"Forget any assumptions about what women are like."
February 26, 2015 9:55 AM   Subscribe

 
Regarding the author's call-out of the Wheel of Time series: the female characters spend as much if not more time bemoaning their frustrations with how mysterious, frustrating, and infuriating men are. There are a few references (again, in WoT itself) to the idea that intentional obfuscation and induced confusion is a known social tool women use to keep men "in their place" (one of the conceits of the series is that the characters live under an ultimately matriarchal social system. Whether you agree that Jordan managed to actually create the world that the world purports to be, is another question entirely) in society at large and as regards women in positions of power. One recurring anecdote I have seen from female readers (not all, but some) is that they were absolutely, 100% sure that "Robert Jordan" must have been the pseudonym of a woman given how well the female characters are written.

Otherwise, I agree with the article's premise, though it's a bit of an ouroboros as written. But if this is where we're going, I'm all for it.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:07 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great article! It's kind of darkly hilarious how a term ostensibly describing well-developed fictional girls and women who are not just a collection of cliches, who have well-realized and complex characters, and agency and importance within the plot, so quickly turned into a stock set of rote male fantasy stereotypes.

On the other hand, it feels like there is a push back against that going on now, especially in animation where a number of writers have voiced and put to practice the idea that good characters can be female without that completely defining and limiting them. Writing interesting people and then thinking through how (or if) their gender colors their experiences with empathy is important, and shouldn't have to get weird because a character is female.
posted by byanyothername at 10:09 AM on February 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


...which, on post-view, is not at all to say that "real women", in general, are like the "women", in general, of the WoT series, just that the series' explorations and expressions of gender does have it's defenders.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:10 AM on February 26, 2015


Huh. I like a lot of points this article makes, but I'm not so sure about the advice to just forget the character you're working with is a woman altogether and focus on things like what it means to be physically weaker than most other people in the room, or what it means to be despised and treated as a pawn by other people around you.

Part of that is because being a woman means, for me, being aware of stereotypes about women and acting in a way that is informed by those stereotypes. That is, I might be reminded that people sometimes think women aren't good at analysis and are inherently warm and nurturing, say. What I actually do with that reminder is based on who I am as a specific person--I might write a scholarship application to be devoid of emotional reminiscences about my field of study and center it entirely on accomplishments, or I might encourage an academic rival to underestimate me in a competition based on gendered signaling. (I've done the first, but not so much the second.) I think it's hard to write women without keeping that experience in mind. I mean, I'm a person beyond that, but that web of perceptions have about women as a class informs a lot of my life and decisions.

Tyrion Lannister is not a woman and has never read to me in any way that was particularly similar to a woman. That's because, well, he's a character who has to keep an entirely different set of stereotypes and perception in mind. I like the idea of reminding people to think about experiences that female characters are likely to have which male authors might or might not have access to, but I don't like doing that at the expense of remembering that femaleness is a thing.
posted by sciatrix at 10:10 AM on February 26, 2015 [14 favorites]


One recurring anecdote I have seen from female readers (not all, but some) is that they were absolutely, 100% sure that "Robert Jordan" must have been the pseudonym of a woman given how well the female characters are written.

::falls over in shock::

Oh, wait, no. First I must cross my arms under my breasts, then tap my feet and tug my braid in irritation, then I can fall over in shock.

I read once that Jordan based all the women in the series on his wife, which informed me more than I wanted to know about the quality of their relationship.
posted by suelac at 10:13 AM on February 26, 2015 [32 favorites]


I think the concept "strong female character" is only of value when considering bodies of work that are otherwise devoid of them. For example, it's worth noting that L Frank Baum included many such characters in his Oz books, (he did so partly as a result of the influence of his mother-in-law, the noted suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage), because other children's books of the time were so notably lacking. But as something to strive for? I can't imagine Jane Austen asking herself how to make Elizabeth Bennet "strong" — she just wanted to make her Elizabeth.
posted by ubiquity at 10:19 AM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah I feel like forgetting the character is a woman is a problem and not a solution. Being "gender blind" usually means you are thinking of everyone as whatever your idea of a generic human is, which for most western authors is a white dude.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:20 AM on February 26, 2015 [21 favorites]


suelac, I've heard that he ran his characterizations by his wife (who was also his editor, if I recall correctly), and I agree with you. I've strongly kept in mind however that he also grew up in Charleston, which is probably the best place in mid-1900's America to see a real-life version of a matriarical Daes Dae'mar played out for as long as you chose to live there, as long as you money'd enough to be among the movers and shakers.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:22 AM on February 26, 2015


A more effective technique than "forget the character is a woman" is to write/draft the story, and then go back and change the gender of 60% of the characters who don't have to be male for the story to work. And do something similar with ethnicity & sexual orientation.

I did this once: got to the end of the story, realized that the only sympathetic female character was a queen who got murdered partway through, and then changed my protagonist to female. It ended up working really well, because a bluff and hearty hunting-obsessed minor noble becomes a really interesting woman if you don't change anything else about them.
posted by suelac at 10:24 AM on February 26, 2015 [11 favorites]


(who was also his editor, if I recall correctly)

Robert Jordan had an editor?!
posted by Sangermaine at 10:35 AM on February 26, 2015 [20 favorites]


That editor's name? J.K. Rowling.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


One recurring anecdote I have seen from female readers (not all, but some) is that they were absolutely, 100% sure that "Robert Jordan" must have been the pseudonym of a woman given how well the female characters are written.

::falls over in shock::

Oh, wait, no. First I must cross my arms under my breasts, then tap my feet and tug my braid in irritation, then I can fall over in shock.


You forgot to sniff and adjust your shawl.
posted by nubs at 10:44 AM on February 26, 2015


At least now we can tell when any of Jordan's female characters are lying.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:50 AM on February 26, 2015


Q: How can you tell if a Gene Wolfe character is lying?

A: Their lips are moving.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:51 AM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah I feel like forgetting the character is a woman is a problem and not a solution.

It was the first thing I tried, when I started writing full length novels. I wanted lots of interesting female characters because I felt like genre fiction is really bad there, and I wasn't sure how to go about that. (Well, apart from simply including more women generally. I think part of what generates the Strong Female Character problem is that if you only include one woman to start, she's gotta be all things to all people.)

