Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Recommendations, discussions, and odes to your favorites
User avatar
maybegenius
Posts: 349
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 4:49 pm
Location: Northern California
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by maybegenius » September 18th, 2010, 1:27 pm

I'll give an example of a heroine I admire who I feel strikes an almost-perfect balance between emotionally fragile/flawed and full of fire and strength:

Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time. She starts out as this frustrated, sullen girl who's (in her own eyes) not-quite-pretty, not-quite-smart, and regularly gets into fights. Through the story, she proves admirable and brave as she and her companions strive to find her father. She's faced with terrifying situations, and she perseveres. When she's faced with failure (losing Charles-Wallace and nearly dying), she is paralyzed both physically and emotionally, and she has to recover with the help of a friend/caretaker. After her recovery, she's asked to rescue her brother, and she agrees. She walks back into that same terrifying situation, not knowing if she'll make it out, and rescues her brother with the power of her love.

I may be romanticizing her a bit because it's one of my favorite books, but I always thought Meg was a great balance between emotional and strong.
aka S.E. Sinkhorn, or Steph

My Blog | My Twitter | YA!Flash Tumblr

Represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary

blue
Posts: 2
Joined: September 4th, 2010, 3:30 am
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by blue » September 20th, 2010, 12:39 am

I'm a teen and I'm writing a realistic YA novel right now. Sometimes I worry about my protagonist, because I've read Twilight and the Hunger Games books, and many others, with female protagonists that are often rather pathetic. Sometimes you can understand why they'd get depressed. I sort of understood Bella in New Moon, the second Twilight Saga book, for example. I could never really like the books because Edward just wasn't a great character - he was perfect, pretty much, except for some abusiveness which was supposed to be care - so he is perfect, but these books also teach that some bad behavior is really good. Bella also had absolutely no reason to love him except for his looks. I can't believe that would happen. Maybe, maybe it's possible because he's a vampire, but the message is still terrible.

Anyways, the point is, these protags have got me worried about my own. I do think she usually tries to be independent and live just how she wants to. She has a guy who's not really her boyfriend but is special to her, and she has trouble with him which I think is natural. I'm also trying to make him as realistic as possible - seemingly perfect to her but to everyone else (except possibly his little sister) obviously not. But at the climax, when they've run away and he commits suicide, she's just been doing everything he's told her to. When he dies, she breaks down and wanders around for days, completely lost. Which is natural, but it's not until the very end that she picks herself up and becomes determined to figure out why he decided to kill himself.

So I am tired of pathetic female protagonists, and always try to make my own realistic but strong, though not cliche. So original.

Characters do take a lot of work.
Last edited by blue on October 2nd, 2010, 4:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by Mira » September 20th, 2010, 5:31 pm

Down the Well, I love Meg Murray, too. :)

Blue - I think it's really cool that you're trying to write non-pathetic female protags. Good for you! :)

After thinking about it, and reading this thread, I think I like both types of strength. Tamara Pierce, for example, writes alot of YA - or is it MG - with strong female characters trying to make it in the world. I also like female characters who have a tough time of it, but find their way out and grow as people because of it.

What I have a real problem with are female protags who need to be taken care of by the END of the book because their emotions overwhelmed them permanently. In YA or MG. For literary fiction, that's a different thing altogether.

This thread has got me to thinking about a related issue, the social responsiblity of writers. I'm going to start another thread for that, though.

One of the Mad Ones
Posts: 77
Joined: July 14th, 2010, 12:54 am
Location: southern New Mexico... almost old Mexico
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by One of the Mad Ones » September 21st, 2010, 12:13 pm

Anyone here ever watch the show Veronica Mars before it went off air? I don't read much YA, but I thought of Veronica in regards to strong but flawed female protagonists. She cries in just about every other episode, but I never remember her as weak. She's loyal, she solves crimes, she's not afraid to stick up for the underdog or taser a bad guy, etc. Her biggest problem is that she holds a grudge, but even then, she's willing to let her guard down occasionally.

Anyway, I agree with a lot what's already been said here, and I just wanted to add my two cents. Some of my favoriate female protagonists start out weak, but as many of you already pointed out, they find strength by the end with or without the help of others -- usually some combination of the two.

