Goodreads is a great place to go if I only selectively read the reviews. Sometimes, people are intelligent and thoughtful in their critiques of work, and I find myself adding new books to the ‘must read’ list in response. Other times, I don’t get where people are coming from in their annoyance. And sometimes, the comments made turn me into a ranting hell beast.
Today is a ranty day.
Seriously, can we stop with the ‘books for boys’ and ‘books for girls’ shtick? I don’t know about you, but I’m not living in Victorian England. Women can vote and drive and show their ankles, and do a whole lot of things now. I’m so tired of seeing people wanking on about how a book is violent or gory, so it’s obviously by guys and for guys.
I don’t understand this idea about dainty women squeamish around blood. Most girls stop being squeamish (if ever they actually were) when they hit puberty. It’s hard to feel faint when you have to deal with something on a regular basis*. It’s why parents and designated drivers get over their sympathy-vomit tendencies so quickly.
I lost the ick factor around blood earlier than most. One Halloween when I was a kid, my sister scared me. I tripped over the stupid plastic safety thing that holds down the edge of a room full of carpet (you know, that thing that’s designed to stop you tripping and hurting yourself), stacked it, and slammed face first into the pointed wooden leg of an old, heavy chair. I cried a bit because it hurt like hell, but what I mostly remember (aside from the grey colour my sister turned, the jaw-dropped shock of my Mum, and the way I was fascinated with the way the red stained my white dress with black polka dots as we sped to the hospital) was bitching out the doctor for wanting me to have pink stitches. I wanted blue, dammit, and apparently even when you look like an extra from Saw, people are going to quibble about gendered colour choices.
Girls deal with a lot of blood in their lifetimes, even if they don’t get head injuries or become serial killers. So why on earth do we still think blood is something all women are scared of? Why is the stupid idea still alive that women only read books if they’ve got pink covers, swirly script that looks like a unicorn has puked glitter all over it, and a shirtless man on the cover?
I read some romance. I watch rom-coms from time to time. I like Disney movies. But I also really like explosions, witty dialogue before shooting people in the head, well choreographed fight scenes, and swords.
I really, really like swords, y’all. In the non Freudian way.
I also like cursing (you may have noticed). And more than a few dirty jokes. Which leads me neatly to comment #2 that made my rage act up today: your character makes dick jokes and swears, and as such totally doesn’t work as a female character. The old ‘if she swears, screws, or refuses to hide behind a man, you’ve written a dude in a dress’ argument.
Uh, what? By that lack of logic, I don’t actually know any women, because they’re as mythical as glitter-puking unicorns. Now, I don’t want to launch into ye olde feminist debate, but women can be whatever they want to be. Sometimes they rock the gallows humour like an absolute boss, sometimes they wear flowery dresses and adopt sad children and puppies and make the best brownies known to mankind. There are even times when the situation they’re in is so big and bad they’re in need of a rescue. It’s all good. And since fiction is the place where we tell stories that speak to human truths, it makes sense that the women in stories aren’t all one type of woman. If every female character ever written was a pearl-clutching damsel swooning at the slightest breeze, or chained to their kitchen, it would lessen the quality of every story being told, even the stories where women aren’t the main characters.
Example the first: could you imagine James Bond with a bevvy of non-sexualised women who tut and fret over flirting and innuendo? An action hero who’d never win the girl at the end of the movie because she was either fainting at the sight of blood or too busy scrubbing his shirt clean to actually make out with him? Halle Berry storming the beach in her bikini replaced by a sensibly dressed woman who lodges sexual harassment claims whenever Bond opens his mouth? It would be so boring.
Example the second: The book, movie, and musical of Matilda, if all of the women were damsels. It couldn’t exist, because there are too many female characters doing things. Same with The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or any story where women help save the world.
Example the third: any fairy tale where there’s an evil stepmother. All gone. If the women in the stories are all beacons of virtue and too busy baking to do anything, then there’s no Little Mermaid, no Cinderella, no Sleeping Beauty. All of the wonderfully dark and compelling female villains couldn’t exist.
If there’s a smart assed female character who quips in the face of blood and gore, chances are good that there’s a female reader out there giggling along with the story. I am one of those female readers, so I know they exist. And yet anytime a female character doesn’t flutter her lashes and swoon, a worrying percentage of readers get uppity. It’s tedious.
How do we stop it? I have no ideas beyond the talking method, and fervent prayers to the angel of shutting stupid people up. This isn’t a ‘look at how I cure this issue’ post and more of a ‘I can’t believe this is still a freakin’ issue’ post.
Allow me a Jerry Springer-esque final thought before I actually get started on today’s workload. When we make female characters interchangeable cardboard cut outs and set dressing, it doesn’t just hurt the female characters. Your male character can be an absolute beacon of humanity type, but if he’s proving himself to a cardboard cut out, or trying to rescue or have sex with one, then really, it makes him look weird and probably a bit creepy to most readers. It’s a very niche market that wants to watch a guy fall in love with a bit of cardboard. If he’s so perfect, he deserves to be surrounded by his equals, surely.
Here endeth the (public) ranting.
*This isn’t meant to make you feel bad if you’re a woman who isn’t good with the sight of blood. That would make life incredibly rough, and frankly, having to deal with something you’re not okay with so regularly is massively brave.