Bitches or Subs:Where are all the normal women in fiction?

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Okay I know this rant doesn’t cover ALL books, and of course I don’t mean yours 🙂 But seriously I’m getting a bit tired of reading books where the women either fall into a submissive housewife role as soon as they have a steady guy or are rude bitches pretending to be strong.

Does no one remember Captain Janeway? Strong, competent, sexy, and sensitive? Wow! A whole person who’s also a woman in power. Are we sure it can be possible? Or how about ANY of Joss Whedon’s female characters?

A more important question is why are women writing these one-dimensional female characters? Why is it romantic for a young girl to completely give over her self, her life choices, and her safety to a guy? Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against a sexy dom/sub story. But these aren’t thought out choices of a strong couple. These are young girls losing themselves in their guy. Of course they don’t lose much because they tend to be boring to begin with.

The other side of this is the bitch. These are the supposedly “strong women” who treat people like crap, cuss, ignore the needs of others, and are completely emotionally unavailable. When did strength become acting like a jerk and refusing to compromise?

I’m sure if I had a degree in psychology or if I turned my crazy writer brain from my current manuscript, I could create all sorts of interesting character profiles, but really I need to keep working on my current projects. I shall refrain from psychoanalyzing people, for now.

Why do you think we have come to this new trend? What are some of your favorite female characters? What is it you love about them?

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22 responses »

  1. That’s why I read contemporary romance, strong female and male characters, who mostly take charge of their lives, but can’t help falling in love when the right person comes along. I try to write those types of characters as well.

    In writing Hope Tarr has some of the best characters I’ve read (not contemp). The right harlequin book will have a good female lead. I haven’t been reading a lot of fiction lately.
    Kahlen from Sword of Truth novels.

    in TV land.

    Olivia in Fringe is a take charge type of gal. I have missed most of this season, so I’m missing the return of Peter and them falling in love again.

  2. Mary Russell, in the Beekeeper’s Apprentice series, by Laurie King, young,smart,Mrs. Holmes.
    Priscilla Hutchins,Hutch, a starship pilot in the Academy series by Jack McDevitt, he also has another series Alex Benidict with a woman pilot, Chase who is also a partner in an antique business. These women are complex and have adventures and solve problems on the fly.

  3. It follows movie trends, wherein it is now rare to have any female characters whose actions don’t revolve around male characters. One way to tell is whether two females, with names, have any direct, one-on-one conversations that don’t involve a man or discuss a man.

    The answer is usually no. The one thing I liked about the Millennium series is the large number of strong female characters. Of course, the lead females seem to either be emotionally unavailable or lack strong morals.

    I actually think what this is pointing out is how two-dimensional male leads have always been. Basically, if the female isn’t submissive, she acts “like a man.” Few writers seem to have a clue how a character can be both strong and sensitive, soft and powerful. It is that lacking that led me to start writing in the first place.

    What did Toni Morrison say? “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Of course, Ray Bradbury said, “You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next.” Stephen King suggests doing so that you may discover that the other books suck.

    So get to work. 🙂

    • I have a post about heroes coming up- two-dimensional and perfect yuck ;P

      Great advice- that’s why i started writing I had a story idea and no one had done it yet- or at least not my way!
      Well, i finished your book last night- which is great- so it’s going to have to wrestle some of the crap I’ve read! Get to it Robin and Charlie!

  4. Yeah, I agree with Bill about what Stephen King said. We have to read a lot of books to know not only what sucks, but we need to write what we want to read. I write WF with romantic elements just because it’s life and a lot of people fall in love. But my stories revolve around something the female lead needs to overcome that doesn’t bring her to “her man” but brings her to a better place in her life – period. I don’t make my female characters bitches or submissive – just regular women who have to jump through life’s hoops to get where they want to be – just like the rest of us.

  5. I agree but don’t really think this is a new trend–witch trials, whore/virgin worship, even Scarlett in Gone With the Wind was painted with this brush. We have always put literature smack in the middle of the tension between who writes/makes history (up until recently, men) and the 50% of the population that is generally left out of that history. The job of the novel is to elicit emotion, and you’re right that cardboard characters with unmotivated actions fail to do that. 🙂 Keep writing!

