General Awesomeness and Corporal Fuzzypants.
Wouldn’t that be an awesome webcomic title? Today’s subject line that is. It would be about a pair of cats, one older but wiser and a younger kitten, keen to learn. mmmm Kittens…
The real reason for the title is that I just passed 20 followers. I want to take this opportunity to say “HELLO!” to everyone and extend my thanks for hanging out with me here. I have thought a bit about what to discuss today. In fact I thought about it so much that I missed my usual Thursday post. Sorry about that folks.
Here’s the question that popped into my head this morning: Should men write lead female characters (or vice versa if you are a female author.)
To me it is a question of adequacy. Can I sufficiently represent a woman who is not a collection of the worst stereotypes like some ink and paper doll? The reason I ponder this is because I want to deliver characters which are smart (both intelligent and as in well done) and realistic given their situation. How can I do this, given the fact that I am male.
I really do not have personal perspective on this. I find that I have decades of media influenced notions and expectations that I must wade through to get beyond the stock Barbie doll persona. As a male I do not know what it is like to BE a female. No experience whatsoever.
I do have plenty of great examples all around me though. My wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, teachers, co-workers and the list goes on. As an aside I think for the most part I do this with all characters regardless of gender, I tend to build on character traits of people I know. I even occasionally use a physical attribute or two.
My female characters tend to be informed by how I perceive the women in and around my life act/react. Is this effective? Is it true to the character? Is it fair to women? Should I worry about it being fair? For a very early example I direct you to: The Narsico Fontanelle Job
Well I think the answers are: Can be, Must be, could be, yes.
Is this effective? It can be if I am being honest in my observations and report fairly on the behaviors. If I leave myself out of the equation, then I think I get a fair assessment of the traits and attributes I am looking for. The second I allow my own biases in, I compromise the observation. It may not necessarily spoil the character but it shifts them away from ringing true.
Is it true to the character? I should probably consider the trait I have observed versus the character I am about to imbue with it. Does it make sense for this character to have the trait? Arguably there are lots of traits that can be used across a wide array of character types.
Is it fair to women? I mean is it fair for me to try to portray a complex female character? I think so. As long as I divest myself of preconceived notions and do not try to inject my own male-centricities into the character, there is a balance that can be struck.
Should I worry about being fair? Yes. Duh. Writing is largely about engagement with your audience. If I create characters that are unfair portrayals of gender based stereotypes I probably will not make much headway in certain groups. Could I survive (as if publication was a matter of life and death) being unfair. Sure. Though I suspect my work would be largely shunned by women, and written off as pandering to the stereotypical sci-fi/fantasy male.
You know, I have largely focused on traits and behaviors. I have avoided commentary on the physical description of a female character. Here I feel that physical appearance ought to follow after the character’s personality and situation. For example (and I am using an easy one) a female knight (they exist in Xira by the way!) She will be in great physical shape, one has to be in order to carry armor and swing a sword. She may not win any beauty prizes though (scars tend to detract from that) or maybe she will.
Evil characters tend to be either sex-kitten types or ugly old witch in sci-fi/fantasy fare. I think this is because men want the “Bad Girl” kitten (beauty, power) but ultimately the control/power is taken from the kitten because the hero needs to triumph (or heroine, in which you can rest assured the female hero is just as attractive as the defeated evil queen.) For the ugly witch archetype, this stems from the desire to scapegoat women as wicked. It is sort of smart vs. attractive argument that cannot truly hold up under scrutiny.
Where do I land when creating female characters then? I think about the issue, and being aware triggers a need to do my best to portray women in a fair and balanced way. Thinking makes me work a bit harder to create a better character and also makes me more aware of the people around me. So, be fair, be true. Write from the best place you can.
Thanks for reading everyone! Stay excellent.