Trend to Weak Female Characters?

As we were discussing the other week (see comments), the trend in books these days seems to be one of weak female characters. What’s up with that? As I pointed out, you don’t have to have a weak female character in order to have a strong man.

Example: Twilight. A very dangerous vampire is hunting Bella. Edward loses his shit and tries to run away with her. She protests that she, you know, has parents that might wonder where the hell she is if she disappears without a trace. (Also, her father’s a police officer who would stop at nothing to find her). Plus there’s, like, school she needs to go to. Because, unlike Edward and the other vampires, she hasn’t graduated even once.

It’s her life. Doesn’t she have a right to say how things roll?

I take a different tack. When Anselm is presented with the problem of what to do with Kalyn–keep her happy or keep her safe–he, gasp, lets her choose.

“If you want to go to Chicago with your Aunt Norma, you can; I know you have family up there. But… you can stay with me and Micah, if you prefer.”

“If you ever decide that being with us is too much, or if you just need a break for a little while, we’ll put you on a plane to Chicago—or send you back here, if you want to stay with Rose.”

No kidnapping. Kalyn is allowed to choose what she wants to do because she’s legally (in their society) an adult.

And Anselm doesn’t have to be an ass to look like a badass. And Kalyn doesn’t have to be treated like a child to demonstrate that Anselm is that strong, protective man which many women find appealing.

Micah got a belt for Kalyn and helped her put it and a holster on. Then he slipped a black handgun into the holster.

“What’s that?” she asked him, looking down at it.

“A Glock 30. It’s a .45, so make sure you hang onto it with both hands; it’s a lot of gun. You’ve got ten rounds in the magazine, plus one in the chamber, ready to go. There’s no external safety, so all you have to do is aim and pull the trigger. Don’t be afraid to use all of your rounds and reload,” he said, as he shoved a spare magazine into her pants pocket.

“Um… what am I shooting?”

“God willing, nothing,” Anselm said, as he put on his own holster. “Micah and I plan on taking care of everything ourselves, but if something should happen to us, I don’t want to leave you defenseless. Get away and call Rose to come get you.”

Micah handed a pump-action shotgun to Anselm. “This has the chain shot in it,” he said.

They both looked at Kalyn. After a moment, Anselm passed it to her. “There’s seven rounds in it, with one already in the chamber,” he told her. “All you have to do is turn off the safety and it’s ready to go. It’s good to fifteen yards or closer. But don’t shoot anything unless we tell you to or your life is in danger.”

See how easy that is? Anselm and Micah protect Kalyn by giving her weapons so she can defend herself. It doesn’t make them less badass to treat her like she’s reasonably self-reliant. If anything, it’s more loving to give her a way to defend herself.

(Of course, Twilight fans will point out that those vampires can only be killed by the shape-shifters and other vampires. But most books don’t have a demi-god for an antagonist, so there’s no excuse for the woman to not be able to defend herself.

This is why I loved the old Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton (before the series turned into plotless erotica). Anita was a ball-buster who didn’t need a human man’s help ever and rarely needed to enlist the help of a supernatural being. Even though she was human–and a petite woman to boot–she was a notorious vampire slayer. She was the first strong female character I had read in vampire fiction, and the fact that Kalyn knows how to operate a gun–and will start shooting people later in the series–was all inspired by Anita Blake.)

While Dana’s critique of Twlight makes it easy to demonstrate what I’m taking about, it’s certainly not the only offender. Fifty Shades of Grey is apparently just as bad (or worse) when it comes to a weak female character. Someone reading it told me, “I just want to give that girl [the protagonist] a shake and tell her ‘Don’t do this!’ She’s making such bad decisions. I’d stop reading it, but I really want to know if she manages to get out of this terrible, terrible relationship.”

Makes it sound like watching a train wreck just to see who will survive.

Here is a short story description I found on Smashwords:

A young woman alone in her bedroom late at night hears an intruder in the other room. She tries to hide but he finds her, binds her and has his way with her. __________ is approximately fifteen hundred words and the story contains graphic depictions of sexual acts between consenting adults.

My first thought is: OMG, what is consensual about being tied up raped by an intruder? And if it’s not rape, then what, in the name of all that’s holy, makes your protagonist decide that, hey, you know what, I don’t know you, and I know you broke into my house and shit, but I kind of like the ropes and things, so let’s get busy.

When I lived in an apartment alone, I slept with a knife beside the bed so I could kill anyone who came into my bedroom. Now that I’m older, I sleep with a gun. I know it sounds crazy and everything, but I really don’t want to have sex with some random man that walks into my bedroom.

And there is example after example of romance and erotica on real and virtual shelves where the man dominates the woman physically or emotionally, or forces himself on her in some way and she likes it. Do authors really think that, deep down, women like to be treated like shit? And why are women buying this stuff???

The more of this I read, the more fights Kalyn and Anselm have, just to prove Kalyn isn’t spineless. And the more people she starts killing.

If the trend gets any worse, she’s going to wind up ripping off a bear’s leg and eating it raw for breakfast.

BTW, Barbaric Poetries has a slew of archived posts on female characters in television, movies, and comic books–and the fact that they used to be cool and strong, but now they’re not strong or are all together non-existent.


19 comments on “Trend to Weak Female Characters?

  1. Oh man, I love that you sleep with a gun beside your bed. If Canada let us carry guns, I’d probably do that too. Also, awesome post 🙂 Even though I did actually enjoy Twilight (shame!), I also enjoy it when people point out all the myriad things wrong with it. Such as the fact that Bella is so incapable of taking care of herself that it’s really a wonder she hasn’t just walked into oncoming traffic yet.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      I admit, there was a part of me that liked it, too (probably because I’m secretly a romantic with a love of the dramatic). But I also find Dana’s site, Reasoning with Vampires, hilarious, too.