Rhonda
Posts: 21
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 2:57 pm
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by Rhonda » September 21st, 2010, 1:13 pm

I didn't read every single word written here, so maybe I missed something, but does a girl have to be like a boy to be strong? Can't being a girl and embracing some of the weaknesses that go along with that be cool too? Is that perhaps what Bella and Katniss do and why the books they're in are so popular? I'm not pontificating here, just wondering out loud. And BTW, how is being a housewife weak? Have you ever been one? lol

One of the Mad Ones
Posts: 77
Joined: July 14th, 2010, 12:54 am
Location: southern New Mexico... almost old Mexico
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by One of the Mad Ones » September 21st, 2010, 1:20 pm

Rhonda wrote:I didn't read every single word written here, so maybe I missed something, but does a girl have to be like a boy to be strong? Can't being a girl and embracing some of the weaknesses that go along with that be cool too?
I think part of the problem might be that emotion in general is often seen as a weakness when it comes to women -- like it's a cliche to be emotional rather than a facet of the human experience. Then again, in male characters, it's often seen as a unique strength when they show an emotional side. You get the brooding, poetic type guy who, as a woman, would be called weak or even hysterical.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by Margo » September 21st, 2010, 1:53 pm

I think there have been some erroneous assumptions made about what people mean when they say 'weak'. NO ONE has suggested that a female MC (YA or otherwise) can't have some self-esteem issues or has to be ultra-confident all the time or has to be a guy in girl's clothing or should kick everyone's ass all the time. The 'weak' most of us have been complaining about is the kind of weak that makes her love and stay with an abusive and/or domineering boyfriend because her love is going to save him and turn him into a better person (which is, btw, the same thinking that keeps domestic violence victims in their situations in real life...without the happy ending that books are telling them they are going to get), the weak that turns her into a puddle of tears and leaves her incapacitated for months when something fairly common in life happens (like getting dumped), the weak that comes with a character that has no depth and no emotional connections beyond the romantic relationship in the book, the weak that comes from having no dreams or goals or life beyond a boy.

It's interesting to see that most of the people who have no problem with a YA character who may be weak or who may start out very weak (and grow, hopefully) are the YA writers, while those of us who prefer not to see it to that extent seem to be people who read it but don't write it.

My only food for thought for YA writers also goes for writers of adult fiction. When dealing with a dark protagonist, for instance, writers have to acknowledge that some flaws are beyond what a reader can accept. A MC, for instance, may be too prideful or bitter or emotionally isolated (or even a serial killer a la Dexter) but he probably can't be a serial rapist and still be likeable enough for a reader to care about. That's an extreme example, of course. For YA, how weak is too weak, and how far can 'vulnerable' go, and what constitutes believable strength in a teenaged girl? All things to consider...

Twilight and Bella get picked on a lot in a topic like this. While I can't count myself a fan, I am the first to give props to a successful novelist who obviously touched a large number of people. The public surely responded to something there, so not everyone has a problem with a character like Bella. The anti-Twilight backlash possibly illustrates that quite a few people do have a problem with it, though.
Last edited by Margo on September 22nd, 2010, 10:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

pickychick
Posts: 1
Joined: September 21st, 2010, 4:05 pm
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by pickychick » September 21st, 2010, 4:25 pm

While I appreciate that the Twilight franchise has gotten more teenagers reading than ever before (or at least since the last Harry Potter book), I do agree that Bella Swan pretty much typifies a trend that has been leaking into YA books more and more. The weak, boy-crazy, emo-girl. More content to sit in a corner angsting about the teardrops on her guitar than do something about it, she represents the chick-lit heroine transported to a world where the men are prettier and violence is a real possibility. Thus even more opportunities for her to be saved by her superhuman paramour of the hour.
This is a real problem in my view, as the age range for most of the Twilight etc. readers is 12-18, and the vast majority are female. This is a group that really needs positive role models, and as an older sister myself, I don't want my little sister reading books that encourage her to be passive in relationships or dangerous situations. While the male characters have gotten stronger and more noble, the females have gotten quieter and less active.
Of course this does little justice to the really great YA books out there with really strong female protagonists: Out of the Dust, Speak, Anne of Green Gables, Sabriel, and anything by Tamora Pierce, just to get started! Check out the Pickychick Book Blog, specificially created to promote YA books with interesting and active heroines: http://pickychick.wordpress.com/

Sommer Leigh
Moderator
Posts: 1624
Joined: April 2nd, 2010, 11:07 pm
Location: Omaha, NE
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 22nd, 2010, 8:14 am

