Thursday, September 13

{Royal Rantings} Do we judge female characters harsher than males?



There’s no question, female characters are held up to different standards than male characters

Take Wuthering Heights, which is one of the most outrageous and baffling example of this. Cathy, an unarguably spoiled and selfish brat, gets hated on a lot more than Heathcliff, who is verbally and physically abusive, controlling and manipulative, ready to destroy just about anyone for his “revenge”. It makes my stomach roil when the same readers who call Catchy horrible names actively romanticize Heathcliff. 

I have so many thoughts on Wuthering Heights, which we're not going to get into today, because this post was not meant to be on in-depth analysis of classics. Instead, I'll be concentrating on fiction from more recent years, with special emphasis on fantasy, and anti-heroines. 


I do believe that today, we are not only given fantastic female leads, but – in my experience – readers are generally more accepting of characters’ flaws, and appreciate when a female protagonist is complex and imperfect. Seeing badass, powerful, soft and all different kinds of women in main roles makes my heart burst with happiness. And the fact that novels – especially within the Young Adult age category – are becoming increasingly more diverse is honestly the best thing ever. We still have a long way to go, but there is progress.


On that note, here is a small shout out to some of my favorite, and all around incredible girls and women of the past 2 years.
Seriously, this is a very small portion - I have so many more, I could go on for days.
Also, they are not morally gray characters in any way!! You'll find recs like that a bit later. ;)

      
Juliet / Stella / Tina / Starr

      
Nina and Inej / Zélie and Amari / Mina and Lynet / Amanda

At this part I feel the need to add a disclaimer – me talking about this topic is in no way a complaint against any author, or series. If you know me, or follow me on Goodreads, or just know a lot of about YA fantasy, you may guess which books prompted me to write this post. For those of you who will guess correctly - I found these novels great, and have massive respect for the authors for creating those two leading ladies! Another thing to note is that any book appearing in this post - not just in the rec section - is one I loved, and would recommend. 

This year, I finally got to two series that’s heroines were marketed as cunning, cruel and even villainous. I was hyped, to say the least, because the thing is, I could name quite a few series with such male characters, but few, if any, with such females. Unfortunately, I felt a tad bit let down.

I was sad to see that the anti-heroines/female villains were not given an ending that I would call positive, nor did they have (m)any pleasant moments throughout the series. Now, these stories are 1000% valid and appreciated, and I fully believe they’re a great addition to the fantasy genre, and have outstanding heroines. Moreover, it is important to highlight that these two protagonists made their own decisions about what they wanted, which is fantastic, and I highly-highly-HIGHLY appreciate that.

But it was these series, and my disappointment over the lack of positive ending for these ladies, that made me wonder if I could recall any novel where a non-male protagonist with villain qualities ended up redeemed and survived. Or better yet – not redeemed but content with her life, whatever that means for her.

To tell you the truth, I still can’t think of a YA series like this. However, interestingly, there are quite a few where a male villain or anti-hero has been either redeemed (in a way that, you know, lets him stay alive) or simply accepted by others as he is. Take a look at the following examples:


    

Doran (Starflight) has ruthlessly bullied Solara, and treated her like a literal servant when she was forced to ask him for a job. He was, however, redeemed, and turned out to be an actually great guy, and I've seen nothing but love for him. Warner (Shatter Me) is the villain of the story at first, until he is redeemed to the point where he becomes a fan favorite. [I haven't actually read this yet, so thank you to Clare for helping me add him to this!]

Valek is an assassin who does not have to be redeemed to be accepted and loved. We learn new things about him as the book(s) progresses, all of which make him a complex, intriguing character, but I wouldn’t call that redemption. [On a side note, Yelena, the heroine, does morally gray things, however, as far as I remember, she always does so to save herself or someone else. In this case, I am very hesitant to call her an anti-heroine.]

