Try Audible Free For 30-days

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How To Write Female Characters: Part 1: What makes a character sexist?

Fantasy and science fiction, the two genre's I love the most, have rightly been criticized for their portrayal of women. Whether if be the sexy covers, the skimpy clothing, or the characterization itself, these genres are ripe with sexism. 

Now, that being said, there have been a great many books in recent memory that have had extremely well written female characters (some of which are on my suggested fantasy reading list on this blog, along with buy links). Be that as it may, the bad out-weighs the good many, many times over. As such I have decided to write up a quick guide for writers out there who want to write well-rounded female characters and break genre stereotypes.

To start with, we will talk about what it is that makes a sexist character. Now, I will start by saying this, not every author intends to write a female character in sexist way. For instance, if you were to read a story where the main exposure to women in the story is that they are fierce warriors, well-respected, and equal to no man. At a first glace this may seem like a well-rounded character. She is not some tottering housewife but a warrior. She doesn't even need a man. In fact, most men are not even  close to her in terms of combat.

However, this type of character is sexist as well. Why you ask? Well, when you take a women and strip her of all the aspects that make her a women in exchange for what appears to be strength then you have, in effect taken everything that defines the characters sex and discarded it, replacing it with what is classically considered the strength of another sex.

In other words, it isn't a strong female character if you have made her "manly" in exchange for her power. By replacing the characters femininity with something much more masculine you are, in effect, saying that things that are feminine are weak.

That is not to say that these characters should be excluded. Masculine women are just as real as a feminine male. To exclude this group of people would cut out the wonderful things that make us human. Those differences are important if you wish to show the different aspects of humans as a whole.

No, on the other end of that, making your female character super feminine or emotional or passive is just as sexist. To say that, in order to be a women, one must be a paragon of womanly nature is just bad for your stories and characterization as making women more akin to men.

To make it that your character does everything for a man or is basically waiting for a man to come save her because, as a woman, she should be passive, is completely missing the point. Furthermore, to take a gender and boil it down to stereotypes such as these is damaging. 

Much like I said before, these type of characters exist. To not include them would be wrong and ignore that they do in fact exist. However, it is not as simple as having just one type and boiling it down to these simple formulas. 

For example, a woman may be an aggressive and skilled warrior who is second to no one on the field of batter, but she may also be graceful and charming. A tender and sweet lover and doting wife or mother.

Conversely, a woman may be passive and graceful, yet is also cold and not at all motherly. She may even be a hater of children.

The list goes on and on but the point remains. A character is sexist when the character falls into stereotypes or is striped of the core of that characters gender in place for something that may appear to be different is also a folly.

Now that we have defined what it is that makes a character sexist we will go on to talk about how exactly these can be avoided and, in doing so, a well rounded character can emerge. All that in Part 2.