Margo wrote:
It's interesting to see that most of the people who have no problem with a YA character who may be weak or who may start out very weak (and grow, hopefully) are the YA writers, while those of us who prefer not to see it to that extent seem to be people who read it but don't write it.
I'm starting to believe that what we are actually talking about is not the presence of weak female characters, we're talking about when an author's writing is weak. When a character is really only skin deep because the author never gave them more than one facet.
May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
Be nice, or I get out the Tesla cannon.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by Margo » September 22nd, 2010, 10:25 am

Sommer Leigh wrote:I'm starting to believe that what we are actually talking about is not the presence of weak female characters, we're talking about when an author's writing is weak. When a character is really only skin deep because the author never gave them more than one facet.
Yes, I think that's a good possibility. I can think of several characters (YA and adult) who would have been much less annoying with more depth. More depth means more chance of the character having a trait that will generate empathy or sympathy, making flaws more forgivable while the character works through them.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
sierramcconnell
Posts: 670
Joined: August 23rd, 2010, 10:28 pm
Location: BG, KY
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by sierramcconnell » September 22nd, 2010, 4:44 pm

This is why Halo bothers me so much.

Spoiler:
[/b]

.
.
.
...
..
...

Because when they think it's over done with gone...and Bethany gets all upset and just stays in bed...the only thing that saves her from gut wretching depression is Xavier coming back.

And then at the end, she's being kept prisoner and tortured, and the only thing that saves her is Xavier and the power of love.

COME ON PEOPLE. This is not Care Bears and the sharing circle of hugs.

She is an angel in training, yes, but what the Hell was that?

This is why, when I write the second book, Marguerite -who is in love with an incubi- is going on a mission not because she's been pre-ordaned to, but because she'll be damned if her beloved is going to go hiding himself away in Hell because he's afraid his Lord will destroy them both.

We need stronger female characters. Not weepy little emo teen babies. Life is tough. Be tougher.
I'm on Tumblr!

The blog died...but so did I...and now I'm alive again! OMG.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by Margo » September 22nd, 2010, 4:55 pm

sierramcconnell wrote:COME ON PEOPLE. This is not Care Bears and the sharing circle of hugs.
HA! Inappropriately violent fanfic possibilities spring to mind.

THE EXPENDABEARS...
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
maybegenius
Posts: 349
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 4:49 pm
Location: Northern California
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by maybegenius » September 22nd, 2010, 5:36 pm

Margo wrote:
Sommer Leigh wrote:I'm starting to believe that what we are actually talking about is not the presence of weak female characters, we're talking about when an author's writing is weak. When a character is really only skin deep because the author never gave them more than one facet.
Yes, I think that's a good possibility. I can think of several characters (YA and adult) who would have been much less annoying with more depth. More depth means more chance of the character having a trait that will generate empathy or sympathy, making flaws more forgivable while the character works through them.
Yep, agreed. Because genuinely, I don't think many authors set out thinking, "I want my MC to be a simpering fainting maid who is always getting saved by a hot dude. Yeah, that sounds promising." I mean, maybe some do, I dunno *shifty eyes*.

I think we're totally talking about weak writing and weak characterization. If everything in a novel is happening TO the protagonist rather than BECAUSE OF the protagonist, we're dealing with exactly the sort of passive character we've been discussing.
aka S.E. Sinkhorn, or Steph

My Blog | My Twitter | YA!Flash Tumblr

Represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary

bcomet
Posts: 588
Joined: January 23rd, 2010, 2:11 pm
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by bcomet » September 23rd, 2010, 2:26 pm

I tend to agree, like the article Nathan linked to, that Bella was stronger willed because she knew what she wanted and was unwavering in her conviction. I also agree the author really succeeded in touching a lot of readers. Bravo to her.
My only objection was all the cleaning, cooking, and caretaking of adults she did. That didn't ring true to any seventeen year old I've ever come across. Yes, we all have our chores, things we are required to do (chop wood and carry water). Some are more stoic, others resist that more.

But a "mature" (her mother thought Bella was born thirty-five years old) teen shows mature traits, so Bella's affection for housekeeping seems strange to me.