Now, I'm not shading anyone who loves these characters - I grew to tentatively like Doran, am looking forward to reading about Warner, and I adore Valek. I showcased them because beloved heroes like these in YA begs the question: why don't we have more females like them?

Is it because readers tend to forgive male characters more easily? As my Wuthering Heights example showed, (and boy, I could tell you so many more like that!) people will excuse male characters in the same breath they condemn female ones for similar or smaller (!) flaws and mistakes.

Even truly despicable male characters are excused by readers rather easily – and again, this is no shade to anyone who likes these characters! Do they have some redeeming quality, or something that makes them attractive or the object of pity? In most cases, yes – Cardan (The Cruel Prince) doesn’t have it quite as easy as expected, Snape (Harry Potter) was fighting on the right side nearly all along, and I could go on. The Darkling, Voldemort, Dorian Gray... these are downright villains who still receive great treatment from many fans. 


And listen, we can all love a great villain, and even look for excuses for them - it is in everyone's right which characters they support. My question is - why are there so many mainstream male villains and anti-heroes, who are getting appreciation? Obviously, female villains exist - but they are rarely (if ever) loved the same way, why is that?

I did some research for this topic, which involved looking up lists of anti-heroes and anti-heroines. I suppose you won't be surprised to hear that in every case, men were heavily dominating these lists. I wasn't. What did surprise me, though, was seeing anti-heroine lists, with the term being used correctly in the article (!), and still have characters like Jane Eyre appear on them. Isn't the bar too high for female characters when a classical heroine is called an anti-heroine for being (somewhat) unconventional for her time?

                                                         

I decided next to closing this post with some anti-heroines, who I really loved to read about. Plus, seeing how there weren't that many in that category, I'm also leaving you some epic morally gray women. Enjoy!



      
Lily / Carrie / Amy / Sarai

        
Nemesis / Jude / Jane / Ismae /

Now some morally gray characters:

      
Ismae / Evelyn / Jemima / Alice

Let's chat!
Do you agree/disagree with what me on this topic? I'm looking forward to discussing this with you! Would you like more anti-heroines and women as villains in fiction? Who are some of your favorite villainous women, or morally gray ones?

18 comments:

  1. This was a very interesting post, Veronika! Basically, for me at least, I think I do judge female characters harsher than male characters. Idk what it is, but if a female book character is super annoying and makes poor decisions I immediately hate that character, even if her male counterpart makes some crappy decisions as well. I think this may be because as a whole society we have been socialized to view girls as better behaved than boys, so when girls in novels act up, it is much more of a shock whereas when guys make poor decisions, it’s as to be expected. This gets into a whole other topic of gender roles and stuff, and believe me, I really am trying to change my perception of girls in YA novels, particularly contemporaries, because I think they are often poorly written.

    In terms of female villains and antiheros, I would love to see more of them! I think male villains fit the stereotype of what a villain should be, and thus have long been more enticing to readers, but it’s time we break that mould and introduce more cunning, clever female villains. I mean, even if they’re evil, if they’re well written, I will probably still respect them. My favourite female villain is The Commander in An Ember in the Ashes series. I think Sabaa Tahir did an amazing job with her!

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    1. I absolutely agree with what you're saying - it is so true that as a society, we let guys get away with a looot more than girls, and that will reflect on our perception of fictional characters, as well.

      I've been working a lot on being less judgmental, understanding and accepting of female characters mistakes, and not jumping on the bandwagon when one is being bashed. For example, I used to love Twilight, but, of course, I can see the problematic/weird elements today, and I def wouldn't enjoy it. Because of that, a couple years ago when it became mainstream to hate on it I jumped on the bandwagon, which saddens me today. The thing is, people were ALWAYS bashing Bella for being a "Mary Sue", but Edward, who is a controlling stalker got off a lot easier. When the hate-train was on, I couldn't even see this, but not it's pretty clear & sad. :|

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  2. I read review after review after review where the female protagonists is skewered for doing exactly what male characters do. I am sad to say, that this is part of our conditioning, but the fact that women are so much more aware and vocal of it means that change is possible. I have hope for future generations. And, yeah, guilty of being Team Warner.