    • Thanks Kecia and you’re right it isn’t a new trend- just irritating me right now LOL! Maybe because I’m a mom of a 12 year old daughter and I want stronger healthier heroines for her to read. I guess it will be up to us!

  6. This is an issue I’m always thinking about. One reason I want to write speculative fiction is because I want to figure out how a society can correct these problems. What would a society look like, if the genders (there may be more than two, and in fact, some people suspect humans have more than two already) are truly equal in the sight of all? How can a society handle the physical differences, and the different biological tasks, between the genders? What kind of religion is needed to ensure that one gender is not placed over another one?

    I get so discouraged when I do research and see how women have been downtrodden for most of human history. We really need a paradigm shift.

    • I agree that history is bleak, but one thing I have found is not matter what the laws of a time were woman have persevered. Women have managed to squeeze as much power and control out of relationships as they could. One of my favorite movies that shows this is Stage Beauty- have you seen it? Even today in countries where women are treated as second class citizens they’re are some, more then we think, managing to gain strength and power as best they can, and part of that is because while a goverment can be evil- most people- men and women aren’t.

  7. I think if you read more “literary” fiction, you’ll see more well rounded female characters, especially if the books are written by women. The more popular stuff does tend to have one dimensional women which is too bad. But, honestly, all of the characters are weak in many of the popular best sellers. Those are based on pace and action, not characterization. I’m finding that more and more with young adult fiction and fiction for the middle school age group. It’s all action based and there is no depth anywhere, including the characters. It is frustrating when the girls are either bitches or else completely lose themselves in a boy.

    One of my favorite female characters…Hermione. Smart, intuitive, strong, vulnerable, and with a well defined moral code. She is a strong young girl who does not get consumed by a boy. She is not a bitch in her strength, nor a whiny wimp in her vulnerability.

  8. I think the same thing could be said for some women in real life power positions. They often act as they think men act…the problem is, what we (as women) see, and what they (as men) actually do, are two different things. I just wish a woman could be powerful and be herself at the same time. If that means sexy shoes and a tendency to cry when she sees a kitten, so be it. That doesn’t mean she can’t also kick your ass and run a Fortune 500 company. Why does she have to be bitchy to be in charge? /shrug

    • I was so worried when Star Trek introduced Janeway- I was sure they were going to make her a bitch with not idea of her own emotions, and then she was amazing and asking her boyfriend to take care of her pregnant dog while she went away on mission.
      Thanks Melinda

  9. We need to write what we want to read – excellent quote and so true.

    My heroines (and you’ve not read ’em yet because I’m not finished) tend to turn the contemporary romance trope on its head. i.e it’s the heroine who’s reluctant to settle down and have babies and get married. Asrai is right, many contemporary novels out there have plenty of strong, independent heroines and their HEA’s (Happy Ever After) don’t necessarily end up with them barefoot and pregnant at the kitchen sink. Having said that I do like to see a heroine who appears to be a doormat at the beginning of a story end up having a backbone of titanium.

    Great post, Alica.

    • CC- hurry up and write so I can read your heroines! I love characters who defy the norm! Good for you. And yes we need to write what we want to read- that’s what I love about self and indie pub there are so many more options for books then current industry standard.

  10. What? A multi-dimensional character? How dare you suggest such a thing! 😉

    I agree that women are not so easily pigeon-holed in real life. The characters I enjoy most are those with layers, complexity, inner strength. I think this is why when I first started inventing stories in childhood, I imagined a beautiful, feminine princess who was indeed loved by the prince and got him, right after she kicked that dragon butt herself, thank you very much.

    Great post, Alica!

    • I know Julie what am I thinking.
      A hero that falls in love with a strong complex woman is so much more attractive then one who falls in love with a doormat. And a woman who is strong can have a much more powerful growth arch. Falling in love is not a growth arch.
      Have seen Ever After? I love that movie- great strong and vulnerable heroine.

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