The method resulted in pretty much what you would expect: female characters that came across as too male in mannerisms and attitude.

My next idea was to run everything by a couple female proofreaders really early in the draft, and just listen to whatever notes they had, talk about stuff I'm not super clear on. That's been a lot more helpful than pretending I could generate these insights out of thin air.

A more effective technique than "forget the character is a woman" is to write/draft the story, and then go back and change the gender of 60% of the characters who don't have to be male for the story to work. And do something similar with ethnicity & sexual orientation.

That's a fun idea, too.
posted by mordax at 10:58 AM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's interesting, because Ripley is definitely one of the most badass heroines ever. But I think the gender swap with her role worked in part because the core of the story is "Human Vs. Other." The battle to survive is this universal story that strips away all the bullshit of social roles.

In a story that focuses on humans interacting with each other, I think it's much harder to pull off a last-minute gender swap and make it work, because every single interaction carries so much subtext. All this baggage about hierarchy and power and communication styles and give/take. And gender is a significant factor in that matrix, although of course there are others. But if you've rendered that subtext as a writer, swapping the genders often makes it fall apart.

I realized this recently when I was trying to do a gender swap on one of my own stories. In the original version, the guy is acting like a drunken asshole; he leaves a party to go sit outside on the curb and smoke. His girlfriend follows him outside and tries to talk to him; when he won't respond, she leaves him sitting there and goes home. So, not the most functional relationship, certainly, but their rudeness to each other seems equally matched. But when I swap the genders, and the guy is the one leaving his withdrawn, drunk, strange-acting girlfriend just sitting on the street somewhere... he kind of seems like way more of a jerk than she did.

And I think this altered perception is the result of a lot of sexist aspects of culture: Men are expected to be tough and protective. Women's tantrums are considered "funny." A drunk girl left alone is seen as a victim waiting to happen (sometimes this is true, too). A guy is seen as being far better able to fend for himself; he's an explorer, an adventurer, he can certainly find his way back to the L. Etc. And none of this is fair, but it's the world our readers live in, and in some cases it's the world our characters live in. So I think it's a mistake to create characters without considering those paradigms.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 11:01 AM on February 26, 2015 [14 favorites]


I agree with the article's main point: that what authors need is not a list of specific instructions but empathy for their female characters (which I would argue is inextricable from having empathy for women in real life).

I also think that another main solution that I don't see recommended as much as I think it should be is: have more female characters! If you only have one or a couple important female characters, I think it's really hard for them to represent the huge diversity in the experiences, personalities, and situations that women have. But if you have a lot, well, there's less weight on any of them. And what needs to be represented, in my opinion, is not a single Ideal (or Ideally Realistic) Woman but a range, a spectrum. That's how you defeat stereotypes. Not by proving that they're false because something else is true, but by showing that they're incomplete, that there's so much more out there. Or something like that.
posted by overglow at 11:06 AM on February 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


which I would argue is inextricable from having empathy for women in real life

I think the history of literature tells us pretty clearly that this isn't true. A lot of writers could be utter assholes to everyone in their lives--men and women--but be capable of creating fully-realized characters on the page.
posted by yoink at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2015


have more female characters!

On that note: Fantasy novelist Marie Brennan on the absence of women in The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Quote: Total: 29 female characters in 722 pages. 22 get names; 21 get dialogue. 17 appear in the text for fewer than five pages. Only 7 of the remaining 12 are actual characters in Kvothe’s story, in the sense of having any kind of ongoing role in his life...

Against these, we may lay . . . two hundred? three hundred? more? male characters with equal or greater presence in the story


It's really worth reading her (long) discussion there, even if you haven't read any Patrick Rothfuss. The bit that got me is that it was 59 pages before any women showed up.
posted by suelac at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


Should have previewed. Glad someone else brought up the "More Female Characters" point too!

Hmm, interesting point, yoink. I don't want to get sucked down the rabbit hole of Asshole Writer History... But maybe there's a difference between acting in compassionate ways and having an inner conception of other people's experiences? It's hard for me to imagine a writer who can create multidimensional, lively characters who hasn't based that--at least partially--on observing the layers and nuances of the people they know IRL.
posted by overglow at 11:16 AM on February 26, 2015


It's really worth reading her (long) discussion there, even if you haven't read any Patrick Rothfuss. The bit that got me is that it was 59 pages before any women showed up.

I can vouch for that. I tried to read The Name of the Wind after hearing several of my friends rave about it. Unfortunately for it, I have a rule: if I haven't encountered a named female character with dialogue in the first 50 pages, I drop it and move on to something else.
posted by skycrashesdown at 11:23 AM on February 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's really worth reading her (long) discussion there, even if you haven't read any Patrick Rothfuss. The bit that got me is that it was 59 pages before any women showed up.

So I did very much the same sort of analysis of race & gender inclusion as a blog post for my own two mil sci-fi books last year. (I feel like linking it would go against MF's completely justified rules about self-promotion.) It was a lot of work, but I feel like I actually got a lot out of that.

What I didn't do, however, was go beyond the numbers the way Brennan does; I held it strictly to numbers, because I didn't want to do a lot of equivocating. Yet that naturally left some stuff to be desired, since the numbers alone don't show how much "screen time" POC, women, etc. get over the course of the books.

But yeah, if you're writing anything, I can't recommend doing this sort of after-analysis highly enough. It can be pretty eye-opening, and self-reflection is always good. (If anyone wants to see it, go ahead and MeMail me.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:25 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


This conversation is cracking me up, because I just this morning had an extended conversation with a coworker about my perception of Robert Jordan as utterly failing to understand that women are not actually interchangeable units with one or two distinguishing quirks each.

I agree that it can really help to simply have a wider variety of female characters, rather than one who bears the burden of being The Female Character with all the baggage that carries.

Also, this thread needs Kate Beaton's Strong Female Characters . Because it just does.
posted by Stacey at 11:26 AM on February 26, 2015 [12 favorites]


From the article: "Instead there is a hyperawareness of her beauty and sexiness even from her own perspective, such as in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot; an inability to grasp how the character might experience life from the inside. I think when male authors make this mistake it’s because they forget we don’t see ourselves the way they see us. I don’t want to go so far as to call this a lack of empathy, but it is certainly a failure of imagination."

