I pride myself on being a real world feminist. I believe women are equal to men in every way, and that includes our strengths and our weaknesses. We’re just as capable of greatness, but we can also share the same flaws. This is something I know deep in my foundation.
However, when I read a book I find female characters usually drive me insane. I’ve always said I think women are harder to write believably, and I still think that’s true, except I’ve also started to wonder if I have a gender bias I wasn’t aware of.
I really started turning the idea of subconscious gender bias over in my head when I read Lunar Chronicles. First, I should admit I didn’t actually like this series. My enjoyment fluctuated up and down, and the final book was the one that completely turned me off. However, a lot of readers disliked Scarlet when I didn’t mind her. I saw a lot of reviews that said she was mean, and abrasive. There were a lot of complaints about how impulsive she was. The thing is, all those descriptive words were accurate. She was all of those things. I just wonder if those same adjectives would have been applauded in a male character, or at least considered amusing. For instance, Kaz in Six of Crows is mean and abrasive, yet readers love him. Thorne from Lunar Chronicles is impulsive in actions and speech, and readers love him. Writing my review of Scarlet, noting those differences, made me more aware of a possible gender bias in readership.
Then, a week or so ago, my daughter was reading Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and she found herself having the same problems I did when I read it. (She loved the book, btw.) We both found Leah to be obnoxious and whiny, and both of us said she was our least favorite. I’ve made a habit of talking with her about anything the two of us watch or read together. I like to break down the scenes, or the characters reactions, by asking her what she thought of them, and then seeing if we can put an understandable motivation behind it. Having a conversation about Leah, talking about why she acted the way she did… I started questioning if I’m guilty of gender bias myself.
Have I disliked a female character without realizing I was subconsciously turned off because she was acting in a manner society has taught me is a ‘man’ trait? As much as I thought I was gender progressive, do I unknowingly expect girls to be ‘better’ than boys? Do I write them off as a poorly written character because they needed to be more mature, more understanding, more rational? The idea that I might have is disturbing to me.
I’m writing this as a way to remind myself to look past stereotypical gender behaviors. I’m proud how as a mother I open the character dialogue with my daughter. I want her to look at each character from all sides and recognize a motivation rather than simply writing them off as annoying. My new goal is to open that dialogue with myself. I want to look deeper, moving forward.
I know it’s not an easy thing to recognize in oneself, but does anyone else think they’ve fallen victim to judging a character based on how the world thinks they should act? Does anyone else know of a character they, or readers, tar and feather for behaviors our culture has taught was for the opposite gender?