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Female protagonists in fiction

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Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Mars » Wed Mar 7, 10:55 2012

I'm talking about, specifically, books and TV. I noticed that J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Myer, and Suzanne Collins are very successful writers, who wrote young adult novels that got turned into the movies. However, despite being written by women, do these series portray women negatively?

Harry Potter's main character is male, most of the really strong characters are male. Hey, I didn't read the books but I watched the movies.

And I certainly do not read or watch the film adaptations of Stephenie Myer's series, but I hear it doesn't do a very good job of portraying women. The main character seems weak, needy, and love sick.

As for Hunger Games, from what I know about it, it seems to do a better job with its female characters, but again, the advertising for the movie is really pushing the plot's "love triangle" and doesn't make any mention of the darker tone of the setting and themes.

Why does fantasy/sci-fi fiction aimed at female audiences seems to get turned into romance novels/movies? Doesn't the media believe women will enjoy a good interesting story over the cliché love plot devices? They don't give women enough credit in my opinion. However, I found this to be interesting:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_A ... d_of_Korra

Maybe you've heard of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which, I believe, did an excellent job of having a good mix of strong male and female characters, especially in an action cartoon aimed at a male demographic. The creators of Avatar, Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, are making a sequel to that show, with a female as the main character. Hopefully if the show is successful it will start a new trend in animated programs.

I'd like to write a story (probably science-fiction) of my own that would have female main characters. If anyone is a writer, and would be interested in collaborating, send me a message. Actually I'll post a more detailed thread about that in the Creativity section of the forum.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby lillerina » Wed Mar 7, 11:05 2012

Harry Potter had the character of Hermione, who was fantastic except that she was constantly ridiculed by the POV character (her supposed best friend). Loaded words like "shrill" were used, and she was portrayed as a nagging busybody.

SMeyer wrote a misogynist piece of crap that disguises an abusive relationship as a healthy one.

Collins wrote a book that wasn't about a love triangle and had much more interesting things going on than 'which boy will she choose', but the theme of 'which boy will she choose' became stronger in the later books. I think it's also noteworthy that Katniss falls into the mould of the action-girl who is protecting her family, one of the very few reasons that women appear to be permitted to take up arms and physically fight in most western media today.

I'm a writer, and much of my writing deals with queer and female characters. Almost none of it deals with "which partner will this person choose".
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Ama » Wed Mar 7, 11:33 2012

It seems like it would be really difficult to judge the portrayal of the characters without reading the books, no? If you only watched the movies for harry potter, then you certainly missed some things. The movies have a fair number of divergences and omissions due to the large amounts of text to cover. But harry potter has a number of good, strong female characters. You're apparently glossing over hermione, luna, minerva mcgonagal, mrs weasley... all of which harry had good relationships with. And it certainly doesn't treat men as paragons of virtue, even harry had a number of moments where he dropped the ball. Harry potter is a pretty equal opportunity employer, I think.

I've not read the other two so I can't really comment. I've heard basically what lillerina said about twilight sufficient times that I don't care to test the theory, and the plot of hunger games just doesn't interest me.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Mars » Wed Mar 7, 11:44 2012

I'm not trying to diss Harry Potter or say it's sexist, it just seems like the usual male hero and male mentor (Dumbledore) vs. male villain. It's very much a fantasy version of Star Wars, and do we even need to discuss Star Wars stance on the portrayl of women?

Actually I should've mentioned Star Wars in the first post. I'm a fan of science fiction, but because of Star Wars, it's probably reasonable to say that not many people ventured to make another sci-fi franchise because they would've be able to "be better" than Star Wars since it "did the sci-fi genre the best".

I was also a Metroid fan. Samus Aran was a great example of a strong female protagonist. Then "Other M" came out. :(
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Sonic# » Wed Mar 7, 13:50 2012

Not many people ventured to make a sci-fi franchise after Star Wars!

There are so many failures, modest successes, and even strong successes that have come after Star Wars in the sci-fi genre without doing what it did. There's the Matrix, The Fifth Element, the more recent Battlestar Galacticas, Red Dwarf, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dark City, and so on. Furthermore, just look at where authors in the extended universe have ended up: Michael A. Stackpole, Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, and others all have sizable writings outside the Star Wars universe. I would go as far as to say that Star Wars sparked new science fiction writing, in the same way that Chaucer sparked writing in iambic pentameter or that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley sparked further interest in gothic horror.

Anyway, that's beside the topic.

I think that J.K. Rowling made a really good effort to portray women as equals. She described at one point her method for creating Hogwarts involved creating a complete list of students as well as staff, and making sure that the divisions were gender-equal. So for every female professor there should be a male one. Prof. McGonagil, Hermoine Granger, Luna Lovegood, Amelia Bones, and others are examples of really strong female characters.