I have beaten this drum before, but it continues to boggle my mind how many well-read, well-educated American men I know, familiar with the minor arcana of Twain and the lesser works of Fitzgerald, have never read Little Women. And how many male writers who wrestle with how to write women list a bunch of favorite authors ... none of whom are female. Maybe if you're having these "failures of imagination" where you don't really know how to get inside a female character's head, and you are a writer who, you know, tells stories so other people can experience the lives of your characters, you could read the rich English-language literature of coming of age novels by women, about girls, and see how those women experience their own lives? Maybe you could read the books that have delighted and inspired 13-year-old girls for generations, that speak to their emotional lives so fully that they're reading them 100 or 200 years later, still identifying with those same emotional truths of girlhood and womanhood and growing up, even though they do not live in small towns wearing bonnets and sipping tea in front parlors, but now in apartments in downtown Chicago wearing jeans and going to college, but Little Women is still SO TRUE that it's their favorite book? Like maybe you, male writer, who seeks an audience for your characters' interior lives, should set yourself as a student of the female writers' characters' interior lives.

Classic novels of girlhood, a partial list consisting of books Eyebrows can see on her shelf without getting up from the couch:
Little Women (and other works), Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables (and other works), L.M. Montgomery
Forever, Judy Blume
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
Pride and Prejudice (et al), Jane Austen

Jane Eyre, House on Mango Street, everything Tamora Pierce, Black Beauty, Daddy Long Legs, The Secret Garden ...

There is this enormously rich literature of girlhood that most men have simply never read, which continues to shock me and kind-of enrage me (it is literally ridiculous that Alcott isn't as common on high school reading lists as Emerson in the US); novels that women fall in love with and reference and reread and receive from their mothers and pass on to their daughters and talk about with their friends' 10-year-olds and say to teenagers they've just met, "Oh! You're reading Little Women! That's my favorite!" There is this entire English-language literature of women that never goes out of print (and is largely available free for your e-reader!) because women buy them continuously for 200 years and most men have just never been exposed to it. You can literally go start fixing your problem instantly, free, at Gutenberg or Amazon or the library.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:34 AM on February 26, 2015 [166 favorites]


Agree that Brennan's post is definitely worth the read... I thought her discussion of Denna was particularly good.

Also, she gave this piece of advice, which seems highly relevant to this thread: Ask yourself, from time to time, whether there’s a reason Character X has to be a man — instead of the other way around.
posted by overglow at 11:38 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Relevant and of a piece with the linked article, I hate Strong Female Characters by Sophia McDougall.
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:39 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


(I also have a theory that the single best thing to put on your dating profile, if you are a man looking for smart women to date, is "Reading Little Women for the first time and loving it; Jo is my favorite so far." I will bet money your contacts from women who look at your profile will go way up. You better actually read it, though, because they're going to want to talk about it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:39 AM on February 26, 2015 [21 favorites]


I also have a theory that the single best thing to put on your dating profile, if you are a man looking for smart women to date, is "Reading Little Women for the first time and loving it; Jo is my favorite so far." I will bet money your contacts from women who look at your profile will go way up.

Oh my god, back in my dating days, the speed with which I would've contacted that guy to be like JO AMIRITE.

(Also, Meg, also, Amy, also, Beth, also, Marmee -- ANYBODY.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 11:43 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I did very much the same sort of analysis of race & gender inclusion as a blog post for my own two mil sci-fi books last year. (I feel like linking it would go against MF's completely justified rules about self-promotion.)

That rule only applies to FPPs. You can link to your own work in comment threads as much as you like, so long as it's relevant. So, link away!
posted by yoink at 11:47 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Robert Jordan had an editor?!
That editor's name? J.K. Rowling.

Stephen King pitched in, too, but he always just recommended writing another 100 pages about someone struggling with writer's block.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:48 AM on February 26, 2015 [15 favorites]


I think the author points out an interesting trap, both in fiction and in the real world.

I want to see more women (gays, people of color, transgenders, etc.) in fiction. I have about ten shows I am working on; only Archer and Dr. Who, and maybe Game of Thrones, come close to having an equal balance of interesting male and female characters.

But trying to consciously create"strong female characters" leads to all the problems the author points out, and you end up with something artificial, someone who is either too politically correct, too much a token, or too much a fantasy / projection of the author.
posted by kanewai at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


maybe there's a difference between acting in compassionate ways and having an inner conception of other people's experiences?

Yeah, I think that's true. That is, I think you're right that in some way great writers need some strong theory of (other) minds, but for a variety of reasons they can be bad at putting that into play with the people in their lives.
posted by yoink at 11:51 AM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have beaten this drum before, but it continues to boggle my mind how many well-read, well-educated American men I know, familiar with the minor arcana of Twain and the lesser works of Fitzgerald, have never read Little Women.

Okay, I'll bite: I'm a college-educated American man, and I wouldn't want to stake a claim to being well-read, but I read more than average. I tried to read "Little Women", but I couldn't get past the preachiness/morality tale aspect of it, and eventually gave up on it. Should I have given it more time?
posted by jcreigh at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read "strong female character" and "Illana" and my mind went immediately to
Broad City.

4 and 3 and 2 and 1.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


Should I have given it more time?

Yes.
posted by yoink at 12:01 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree that it can really help to simply have a wider variety of female characters, rather than one who bears the burden of being The Female Character with all the baggage that carries.

YES. Since so many dudes are primed to think that you need a very specific reason to make any fictional character anything but a straight white guy, when we do manage to get a female character, she tends to be painted as the embodiment all of the incongruent dualities we assign to women as a class: Sexy but nurturing, tough as nails but ultimately able to be tamed (by a man, obv), independent but never strident, chaste but never frigid, emotional but never hysterical. Oh, and she's always very physically attractive: At worst, her natural glow is taken down a peg by the presence of glasses, a ponytail, or a lack of makeup, and at best, we'll get to lavish a few paragraphs on the virtues of her milky thighs and generous bosoms.

Past "more female characters period, so not every female character is burdened with the mantle of Woman-As-Concept," I would say my greatest wish is for more visibly imperfect female characters. I want to hear about women's crooked or missing teeth, pug noses, uneven skin, moles, wrinkles, flab, hirsuteness. I want to hear about women who don't give a tenth of a fuck about compulsory femininity. They don't have to be strong or noble or gifted, just people, blessed with the same innate humanity that men are presumed to inherently possess.

