Monday, September 21, 2009

Guys Need to Get Used to Female Main Characters

This particular rant has been building inside of me for a while now. It started when my husband complained about Katniss' behavior in CATCHING FIRE. "I didn't think it was realistic. I thought she overreacted." Meanwhile I thought her reactions made perfect sense. Then it dawned on me: she was reacting like a teenage girl would react, not a teenage boy.

The rant reared its head a second time when a male friend we'll call D read the second draft of my WIP, which features 24 year old Maggie as the main character. D said, "Maggie has some pretty weird interactions with [her cubicle mate] and [her sister]." However when a female friend whom we'll call C read it she told me, "I have definitely had coworkers who are irritating in just the same way, and that I have a relationship with in the same way…it’s spot on."

This is when I began to get suspicious of male readers and their relationship with female main characters.

Finally, this weekend another male friend of mine was complaining about TWILIGHT. He didn't mind the book but he couldn't relate to Edward and therefore could not enjoy the book. Obviously he couldn't relate to Bella because she is...A Girl! With girl parts!! You know, the parts that boys don't have!

Seriously, guys?

I have no sympathy for you. You live in a world where "man" is somehow considered gender neutral. Sure some people try to use "s/he" but it's not exactly catching on and--worse--it's super awkward.

Here's the thing, as a girl who grew up reading sci-fi/fantasy, I HAD to see myself as the boy character all the time because a boy was always the main character. The girl was often hovering on the sidelines, flaunting her magical powers, her exotic parentage, and her royal upbringing--all metaphors for the strange, beautiful otherworldliness that is Women, as seen from a boy's perspective. But I didn't see myself as that beautiful girl, I saw myself as the awkward kid venturing into a strange world he knows nothing about while coming to terms with power and responsibility.

When I read The Hobbit, I didn't even have a female character to admire. There were NONE. When I read The Prydain Chronicles, sure I wanted to be Eilonwy (I still do, fyi) but when Taran was experiencing growing pains, so was I. I didn't just stop enjoying the story whenever I was in Taran's head just because he had something swinging between his legs. When I read Ender's Game, I was Ender not his sister Valentine, who is barely in the story at all. And when I read Harry Potter, in many ways I was Harry, not Hermione, just as we all are.

Basically, guys, I think you've been spoiled. You've never had to see things "our" way, especially in fantasy literature which until recently was very male dominated. (anyone want to read about another farm boy with latent abilities who is destined to marry the princess/sorceress/elf? Yeah, me neither.)

To be fair, I did tone down that coworker relationship in my WIP because I believe that every reader should be able to relate to the characters and situations no matter what parts they've got. But I still think that guys just aren't used to reading through a female lens.

And all I've got to say is: Guys, you better get used to it.