Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Female Characters

In the past month or so I've read three very different books: China Mieville's Un Lun Dun, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and Alan Moore's Watchmen. I really liked all of them. I read them compulsively, which happens in wierd spurts while I'm writing. Some weeks all I want to do is read and it's a struggle to get my own words down, other weeks I don't read anything (except over people's shoulders on the T because I simply can't resist an open book/newspaper/magazine...).

They're clearly very different books but one thing they do have in common is male writers creating female characters. In Anna Karenina and Un Lun Dun the female characters are main characters too. And once again I found myself wondering why female characters are so hard to get right.

In fairness, China Mieville did the best job of the three, in my opinion. His main character is a young girl named Deeba. I can't help but wonder if male writers find it easier to write well rounded female characters when they haven't hit puperty yet. As if once puperty sets in all women become mysterious, unreadable, often irrational people who fall into those two inevitable categories I loathe: virgin or whore.


Next is Tolstoy. I thought his portrayal of Anna was really interesting. To me it felt like he was writing a story about a real person but that his own intentions kept getting in the way of her. Much of the time she was bogged down with Tolstoy's morals, his desire to punish her for her transgressions, his attempts to portray the female perspective. I finished the book and felt angry at Tolstoy for doing that to Anna--as if Anna was independent of the book and Tolstoy as some sort of god-writer had written her fate on purpose just to hurt her.

And finally, we come to Alan Moore. Here's where I got really frustrated. Granted, as a woman I suppose I'm not the target audience for "Watchmen." So what? (Maybe that's due to the lack of well rounded female charaters, but that's for another blg post all together.) That doesn't mean the woman should just go around inspiring and falling in love with the men. I hate when women are these muses, up on pedestals. Laurie falls in love with one man, then another. Her purpose in the novel seems to be to encourage the men (Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl) to act. Yes, she's badass and she does some figting (though apparently only because her mom wanted her to be a superhero. We never find out what Laurie actually wants). But that isn't enough. I don't just want to see women who are tough, I want them to be people with their own opinions, thoughts, ambitions, and faults. And don't even get me started on the issue of women, youth, and beauty. Dr. Manhattan dumps his previous girlfriend for a sixteen year old Laurie for no apparent reason other than her youth and beauty. Come on guys, I know women have worth independent of their age and physical appearance!!

I think some of my favorite authors are the ones who write men and women as people. Neil Gaiman is really good at this, in my opinion. His stories are populated with all sort of people who have different personalities, genders, and sexual preferences. Thanks, Neil! If only more writers--a least in the fantasy genre--did that.

Hopefully someday someone will add me to that list, too.

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