The problem with women

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of lame female protagonists. By lame I mean that they don't do anything. They sit around and wait to be rescued. They whine, they moan, they complain, but they don't get up off their asses and make decisions about anything. They don't act - they are acted upon. (My undergraduate classes in feminist theory are snickering in the back of my head. "See," they're saying. "We told you!")

Look, if you're going to have a woman as a protagonist then I had better be able to understand her. This is not the same thing as "liking" her. I'm not a big fan of the "Your Main Character Has To Be Likable" school of thought. I think "likable" in that case is a stand-in for "relatable." I have to be able to relate to your female protagonist.*

One of the ways that a lot of writers do this is by making their female protagonists "kick-ass." This is cool. I like the Kick-Ass Heroine, especially in sci fi or fantasy. Big fan. Give me a woman who can shoot a gun or give a karate kick or fly a plane. Kick-Ass heroines are usually competent and professional women, smart and sassy, and Super Hot. These are all good things.

But these are not the only ways that a female character can be relatable.

Meg, for example, in Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, is a smart and sarcastic girl, but she's not Kick-Ass. She's not strong, or powerful. She doesn't have any weapons. But she does have an undying love for her father, and she uses that to save both of them (and the whole world, hell, the universe) from It. This is how she's relatable - her prickly personality is a result of how she's been hurt by the absence of her father and her outsider status, even in her own family. We get her, so we're willing to forgive a little sniping.

Muriel Pritchett, in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist, is an uneducated, bossy, sexually promiscuous, former teenage mother, but she's also resourceful and determined and connected to the people around her. By the end of the book, we don't want the protagonist to go back to his calm and reasonable wife, but to stay with prickly, loud Muriel. She's not a superhero, and she's not Super Hot, but she's fun. She lives.

Your character can be naughty or nice, sweet or mean, Little Mary Sunshine or a bitch on wheels. All women (or all women I know, anyway, which is admittedly not a representative sample) are all of those things from time to time. That's cool. But I don't want to spend time with someone who never has a mean thing to say about anyone, or who never does anything kind for another living soul UNLESS (and that's a big UNLESS), I understand why she's like that. Your characters don't have to be kind or Kick-Ass, but they do have to be relatable.

*NOTE: I think this is true of ALL protagonists, but I haven't seen a lot of problems in my reading with male protagonists being wusses lately. Obviously, depending on what you're reading, YMMV.


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