The only teenage girls I knew who were put in that position as heavily as Bella (She must cook ALL the (non-pizza) meals, even when she just comes in the door after a long trip and airplane flight. On weekends she chooses (not a "romantic" choice) to clean the bathroom, etc.) were in abusive or dysfunctional homes (and/or often with alcoholic or otherwise over-worked, stressed-out, dysfunctional single parents, etc.). Bella's parents may be absent minded, but they are basically nice people (Mom is a Kindergarten teacher/Dad is a Police Chief) even if they haven't got a clue about what Bella desires for her life. I can't see them being so lazy as to dump the whole housework/cooking/shopping roles on her. (Even they have to be more mature than that.)

It's not that I think poorly of housewives. It's just not a choice I think that worked well (as a backdrop character trait) for a "romantic teenage heroine" or a soon-to-be or would-be aspiring vampire. I would have much rather seen her caretake a handicapped sibling (who she loved) or taught her father how to cook, (etc.) to show off her maturity (as examples).

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: Gender roles: Emotionally weak heroines

Post by cheekychook » September 23rd, 2010, 11:03 pm

bcomet wrote:I tend to agree, like the article Nathan linked to, that Bella was stronger willed because she knew what she wanted and was unwavering in her conviction. I also agree the author really succeeded in touching a lot of readers. Bravo to her.
My only objection was all the cleaning, cooking, and caretaking of adults she did. That didn't ring true to any seventeen year old I've ever come across. Yes, we all have our chores, things we are required to do (chop wood and carry water). Some are more stoic, others resist that more.

But a "mature" (her mother thought Bella was born thirty-five years old) teen shows mature traits, so Bella's affection for housekeeping seems strange to me.

The only teenage girls I knew who were put in that position as heavily as Bella (She must cook ALL the (non-pizza) meals, even when she just comes in the door after a long trip and airplane flight. On weekends she chooses (not a "romantic" choice) to clean the bathroom, etc.) were in abusive or dysfunctional homes (and/or often with alcoholic or otherwise over-worked, stressed-out, dysfunctional single parents, etc.). Bella's parents may be absent minded, but they are basically nice people (Mom is a Kindergarten teacher/Dad is a Police Chief) even if they haven't got a clue about what Bella desires for her life. I can't see them being so lazy as to dump the whole housework/cooking/shopping roles on her. (Even they have to be more mature than that.)

It's not that I think poorly of housewives. It's just not a choice I think that worked well (as a backdrop character trait) for a "romantic teenage heroine" or a soon-to-be or would-be aspiring vampire. I would have much rather seen her caretake a handicapped sibling (who she loved) or taught her father how to cook, (etc.) to show off her maturity (as examples).

Ahh, but Bella's supposed to be out of step with her peers---she's an old soul---if she weren't, she wouldn't have fallen for a 108 year old guy. Can you see Jessica (the more stereotypically true-to-form teenager) being content spending her nights listening to Debussy while Edward plays the piano?


You're right, the caretaker/neat freak teen is often the result of a dysfunctional parent. In the case of Bella I'd say her cooking/cleaning/organizing comes from living with a free-spirited, scatterbrained mother (kids often take on the opposite traits of a parent---a child who grows up with a cleanfreak mom may be overly messy and like clutter as a teen/adult...and a kid with loose-ruled parents may crave order)....Bella also has a bit of her dad in her in that she has difficulty expressing her emotions, so she shows her emotionally awkward father that she cares about him by caring for him---he doesn't make her cook or clean, she chooses to because that's how she shows him that she loves him, in a manner that they're both comfortable with. As I recall Charlie tells her to go hang out with her friends and also tries to cook dinner (though he forgets to stir the spaghetti while it's boiling and puts the sauce in the microwave with the metal lid still on)----she's hardly Cinderella, being forced to slave for others. While I'll agree that cleaning the bathroom is neither a romantic nor a typically-teen thing to do on any day of the week, I do know several people of all ages who clean in order to take control of a situation that feels out of control---and there are certainly elements of Bella's life that are way beyond her control.


Given the way Bella was depicted as having a hard enough time choosing vampire-dom over staying human so she can continue to see her parents, something like a handicapped sibling who required her care would have made it impossible for her to choose herself/love over her obligation to that sibling. And, with no offense intended to men in general, I've known plenty of guys who, like Bella's dad, wouldn't be able to learn how to cook no matter who tried to teach them.

Regardless of who thinks what part of the reason these books are so successful is that even people who disagree about them can still discuss them---they provoke strong reactions from the reader.
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest