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Author Topic: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists  (Read 15262 times)

Offline Saurus

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #15 on: January 15, 2016, 08:50:48 AM »

Well I hadn't ever thought about it that way before either, tbh. When writing I paid no attention to gender, the characters materialized one way or the other.

Then you're doing it right. The genders of the characters is irrelevant, what matters is their personality. Nothing's worse than characters that have been forced in just to balance out the genders because some people complain about everything. You can always tell when a character has been added just for the sake of "gender equality".

A couple of days ago we watched Master and Commander, which has an ALL male cast. There are a couple of native women in one scene for about 30 seconds selling some exotic goods on a boat, but they are nothing but background props. This isn't a problem, because the film is set entirely on a ship within a time period where men sailed ships and women stayed at home.

That said, the characters in the films aren't particularly in-depth or interesting, and the story was only alright. The point is that undoubtedly some people would've moaned about there not being at least one tough female lieutenant on that ship, even though that would have made no sense - it's supposed to be a historically accurate world after all.


I just didn't pay attention to gender when writing at all, until recently. Specifically I'm thinking of when Joss Whedon had to shut down his twitter acct because so many ppl were angry that the Black Widow had been made into a "damsel in distress" in the Avengers-- I hadn't even noticed. So I joined some online groups that critique popular novels and shows and they often pointed out the lack of female characters and I took a look at my own stuff and I was like "sh#t, did I write something masculinist?" I'm always doing my best to become less sexist, if that counts.

(I was also reading some stuff on "finding your audience" and it occurred to me that my positive feedback skewed older and female when I had always pictured it being younger and male. So I started to wonder "what if" the book as a whole is geared more toward a female audience, but they get turned off by the beginning of the story or the damsel in distress arc)

Anyway, I deeply apologize @Saurus if the question was sexist.  I am very sorry, that wasn't my intention.

No need to apologise! It's just a pet peeve of mine when stories are altered and characters are squeezed in because some people think it sucks and is sexist if the president in your story isn't female.

Yeah, as others have said, people will ALWAYS find something to complain about. Everyone has their own idea of what makes a character - especially a female protagonist - strong and independent, and some people think that if they need rescuing even ONCE they're a typical weakling damsel in distress. People need rescuing. People have weak moments, and even the strongest and cleverest people can't always be on top of their game, male or female. The worst part is that people seem to think that female characters need to be essentially "males with vaginas" to be strong; i.e. show no emotion, have no attachments, beat everyone in a fight and wear trousers even within a time period where that was deemed "inappropriate". (Mind you, people who think men have no emotions or shouldn't show them etc, are just as bad).

The funniest thing is that if you were to write a fantasy world where everything was opposite; women went to war and men stayed at home knitting, people would probably applaud you for your gender equality, even though where's the equality in that? :D What you can do of course, is make warring available for physically strong females, as it has been in certain cultures and is in ours today, but again, it shouldn't be forced if it doesn't fit the setting. You can still make the characters aware of the sexism and inequality in their own world, which just adds to the realism.

Keep doing what you're doing! :)
« Last Edit: January 15, 2016, 08:52:54 AM by Saurus »
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Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #16 on: January 15, 2016, 10:09:48 AM »
If it makes sense to put the character in then the gender, ethnicity or what have you isn't going to bother me. If a character being female fits perfectly well into the plot for whatever reason then use a female character.

A character of a certain background has to make sense and add more to the story than someone from a different background.

As far as straight white males being the default, I don't have a problem with that. This is because I fit that demographic and thus I identify with that more than other groups. This isn't to say I have a dislike for characters that don't fit this description. For example, I really like Clive Barker and several of his MC's are gay and yet I didn't dismiss the book when I found that out. It didn't have a negative impact on my reading experience or hinder my enjoyment of the books.

I just don't want token characters that aren't in there for any other reason than the author trying to show how big they are on supporting diversity. Like a self-congratulatory pat on the back.
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Offline AshKB

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2016, 08:38:57 PM »
The funniest thing is that if you were to write a fantasy world where everything was opposite; women went to war and men stayed at home knitting, people would probably applaud you for your gender equality, even though where's the equality in that?

Well, none of the places I visit or people I know - who are very, very pro-equality - would call this gender equal at all. Equality doesn't mean that the gender roles are swapped. Melanie Rawn's The Exiles has that set up, and it's very explicitly a matriarchy.

There's also a difference between a sexist world and a sexist narrative. A world and culture can be sexist, but there can (and, uh, should) be a range of female characters on all the same rungs of characterization as the male. But when there's barely any, and when their roles are only stereotypical (including now the 'just like the guys' warrior), then the narrative is supporting the sexism. Women have been just about everything that men have, over the millennia, no matter the rules of that society. And the rules are usually a lot more complex than people think.

Female sheriffs and business-owners in the middle ages, as an example.

I just don't want token characters that aren't in there for any other reason than the author trying to show how big they are on supporting diversity. Like a self-congratulatory pat on the back.

On the other hand, why SHOULD characters who aren't the default be forced to justify their existence? Unless all the characters have to, that doesn't quite seem fair. People can be queer or female or different ethnicity or disabled without it being a plot-point. If the character strikes people as token, sometimes it's more bad writing - and other times, it's just because we're not used to Real Life variety in our fiction.
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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2016, 08:50:47 PM »
There is a point where you can tell. I won't go into too much detail, but in Code Black, they've got all the requirements for a show to be culturally acceptable.
Mixed race couple? Check. No problem with that, except when the character's relationship makes absolutely no sense, like in this case.
Gay couple? Check. Again, no problem with that, but based on the first example, probably just a trick to pull more people and not to help the characters.
There's several examples of that appearing in TV and movies. Why? Because people feel pressured into writing the stories someone else wants, and not the one they want to tell. If you're going to have a straight couple, that's fine. How does that relationship effect the plot? Gay couple? That's awesome. How do the struggles they face(if any in the world you're writing) or the relationship with their partner benefit the plot? So, in other words, why does that guy need to be with that girl, or the girl with the other girl, guy with guy, etc.
I'll take this away from relationships, and include it with race, since for some reason that's still a thing. If a character is white in your head, how does that benefit your story? Compare the benefits of the character being black or hispanic or something else, and weigh them against each other. Go with the option that works best in your mind, not the one that pleases the most people.
In other words, just write the freaking story and make it a good one. Don't try to be politically correct. It makes a lot more people cringe than others realize. Write your story.

Offline AshKB

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2016, 09:22:59 PM »
For example of a series with pretty effortless diversity: The Expanse.

Books been going longer than the TV show, obviously, but both are doing it very, very well.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted - Plutarch

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Offline cupiscent

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #20 on: January 21, 2016, 07:27:03 AM »
There are so many fantasy books being published these days - and I have sadly so much less reading time than I used to - that I admit to using pretty arbitrary measures to decide which books I will add to my to-read list. I used to say, "I don't read books that don't have a named, important female character in the blurb," but I think what it really is is that I want to see in the blurb something I haven't seen a hundred-thousand times before in the genre. Sadly for the genre (though this is improving), having a named, important female character automatically makes you stand out, but there are also points to be gained for sexuality, ethnicity, and other diversities.

So it's not that I only want to see female main characters, but I am looking for a reason why this book is going to be something new and interesting, not just the same-old straight-white-dudes-with-swords/cloaks having adventures that I've read a dozen times before - and enjoyed, but still: read before.

Offline CryptofCthulhu

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #21 on: January 21, 2016, 11:51:17 AM »
There are so many fantasy books being published these days - and I have sadly so much less reading time than I used to - that I admit to using pretty arbitrary measures to decide which books I will add to my to-read list. I used to say, "I don't read books that don't have a named, important female character in the blurb," but I think what it really is is that I want to see in the blurb something I haven't seen a hundred-thousand times before in the genre. Sadly for the genre (though this is improving), having a named, important female character automatically makes you stand out, but there are also points to be gained for sexuality, ethnicity, and other diversities.

So it's not that I only want to see female main characters, but I am looking for a reason why this book is going to be something new and interesting, not just the same-old straight-white-dudes-with-swords/cloaks having adventures that I've read a dozen times before - and enjoyed, but still: read before.

I don't really see lack of diversity as a negative, nor do I see the desire to show a lot of diversity for the sake of diversity as necessarily being a negative either.

I like characters that I can identify with in some degree or that are written well enough that they capture my imagination.

Characters like "Dirty" Harry Callahan and Clint Eastwood's character in the "Man with no name" Trilogy, or High Plains Drifter, are the types of characters I like to read about.
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #22 on: January 21, 2016, 02:30:25 PM »
...having a named, important female character automatically makes you stand out, but there are also points to be gained for sexuality, ethnicity, and other diversities.

