The Literary Salon ||Female characters can’t win uder sexism. Never.

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Hey, readers! First of all, I’m sorry for the post delay, but two days ago I had a terrible night that included not getting sleep, getting it just too be wake up an alarm and get very disturbing nightmare for the rest of the night. I ended up living on one hour of actual decent sleep. So, you can imagine why I was late to the blogging party.

Anyway, today post will move around an important topic that will probably make me fight with some reader, or get a pat pat on my back for approvation. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, why it irritates me so much and how much, we as reader, influence the view of a character and not always in a good way.

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In a world were sexism and misogyny can easily reign on the book world, there’s no winning situation for female characters. Sometimes it’s not only the book itself, written by the authors’ hands and mind. Sometimes it’s the readers’ fault.

Yes, you read that right, but before some of you start a rebellion or a campaign against my person, let me explain a bit. We cannot deny that some books are sexist and misogynistic and this ruin the female character, more if she’s the protagonist. If written by a man, it’s not rare to see an over sexualized (and nonsensical) description of her body and often her role… doesn’t really exist. Sometimes, even if written by a fellow woman, we can easily spot patriarchy ideas spread around.

deadpool nothing has ever been so perfect for tonight we are truly blessed GIF

MY FACE WHEN SOMEONE SAY: THE FEMALE MC IS SO ANNOYING  *INSERT SAD EMOJI FACE*

It happens that patriarchal concepts are instilled inside readers too. So, sometimes an actual retrograde female character will ger over praised, while a feminist one can get belittled. They get appreciated, unappreciated, over loved or over hated, whatever they are innovative, supportive or not, well or bad crafted.
For example, let’s throw around a fake book and establish that the book portrays an abusive situation. Some readers recognize the issue, others don’t. The protagonist become at the same time:

  • badly crafter because she’s the result of a problematic author/story
  • she may not be badly crafter but she’s a victim of a toxic society and so she behaves in a problematic way
  • or maybe she’s even a hero, because some readers don’t see the issue and so her desperate “love” story with the bad boy is inspirational
  • in other case again, the heroine could even get hated. It’s not uncommon to see female readers love the male protagonist (despite his whole character being fully questionable) but opening hating on the female protagonist

Whatever the readers may think, if sexism enters the process of their thoughts and judgement, there’s no way for a female character to win. When they win, looks like this victory is not exactly clean, but pretty dirty with offensive concepts.

losing hasan minhaj GIF by Patriot Act

NOTHING TO ADD

Let’s establish that, whatever sexism is included or not in the readers’ judgement, a female character that gets a criticised can actually deserve that critique, or maybe not. Some readers may appreciate her more than others, whatever she’s well-crafted or not. But in the upcoming case, let’s say that the characters in question aren’t neither bad or good. They just are.

 

“She cries so much. Ugh, I hate her.” 

Crying is a huge part of my emotional life. I do hear of people that don’t want to cry in public, or people that told how you shouldn’t cry in public but only when you’re alone and you’ve accomplished whatever you were trying to do. They are all basically telling you to bottle up, because displaying having emotion is shameful.

A cis man is often ridiculed for crying, because “that’s not how a real man act”, relegating the ac of crying to a something low, easily associated with genders often seen as weaker. But, even if a woman cry, under sexism there’s no chance of winning. Is she crying when society requested her? Is she crying because and with her anger?
First case she fails to fulfill the role of sweet angel that is often applied to her (without her consent). Second case: the chances are high for framing her hysterical, crazy, in need of calming down. When racism plays is part too, women (black women. for example) don’t even need to actually scream, but to show little sign of irritation to be labelled as aggressive or worst. And this is used by white women against POC women when they get confronted on their racism or lack of ally ship, just to add another point.
I could go on and on, making example of how displaying tears is often requested and when it happens it pass under judgement to verify if “it’s proper enough”.

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MORE OR LESS HOW IMAGINE THESE PEOPLE WANT WOMEN. A VOID

How people react to others crying speaks volume about who we are as a society, but this disengage from the discourse I was doing, because it concerns more the person as an individual who is suffering and people that stare at them, because “they don’t know what to do”.
But… this touch the empathy section. True, not everyone wants to be disturbed or have people around during their cry, but maybe would still like a pat pat on their shoulder, and none arrive. Are we so emotionally disconnected to other people?

Is crying so terrible that is enough to establish the hate for a female character? Is crying making you emotionally detached from her, when it’s asking you, as a reader, to engage? Let’s be clear, there are some badly written characters that cry and do cry only, but what I’m talking about is different.

I do cry a lot, as I already stated. I’ll surely cry under emotion: rage, sadness, hurt, isolation, my upcoming depression spike, whatever stress me out. I do cry for people stories I read around; I do cry even for tv spots.

bread rolls GIF

I’M SOFT LIKE THIS BREAD

How is that crying makes people so irritated? Personally speaking, it’s not something I can help. Cry arrive, it’s there and I won’t hold back for my own sake. It always made me think. I rarely see YA female protagonist cry. If they do express their discomfort in another way, they often get the label of whiners.
Funniest fact: a reader, an actual person that exist in real life and often gets mad/stressed at something trivial in their everyday life (because we all do), couldn’t actually live at the same rate of YA fantasy novel protagonist, who is often forced through some kind of trauma, running away from mortal danger and so… how is that it comes so easily to dismiss female character to useless criers that deserve the readers hate?