The negative portrayals seem at many points to come from Harry's own point of view. He's a young boy going through school. He's going to have some issues that he's pretty good on (like social justice) and other issues (like his regard for women) that requires work throughout the series. I don't see that being too great of an issue.

In fact, most of my complaints against Harry Potter would be as one more work in a genre that tends to focus on white male protagonists and white male conflicts, not against the work intentionally portraying women negatively.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby drunken dragon » Wed Mar 7, 13:58 2012

HOW DID I FORGET ABOUT THE FIFTH ELEMENT OMG ^ So right, soooo right you are.

Well, Star Wars' popularity was centered around the unusually likable cast as a whole. It's definitely a different type of sci-fi film, and while I would definitely argue it's among the best, I still wouldn't say it's THE best. Tron had its merits as well. (The original, not that new garbage. Though Olivia Wilde's presence made it bearable.)

As far as Harry Potter goes, Hermione is an incredibly strong female character, as is Ginny (towards the end). When Rowling wrote the books, I don't think she had sexism in mind. She was simply trying to appeal to a wider audience. And the thing is (I don't have exact statistics, I apologize), preteen/teen boys often don't think of themselves as avid book-readers. Males prefer books with male characters, while female readers are a little more open-minded about connecting with a male protagonist. Again, I'm speaking veerrrryy generally, here. I'm currently enrolled in a course focusing on young adult literature and I'm drawing from our discussions.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Butterfly North » Wed Mar 7, 14:56 2012

Right, they wouldn't have sat there reading a book called Harriet Potter. Which is sad.

I remember reading this bullshit article in the guardian by a feminist activist who I have noted for some time as having absolutely no critical reasoning skills whatsoever critiquing Twilight. I haven't read or watched anything from the series but it sounds pretty awful to me, not something I'd endorse giving to a teenage girl, but this article was lamenting that women seem to have certain types of attitude to relationships and drawing the conclusion that if you portray female characters as being more likely to have these attitudes then you are awful and your book is misogynistic.

I do some writing and my female characters are just as sexist, misinformed and screwed up as the next (actual) person. If you want to write a story that is set in a hypothetical future/alternate dimension/hippy-feminist-love-commune then brilliant, I bet it'll be really awesome and provocative and make the reader think. But you know, I bet Rowling was trying to make hogwarts just like the schools attended by her readers apart from magic. That's the point. Relatable but magic. I don't even like harry potter but I think the way gender plays into the behaviour of characters is probably a strength for that reason. Maybe in 50 years they'll be reading it like we read Austen because the way the women act will be seen as bizarre and old fashioned. But Austen rocks.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby great girl wonder » Wed Mar 7, 16:32 2012

I think in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" Violet is a very strong female lead. But of course there is also her brother in that book who is a strong character and neither is really that much more central than the other.
I don't condemn writers who choose to write male leads, because there should be books and stories with male characters as the focus. I do think that more writers should try to write stories without reference to gender, I've seen quite a few short stories with no mention of the narrator/main character's gender and I loved it.

Women being devalued in society leads to fewer female centered mass media productions. Part of this has to do with capitalism, when a book/movie/video has a female lead and it doesn't do well that does not encourage publishers to try again or more often with female leads. The other part is the obvious bias we teach ourselves about women not being the lead and always needing a partner.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby drunken dragon » Wed Mar 7, 18:17 2012

Butterfly North wrote:I remember reading this bullshit article in the guardian by a feminist activist who I have noted for some time as having absolutely no critical reasoning skills whatsoever critiquing Twilight. I haven't read or watched anything from the series but it sounds pretty awful to me, not something I'd endorse giving to a teenage girl, but this article was lamenting that women seem to have certain types of attitude to relationships and drawing the conclusion that if you portray female characters as being more likely to have these attitudes then you are awful and your book is misogynistic.

Twilight is a giant mess for many reasons, the largest one being that Myers's main character seems to have no personality, goals, or desires of her own. Her existence centers solely around Edward, who is possessive and abusive and not a good Prince Charming model. I don't think the text is necessarily misogynistic, but it's definitely fucked up, and not something I'd ever give my daughter or son to read.
Harry Potter is one of the greatest young adult series out there. The diction, characters, and complexity of ideas changed with each new book. The fifth book and all the ones afterward dealt with themes of death, heroism, and coming-of-age. Twilight just dealt with abusive relationships and reasons to stay in them. (Okay there's more, but still.)
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby monk » Wed Mar 7, 18:54 2012

Mars wrote: I'm a fan of science fiction, but because of Star Wars, it's probably reasonable to say that not many people ventured to make another sci-fi franchise because they would've be able to "be better" than Star Wars since it "did the sci-fi genre the best".


