Women in Fiction


Random thoughts about women in fiction. I’ve said from time to time that my observation leads me to believe men don’t really want to read books with women protagonists. I’ve never had men argue against that position, though a few will say they don’t mind so much.

Women, on the other hand, seem content to read books with a protagonist from either gender. But one thing seems to be surfacing—the woman main character must be strong in some way, not just beautiful.

I realized some time ago that one reason I don’t like typical suspense featuring a female protagonist is because in all likelihood, she will be weak and/or vulnerable at some point in the story, either running for her life or for her chastity. I don’t like stories in which a woman is fearful throughout.

At the same time, in one of the recent CSFF Blog Tours, we featured R. J. Anderson’s Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter. A number of the “manly men” participating noted that they did not expect to like the book because of the cover featuring a truculent faery they found to be too much like Tinkerbell, a connection I hadn’t made at all.

As it turned out, our faery female was a tough and independent young thing who took the name Knife—not your typical girlie-girl. And the manly men loved the story.

There are plenty of girlie-girls if fiction, especially in romance. Some are patient and demure and adoring. Some, like she of Twilight fame, are willing to sacrifice all for the one they obsess over.

I heard a startling figure this last weekend—fully eighty percent of all books (not just Christian books) sold in the US are romances. Accurate or not, I think the perception is telling—we are a culture seeking relational bliss, women with men.

Yes, there are coming of age stories featuring guys. Hatchet comes to mind as does Peace Like a River. And there are some action-adventure stories mostly about guys. Alton Gansky has written at least one such book. So has Ted Dekker.

But for the most part, women show up in fiction, if not in the protagonist’s role, then in a role demanding her own subplot.

So I wonder. Is this why men notoriously don’t read fiction? Do guys really not want to read the romance, just as they do not want to go to movies identified as romantic comedies?

Do they not read because they don’t want to know what Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy were whispering about in their attic? Do they not read because they don’t care how Ann Shirley felt as a little orphan girl arriving in a home that expected a boy.

Do men not read because books are too cerebral and not visceral enough? Or manly enough?

And if women protagonists become tougher, more clever, stronger, and independent, will men want to read about those women more?

Believe it or not, these thoughts have something to do with the Church, too, but I’ll need to make that connection another day in a part two, or maybe a part three.

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 5:52 pm  Comments (7)  
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