      And I will admit it’s made me better about my punctuation. Although I’m starting to border on neurotic about my comma placement now.

      It sounds horrible, but I don’t think I really noticed how inept Bella was (although I will admit, I found her ability to cook odd) until it was pointed out, then I looked back and said, “Damn, they’re right. She’s a horrible role model for teen girls.” I did like Bella best at the end of the fourth book, when she really starts to act like an adult and do things on her own and sort of take control of the situation. I think Stephanie Meyer wanted to show that Bella was a loser at being a human because she was meant to be a vampire. But I think more people would have liked Bella if she had turned earlier and we got to see more of that out of her. The series ended just when she was finally becoming interesting.

      • Michelle Proulx says:

        What did you think of the end battle scene with the Volturi? It was nice that they worked things out without bloodshed, but still … kinda was hoping for some Volturi smackdown …

      • Keri Peardon says:

        Yeah, I kind of felt the same way. I did get caught up in the suspense–she did build that well–and I was just sure everyone was going to die, but then only the sister who informed on them died. The conclusion was not at all what I was expecting, so I liked it for that reason. But yeah, there was a part of me that wanted to see a real fight. One thing I liked about J. K. Rowling is that she killed off some of her likeable characters. When you’re involved in a battle of good versus evil, some good people will die. That’s just the price you have to pay.

        Let’s just say, I take the J. K. Rowling approach in my third book.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Wait, there’s crime in Canada?

      Can’t you just sleep with a Mountie beside you? 😉
      (When I was younger, I had a real thing for Mounties.)

      • Michelle Proulx says:

        I could sleep with a teddy bear dressed like a Mountie, I suppose …

      • Keri Peardon says:

        And you’d prefer that to sleeping with a Mountie… why?

        Lookie here.MountieThis one will run a spear through an intruder for you. And then run over the still-twitching body with his horse. And he won’t even apologize for it!

      • Michelle Proulx says:

        Yes, but where would I find one? They’re all busy defending us from … snow, or whatever it is that attacks Canada. Beavers?

      • Keri Peardon says:

        Must… not… make… dirty… comment… about… beavers… in… public.

        I went to an all girls’ school in Virginia. On the weekends, carpools were taken to VMI (Virginia Military Institute) where the pickings were easy. So I would suggest starting in a city where you have an academy. Or do they have bases? I mean, worst comes to worst, you start hanging around military bases, you could end up with, you know, someone in the Navy.

        Other than that, you might try watching “An Officer and a Gentleman” for tips. Those women were professional medal diggers.

      • Michelle Proulx says:

        I’ve never seen that movie! Does that have Marilyn Monroe in it? I’m probably way off base. Off *base*, get it? Hahahahahahahaha … ha …

      • Keri Peardon says:

        No, way after her time. It stars Richard Gere and… um… Richard Gere’s shadow. Oh, and Richard Gere’s uniform.

  2. mari wells says:

    Love this post. I totally agree, What are we teaching our girls if this is what they read?
    I’m trying to do something very similar in my vampire story. The vampire husband does try to control things at the being and reverts every now and then, but the protagonist wife stops him. A lot like Hey slow your roll dude. It’s my life and I choose. I’m also very careful of how much sex it talked about.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      LOL, well, I will admit that Anselm tells Kalyn in the beginning, “If you’re a feminist, we’re going to have problems.” But he meant it as a joke. Mostly. He is very serious about being chivalric. He opens doors and buys dinner and leads when dancing. He likes doing things for her. (He takes care of other people, too; it’s what he does.) But he’s not controlling or isolating. He encourages her to spend time with her friends–even make new ones. He gives her tactical training. When things get really, really bad in the third book, he gives her a gun and a position to defend. He and Micah go do the worst–the stuff which really needs their expertise–but Kalyn comes under fire and must fight back to survive. She simply can’t sit around and wait for Anselm to do everything. In several cases, she has to save the men.

      In other words, as she grows up, she becomes a part of the team.

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  4. mari wells says:

    I agree totally. A woman wants a man to be a man, and to have control when she needs him to. To be able to protect her if/when she needs it. To teach her how to protect herself. (At least in my case.) However there is a fine line between protecting and controlling. A true man knows where the line is. We need many more men who know where the line is located.
    I also agree with your ideas of Bella, Mrs. Meyer should write another book about Bella being strong and interesting. Maybe a short one like the Bree book. I also think that she didn’t have any blood shed in the battle because she couldn’t bear to loose on of them. I know I feel that way of my characters.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      I love my characters. And I want my readers to love my characters. That way, when I kill them off, it will hurt. I think the best books are the ones that make you feel emotion–tension, fear, joy, love, sadness. I usually write action scenes with a mind towards creating an emotional response in the reader.

  5. After reading this, I’m thinking I’m a wimp. My main characters never kill anyone. Any death occurs so far off scene, you can’t blink or you’ll miss it. 🙂 Seriously, I’m impressed with how well you write, Keri. Writing a badass female lead must be fun. … I made my husband buy a shotgun for me for the bedroom. Even though we have handguns, I’m more comfortable with a gun that will give me more of a chance of hitting my target.

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Well, you have to admit, most people don’t kill other people, so it’s perfectly normal to have books without bloodshed! Besides, you write detective/mystery stuff, and generally those books pick up AFTER someone has been killed.

      Writing a badass protagonist is fun, but I’ve also had fun with Scott, who is naturally unassuming, but who is trying to learn how to stand up for himself. He’s never going to be a badass, but he’s still fun, in part because he’s not.

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