I think I could argue that the Alien series was successful and surpassed Star Wars in it's portrayal of women. And as far as rating the movies are concerned, while Empire Strikes Back might be at the top of my list, the Alien movies would come long before Episodes I-III.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Rainbow Dolphins » Thu Mar 8, 1:39 2012

^Monk, I feel that sci-fi/horror is kind of a whole 'nother genre from straight-up sci-fi. And I actually feel like scifi/horror is better about representing strong female characters, although Ripley from the Alien series certainly does stand out as a good example. I think the new battlestar galactica franchise did a good job because they had Six and Starbuck and President Roslin. I like that they had a lot of female villians as well as female heroes.

I think there's also a big division when it comes to the age of the target audience. I feel like shows and books and movies targeted toward adult audiences (like Alien and BSG) have FAR more strong female characters than those targeted towards teens and young adults (like Star Wars and Harry Potter and Twilight). And really, it's more important for younger audiences to see that. I mean, I really like Harry Potter and I think Rowling did a good job of incorporating a lot of good, diverse female characters, but the fact is the hero and the mentor and the villian and the hero's chief social rival ARE all white men. I mean, she could have made ONE of those characters a woman. I feel like every female character in Harry Potter was there to fulfill her "woman quota"- one girl to have a feminine element in the main group of protagonists, one female teacher, one mother figure, one love interest for the hero. What I'm trying to say is it seems like all the characters started out as male as default and were only changed to female to serve some kind of purpose.

My viewpoint about this subject is a little skewed because most of the scifi I read is classic shit from the '50s and '60s and of course there are no rolemodels who are women in those. I think one good example of strong female characters in recent popular young adult literature is Lyra from the His Dark Materials series- and not just Lyra, but Mary Malone and Mrs. Coulter as well. Those are definitely books I would be happy to gift to any young relative.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby lykin005 » Thu Mar 8, 14:22 2012

Obviously, Mass effect has to be mentioned! Femshep is actually more badass than... Masshep? Anyway Jennifer Hale is just such a boss voice actor that unlike most other female characters in games I can HEAR the veteran soldier badassery in her voice! If by some stretch Jennifer see's this. Kudos! As for boys identifying with female leads. In my youth I did hold some fairly sexist ideas. (Mostly being overprotective and similar such things.) But I've always been cool with female characters who kick ass and or are strong and capable. I blame this on video games oddly enough. (Alongside power ranger's and anime.) I'm a big rpg player and sometimes you play as a women, sometimes a man. I think this combined with my solitary and self reflective life has led me to where I am and has influenced me to adopt feminism and adapt it into my own philosophy. So certainly some boys can identify with girls. (I myself have been strongly influenced by a totally awesome teacher who was with me for... 5 years probably.)
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby drunken dragon » Thu Mar 8, 15:41 2012

If we're talking about video games too, what do people think about Final Fantasy? Aren't there a fair number of female characters in those, as well? The only one I can remember is IX (9), which had Freya, the dragon named after the Norse (is it Norse?) goddess. Skyrim and Fable II and III very fem-friendly as well.
I'm begrudgingly reading The Hunger Games since there's a movie in the works. Honestly I simply wasn't drawn in initially because of the writing, but I guess I'll push through it, now.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Ama » Thu Mar 8, 16:40 2012

Rainbow Dolphins wrote:My viewpoint about this subject is a little skewed because most of the scifi I read is classic shit from the '50s and '60s and of course there are no rolemodels who are women in those. I think one good example of strong female characters in recent popular young adult literature is Lyra from the His Dark Materials series- and not just Lyra, but Mary Malone and Mrs. Coulter as well. Those are definitely books I would be happy to gift to any young relative.


Lyra is definitely a strong female character, but I would be hard pressed to list HDM as being very high on my favorite feminist novels list. The introduction of Will in the second book coupled with Lyra's heavy dependence on White Male protectors (even the armored bear!) made me feel that there was just too much man-reliance going on. And there were just not many relevant female characters in that world.

Final Fantasy does have a number of female characters, and some of them are even strong, capable and more or less self reliant, which is bloody amazing given that final fantasy is a japanese series. I think that's a series that's gotten better about its portrayal of women as it went along, and is noteworthy for one of the games having an all female cast, and for several of the games not having set classes, so you could make your characters do whatever you wanted. On the other hand in nearly ever FF game with set classes, female characters are largely relegated to support classes such as healers, archers or mages, with only a few contrary examples. Also, in the game with an all female cast classes are apparently changed by changing their clothes mid-battle. So it's a pretty mixed bag.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Rainbow Dolphins » Fri Mar 9, 0:00 2012

Are you talking about FInal Fantasy X-2? Because that only had an all-female cast so they could show more tits and have lesbian scenes for the adolescent boys it was targeted at to drool over. And, even though there were no male playable characters, the entire plot was about a woman pining over a man.

