Jim Hines’s post on Strong Female Characters™, as well as the article that spurred on that post, got me thinking today. (Hey, I was at work for a change. Did you expect me to actually do work?) I don’t think I have any particularly fascinating insights, but this is one thing that did come to mind: flaws either make or break female characters, whereas they merely inform male characters.
Male characters have flaws that are an aspect of their character. These may outshadow or be outshadowed by more positive aspects, but in the end, they’re likely to be well-rounded characters.
When it comes to female characters, the flaws are more likely to play into stereotypes, be they positive or negative. But the real difference, to me, is that they tend to define the character. If a woman is greedy, she’ll be portrayed as either a horrid shrew or as an otherwise lovable character who just has a bit of a quirk. (And, often, this will be their only quirk.) She can’t just be flawed, like an actual, real-life person. It either needs to dehumanise/villainise her, or make her somehow more appealing to the male character and/or audience. Female characters are defined by how she’ll be perceived, rather than the logical evolution of her as a character.
In practice, in fictional relationships, it will come down to this:
* The male character will be loved by the female character despite his flaws. She may criticise these flaws (because, you know, women with standards are so unreasonable), but they will rarely stop her from forming a relationship with/sleeping with the male lead. He’s just that irresistible.
* The female character will be loved by the male character, partially because of her flaws. If she’s neurotic, it makes her cute and quirky. If she’s arrogant, she’s that much more of a catch. If she’s violent, it makes her hotter. The male lead will rarely criticise her flaws, because – and this is what it comes down to – they’re rarely perceived as flaws. Just character quirks that do not actually detract from her overall attractiveness. However, even though he doesn’t criticise her flaws, they’ll often fade or disappear entirely the more established the relationship becomes.
So that’s what I’d like to see changed: I’d like to see female characters dump male characters – or even reject them from the get-go – because, hey, some men are just Not Relationship Material, no matter their hotness. I’d like to see male characters agree that they’re flawed and make an effort to change it, instead of just being accepted no matter what. Vice versa, I’d like to see male characters criticise female characters without being condescending, but accepting – and more importantly, acknowledging – her flaws whether or not she changes. I want to see male characters drawn to female characters not because of cutesy flaws-which-are-therefore-not-flaws, but because of impressive strengths, which, preferably, do not involve her cup size.
It’s okay to say, “Yeah, sometimes she’s really annoying, but she’s an amazing woman and I love her for her amazing analytical thinking skills/the way she put her life on the line for me/how she never backs down from a challenge.” It’s okay to say, “Sorry, you’re a violent lunatic/boring as hell, I’m staying single for now.”
(And for the record, obviously I’m not saying this should be the case all the time. That would just tip the problem the other way. It needs to be balanced out – and it’s already starting to happen! See: Star Trek and the fabulous way the Kirk/Uhura not-a-relationship is treated.)
Where’s the fun in giving your characters flaws if other characters won’t acknowledge them and react in a realistic fashion?
It’s entirely possible I’m missing something obvious here. Disagreement is welcome *g*