Plus maybe if male writers started devoting huge swaths of their output to meticulous descriptions of every errant fold and freckle on the bodies of more homely creatures, they might get clued into how gross and awkward it is to spend so much time verbally caressing the curves of a character's body for no reason other than the fact that she happens to be female. Reading that shit does nothing but remind me how women are expected to be beautiful things first and thinking, feeling human beings second. We get that message beamed into our noggins all day every day IRL, it would be a treat to be able to escape it in more of our escapist fantasies.

I also have a theory that the single best thing to put on your dating profile, if you are a man looking for smart women to date, is "Reading Little Women for the first time and loving it; Jo is my favorite so far."

As an unequivocal Jo, I cannot possibly cosign this enthusiastically enough. Little Women, dudes. Read it today!
posted by divined by radio at 12:09 PM on February 26, 2015 [27 favorites]


jcreigh, it's a old fashioned book for young people. Do you find other books targeted at young people preachy and obvious? I definitely do. Like say, The Pearl - not targeted to young people but we had to read that in school (although apparently I don't remember anything about it) as a morality tale.

I think Little Women is at least a more relatable book to me (Jo forever!) than The Pearl (how I hated that book). Maybe it won't be for you, but if you want to understand me, and many other women, maybe you should try harder to read it? You don't have to like it. Just if I compare something to Laurie (down with Amy), I want you to get my reference.

But also it's just that Little Women is left out of literature and slotted into women's stories. If I can relate to a Hemingway or Steinbeck hero, you can probably do the same to Jo or Elizabeth Bennett.

(also I have totally added three books mention above to my Kindle - thanks Eyebrows!)
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:13 PM on February 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


But also it's just that Little Women is left out of literature and slotted into women's stories

It's more that it's slotted into "children's stories." Treasure Island is a great book, too, but you don't find it getting taught much in "19th Century Novel" courses--where you will find Jane Eyre is a hardy perennial.

Having two older sisters I grew up reading all those books (the Anne books--which I actually just finished rereading for the umpteenth time, Little Women, Beverly Cleary's Fifteen etc. etc.) and I just thought of them as "books." Well, that's not quite true, I thought of them as "some of my favorite books." But I also loved Boys Own adventure type stuff and Sci Fi stuff and so on. I think a lot of people fret about finding books "boys will read" or trying to find ways to "coax" boys to read things not traditionally aimed at boys when they should really just hand them these books and say "here, read this, it's a great story."

Or maybe they should just provide boys with older sisters? There might be some difficulties in implementing that plan though...
posted by yoink at 12:22 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you can't wade through Little Women (not my favorite) then you might try Jane Eyre. She is SO OVER the preachy morality all around her in 19th century England, but cannot escape it, but refuses to give in. She is tough as old nails. She wins in the end, but not without cost.

(and then if you are feeling sorry for Bertha's fate, read Wide Sargasso Sea).
posted by emjaybee at 12:22 PM on February 26, 2015 [12 favorites]


I read an interview* with Alison Bechdel where she said that initially she wasn't able to draw women. When she tried, she ended up drawing men and then adding breasts to them. The breakthrough for her came when she started drawing characters who she held in her mind as lesbians. Then she was able to draw women who were women in their own right, and not just men with added breasts.
posted by alms at 12:27 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Adding to say, it is very hard to find notable women characters with agency in the genre known as "literature" at all. The reason women cherish kid's books and fantasy and YA books and other books not generally accepted into the lit canon is that otherwise, they are almost completely denied stories with a female protagonist, at least one who doesn't die to further a male character's plotline/fuel his angst.

Most literature is still A White Dude's Story, and no matter how well-written, it's still remarkably incomplete in terms of describing the actual lives of most of humanity.
posted by emjaybee at 12:30 PM on February 26, 2015 [20 favorites]


Little Women - along with the sequels (my favourite character was Nat, from Little Men, then Jo) - are hard to get into as an adult. I tried rereading Little Men recently, and couldn't do it, though I read it several times as a child. The language is very stilted and the morality very Victorian.

So I would suggest that men read some of the great adult novels by women - like Pride & Prejudice or Persuasion (skip Mansfield Park - or L.M. Montgomery's adult novel, The Blue Castle (still one of my favourites).

or excellent recent fantasy/sci-fi like Butler's Kindred or Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen.

Right now I'm reading the Tamir Triad (first book is The Bone Doll's Twin) by Lynn Flewelling, and it's an utterly griping epic fantasy (prophecies, wizards, contested thrones) with a mix of excellent female and male characters (including lots good people doing bad things for good reasons).
posted by jb at 12:32 PM on February 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


The reason women cherish kid's books and fantasy and YA books and other books not generally accepted into the lit canon is that otherwise, they are almost completely denied stories with a female protagonist, at least one who doesn't die to further a male character's plotline/fuel his angst.

And we can't forget romance novels! The agency in the books vary but but at least there are women as main characters. Although now that I think about it, isn't a romance novel basically a woman showing agency in rejecting-accepting the main male character? I mean, we all know she's going to choose the guy, but the whole thing is often her process of how she chooses him.

(Blue Castle! Love it. Such a romance novel/fairy tale though)
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:47 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


jcreigh: "I tried to read "Little Women", but I couldn't get past the preachiness/morality tale aspect of it, and eventually gave up on it. Should I have given it more time?"

It definitely is a morality tale, and a product of its time. And it's not a perfect novel. But I think if you give it time to get to know the characters, it will be worth it for you. It may help to know that Alcott was in the same intellectual circles as Thoreau and Emerson, and Little Women is a deeply Transcendentalist novel, concerned with Transcendentalist ideas about education, morality, childhood, citizenship, etc. When it gets preachy, it's being Intro to Transcendentalist Utopia for Little Female Citizens of the Republic. That might make the preachy passages more interesting, to put them in that intellectual context.