I like His Dark Materials because it has male characters, too... I mean, Lyra has male mentors and female mentors, both. It doesn't make a point of being *about* women, the women are just naturally there. It represents both genders rather than centering on one or the other.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby anonymousrabbit » Fri Mar 9, 8:41 2012

I second His Dark Materials! It is an all around awesome series!
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Ama » Fri Mar 9, 10:13 2012

Rainbow Dolphins wrote:Are you talking about FInal Fantasy X-2? Because that only had an all-female cast so they could show more tits and have lesbian scenes for the adolescent boys it was targeted at to drool over. And, even though there were no male playable characters, the entire plot was about a woman pining over a man.

I like His Dark Materials because it has male characters, too... I mean, Lyra has male mentors and female mentors, both. It doesn't make a point of being *about* women, the women are just naturally there. It represents both genders rather than centering on one or the other.


Yeah I was talking about X-2. I had never played the game before so I had to do a little bit of researching for that post. Apparently I didn't do enough research as I still hadn't read about some of that stuff, so I don't know, that sounds pretty awful. It makes the earlier final fantasies sound better and better.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Aum » Sat Mar 10, 14:37 2012

I just watched The Tempest recently, which is a 2011 remake of Shakespeare's original work. In this version, Prospero is played by a woman (Helen Mirren). The cast is still male dominated, but the focus is almost entirely on Prospero and her background, as well as her overprotective nature toward her daughter. These two female characters are it for women in the story, but Prospero has the strongest and most important role. A couple of the male characters have distinctively effeminate qualities to them, which I also liked. I'm not sure if that counts as a good female story considering the original casted Prospero as a guy, but yeah... definitely worth seeing, especially if you like to see magic performed.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Hufflepuff » Sun Mar 11, 3:56 2012

@Mars' first post: Strong =/= muscles or fighting. Harry Potter is bursting at the seams with strong female characters, the most shining example of course being Hermione, but then there's McGonagall, Molly Weasley (big time), Narcissa Malfoy (in her way), Luna Lovegood definitely (though she's so spacy, maybe she only seems strong because she doesn't understand the concept of danger :p), Ginny Weasley of course, various secondary student characters, especially in the DA and the Gryffindor Quidditch team, like Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet and Katie Bell. You wouldn't know any of that from the movies (which are so teen dramabomb, especially the latter films, and which turn Hermione into a cliched Hollywood female secondary-protagonist), and I'm not going to take the time to explain why those characters struck me as strong (it'd take too long). I'm just assuring you they are.

lillerina wrote:Harry Potter had the character of Hermione, who was fantastic except that she was constantly ridiculed by the POV character (her supposed best friend). Loaded words like "shrill" were used, and she was portrayed as a nagging busybody.

Are you talking the books or movies? 'cause I didn't see Harry constantly ridiculing Hermione in the books. I can't recall a single instance of what I'd call ridicule, actually. Harry was your typical lazy student who didn't care about school and never wanted to study, and Hermione was a teacher's pet, and so she was always trying to get him and Ron to be more studious, and they constantly complained about that, but Harry and Ron finding Hermione's enthusiasm for education exhausting hardly seems like ridicule. Not to mention it's realistic.

Though maybe you were referring to something else. Care to list any examples? You don't need exact quotes, I remember the books pretty well, I'll know what you're talking about.

Mars wrote:I'm not trying to diss Harry Potter or say it's sexist, it just seems like the usual male hero and male mentor (Dumbledore) vs. male villain. It's very much a fantasy version of Star Wars, and do we even need to discuss Star Wars stance on the portrayl of women?

Actually I should've mentioned Star Wars in the first post. I'm a fan of science fiction, but because of Star Wars, it's probably reasonable to say that not many people ventured to make another sci-fi franchise because they would've be able to "be better" than Star Wars since it "did the sci-fi genre the best".

I was also a Metroid fan. Samus Aran was a great example of a strong female protagonist. Then "Other M" came out. :(

In my opinion, you can't complain about the gender of a specific character that way. You can't say "I don't like that all the important characters are male." Life isn't equiprobably gender-distributed, why should our stories be? Not every group of friends has a girl, a black guy, an Asian and a kid in a wheelchair. Putting them in just for the sake of it seems much more problematic to me than a cast that happens to be all white males.

You especially can't complain that the protagonist is male in a series like Harry Potter, which has tons of great female characters.

Fellow Metroid fan, by the way. I think I have less of a problem with Other M because I didn't go into it with any expectations. Also because I mentally cordoned off a "my Samus" long ago, and my Samus (the good, old, expy-of-Ellen-Ripley Samus) isn't affected by modern portrayals of the character. Though the portrayals themselves are, of course, problematic. Also, Other M was a fun game, so.

