Friday, February 5, 2010

Girl Power?

I received a link to the same article from both a student and my agent. I love being the person that people send wolf stories too - particularly stories about werewolves and gender wars. Life is good.

Over the past few days there's been an interesting flurry of tweets (#genderinYA) and posts about sex and power written by authors I admire like Sarah Rees Brennan, who not only writes excellent books, but also great essays like this one.

The online discussions I've seen lately have been about writers, characters, and readers - about what's popular, what's 'real,' and what's desirable, about 'girl books' vs. 'boy books' and what responsibility authors have in creating their characters to reach those prescribed audiences.
I posted in Monday's Q&A that if forced to choose I'd pick Buffy over Supernatural because the latter show doesn't have enough strong female characters. But what does strong mean?

You don't have to be Buffy to be strong, strength comes in many forms. Do I like a super-powered, butt kicking female protagonist? Heck yeah, just wait till you meet Calla. But that type of strength isn't the only one I like or value. Maybe a better word than strong would be 'substance,' I want characters in a show, both male and female to have substance - to be more than placeholders.

The same goes for writing.

I do think it's invaluable when writers create MCs that are models of substance for readers. Characters that have wants, needs, problems and the tools to face them - whether those tool are ninja skills or self-introspection.

That substance, no matter its form, is essential though - and as many of these discussions pointed out, the playing field for girl and boy MCs is not level. Girl MCs - like real girls - often get away with offering little substance and are critiqued for having too much (read substance, see power).

The same goes with bad boys. I don't have a problem with bad boys. They are good fun in books, movies, etc. But do we allow bad girls to play the same role? I'd argue no. Actually let's make that a NO. While bad boys still get to be heroes - usually saved by the good girl protagonist, bad girls are always villains, and usually meet their 'deserved' bad ending by a novel's conclusion?

Is this right? Is it fair? Again I'd say NO.

I'm curious as to what you think makes a 'strong' MC in a novel. And what are your thoughts about the appeal of bad boys versus the absence of bad girls?


  1. I think the same argument can be made for the funny boy/girl. In the same way that bad boys get to be characters of substance, bad girls are relegated to the heap (though there are some really notable exceptions: Faith, The Bride in Kill Bill), funny guys are sidekicks or geeky pawns of bad guys. And brainy geeky girls get to step up to the hero's plate.

    I think there's a misconception about what a hero is. Where girls are concerned, virtue is considered important. Chastity, morality and the like are the "requirements." With men, heroics require a certain disregard for the law, sketchy moral codes, and the ability to look decent in towel.

    I love shows and books that toss those ideals on their head. While we like to see bad boys redeemed and geeky girls dirtied up some, I also like seeing geeky guys take center stage (Chuck), and tough girls kick some butt (Faith...and maybe even Cameron from the Terminator tv show).

    Darn, I rambled again. Great post!

  2. Definitely food for thought here. I would LOVE to see more bad girls make good in literature. As Shaun mentioned, we've seen it some in other media forms, but I have yet to read a YA book with that dynamic.
    Which, darn it, makes me want to write one.
    And I think that reading characters, of either gender, that have a code of values and follow it (either good or evil) makes for interesting reading, and strong characters. Particularly when the character has to learn that one of their ideals is mistaken, and why, and then change in order to succeed. You know, that whole character arc thing.

  3. Awesome comments you guys. Shaun I absolutely agree about our misconceptions of heroism and I loved your blog post on a similar topic to this one!

    Liza - you should write it!!

  4. It's the same type of thinking that says a man is assertive but a woman is pushy. I don't know how long it's going to take to change that. It gets better a bit at a time.
    I'd argue that Faith at first seems to meet a deserved end for a bad girl, but she does grow into a heroine by series end. And Willow goes good-bad-good. Of course, Joss rocks.
    Perhaps the answer is that the best characters aren't black or white.

  5. Tricia - absolutely; the truest characters should be flawed and struggled for resolution rather than being the 'perfect' hero from the starting line

  6. Yay a girl wolf story - we were JUST talking about that at work recently (I counsel and teach teenagers so YA fiction is big among us ladies) and how there aren't any girl wolves and people don't want to see hairy women, yadda yadda.

    I had to write you after your comment on Kiersten's video game post - I actually got chills during the Dante's Inferno ad! lol I'm that lame.

    Congratulations to you and can't wait to see the hairy women ;)

  7. Hey 52, Yeah! Wolf girls!! And I love your user pic (I have a border collie).