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    1. Oh yes, same, and it infuriates me SO BADLY. I agree, though, I think more and more people will see how wrong this is, both in real life and when it comes to fictional characters, which will be amazing.

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  3. Okay, *cracks knuckles* this is going to be a long one because I have very many feelings on this topic.

    First up, I think it is true that most women judge other women more harshly than they do men - but I also think men judge other men more harshly than they do women, at least with the men and women I know. Personally, I don't think I judge different genders differently. At least, I try not to and if I catch myself, I stop. But, for me, gender is irrelevant. If I like a character, it doesn't matter to me if they are a man, a woman or non-binary, I like the character. (Same if I think they're a useless sludge, but I will admit, I'm more likely to be annoyed at certain personality types for specific genders, because I see them so much.)

    Now, as for male villains, I think women have this terrible habit of romanticizing men whose actions are, at best, questionable. I can't really say much about it, because I don't really understand it. At all, honestly. Sure there's a lot of (male) villains that I like, for example, I read the first in the Grisha series and adored The Darkling - but I never once shipped him with Alina. I mean, seriously folks. How is that a good idea? Same with Draco Malfoy. I was fascinated by the character, but the reason I'm so interested is because he's flawed, rather than to pull the whole 'Draco in leather pants' and you can bet I'm not one that ever shipped him with Hermione.

    Now, personally, I do feel and mourn the lack of good female villains, but … I feel kind of ambivalent about them, too, because I'm not sure I've every actually came across one I liked. I mean, the only ones that are coming to my mind are the ones that turned evil because they weren't loved - usually by a man that they were in love with. Sure, some male villains motivation is love, but usually not getting the love of a parent - not romantic love. And I HATE that people use that as a shortcut to making a female villain.

    On a side note, I'm going shopping this weekend (in the big city!) and I'm super excited to see that you liked the girls in two of the books I'm hoping to find. (Six of Crows and If Was Your Girl.)

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    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Amy! I haven't seen anyone bring up that argument - about people judging their gender harsher than other genders - but it seems plausible. I think another thing for me is that I read a lot of female narrated novels where I obviously feel closer to the heroine than the hero. And when I relate to a character, or just concentrate on a character more than another, I'm bound to be harder on them. I've been working on being more accepting and understanding, though, and less judgmental, of course.

      As for female villains - sadly, I do have to agree with you. I'd *love* more of them, A LOT MORE, however, it's true that they usually have a shitty reason for becoming a villain. I mean, OF COURSE, it can be a valid reason to not be loved by someone... but it's annoying when it's SO MANY FEMALE VILLAINS like that. (Well, by so many I mean the few that exist lol.) Take Levana from The Lunar Chronicles, for example - I'm so happy we have a female villain in such a famous series, but her being so obsessed with her looks & being evil because of not being loved by a man. Oh boy, that's not good.

      Yay!! Hope you'll love both those books. I've just reread SoC, and it was possibly even better than the first time.

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  4. I love how detailed this discussion was! Tbh its been too long since I read for me to recall any obvious examples, but I recall reading I Am Number Four and the other books in the series and having a negative impression of the female leads, and never thinking the main character, John, had any flaws. And if i did, i swept those concerns under the rug quickly!
    I think the only exception I can perhaps think of is maybe Hermione in Harry Potter - even though she is set up to be the target of many people during the series, her resilience always shone through and I thought that was part of why I always loved reading about her.
    I thought this was such a good discussion trigger - its super important for us to acknowledge our biases ❤

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    1. Thank you! :) Hm, I see what you're saying about Hermione, and I was totally the same way, I loved her all through the series. But I do feel like JKR allowed Hermione to make very few mistakes, while Harry and especially Ron made a ton more. But maybe that's just me?

