Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What Girls Do

I'm going to take a moment today to talk about the expectations we have for the gender roles of fictional characters, in particular female characters. Nothing too heavy, just a few thoughts.

Has everyone seen Joss Whedon's series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Never mind, that doesn't matter. In season four of that show, there's an episode called Hush in which some nasty-bads called The Gentlemen steal everyone's voices so that they can go about their evil business (cutting out human hearts) without anyone being able to raise the alarm. According to the fairy tale books (that are in fact real historical documents and real research in the Buffy-verse), the only way the destroy the Gentlemen is for the "princess" to scream. Of course, the characters have to get their voices back for that to happen. In the end, one character smashes the box containing the voices, and Buffy cuts loose with a scream (video here: scream happens at approximately 5:30).

The first time I saw this episode, I was blown away by that scream. Because it wasn't a high-pitched girly-girl scream. It came from her chest, not her head. It had anger in it. (And, of course it would, if you know anything about that character.) And I thought that it fit perfectly in an episode that managed to convey so much with next-to-no dialogue.

It's annoying that this kind of characterization is rare enough that I noticed it so dramatically.

Maggie Stiefvater is also a little cheesed off about girly-girl and manly-men stereotypes (And Now, I Scream, Because That's What Girls Do), and Malinda Lo has also taken on gender stereotypes from a queer perspective (Avoiding LGBTQ Stereotypes in YA Fiction, Part 2: Gender, although I don't see any reason why her post should be limited to YA).

Now, last week Will Burke was kind enough to pass along The Versatile Blogger award to me, which asks for me to share seven things about myself. I've recently done some "ask me anything" style posts, so instead I'm going to share seven things about the main character in my first novel. And, with gender stereotypes on my mind, here are seven things that may or may not make her a typical "girl."
  1. She doesn't wear makeup. Like, ever. (She probably would wear it for a job interview or a really fancy dinner party, but she runs her own business and doesn't have a black-tie kind of life, so that's moot.)
  2. She does, however, have a small collection of really awesome high heels (although we never see them described in the book).
  3. She punches a guy who pisses her off (see also Hermione, above).
  4. Her favorite writers are Hemingway and W.H. Auden.
  5. She loves horror movies (especially J-horror), anime, and comic books.
  6. When she and her best guy-friend rent a car, she drives.
  7. If she gets married, she won't change her name. She will, however, be a total freak about getting all the stationery just-right. (Hey, it's what she does for a living!)
Forget about gender roles, men and women. What is one thing that makes your main character HERSELF or HIMSELF?


  1. I like this woman already....

  2. She sounds like a badass. I like her high heels, her punching a guy that pisses her off, her love of Hemingway and comic books.

    What makes my character Her. She is a faery so heels/makeup need not apply. She is nearly nekkid most of the time. She is totally a badass and carries a sword everywhere. You never know when you'll have a demon to kill. She steals human clothes. From boys. If she's going to be nearly nekkid, they might as well be nearly nekkid as well.

    She loves to read (who wouldn't like a faery who reads?). She looks at the owner of the book store she stowes away in like a father. She'd kill for him. Maybe she does...

  3. I can picture a couple of my female characters letting out one heck of a hollar!

    I do believe men and women view the world differently, though. (A lot has to do with how much testosterone floods a baby's mind during development - men's brains are usually swimming in the stuff.) So I kept that in mind when writing my books, especially from the male POV.

  4. I like your main character. She likes Hemingway. Now, if she drinks vodka martinis, extra dry, no twist, I might be smitten.

  5. I deal with stereotypes every time I go in front of a room & do my duty as token student representative when the department head gives a presentation to the masses of undeclared students.

    That is largely why I think maybe my characters are not entirely cliche after the second glance. First glance sure, write them off as a stereotype/cliche because everyone falls into one in the real world too. But I hope my characters are cliches put to a 45 degree angle and then let loose as interesting and unique little snowflakes.

  6. Love the sound of your main character! Might have to make a list like this for mine, just to get inside her head a bit more.


  7. Oooh, I like your mc already! :)