Is femininity obsolete? Why does any trait that remotely resembles a “traditional” woman’s is frowned upon and viewed with disgust? Why do readers get so worked up when a “girly-girl” graces the stage and praise the tomboy? It’s a disturbing trend that I intend to crush, one MC at a time.
We cannot approach this subject without first addressing the glaring elephant in the room. Misogyny. The word itself derives from the two Greek words, misein (hatred) and gyne (women). Its funny that when we think of misogynists, we think of an old, bitter, balding man with no hope of ever getting the pretty young thing to like him. And this, while there is some definite truth to it, is not the full picture. The glaringly obvious facts of the matter is, the biggest perpetrators are women!
How ironic that women hate women, or more specifically, femininity. It’s funny that even the feminist, who claim they want equal rights look down on the very characteristics that makes them uniquely female. They spurge traditionally female qualities as weaknesses and attempt to shed them like a second skin in favor of more traditionally masculine traits.
Society? Perhaps. This misogyny is not just confined to the real world, it is too often spilled over into the realm of fiction as well when writing female characters. Its time to end this. End it now.
FEMININE IS NOT WEAK!
For too long women have been called the “weaker vessel.” If we’re angry, we’re just being emotional; if we’re emotional, it must be that time of the month. If we cry, we’re just being a girl, if we’re smart, we’re just trying to be like the boys. The list goes on and on.
My first question is…what’s wrong with crying? One female character I can think of that got a LOT of flack for being too feminine…Sansa Stark. My goodness! Game of Thrones fans, the world over, loved to hate Sansa Stark. Book readers and show watchers alike. She is pegged as being the spoiled brat, the idiot, etc. There all whole websites dedicated to the hatred of Sansa.
I would venture to say, it’s not just the poor decisions that caused such a visceral dislike of this character. After all, her little sister Arya, made some questionable decisions as well and yet received none of the backlash for it. I venture to say, because Sansa, acted like, and thought like, a “typical” pre-pubescent GIRL who is boy crazy, quick to fall in love, and inherently gentle, she is instantly disliked. Sansa was helpless under her circumstances in the court, under the direct supervision of some of fiction’s most reprehensible villains, and because she didn’t come out guns blazing, she is hated the world over.
Arya, however, was every bit as spoiled a brat as her sister. She didn’t control her tongue nor her brash temper and often lashed out when silence would have been more prudent. Yet, because Arya (as a female character) was a tomboy, more interested in fighting and bloodshed, she is instantly one of the favorite characters.
Breaking the Stigma: Tears
First of all let me just say, tears are cathartic. It is a natural response that stimulates healing and growth. They allow the person to vent their pent up emotions and begin again with a clear mind. Tears are a natural stress reliever and practitioners are less likely to develop heart disease and hypertension. This is a major contributing factor to why those who release through this method tend to live longer than those who do not.
The fact that those who look down this method as being “girly” tend to have an array of health problems is very telling indeed. Tears are not just restricted to women and it’s high time female characters are not penalized for this very human response.
So how to combat this? We must discuss the quintessential “female” quality that people just seem determined to loathe.
Don’t just have her blubbering for no apparent reason! If she is crying, there needs to be a cause and it CANNOT be just because she is a girl.
Has she undergone a traumatic event?
Is she truly heartbroken and defeated? Offer some valid explanation behind her tears.
Her first and only resort should not be breaking down into a massive heap on the ground. Women, contrary to popular beliefs do not just cry for no reason. It is usually out of frustration and helplessness after they have exhausted all of their options. Women will fight tooth and nail for what they want and only then will the tears flow if their work was for naught.
Breaking the Stigma: Traditional Roles
Motherhood. Wife. Daughter. Teacher. Nurse, etc.
The traditional caregiver roles are scorned in fiction. Why is it that mothers tend to face some terrible fate at the beginning of the story? Why is it that wife-hood is frowned upon for women in fiction, especially in fantasy? It’s almost as if the female character loses her value once she takes on any of these roles.
Let’s not mince words, let’s take motherhood as prime example. Have we forgotten? A mother protecting her young is the most dangerous creature on the face of the earth. Don’t believe me? Run up on a lioness’ cubs and see what happens to you. Mother bear perhaps? Even a hen protecting her chicks will pluck an eye out and not even think twice about it.
Women are naturally fierce! Your character does not need to wield a dagger and bullwhip to be feared. All she needs to do is nail her assailant with her steely glare to demand respect.
MASCULINE DOES NOT EQUAL STRENGTH
Fiction has a tendency to glorify traditionally masculine traits such as forthrightness and butt kicking ability. While they have their place, it is a dangerous notion to think that is all strength is.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good butt kicking scene where the female MC throws down. But, it begs to be asked. Who is stronger?
A woman who lost everything she values and lashes out and beats the crap out of anyone who gets in her way? OR, a woman, who equally has lost everything, and yet, she maintains her dignity, she does not lose her temper and instead bears the burdens she must until she can make her move?
Who is stronger?
A woman who takes a slap to the face and rages and screams? Or the woman who takes the same slap in the face and gets up quietly, while turning the other cheek for another slap?
Who is stronger?
A woman who is assaulted and keeps her emotions bottled up and crippled by them? OR woman who is assaulted, grieves and then pick herself up again?
The point is, your characters can display the brash masculine bravado, or they can display the quiet grace. Both are a form of strength and neither is better than the other.
SIDE NOTE: Women have a natural pain tolerance that far exceeds that of a man. A woman in labor experiences pain equivalent to every bone in her body breaking. How many masculines can survive that pain threshold? IJS!
HUMANITY OVER FEMININITY
The best piece of advice I can give you on this subject is this…write a character. The fact that she happens to be a female character is a mute point. A woman can be anything, do anything. Do not restrict her to being the mean girl, the boy crazy girl, the ultra smart don’t care about boys girl, or the tomboy despises pink girl.
She can be a tomboy and STILL love pink. Pink jeans anyone? Pink sneakers? Focus on developing your character and let the gender be side information.
Sansa Stark, despite what anyone else says, is perhaps the strongest character (in general, not just female character) in the entire series of Game of Thrones. She has survived Joffrey, Cersei, Little Finger, Margery Tyrell, Lysa Arryn, and Ramsey Bolton! She grit her teeth and did what she had to, to survive! AND, she did it without losing herself, in the process. The same cannot truly be said for Arya nor Daenerys, both lost a part of themselves to get where they are now.
Consider this quote by George R.R. Martin:
That’s all I got for you folks. What do you think? Drop me a line in the comment section and let’s get the discussion popping!