Sonic# wrote:The negative portrayals seem at many points to come from Harry's own point of view. He's a young boy going through school. He's going to have some issues that he's pretty good on (like social justice) and other issues (like his regard for women) that requires work throughout the series. I don't see that being too great of an issue.

Okay, what? I clearly missed something if you and lillerina both saw Harry and his POV as being less-than-enlightened regarding women. The very worst I can remember about Harry regarding women was his indulging in the "girls are an alien species, jeeze oh man, I just can't understand them" attitude along with Ron, and really, that's not that bad for a teenage boy who, in his actions and speech, always treated his female classmates the same as his male, and all his friends and everyone who fought against Voldemort the same regardless of gender, and for that matter race and blood status. I can't remember a single instance of Harry being prejudiced towards any group of people (save Syltherins, of course).

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Mars wrote: I'm a fan of science fiction, but because of Star Wars, it's probably reasonable to say that not many people ventured to make another sci-fi franchise because they would've be able to "be better" than Star Wars since it "did the sci-fi genre the best".


I think I could argue that the Alien series was successful and surpassed Star Wars in it's portrayal of women. And as far as rating the movies are concerned, while Empire Strikes Back might be at the top of my list, the Alien movies would come long before Episodes I-III.

Seconded. Ellen Ripley is one of my all-time favorite characters, and easily one of the best, most feminist portrayals of a woman to ever come out of Hollywood.

Rainbow Dolphin wrote:I think there's also a big division when it comes to the age of the target audience. I feel like shows and books and movies targeted toward adult audiences (like Alien and BSG) have FAR more strong female characters than those targeted towards teens and young adults (like Star Wars and Harry Potter and Twilight). And really, it's more important for younger audiences to see that. I mean, I really like Harry Potter and I think Rowling did a good job of incorporating a lot of good, diverse female characters, but the fact is the hero and the mentor and the villian and the hero's chief social rival ARE all white men. I mean, she could have made ONE of those characters a woman. I feel like every female character in Harry Potter was there to fulfill her "woman quota"- one girl to have a feminine element in the main group of protagonists, one female teacher, one mother figure, one love interest for the hero. What I'm trying to say is it seems like all the characters started out as male as default and were only changed to female to serve some kind of purpose.

As a writer myself, this argument really gets my goat. "Ugh, too many white men. Why couldn't the author have made one black or female or something?"

Because for me, the answer is simple -- because the character isn't black or female or whatever. For me - and I know a lot of other writers besides me are this way - characters just come to me. I don't sit down and say, "okay, what kind of character should I make? What gender? What sexuality? What color? etc." It's not like the Spore Creature Creator, or any given Character Creator from a Western-style RPG, where I start out a character by choosing what it looks like.

Jo Rowling said Harry Potter just "walked into her mind" one day while she was riding the train. She didn't decide to make Harry a white male, he just was.

I just think it's completely illegitimate (not to mention sexist in and of itself) to have the attitude of "I wish the author would've made some more of the characters female."

Now, if the portrayals of women in a book are misogynist? Sure, we've got a problem there. But the facts of the characters themselves (what race is any given one of them, what race are most of them, what sex is any given one of them, what sex are most of them, etc.) you really can't complain about unless A) the author says they hand-picked the race and sex of their characters (which most don't, I feel confident saying) or B) the author writes many, many books which, while the stories themselves are diverse, have the same general cast, which would indicate a systematic racial/sexual bias. Otherwise, the fact that Harry Potter is male and not female, white and not Asian, etc. is beyond question.

I mean honestly, how would Harry Potter (the book) be improved if Harry Potter (the character) was, say, a black girl? Or how would that help gender relations or women's rights or such?

lykin005 wrote:Obviously, Mass effect has to be mentioned! Femshep is actually more badass than... Masshep? Anyway Jennifer Hale is just such a boss voice actor that unlike most other female characters in games I can HEAR the veteran soldier badassery in her voice! If by some stretch Jennifer see's this. Kudos! As for boys identifying with female leads. In my youth I did hold some fairly sexist ideas. (Mostly being overprotective and similar such things.) But I've always been cool with female characters who kick ass and or are strong and capable. I blame this on video games oddly enough. (Alongside power ranger's and anime.) I'm a big rpg player and sometimes you play as a women, sometimes a man. I think this combined with my solitary and self reflective life has led me to where I am and has influenced me to adopt feminism and adapt it into my own philosophy. So certainly some boys can identify with girls. (I myself have been strongly influenced by a totally awesome teacher who was with me for... 5 years probably.)

I'm not particularly fond of asskicking female characters in videogames or movies or whatever, myself. Because if you just take a female character and give her a male gender role, that's not progressive, that's not feminist, that's no different than if it was a male character with a male gender role. To me, the thing is either subverting or utterly ignoring gender roles, not switching them.

drunken dragon wrote:If we're talking about video games too, what do people think about Final Fantasy? Aren't there a fair number of female characters in those, as well? The only one I can remember is IX (9), which had Freya, the dragon named after the Norse (is it Norse?) goddess. Skyrim and Fable II and III very fem-friendly as well.
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Blood And Chocolate had at least two strong female characters. (I'm thinking of the book, not the movie.)

