female charactersWith the question of sexism, discrimination, and gender choices in genre fiction still going full blast, here’s a question for all the writers out there. Riffing off Joss Whedon‘s now-celebrated acceptance speech for his Equality Now award in 2006, still regularly referenced in more recent debates on the subject, I’m taking the opposite tack to the question he anatomized: “Why do you write these strong women characters?” Whedon counters, “Why aren’t you asking a hundred other guys why they don’t?”

And it’s a question worth asking. Because, as detailed ad nauseam here, and in many other places, some publishing and media executives and editors will want you to write stories with female characters “one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys.” They may actually cancel your series, or refuse your work, if you make your female characters too strong or interesting.

So, outside the psychological dynamics or truth to life of the story itself, have you ever written weak, dependent, or subservient female characters? Have you chosen to do that specifically for reasons related to your chosen genre, to the chances of acceptance for your work, and in general, for career-related motives? Because there looks to be strong gender bias in certain genres. So have you taken that bias on board, and let it influence the kind of women you write? (Bodice ripper romantic fiction excepted, perhaps.) Step forward, writers, waiting to hear from you.


  1. I tend to write more male than female characters (make of that what you will), but when I do write female characters, I do try to make them strong. One of the secondary characters in my series is a female quadriplegic white hat hacker. Readers seem to love her. :) She doesn’t hesitate to call my main character on his behavior when he tries to get overprotective.

  2. Can I brag for a moment? My first novel, Backward Glass, a YA time-travel thriller came out this past October. Reviews have been very generous, often especially focusing on characterization, and most especially on that of my deuteragonist Luka Branson. Here’s from one of my first reviews from Anne Hannah, which you can see at Amazon.com:

    The dynamic between Kenny and Luka was also pleasantly surprising, especially considering this was written by a male author.
    Hmmm. That sounded less sexist in my head….
    Oh well.
    Kenny isn’t some super-powered guy who has all the answers, and Luka isn’t some fainting schoolgirl who expects him to protect her. She’s smart, brave, feisty, and ends up saving his butt several times over. Luka equals Batman, and Kenny is her Robin.
    And a guy wrote it that way?
    Don’t get me wrong, Kenny isn’t some bumbling idiot, but he is just a teenager. He makes mistakes, gets scared, and occasionally loses his way. His heart is in the right place, though. And I found myself totally rooting for this kid to find his way toward a Happily Ever After.
    And does he?
    Let’s just say that the ending left me with a big fat grin on my face.

  3. I write mostly about men because I’m not particularly comfortable or knowledgable about my own gender. But I have very little interest in weak characters, regardless of gender. I have an unfinished SF novel with two strong women and one domineering bitch. They’re all secondary characters, not the main protagonists, but one does play a critical role in the story.

  4. Here’s a hint, Paul. The term “bodice ripper” is not PC. Nor is it accurate. It was a term that referred to some historical romances in the Eighties but hasn’t been used since because it doesn’t fit the content of the stories. In fact, using the term shows that you know nothing of the genre, and it p*sses off many of the women who read and write historical romance because they consider it a slur.

    A majority of romances, although not erotica, have very strong heroines, too. The strong romance heroine has been standard for far more years than it’s been a done deal in sf/f/horror.

    I write strong heroines within my romances as well as my fantasy and science fiction adventure. Some can kick butt. Others have no reason to kick butt, but they will do the right thing no matter what the cost to themselves which is braver than most fighting.

    I also have written weak female characters, wicked female characters, and silly female characters, but I’ve also done the same thing with male characters. In other words, I write about people.

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