That's interesting because I'm largely the opposite.

Personally, I tend to ignore books which make a big deal about this sort of thing, because it leads me to think the author has a lack of understanding as to what things are central in the composition of human identity (Which leads me to think they probably have poor characterization).

Offline NinjaRaptor

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2016, 06:08:54 PM »
...having a named, important female character automatically makes you stand out, but there are also points to be gained for sexuality, ethnicity, and other diversities.

That's interesting because I'm largely the opposite.

Personally, I tend to ignore books which make a big deal about this sort of thing, because it leads me to think the author has a lack of understanding as to what things are central in the composition of human identity (Which leads me to think they probably have poor characterization).
For what it's worth, I believe going beyond the "straight white male hero in faux medieval Europe" has the potential to be a welcome change of pace. Hell, some of my favorite works in this genre have African or otherwise non-European characters and settings. Notice though that I said potential, as in the author shouldn't neglect other aspects of storytelling and treat diversity or some other activist agenda as their only crutch. There's a difference between letting your politics influence the storytelling and letting them take over.
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Offline AshKB

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #24 on: January 21, 2016, 11:15:25 PM »
...having a named, important female character automatically makes you stand out, but there are also points to be gained for sexuality, ethnicity, and other diversities.

That's interesting because I'm largely the opposite.

Personally, I tend to ignore books which make a big deal about this sort of thing, because it leads me to think the author has a lack of understanding as to what things are central in the composition of human identity (Which leads me to think they probably have poor characterization).

Hmm. One thing I'm wondering: what's the line between the book making a big deal vs merely having it in the narrative, and between just having it in the narrative vs the reviews going 'oh holy shit we actually have a WoC female lead who is disabled, SIGN ME UP'.

(Example taken from a sci-fi book that should have hit all my buttons, and instead....read like there was a list of numbers to be pressed without the author remembering to have a compelling story. It read like a draft that needed another go to smooth it out. So very disappointing.)

I ask, too, because while I'm very pro diversity and whatnot (as, uh, I'm sure people have gathered), in my work, I try to make fit in until in the narrative its not that remarkable. It's just how the world and these characters are. But I'm starting to get the impression that even just having a cast where, say, no one is white or one of the female protagonists has a wife, will get people going 'NOPE, YOU ARE MAKING A BIG POINT!!!' instead of it just being a feature.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted - Plutarch

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Offline ultamentkiller

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #25 on: January 21, 2016, 11:29:07 PM »
I think it depends on how you do it.
In my view, a book with an entirely white cast is just as unbelievable as one with an entirely dark one. There's bound to at least be one dark-skinned person around. People travel, even in Fantasy. Whether or not they're lead characters is a completely different thing.
Like it's been said above, if it fits the story, it'll work. How does having this character pale or dark effect the story? What about that effects the way they look at a situation? How does the female character being married to either a man or a woman effect the plot? A homosexual relationship is going to effect a character differently than a straight one. That might seem messed up to some, but it's true. In no society has their ever been true gender equality. Ever. So it will effect their lives, even if one isn't trying to be dominant over the other.
Ask why, and as long as there's an answer besides "because I'm making a political statement", people will be happy.

Offline NinjaRaptor

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #26 on: January 21, 2016, 11:56:45 PM »
Hmm. One thing I'm wondering: what's the line between the book making a big deal vs merely having it in the narrative, and between just having it in the narrative vs the reviews going 'oh holy shit we actually have a WoC female lead who is disabled, SIGN ME UP'.

(Example taken from a sci-fi book that should have hit all my buttons, and instead....read like there was a list of numbers to be pressed without the author remembering to have a compelling story. It read like a draft that needed another go to smooth it out. So very disappointing.)

I ask, too, because while I'm very pro diversity and whatnot (as, uh, I'm sure people have gathered), in my work, I try to make fit in until in the narrative its not that remarkable. It's just how the world and these characters are. But I'm starting to get the impression that even just having a cast where, say, no one is white or one of the female protagonists has a wife, will get people going 'NOPE, YOU ARE MAKING A BIG POINT!!!' instead of it just being a feature.
Even if an author tells a perfectly effective story that happens to be "diverse", they don't have total control over how the press reviews and promotes it. Certain activists in geek journalism are going to play up the diversity angle no matter what. Is that necessarily undesirable? Clickbait journalism is still attention that can be diverted to the story itself, and even people who find clickbait activists obnoxious can appreciate a diversion from the genre's usual stereotypes.