I think one of the things that's uniquely valuable about Little Women for male writers is how different the sisters are, with different dreams and goals and strengths and foibles, but how Alcott doesn't judge their ambitions as more or less worthy. She writes as lovingly about Meg's quest for marriage and family as Jo's quest for fame and fortune -- and on top of that, Meg and Jo, despite being so different, love each other fiercely and support each others' dreams. One thing that I think a lot of these classics of girlhood have in common is that they are about the characters' interior lives but also about the complex web of relationships (and primarily female-female relationships, not romantic relationships) that help support and guide the girls through the pitfalls of adolescence. (Anne of Green Gables, for example, is very much about Anne's interior emotional and spiritual growth, but also her relationships with Diana, Marilla, Rachel Lynde, and others, and how those relationships support, sustain, guide, and rebuke her as she tries to discover herself as a woman.) By having four different sisters, Alcott is also able to explore different types and degrees of femininity, from tomboy Jo to princess Amy, and how each of the girls comes to terms with living in the world as a woman. Another thing that "classics of girlhood" typically feature is that there's a lot of clothes, as the protagonists struggle with cultural messages of female beauty, and they want to be pretty and have nice clothes, but more than that they want to be loved, and more than that they want to be good people who know themselves. How do they balance their more shallow and material and exterior desires (which are the ones society tells them to have) against their deeper, spiritual, interior desires? Is it okay to want to be pretty and have twenty pairs of gloves like Sally Moffett, at least some of the time? How much time do I spend worrying about my hair, and how much time do I spend worrying about my soul? With four female protagonists, Alcott is again able to show us how different women come to different kinds of peace with that, and make different (and equally valid!) choices. One really common trope in men-who-don't-write-women-well is female characters who are well put together are shallow bitches, and the ones who are deep or spiritual have no concern for their physical bodies. But the truth is that plenty of women with deep intellectual and spiritual lives ALSO get super-excited over a cute skirt, and EVERY woman gets conflicting messages about whether her insides or her outsides are more important. That is something I see missing from a lot of women written by men -- they often are like "ha ha, all these smart women cooing over the work of the seamstress, men can't understand these lady mysteries of clothes! Women like to shop, AMIRITE?" (hello David Eddings) -- but they quite obviously don't understand these internal/external signalling messages women wrestle with and why many women get excited about clothes. (Know what book has a LOT of clothes? The Hunger Games has a LOT of clothes. Clothes as symbols, clothes as communication, clothes as power, clothes as status. Some male reviewers have commented how the book seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on fashion descriptions by Katniss, but OF COURSE IT DOES, Katniss understands the importance of clothing in working out the interior/exterior mixed messages of adolescent womanhood!)

A final thing classics of girlhood typically deal with is the sanctification of home and hearth, because even career women are going to have to cook the dinner and knit the socks, and women have a different relationship (in our culture) to those types of tasks than men do, and male writers often miss that. Again, Alcott gives us several ways to look at these "home and hearth" issues; the girls rebel against them in various way and come to terms with them in various ways, and Alcott doesn't let it be simple (domestic Meg, always tops at housework, gets married and discovers that running her own little house is sometimes BORING and she has to deal with that).

Anyway my FAVORITE novel of girlhood is Anne of Green Gables, but I do think Little Women is uniquely important for men to read both because of its position in American literature and because of its portrayal of several types and personalities of girlhood and womanhood, and different ways to work out the challenges of female adolescence.

That is way more words than I thought I was going to write.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:00 PM on February 26, 2015 [86 favorites]


I think a key to Strong Female Characters is that 'strong' refers to the character development, not necessarily the character. It doesn't mean making all women emotionally and/or physically strong. It means making them fleshed out human characters and not just a collection of stereotypes.

And I've gotten fed up with male writers who have difficulties writing anything but male characters. If you are an author who can only write male characters, you are bad at your job. If your job is to create realistic or plausible portrayals of human beings, only being able to do that for the less than half that identify as male is a fundamental incompetence. Most people aren't men.

People are used to that specific variety of incompetence, but that, happily, seems to be changing. I particularly like that David Wong, a man, pointed this out in a Cracked article, because I guess it just seemed to me that men were incapable of noticing this stuff:


That's written from the woman's point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. "Janet walked her boobs across the city square. 'I can see them staring at my boobs,' she thought, boobily." He assumes that women are thinking of themselves the same way we think of them.



One thing that I never see anyone else mention, and which drives me up a wall, is when people talk about the brilliant writing on Breaking Bad. Watch the first couple of seasons or so. It is TERRIBLE. I get that, when you have a traditional storyline and your protagonist is a heterosexual male, the obvious choice for the obstacle character is going to be his wife or girlfriend,* but HOLY FUCK Skyler and Marie were just shitty cardboard characters until well into the show, when apparently they started hiring some more competent writers to flesh them out. They were both written like they were annoying children, both implausibly naive and strangely provincial in an obviously gendered way, and that was pretty much all you really knew about them for a while. One-off single episode characters got more character development than either one of them did for those first couple of seasons. I had to quit watching for some time because I couldn't stand it anymore, and only caught up again after I saw that people were actually talking about the characters as though they had some agency.

* This is a common source of sexism in shitty fiction writing, in fact. Usually, the wife or girlfriend isn't even the antagonist, but the obstacle that gets in the way of accomplishing a goal.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:10 PM on February 26, 2015 [17 favorites]


I was never much on Little Women or Anne of Green Gables, but I did love The Secret Garden and the Little House on the Prairie books as a kid.

(And tons of Marguerite Henry and other tales of kids with horses, and fantasy with talking animals, but I accept that's not classic children's literature.)

Here's a link a friend posted on Facebook today - Shannon Hale: No Boys Allowed, talking about schools segregating the audience by gender for her talk about being a writer.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


That is way more words than I thought I was going to write.

. . . on Little Women.

It's like you don't even know yourself, Eyebrows.
posted by jeather at 1:27 PM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Or even sitting her perfect tiny body down to write some code as in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I'm glad the author went there: Stieg Larsson has much to answer for there. I was never really clear on how much of an irony Lisbeth was really supposed to be, how intentional the story about her story really is. She's everything she's supposed to be against, a male fantasy, brought to life as a middle-aged man's wish fulfillment, used as his proxie's muse/lust object/saviour from himself. I'm not sure how conscious Larsson was of that, and whether even if he was, if that should matter. Quick, compelling reads, but I felt like I need a cleanse afterwards, particularly the last. I'm kind of glad there are no more.
posted by bonehead at 1:27 PM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


L.M. Montgomery's adult novel, The Blue Castle (still one of my favourites).