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  5. How can one top Amy's comment above? I'm most certainly not going to make it, since I typically don't read fantasy, and my kind of books are usually devoid of what you would call "villains". I mean, even if they're dark, they're a different kind of dark. What I can say is, we probably tend to be harsher towards female villains because - as women - we feel the need to identify with them, and we don't like to find out that we can't. Still, this doesn't explain why male villains should be cut more slack (which I don't think I'd ever be able to do, but you're right...it happens). I noticed something in TV series as well (like your beloved Criminal Minds, that I watch on occasion...and that I like, because SERIOUSLY THOSE CHARACTERS 💙 - but it's often too crude and angst-inducing for me to actually commit to it LOL): not only most serial killers seem to be men, but 90% of the time, their compulsion to kill was triggered by family events/traumas. Why doesn't it happen (so often) to women? (...assuming that the scripts are rooted in reality somehow). Are men more prone to turn into villains? Is that why we forgive (so to speak) them more easily - because we expect them to act evil more than we do their female counterparts? Do we think that someone who actually has the power to give birth to human beings can't be so inhuman or evil or whatever - and if she is, it clashes with her supposed maternal side so much that we hate on her more?
    I don't have answers, but I believe that - until at least we have questions - we can only grow better 🙂.

    Keep these rantings coming, because they're ROYAL 😉.

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    1. I completely agree with you! I read a lot of novels with female narrators & I obviously relate to them more than the male lead (who many times doesn't have a POV), so when I see them making mistakes I'm maybe more disappointed, and thus harsher?

      I believe that statistically there are a lot more male than female serial killers (the article I read claimed 80-90% are male, the rest female), which is interesting in on itself. So it makes sense to have less women killers on Criminal Minds, but I actually don't remember ANY serial killers? Maybe there were some (probably), but then they weren't memorable. I remember this one episode, it was hinted that the killer might be a woman taking revenge on men who are unfaithful etc., but then the "twist" was that it was a male killer...

      Thank you!! :)

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    2. I haven't seen that particular episode. How could the team get fooled like that? LOL.

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    3. To be fair, they were only wrong for a small portion of time, but eh, still a weird twist.

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  6. I love love love this post, it's so detailed and well written! I think Amy's comment already said it all, so I guess I'm just going to give you a recommendations :) Have you read Forest of A Thousand Lanterns? It's super good and while some things XiFeng did were pretty horrible, you can't help but to sympathize and root for her.

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    1. Thank you, Tasya! Nope!! I wanted to, but for some reason lost interest, BUT I'm adding it back onto my to-read list rn, it sounds great. :)

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  7. Bella from Twilight has been criticized for feeling too much or being boring , Katniss from Hunger Games is another one who has been called out as this heartless “b*tch” for not feeling enough. Like it never stops and I’m kinda sick of it. Like it’s one thing to judge these HUMAN characters but what happened to the compassion and understanding? There’s so much that females get flack for that males get away with because they’re men. And in this patriarchal society we live in, it reflects back into the books we read, whatever the genre. I feel like in order to change our perspectives and check our internalized misogyny is to check it in real life too. So it doesn’t deep into our reading and make us dislike reading too.

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    1. YES, SO MUCH THIS!! I *hate* how it's ALWAYS the females who get the most hate. The examples you brought up, specifically Twilight - I get it, people can dislike Bella and say so. BUT where is all the hate for Edward!? Bella's personality might not be someone's cup of tea, but Edward's controlling behavior, secret-keeping etc etc etc is downright toxic. HOW does he still get less hate? Smh.

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  8. I meant to say seep** into reading lol.

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  9. Thank you so much! And yes, I LOVEEE Edward overall, and I LOVEEE his growth in the series. But he did some isht in the first 3 Books that weren’t ok. Like lying to Bella “to protect her” like NOO she is your mate!!!!!! If you love your wife don’t lie to her!!! I’m not one to say he’s toxic but he’s done some not-ok things that I’m not happy about. And there’s rarely any backlash for him. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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