Final Fantasy games are typically pretty decent (especially for Japan) in terms of portrayals of women. Yes, they're all beautiful and most of them are princesses or some such, but they're typically strong of character. Terra, Celes and Garnet immediately come to mind.

Ama wrote:Final Fantasy does have a number of female characters, and some of them are even strong, capable and more or less self reliant, which is bloody amazing given that final fantasy is a japanese series.

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I always love it when I type something (I type my replies as I read the topic) and then see that someone else already said the exact same thing.

Ama wrote:I think that's a series that's gotten better about its portrayal of women as it went along, and is noteworthy for one of the games having an all female cast, and for several of the games not having set classes, so you could make your characters do whatever you wanted. On the other hand in nearly ever FF game with set classes, female characters are largely relegated to support classes such as healers, archers or mages, with only a few contrary examples. Also, in the game with an all female cast classes are apparently changed by changing their clothes mid-battle. So it's a pretty mixed bag.

I never played FFX-2. Or FFX for that matter. I always got the impression that FFX-2 was not feminist-friendly at all. All the dressup and karaoke and cliched Japanese cuteness so forth. Am I wrong?

Also, while it's true that most female characters in FF games are healers, archers, etc., I don't see that as problematic in and of itself. Garnet, for instance, is a white mage, but that's irrelevant when you consider how strong a character she is.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby lillerina » Sun Mar 11, 6:31 2012

Hufflepuff wrote:Are you talking the books or movies? 'cause I didn't see Harry constantly ridiculing Hermione in the books. I can't recall a single instance of what I'd call ridicule, actually. Harry was your typical lazy student who didn't care about school and never wanted to study, and Hermione was a teacher's pet, and so she was always trying to get him and Ron to be more studious, and they constantly complained about that, but Harry and Ron finding Hermione's enthusiasm for education exhausting hardly seems like ridicule. Not to mention it's realistic.

Though maybe you were referring to something else. Care to list any examples? You don't need exact quotes, I remember the books pretty well, I'll know what you're talking about.

I'd like to refer you to Sady Doyle's take on the series: Part One; Part Two.

Hufflepuff wrote:As a writer myself, this argument really gets my goat. "Ugh, too many white men. Why couldn't the author have made one black or female or something?"

Because for me, the answer is simple -- because the character isn't black or female or whatever. For me - and I know a lot of other writers besides me are this way - characters just come to me. I don't sit down and say, "okay, what kind of character should I make? What gender? What sexuality? What color? etc."

I'm a writer too, and I find it lazy and disingenuous for writers to say that they can't help but make every character a white male, particularly when the writer in question is a white male. Surely you must know that white male is seen as the default human. Of course it's easy to write about white men and think about white male characters. Writing is a conscious, deliberate process, and a writer who doesn't think "What would be different if I made this character female? What if I made her a woman of colour? Why is this character necessarily straight/abled/middle class? What changes if I change that?" is doing themself out of some really interesting ways to write characters. I think that to say 'this character is a white man because he just is' is dodging the issue. Unless you're Gertrude Stein, you'll be rewriting anything worth seeing anyway, probably over the course of several drafts, and using some of that draft space to explore character and experiment is a great way of getting to know your characters better. Of course, if what these writers are actually saying is "I'm not interested in writing characters who are anything but white men", they should own that.

Hufflepuff wrote:Because if you just take a female character and give her a male gender role, that's not progressive, that's not feminist, that's no different than if it was a male character with a male gender role. To me, the thing is either subverting or utterly ignoring gender roles, not switching them.

I really hope that I'm misreading you and that you're not actually saying that there are character traits which are inherently male. I think that putting a female character in the role and situation that would normally be occupied by male characters can absolutely be feminist.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Hufflepuff » Sun Mar 11, 8:59 2012

Oh, another thing. Someone complained that Harry Potter, Dumbledore and Voldemort are all white males. But don't you see? If any of them were arbitrarily changed in, say, race, an endless torrent of people would complain about that, no matter what.

Let's say Harry was changed to black, and Dumbledore and Voldemort were left alone. People would be complaining, "Oh, sure. Finally someone writes a popular black hero, and he has to be helped by white, male Patriarch Dumbledore. Of course, a black couldn't make it on his own, he has to get help from the white man. Disgusting."

Let's say Dumbledore was changed to black. "Oh, great! The magical negro! The most played-out racial stereotype there is. White male Harry gets all the glory, all the attention, and black Dumbledore's only role is to serve him, to aid him and ask nothing in return. Real progressive."