Oh man, me too! It so often gets shelved with the children's books, too, and it has the most fairytale ending of any novel ever, and yet it's full of very adult themes and unpleasant barriers - illegitimacy, alcoholism, threatened sexual assault... and the hideously ossified Stirlings.
posted by andraste at 1:30 PM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


One of my very favorite strong female characters (as opposed to Strong Female Characters(tm)) is Cersei from A Song of Ice and Fire. Others can, may, and probably will disagree! But I love her. She is smart and strong and paranoid and petty, scheming and denied, motivated above all by love for her children and an absolutely crap mother. She has a tragic backstory, above which she hasn't really risen. She is powerful, and flawed, and interesting, and she is not just a man with boobs, she really reads to me as an actual woman and an actual mother.

Martin is very far from the perfect author when it comes to this subject -- everyone thinks about their boobs too much, and the whole network of laundresses and attendants and midwives and seamstresses &c that the female characters lives should have been full of is disappointingly absent. But y'all, I read a lot of epic fantasy, and within that genre, a character like Cersei is a gift.
posted by KathrynT at 1:30 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


She's everything she's supposed to be against, a male fantasy, brought to life as a middle-aged man's wish fulfillment

Did you ever notice how the protagonist of that book is an financial journalist with women dripping off him, absolutely content to have minimal-strings highly erotic relationships with him? And that everyone thinks that financial journalists are absolutely the bees knees and that financial journalism is the single most interesting job that anyone could ever have?

Guess what Stieg Larsson's day job was.
posted by KathrynT at 1:34 PM on February 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


exactly.
posted by bonehead at 1:36 PM on February 26, 2015


I'll join in as a Blue Castle fan; I reread the book reasonably often.

(I liked the GwtDT books, though I don't disagree with the fantasy issue of it.)
posted by jeather at 2:00 PM on February 26, 2015


Cool Papa Bell: "Robert Jordan had an editor?!
That editor's name? J.K. Rowling.

Stephen King pitched in, too, but he always just recommended writing another 100 pages about someone struggling with writer's block.
"

I was wondering why those WoT characters suddenly got struck by speeding vans all the time.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:02 PM on February 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


KathrynT: "Guess what Stieg Larsson's day job was."

To be fair, neither were financial journalists, they were investigative journalists who blew the lid off of financial and political scandals involving very rich businessmen and far-right organizations, etc., which is at least marginally more sexy-sounding than "financial journalist".

But yeah, the books are pretty obvious wish-fulfillment, and I was bothered by that as well as Lisbeth Salander's apparent sociopathy and how that was ok because it's mostly against the patriarchy and this is a Feminist Novel, but they're not really books about characters (the male characters are all cardboard cutouts too), it's all about the yarn, as in much genre fiction (and there's nothing wrong with that, really).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:17 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I never managed Little Women, but A Little Princess, Secret Garden, and Emily of New Moon were huge for me, as was Eight Cousins and it's sequel, A Rose in Bloom. I also like Northanger Abbey as one of Austen's less referenced works, as it has a lot to say about dating and a dreamy, impressionable girl in the world.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:17 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, Eyebrows McGee, how I do adore you. Thank you for this.
posted by emilypdx at 2:58 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


After I saw Jupiter Ascending I had a lot of questions, one of which was "Why is the female version of the Hero's Journey so often being told she's a princess or queen, then being carted around through a series of dangerous events by a man who does all of the work while she screams?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:04 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have beaten this drum before, but it continues to boggle my mind how many well-read, well-educated American men I know, familiar with the minor arcana of Twain and the lesser works of Fitzgerald, have never read Little Women.

Eyebrows McGee is the best.
posted by clockzero at 3:10 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's so much in here that's true and aggravating - Marvel movies are remarkably short on women. I was watching a movie with Mr. Coffeespoons last week, a current arty movie, and the only thing I remember is that by 20 minutes in, I hadn't seen a single woman (except in crowd scenes). And my 10YO son, who won't read any books with girl protagonists - though joint boy/girl POV is ok. I honestly rarely read books by men anymore b/c whenever a female is introduced it begins like this "Clarissa looked in the mirror, evaluating her trim body...." Really?

And, oh, Ringworld by Larry Niven has a special spot in my heart. At 17, I threw it across the room. One women in the beginning, who has sex with our hero then disappears from the story. Our intrepid hero and his posse wander around for page after page meeting man after man in this fantabulous setting, and finally they meet a woman who seemed to have been around when this fantastic thing was built. Oh how puzzling, how can that be. Oh, of course, she's not a builder, she's a prostitute for the builders.

/Rant over. Boy a lot of this rings so true.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 3:14 PM on February 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ah hell, Little Women. I've never finished it. I remember pulling the book down from the shelves at my elementary school library, because I felt I should read it (even though I knew no one who had any interest in that book at all)... and the cutest boy in my class came by and said, "you aren't going to read that are you!? It's so long." Then I thought, he's right, it IS very long, and I put it back and got something shorter.

I tried to read LW years later and was bored by is episodic-ness and preachiness. I couldn't get into Treasure Island either. Ah well.

I also have not read Anne of Green Gables, Forever, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I guess I should surrender my Lady Author card then!

BTW, I enjoyed E. Nesbit's works so much as a kid. She was probably one of my favorite authors back then (and she is so obscure, which is too bad). In high school I discovered Austen and Heyer and British fantasists like Angela Carter and Tanith Lee. It's hard to read (epic male-gaze) fantasy after having been inoculated on Lee. She's the best.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:15 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have beaten this drum before, but it continues to boggle my mind how many well-read, well-educated American men I know, familiar with the minor arcana of Twain and the lesser works of Fitzgerald, have never read Little Women.

I am the probably rare man who read Little Women (and the sequels as well, actually). It was a lot of years ago, but I found the writing vivid and the characters memorable (to the point that I can remember details more than thirty years after a single reading), but the morality stuff bordered on insufferable. (I found Fitzgerald unreadable, so make of my taste what you will.)

I honestly rarely read books by men anymore b/c whenever a female is introduced it begins like this "Clarissa looked in the mirror, evaluating her trim body...." Really?