 

“She’s so strong, kicking everyone ass”

Before someone jumps at my throat, I do like ass kicker strong female characters, but this phrase is can be applied to every female character we repute strong, without looking to what lies behind or the implication the character’s representation.
Let’s connect with what I wrote above. In a world where fragile characters are seen as not good enough, we’re opening the door for female characters we seen as worth of our reading: the strong girls that nothing can hold back.

She beautiful, or enough conventionally attractive, she has a sword, possibly arrogant. Maybe she doesn’t actually have a single female friend but she’s perfectly good at establish many male only friendships. Sometimes she’s not liked the other girls. Too bad none of it actually give a personality, and goes to fulfil maybe of the oldest sexist trope I’ve seen floating around since ages.

We see this incredible warrior, we can dream to be but we will never, the successful girl that get all the boys, that is better than other fellow girls because she’s all up the unwanted and unnamed competition that likes to pitch woman against woman for winning only society knows what.

This usual trope also can imply another feature that right on spot we tend to don’t notice. Like the hate for make up or anything that has been stereotypically assigned to women, and are dismissed as something bad and see other women that conform to gender expectations and image as superficial, useless, insignificant. It’s tiresome, just like the dismissing of more stereotypical feminine characters, lovers of the pink, make up, cute dress and every possible gender conforming activity.

We live in a world where women and female characters should conform to a set of gender rules, but if they do too much they also get rejected and seen as part of the patriarchy. On the other side, if they decide to stay away from certain features, they immediately become belittled by others as not feminine enough. I could explore more and more this part of the topic, but we can easily reach the conclusion that no matter what they do, there’s no winning. The system is not created for that.

I NEED A BETTER GIF FOR THIS, BUT FOR NOW YOU PROBABLY GET THE FEELING

These kinds of characters usually pass by the readers’ radar, not bothering anyone in particular, but another type of character that can somehow move in between the kickass heroine and the…

 

“She’s an arrogant nasty bitch”

This is usually dedicated to the so-called unlikable heroines or that side character that doesn’t conform to patriarchal and sexist structure of world book and some readers ideas

Female characters that act out of the scheme, usually fighting against the supposed love interest they should end with for the sake of romance and readers preference, despite acting in part like a kickass heroine, don’t get the same appreciation.
Mostly because they’re not the protagonist, or because they actively answer back to the male character over whom the majority of readers are swooning because of… imaginary pectorals, I guess. Or a series of multi bad boy features.

Said nasty bitches, are often cold, they snap back, they’re maybe logical and pragmatic. All things that are often seen in a male character as something good, but not the contrary. Never the contrary. Only recently we’re starting to get a little bit of recognition to this kind of characters, but it’s also very easily to see them labelled as villains. They reach a point in which their coldness or bitterness can’t be seen as part of the good or hero protagonist, because they don’t fit the easy and comfy idea we have, so they must be villain even if the book room they’re in is full of much worst people than them.

kate mckinnon snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

MORE OR LESS….

It’s also very funny how said characters often get entire tags of people violently expressing their hate, wishing death and every kind of disaster to them. I cannot help but wonder if people would react the same way with other people in real life, but the fact that the women they hate so strongly are fictional, probably make them sleep tight.

There’s the need to open a little reflection to how said female character may actually be what we call a problematic person, someone who did bad things. But let’s imagine that, in another case, they are an actual villain. How many people do you see asking around for a redemption arc? How many do create entire scene, prompts, arts, in which such female character can try to turn their story around? Because I don’t, and if I do, it’s all very rare.
Surely that’s not the case for morally grey brooding boys or villains that gets not only an over the top love, but entire Twitter ship wars and much more. None of it is because there’s love for how good they’re written with a questionable moral or their villainess. It’s not about that at all.

To reach a conclusion…

There’s still very much to talk about, exploring sexist views for people who aren’t part of the binary genders, or people that transition, but it’s not my place to do so as a cisgender person.

I could have explored more and more, creating more categories of hated female characters, but I decided to stick to the first three I encounter often on my reading path. I hope my words managed to move something inside you, if you had the impression to see your own reaction described in my post.
Also, I hope it didn’t pass as a message for judjing you all, but more like trying to brin a moment of reflection about how we related to characters and how often we chose to do not relate to them, or even simply understanding them, because of what a discriminatory society may have teached or tried to convince us to belive since the start.

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WHAT DO YOU SEE AS UNFAIR TREATMENT OF FEMALE CHARACTERS? DO YOU THINK OF A CHARACTER THAT GOT SUCH REACTIONS? WHAT BOOKS SUBVERT THE TROPES?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “The Literary Salon ||Female characters can’t win uder sexism. Never.

  1. great post! a few characters came immediately to mind for a few of these – not a protagonist, but for the crying all the time complaint, Cho Chang: yes, she had the nerve to be traumatized by the sudden and horrible murder of her boyfriend and was totally unreasonable to be in mourning! how dare she!

    and the kickass female character who casts a traditionally feminine in a more inferior light by comparison – the whole Arya vs Sansa debate. my god, the hate that Sansa got as a CHILD for being naive and misled by adults in authority that she thought she could trust…she’s been blamed for everything, basically for getting her father killed and starting the war, when hello, NED STARK a grown-ass adult was also naive and stupidly honorable to a suicidal degree. but let’s blame the young girl, sure, why not.

    Jaime is a pretty beloved character in GOT fandom, because men can try to murder children and commit rape, but they’re still swoonworthy, but a woman with an attitude is a bitch…riiiight….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you talked about this, I get so annoyed by how it’s like nothing ever seems to be good enough and that no matter what, a female character will get crap for being female, no matter what, and I want more girly friendships in books in general and I just wonder when this cycle will ever end

    Liked by 1 person

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