OT: Romantic characters

Rowland, Jennifer A B jennifer.rowland at ic.ac.uk
Thu May 17 06:41:49 EDT 2001

Philip wrote:
>I must admit I occasionally fancy female characters in books.  But not very
>often.  I don't know if it's the books I read, but interesting female
>are hugely outnumbered by interesting male characters!  Just to check - do
>female readers here find the same thing?  If not, my perceptions may be
>sexist, which is definitely to be avoided!

Female characters are indeed often not as interesting as male ones. I think
some male writers do not write women at all, just collections of
stereotypes. (*Good* male writers do not do this. But even then, a book can
have say 7 major characters, of whom only one is female, so there's not the
choice of which character you like)[Footnote]. I think there is still a
cultural expectation around that there is a male hero (or band of heroes)
who has adventures and a female who is his reward for success, but is not
really a character herself, and it is easy to fall into writing that way,
despite all the subversion of literature that has been going on for some
years. I don't see the opposite tendency in books written by women- to have
male characters who are ciphers- but then I might not spot it. What can
happen, I think, is that books written by women still have strong male
characters, often the hero is male (boys don't like identifying with girl
heroes, apparently), but the women are real as well. More than half of my
favourite authors are women, and I think this may be partly due to their
being *more likely* to write believable/interesting/identify-with-able
female characters.

[Footnote] In the movies, it seems that you only get a lot of female
characters in what are called "chick flicks", which are supposed to be
specifically "about women" as well as for women. (The counterparts to these,
which are marketed mostly to men, are things like war films- which I would
argue have fewer women in them, treated less like human beings, than the
chick flicks have men.) Movies with 3/4 male characters are not called "lad
films", and recogised as being "about men", they are supposed to be neutral,
about humanity, the specific characters being examined just happen to be
men, and they are aimed at everybody. (Eg "The Full Monty", which has
universal appeal, and is about the struggles of a group of men, with their
wives, etc, being "real people" but decidedly peripheral.) Now it would be
silly to expect every film to have exactly 50-50 male and female characters,
but overall films seem to be unacknowledgedly "about men" rather a lot of
the time. (This is helping form the culture in which new books are written.)
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