Do I even need to give a Voldemort example? "Of course the evil villainous Voldemort is a black man and all the heroes are white!"

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@lillerina: Wow. Reading the first part of that article, I was certain it was from The Onion. Reading the second part and realizing it wasn't facetious? Wow. That reads like one of those rants by a self-labeled "nice guy" who rants about how women only like jerks. "A book called Hermione Granger would've never sold because men are afraid of smart, powerful women. That's why I can't get a date." Yeesh.

Problematically, while the author lists complaint after complaint, she doesn't explain or justify a single one.

"As the series developed, its politics did, too. Dumbledore, memorably, falls in love with a younger man in the third installment. Other female characters were introduced, and developed beyond stereotype; we learned to value McGonagall as much as Dumbledore, to stop slagging Lavender Brown off as clingy and gross because she actually wanted her boyfriend to like her, to see the Patil sisters and Luna as something other than flaky, intuitive, girly idiots. Unbelievably, even Ginny Weasley got an actual personality. Hermione was not an exceptionalist, the one girl in the world worth liking; she didn’t need to be surrounded by female stereotypes in order to stand out as a compelling female character. And Hermione, in her defining moment, became an activist for the enfranchisement of house-elves."

What in the world was wrong with McGonagall or Luna? And Lavender Brown isn't allowed to be annoying and clingy because she's female? Srsly, the author is clearly just ranting based on personal B.S.

I totally agree that it would be bogus if a white male author who only writes white male characters said, "hey, don't complain, it's not like I can change them." What's that have to do with our discussion, though? I said that personally, as a writer, my characters come fully-formed. X and Y and Z characters just are the way they are. I never said "my white male characters come fully formed," I never said "I refuse to change my white male characters because that's just how they are." And to my knowledge, no published author has ever said such a thing, either. So yeah, what exactly are you talking about? Do you have specific examples of authors or people who've said things like that?

My female characters come as-is. My male characters come as-is. My black, white, blue, green, orange, alien, cyborg, ethereal, divine, unholy and energy-being characters come to me as-is. Same goes for my gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, Chthuleansexual, disabled, abled, reabled, redead, undead, shapeshifting, tall, short, fat, thin, ugly, beautiful, back-stabbing, loyal, happy, miserable, adept, fumbling, enlightened and hopeless characters.

Most writers I know are the same way.

And no, I don't know that the white male is seen as the human default. My girlfriend (black) doesn't see white males as the human default. My Archaeology professor (woman) doesn't see white male as the human default. Actually, my girlfriend doesn't really see any human default. Nor do I.

Now, I think perhaps what you meant to say was, "popular media in the United States assumes white male as the default character in fiction." To which I wholeheartedly agree. But no one author can be held accountable for the entirety of Western canon. Just because white male characters are so prevelant, that doesn't mean it's wrong for a given author to write a white male. It doesn't mean it's wrong for a given character to be a white male.

I gotta say, I'm getting a sorta sexist and racist vibe from your post. I mean, what do you mean by "it's easy to write white male characters?" What, are men and whites so simplistic that any idiot can write them?

I don't think saying "this character is a white male because he just is" is dodging anything. Just as I wouldn't think saying "this character is a black female because she just is" would be, nor "this character is a disabled transexual because he just is" or "this character is an amorphous dimensional sentience because it just is."

Writing is very personal. I don't think it's at all useful to impose your own set of questions on someone else's creative process. So I strongly disagree that every single writer ought to ask authorself, "What would be different if I made this character female? What if I made her a woman of colour? Why is this character necessarily straight/abled/middle class? What changes if I change that?" Especially because your questions are assuming a white male default, and I don't personally know a single author who does that.

Nor do I think a writer who doesn't ask themselves those questions is writing themselves out of really interesting ways to write characters, because why in the world is a female character more interesting than a male? Or a woman of color more interesting than a man of color? Or a gay/disabled/upperclass character more interesting than a staight/abled/middleclass?

And not to go at you personally or anything, lillerina, but your attitude - that white male characters are boring - is just totally sexist and racist. And it's an attitude that I see a lot throughout the LGBT community, and it really bothers me. I don't think it's helpful to demonize white males. In fact I think it's really, really counter-productive to issues of equality. I mean, at the very least, I certainly hope you personally have never complained about the lack of white males interested in the LGBT community, if you're going around saying stuff like this.