The important thing, I think, is to write a good story with characters who aren't offensively one-dimensional caricatures.
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Offline Nora

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #27 on: January 22, 2016, 12:21:55 AM »
Not everyone has the same "feels forced" threshold. Ancillary Justice, for me, felt a bit forced, with everyone being a she. But it didn't bother me so much that I couldn't enjoy the book.
Other things like Ariah felt completely natural, with straight and gay poly-amorous settings from characters of different racial backgrounds. Whoop!

But others can really feel like they're trying to make a quota.

At the end of the day, I still never take any of this into account when I look up a book to read. But good female or gay characters are like any good characters : a great thing.
If they're used to advertise the quality of the book, it instantly sounds like quota casting.
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Offline Justan Henner

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Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #28 on: January 22, 2016, 01:32:30 AM »
...having a named, important female character automatically makes you stand out, but there are also points to be gained for sexuality, ethnicity, and other diversities.

That's interesting because I'm largely the opposite.

Personally, I tend to ignore books which make a big deal about this sort of thing, because it leads me to think the author has a lack of understanding as to what things are central in the composition of human identity (Which leads me to think they probably have poor characterization).

Hmm. One thing I'm wondering: what's the line between the book making a big deal vs merely having it in the narrative, and between just having it in the narrative vs the reviews going 'oh holy shit we actually have a WoC female lead who is disabled, SIGN ME UP'.


I'll clarify.

First and foremost, I'm not really referring to the content of a book when I say that, nor to an author's commentary about the book, or reviews by other people. I'm only referring to the ad copy, and in this particular case, to the book blurb. I am also not referring to ad copy in which the mention of gender, race, orientation, etc. is relevant to the thesis or plot of the book. I wouldn't feel like it was "making a big deal" if a book blurb started with "Harvey Milk is a gay, elected official in an era of homophobia," or "Clayton Bigsby is a black, blind Klansman (I would not click the link unless you are comfortable with Dave Chappelle and his style of comedy)" because they're relevant details to the book's thesis/plot.

What I consider "making a big deal of it", is the mention of one of those characteristics without it being grounded in relevant details. For example, I've seen a few authors advertise on reddit in which they give the book title and then in brackets beside it put something like [Black, Female lead!]. That's more what drives me away, because I really only see two reasons for it:

1) They're going out of their way in order to market to a specific audience who would react to those buzzwords. I don't think there's anything wrong with this, nor do I think there's anything wrong with wanting to read a book specifically because it's about a black woman, LGBT, etc.; however, plain and simple, I just happen to not be in the audience this ad copy appeals to.

or (and this is a long one)

2) They included the detail because they thought it was an adequate/relevant descriptor when it really wasn't. This type of thing really depends on the presentation, and how the blurb is written. A couple of examples:

If it was something like "Jane and her wife, Pam, work as investment bankers..." I wouldn't see a problem with it. (Again, likely because in that framework it becomes a relevant detail, because it highlights that what the author thinks is important to the story is the relationship between Jane and Pam).

However, if it was something like "Kyle, a gay farm boy, has been driven from his home by the dark lord..." then I'd shy away. The reason I'd shy away, is that gay in this instance, doesn't tell me anything. "Gay" doesn't tell me anything about who Kyle is as a person. It doesn't give me a sense of his personality, or (in this imaginary world in which the book takes place) his plight or potential struggles. Considering the point of ad copy is to present the most relevant and eye catching details, including it means to me that the author thought this detail was of the utmost importance.

And to me... well, it tells me that for some reason this author thinks that "Gay, black, white, etc." are more important to the character's identity than their experiences, upbringing, beliefs, personality, and so forth. And so I assume they have likely written a stereotype, or at the least, some fairly shallow characters, and thus, I stay away.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2016, 04:20:10 PM by Justan Henner »

Offline Lu Kudzoza

Re: Female Fantasy Readers thoughts on Male Protagonists
« Reply #29 on: January 22, 2016, 08:28:31 PM »
Quote
Female readers want  the same as male ones - great story, great characters.

Exactly. And for me, a bit of philosophy that directly relates to the protagonist's plight. I don't care if the character is male or female. I just want them to be interesting as a person (internal conflict, unique personality, etc.) and do interesting things (cool work/hobbies/interests/skills and external conflict).

My advice is, write the character that is needed for the story... no more, no less.