I was just complaining about this in a comment here the other week. I swear that I will start sending hate mail to writers who include that scene where the female character eyes her naked body in the mirror, coincidentally focusing on exactly the same features as would the stereotypical male gaze. It is the single laziest trope I can think of at the moment.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is this enormously rich literature of girlhood that most men have simply never read, which continues to shock me and kind-of enrage me (it is literally ridiculous that Alcott isn't as common on high school reading lists as Emerson in the US); novels that women fall in love with and reference and reread and receive from their mothers and pass on to their daughters and talk about with their friends' 10-year-olds and say to teenagers they've just met, "Oh! You're reading Little Women! That's my favorite!" There is this entire English-language literature of women that never goes out of print (and is largely available free for your e-reader!) because women buy them continuously for 200 years

There's something actually pretty cool about this, that there is an entire corpus here that has been passed on without being part of the official school canon.

Little Women, though, must be some kind of gender benchmark. I devoured my sisters' Judy Blume and Little House books, but trudged through Little Women without ever really connecting with the story.

Meanwhile, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and George Eliot are all patiently waiting for me in the 'classics' folder on my kindle.
posted by kanewai at 7:05 PM on February 26, 2015


I haven't read Little Women, and after this thread decided to read it (and not just for the dating profile tip!). It's free for Kindle on Amazon, if anyone else had the same idea.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:11 PM on February 26, 2015


It's funny, because my own perspective on literature is so queered--both by loving genre fiction and by being genderqueer--that I didn't really realize how fully straight male dominant Literature is. I mean, my literary superstars are Kelly Link and Aimee Bender and Joyce Carol Oates (and, to be fair, some dudes too, like Joe Meno and Patrick Somerville) and Karen Russell (who I keep meaning to read more of) and Laura van den Berg, who I just discovered!

All of which makes me wonder, is the landscape different in Short Story Land? Or just in the strange corner of quirky, sort-of-magic-realist, borderlands-between-genre-and-lit-fic that are my stomping grounds?
posted by overglow at 10:45 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


"...by a man who does all of the work while she screams?"

would it help if i were to say, that for me at least, that wasn't the version I saw at all? she made all the decisions, his main and only role was to protect her. i mean, yeah, i guess in that sense all Sailormoon does is cry before Tuxedo Mask shows up to 'save' the day.
posted by cendawanita at 10:51 PM on February 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


After I saw Jupiter Ascending I had a lot of questions, one of which was "Why is the female version of the Hero's Journey so often being told she's a princess or queen, then being carted around through a series of dangerous events by a man who does all of the work while she screams?"

Ever hear what Campbell had to say about women?

"Women don’t need to make the journey, they are the place that everyone is trying to get to."

Uh, yeah.


Anyway, I couldn't really get into any of the classics of young literature, because my perceptions were warped by fantasy at a young age.. For me, good YA books about women involved Diana Wynne Jones. "The Spellcoats" is about as far from Campbelian nonsense as you can get. McCaffery's "Dragonsong and DragonSinger duology, though adults may snicker at it, was really good for teenage girls. And then there's Norton. It also occurs to me, a lot of the fiction I read, whether Norton or Hoover or other authors, wasn't so much about fighting heroic battles (Blue Sword excepted) but in finding a place where the heroine could flourish.
posted by happyroach at 11:32 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Whoa now. Having recently rewatched a bunch of Sailor Moon, I can say that it's not the case Tuxedo Mask continually rescues her. Generally she's putting a good beat down on the bad guy, Tuxedo Mask appears to distract the baddie at an opportune time, and then Sailor Moon delivers the coup de grace.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:04 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


McCaffery's "Dragonsong and DragonSinger duology

It's a sortof trilogy - there is a third book about Piemur called Dragondrums, which eventually became my favourite. (Piemur is fun, but also, as a kid with little musical talent but a very good memory, I imagined the only way I was ever going to get into the Harper Hall was by joining the drum message apprentices.)

I did love McCaffrey when I was a kid - and she wrote great female characters. But she had a pregnancy problem: her characters all seemed to have personality lobotomies after having children. (Lessa was an exception, maybe because she could only have one).
posted by jb at 6:46 AM on February 27, 2015


Maybe the term "strong female character" is used in a sense that I'm not familiar with, but I don't understand the backlash against it.

When I hear "strong female character" (or "strong [anything] character", I think of a fleshed-out, multidimensional character who is thoughtfully written; who has agency (notwithstanding what she does with that agency); who gets character development, and believable motivations, and isn't just a plot device to motivate the men around her to act.

That's what a strong character is. It doesn't have anything to do with the personality of the character. A timid wallflower, or a drug addict of less-than-stellar morals, or a person struggling with mental health issues and losing, can be a strong character—as long as they're written believably and thoughtfully and respectfully. (And an ass-kicking hero can be a weak character, if they're written poorly.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:31 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Card Cheat: "After I saw Jupiter Ascending I had a lot of questions, one of which was "Why is the female version of the Hero's Journey so often being told she's a princess or queen, then being carted around through a series of dangerous events by a man who does all of the work while she screams?""

From a Tumblr post about Jupiter Ascending as Regency romance:
This movie is not rooted in the Hero’s Journey monomyth. This is not a quest epic where the main character learns lessons about themselves, about friendship, loyalty, hardship, and comes out the other side with their status as The Special One confirmed. Which, as I mentioned briefly in a previous Tumblr post, is what I think caused parts of the general viewing audience to side-eye the plot and characterization. Familiarity, even on an unconscious level, with the monomyth means that viewers can make narrative jumps and assume motivations for character actions that aren’t explicitly spelled out or explained.
posted by Lexica at 8:51 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Junk in-junk out.
Writers are limited by what writers are limited by.
"Why can't a woman be more like a man?" Professor Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady
posted by Oyéah at 9:30 AM on February 27, 2015


I love that post, Lexica. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by Stacey at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2015


Credit for that link should go to cendawanita, who's been linking to a bunch of good stuff in the Fanfare thread. She just linked to an interesting piece in response to certain criticisms: toilets and space princesses.
posted by Lexica at 10:02 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed E. Nesbit's works so much as a kid. She was probably one of my favorite authors back then (and she is so obscure,

Does Nesbit count as "obscure" nowadays? In my mind she's one of the towering figures of children's literature (I re-read The Railway Children just recently--surely that's not obscure?). I don't know that she ever wrote a bad book. I read our city library's fairly ample collection of them over and over and over as a kid. Nesbit was also a co-founder of the Fabian Society and when you come to her books as an adult it's amazing how clearly her politics get expressed through the stories (mostly went sailing over my head as a kid, though).

