
A bit more about my lovely bundle. I chose a specific theme for it, and I had reasons, but I’ve never fully explained what those reasons were. So, here goes.
I’ve called it The Leading Ladies Fantasy Bundle because it sounds cool, but I could have called it the Women Are People Too Fantasy Bundle with as much justice.
I know this sounds blindingly obvious. Of course women are people too, what is this? But it’s not. Sometimes, we are given appalling ladies to read about because they aren’t treated like people at all. They’re dress-up dolls.
But even short of this extreme example, women as characters can often be disappointing, and that’s precisely because they tend to be separated out into a separate box that’s called Women As Characters. It’s to do with the perceived difficulty of writing Good Female Characters, especially if you’re a man.
On a cultural level, for a long time now, we’ve had a tendency to think that People = Male by default. And sometimes you might want to put a Female People in there too, and that’s marvellous, but she ends up being not so much a People as A FEMALE because female people are fundamentally different than (male)people on all sorts of levels. People talk about How Women Think, and What Women Want, and The Female Perspective, as if women collectively own ONE way of thinking, ONE perspective, that’s so totally separate from the default that it’s incredibly hard to understand. If you own breasts, you get a passport into this secret, alien world, and if you don’t, you have to engage in wild mental gyrations of all kinds in order to try to Get Into The Female Mindset. Even if you do own breasts and you’ve therefore got your passport, it’s easy to get caught up in this prevailing attitude, to waste time trying to write A Believable Female Character instead of just writing a character.
This is nuts. I’m sorry, but it is. It’s just as nuts as trying to Understand How Men Think. There are some things that affect women more than men and some things that affect men more than women, but all of these things are still shared issues. The only things about women that men will genuinely have a hard time getting their head around are things that relate directly to female anatomy, and that’s true vice versa as well.
Not many things about being people relate directly to one’s particular set of genitals.
So, then. To me, what makes for a great female character is that she hasn’t been treated as A Female Character (Great or Otherwise). She doesn’t have a giant label reading WOMAN stuck to her forehead, with a halo around her breasts and a delicate pink rose growing between her thighs, wafting Soft Perfume. She’s a person, who happens to be female.
That’s my take on characters in general. Write people. Some of them will probably have breasts, and some of them will probably have penises.
That’s… that’s really it.
So this bundle. I spent a lot of time this year reading a lot of indie books, and I was delighted to encounter a lot of great stories which have no trouble with the whole Women Are People thing. This bundle is composed of my top favourites, and they’re fantastic because they’re peopled with all kinds of the peoples. These characters are tough and strong and weak and feeble, they’re smart and foolish, wise and mad. They’re broken, or they seem like nothing could ever break them. They’re possessed of a magnificent wit, they’re fond of bad jokes, or they have no sense of humour at all. They’ve had good times and bad times, learned from some of them and spectacularly failed to learn from others. They are heroes and villains and all the shades of grey in between. They like to drink, or they like to knit, or they like to dance.
Some of them have breasts and some of them don’t, which puts that biological distinction down at the bottom of my personal List of Important Stuff where it belongs. In some ways it’s sad that I have to get this point across by highlighting the ladies, when what I actually mean is simply: these books do people good, whichever genitalia they own.
I could talk about this all day but I won’t, because you and I both have stuff to do. So that’s enough. If you want to read my Bundle of Awesome, it’s still available until the 15th, so for about nine more days. Pay what you want, read a whole lot of fabulous. Get it here.