And yes, you were misreading that part of my post you mentioned. I was talking about my cultural gender roles. In my culture, having muscles and shooting guns and kicking ass are all included in the male gender role. If you have a character who fits that gender role, but happens to be female, what you have isn't some wonderfully progressive character, what you have is a gender role-conforming character. Which is not at all helpful. It's only helpful if gender roles are directly attacked or utterly ignored. Conforming to any gender role doesn't help one bit.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby rowan » Sun Mar 11, 13:30 2012

I think you're missing the point that practically ever protagonist out there is white male. Even in kids books. It's extraordinarily difficult to build a library with female protagonists. Even if the characters are freaking bears or puppies or whatever. They're all male. Seriously. I read a book to my daughter and it's not like anything that is done in the book wouldn't be done by a girl as well as a boy. Most of them are just things that kids do, like building sandcastles at the beach. But nooo, every damned one has to be a white boy doing it.

We have some books from when my husband was a kid and those are fare more gender equitable than the ones these days. It's pathetic and sad, and the only reason this is the case is that white male is default. Your characters may spring to mind fully formed, but you must realize that those fully formed ideas are built in your subconscious with biases that are built in society. So I think it IS important for an author to actually say "wait a minute. All my characters are white males. Why not write the same story with something different for a change." Really, it's not that bad. Even if you can't imagine it, how hard would it be to word-replace at the end. Especially for kids' books where the stories really are very gender neutral...except for the names and pictures.

I totally have been writing stories for my girl, because I'm sick and tired of there just not being much to draw from.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby lykin005 » Sun Mar 11, 21:39 2012

To Hufflepuff: "I'm not particularly fond of asskicking female characters in videogames or movies or whatever, myself. Because if you just take a female character and give her a male gender role, that's not progressive, that's not feminist, that's no different than if it was a male character with a male gender role. To me, the thing is either subverting or utterly ignoring gender roles, not switching them."

I think mass effect does this well actually. Sure femshep kicks ass, but she also has a compassionate and sensitive side. My femshep had a really touching moment with Tali upon discovering her fathers death. http://youtu.be/w_-TvAMRDKw This is a clip of it with a female Shepard. Another example is found in mass effect 3. http://youtu.be/0evLNMHPEYU Here she meets a young child and tries to help him, only for him to tragically be killed by the reapers. I think they do pretty well with writing female characters in mass effect despite a few hiccups. (See Ashley Williams redesign.)
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Rainbow Dolphins » Mon Mar 12, 4:01 2012

Okay dude. If you know ANYTHING about the hero's journey, you know that every character involved in that formula in Harry Potter followed the stereotypes to a T. The hero- male. The mentor- older male. Death personification- male. Temptress- female. Goddess figure- female. I know that the hero's journey is centuries old and it's so ingrained into our culture it's hard to switch it up, but in my opinion, if you TRY to do something a little outside of the box you get major props. It's called the "monomyth" for a reason- they are ALL THE SAME. Remove yourself from it and step outside of it so you can examine it. Trying to look at cultural norms from the outside is where progression happens. And yeah that's judging someone else's creative process, whatever, I judge someone's creative process every time I read a book or listen to an album or watch a movie. I have to decide if I like it or not. People do the same thing when they read something I've written.

Now, like I said, I love Harry Potter. I grew up on that shit. But, do I think Rowling could have made more of an effort to break out of stereotypes and portrayed more unconventional characters? Yes. Yes I do. You're saying your characters come to mind with all those qualities intact... well, you know there's a reason for that, right? There are themes that are ingrained into our culture and when we write, we just follow them by default. And those themes include race and gender of characters.
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Re: Female protagonists in fiction

Postby Sonic# » Mon Mar 12, 8:43 2012

^ And that said, there aren't going to be many people who hate Isaac Asimov, J.K. Rowling, and nearly every other English author just because of their lack of female protagonists. Worrying about a mass of people disliking you for writing primarily male protagonists - Hufflepuff exaggerates critique into opprobrium.

As a critic, I approach texts generously. Many works, whether through an examined or unexamined creative process or through the position I hold today appear sexist. The sexism is a problem, but it's not damning. It's not the whole story. There can be many good, great, and exceptional parts of a text even where sexism is present. Also, there are many kinds of sexism, some rather simple and blunt and others very nuanced and difficult to describe. (The introduction to the "Wife of Bath's Tale" by Chaucer is one crux; all of Paradise Lost is another. For a modern example, try the now three trilogies of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.) I would call all of those examples in the parentheses good. I've read them and recommended them to others. I would also call them sexist, with quick explanations I could give to friends and 10-12 page papers fleshing out the argument.

So when I read Harry Potter, I notice many of the things noted previously in the thread. I also sometimes experiment with switching the races and sexes of characters in my head, but of course such a switch would not be a simple event. It would change many parts of the story, parts that formerly depended on the adolescent masculine camaraderie of Harry's dormitory, so its effects cannot be treated as predictable. I also think that, while people could hold those critiques Hufflepuff mentions after the inclusion of a character, not every critique is equal, such that Hufflepuff's claim that an author loses no matter what they write is silly. Finally, the mere inclusion of more characters does not make for less sexism; it ultimately goes back to the writing behind it.
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