Then there's Noel Streatfield, of course--another of my childhood favorites. Especially The Painted Garden which is a kind of intertextual meditation upon The Secret Garden. But all her stuff is worth reading: Ballet Shoes, White Boots, Apple Bough etc. etc.
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on February 27, 2015


I'm one of those women who doesn't see Anne of Green Gables's character writing as anything to aspire to. Both as a kid and an adult they came across and twee and sentimental (especially as regards the female friendships which didn't resemble my female relationships whatsoever). Now as an adult I find the writing manipulative, too, which often goes along with sentimental now that I think about it.

A contemporary book to Anne of Green Gables that I like a lot better (even though marriage is a part of it- I HATED that when I was little) is The Girl of the Limberlost.

I should try Little Women again. I read it as a girl and thought it was interesting right up until the author betrayed me by letting the characters get into boys and marriage at which point I set it down and never picked it up again, which was rare for me back then.

Even as an adult I love A Secret Garden (more than I did as a kid, actually) and Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. I don't think I could reread Anne McCaffrey but I loved the Dragonriders of Pern and her book The Crystal Singer. I also liked Jennifer Roberson's Sword Dancer books, which I doubt would stand up to any sort of adult scrunity. Oh, and ElfQuest, which had strong women characters and equal-opportunity sexily, scantily clad characters, though as a kid I didn't think about that.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:58 AM on February 27, 2015


Oh man, small_ruminant, ElfQuest was a huge part my junior high and high school tiny fandom club of just me!

Which jogged loose another name for classic children's literature - Joan Aiken. Alternate British histories with wolves and evil governesses and fierce female heroines! And most of them were written right before I as born, so they seemed a lot less fussy and old-fashioned to me than books like Little Women.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:32 PM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just got to this thread today, and a small mystery has been cleared up: why, when I got home last night, my partner - a dude who's read nothing but scifi and nonfiction in all the years I've known him - asked me which L.M. Alcott book he should start with.

He got handed a threadbare copy of Little Women.
posted by goofyfoot at 1:48 PM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Does Nesbit count as "obscure" nowadays? In my mind she's one of the towering figures of children's literature (I re-read The Railway Children just recently--surely that's not obscure?). I don't know that she ever wrote a bad book.

Five Children and It was one of my absolute favorites growing up, a love borrowed from my parents, but I honestly doubt anyone else in my classes had read it. Maybe she's still more popular in Britain though.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:15 PM on February 27, 2015


After I saw Jupiter Ascending I had a lot of questions, one of which was "Why is the female version of the Hero's Journey so often being told she's a princess or queen, then being carted around through a series of dangerous events by a man who does all of the work while she screams?"

Oh hey, I posted a tumblr rant a few days ago about exactly this criticism!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:08 PM on February 27, 2015


Oh yes, Nesbit! Five Children and It was one of my favourites. I loved all the old faves mentioned up above, including the wonderful Blue Castle, but what about Milly Molly Mandy (a surprising eye opener when I re-read it for the first time since childhood last year). I have a particular fondness for stories about English girls doing things like going to boarding school, but does anyone remember a book about two friends, one is named Deb, and they end up going to Holland and they buy a flowery cow?

A friend of a friend wrote a book he intended for teen girls, some kind of supernatural something or other, and the first observation one girl character made about another was in reference to her "cup size." I read and enjoyed those Rothfuss books, but I totally agree with the linked article. There are some good parts in the second book, but why does this book I like so much dislike women so much?
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 6:30 PM on February 27, 2015


I liked LW even though I don't think I completed the entire series (quite long even for me) partly because I was a huge fan of Victorian children's literature and I liked the sisters for having their own individual goals. Also, I'm tired of female characters cutting each other down because they have different opinions. Yes, I know HS/cliques were horrible for me too.

IIRC Diana Wynne Jones had a nice variety of female characters and I liked how they were the important people instead of just being on the side lines. I still need to complete more of her books as I miss reading in general nowadays. Tamora Pierce gets better starting with Alanna and then the latest BloodHound series released. I liked Protector of the Small as it was a good change from girl finds out she has magical powers and saves the world theme going on.

Recently, I've been looking for books focusing on interesting characters vs plot/setting and a bonus if it happens to feature female characters w/o a built-in romance because why. Although, it's fine to build relationships but I find that sometimes it will cannibalize the plot instead...
posted by chrono_rabbit at 2:50 PM on February 28, 2015


Recently, I've been looking for books focusing on interesting characters vs plot/setting and a bonus if it happens to feature female characters w/o a built-in romance because why. Although, it's fine to build relationships but I find that sometimes it will cannibalize the plot instead...

Check out Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms and Elemental Masters series. Lots of female characters, romance in service to the plot, the former is set in a fantastical fantasy realm and the latter is set in Victorian England. Also, Jane Lindskold's Breaking the Wall series is fantastic for women and has a diverse cast ethnically as well. Anything from Seanan McGuire, too.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:55 PM on February 28, 2015


Sorry, this is a late addition, but if you like brilliant YA fiction by women about young women at school (and on holiday from school), the too-often-overlooked "Marlow novels" of Antonia Forest (Autumn Term et al.) are simply fabulous.
posted by yoink at 11:36 AM on March 2, 2015


I do not have a sense of humor, except for an extensive repertoire of one-liners about penis size.

My male team members may have been skeptical of me at first, but I’ve earned their respect. I achieved this by fighting one of them. This fight ended with me pinning the man to the floor, straddling him, panting through my half-parted lips. And now? Total respect.
On being the token strong female character.
posted by jeather at 6:07 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I never wanted a "strong female character". I always preferred female characters, strong.

I don't think I've posted in here yet and that is a darn shame. Someone, honest to goodness, asked me today if "Little Women" was a feminist work, and it took all I had not to sit that person down and make him read Eyebrows McGee's fabulous post above which touched on Little Women.

Instead, I just quoted great swaths of this thread at him verbatim. (I love Little Women so much.)

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms

Is also great and wonderful and I love the great variety depicted in her characters, female and otherwise.
posted by PearlRose at 11:16 AM on March 20, 2015


So this seems relevant to this thread. Sarah Polley is producing the screenplay for a new Little Women movie.
posted by yoink at 1:24 PM on March 21, 2015


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