I’m one of those people who thinks far too much. So, inevitably, I end up thinking a lot about the books I read and how they relate to life in general and to my own beliefs. And one of the things that comes up a lot for me is the way female characters are treated.
I feel like people are often pointing out the flaws in books when it comes to how female characters are treated by other characters, which is fantastic, but… what about the way we as readers treat them?
But the point of this isn’t to shame anyone for thinking or feeling a certain way, rather just to express my own thoughts, to maybe get some other people thinking by opening their eyes to things they never even noticed, and to have my own eyes opened to different perspectives and thoughts 🙂
My absolute favorite female character is Grateful Knight from the Knight Games series by Genevieve Jack. She’s incredible. She doesn’t put up with any of the males’ possessive or controlling crap. She stands up for herself. She never sits around waiting for opportunities—she makes her own opportunities and makes things happen, even though she’s also not afraid to accept help when she needs it. She’s constantly thinking and observing and planning and figuring things out. Her greatest asset is her mind and her inner strength, and I love that.
But I remember reading some reviews upon finishing and being shocked to discover that quite a few people disliked her. And that’s fine, everything in books in subjective, but it made me sad that the reason some people disliked her was because of her sexual history. She didn’t cheat. There was nothing written that would indicate she used or manipulate or hurt anyone. She didn’t spread STDs around. No, apparently just the sole fact that she slept with over 10 guys, all of which she had some sort of relationship with, before finding one to settle down with in the story completely erased every amazing trait she had.
First of all, I’d like to state my belief that having a sexual history is not a flaw. I know I used the word promiscuity in the title, but I didn’t intend it as a bad thing. Everyone can sleep with as many people as they want as long as it’s all consensual and safe and they’re prepared to accept any consequences that may come of it, and it doesn’t make them any worse of a person. I’m not even saying that you can’t set a standard that the person you date must have had less than x sexual partners if any more makes you uncomfortable or goes against your beliefs, just that it doesn’t make someone a bad person for having more. This is what I feel feminism is—the right for each person to make their own choices regarding their bodies and their lives as long as they’re not harming others and to not be condemned for it.
But second of all, what about the many books I’ve come across and even read myself in which the male character had a sexual history with far higher numbers than that and oftentimes did hurt and use the women he slept with? I mean, surely people are even more outraged about that and hate those characters too, right?
Nope. For some reason, those characters are just poor, broken souls, and they were sleeping with women to fill the emptiness in their hearts. Or they had their hearts broken by someone in the past, so they vowed never to trust or love again and just had emotionless sex instead. Or they just had sex with as many women as they could for the pure fun of it because it was what they enjoyed doing. And because they were male, not only was their promiscuity ok, it’s also an endearing, sympathetic, and/or heart-wrenching thing.
But when a woman has consensual sex with numerous partners throughout her life, she’s automatically an unlikeable character. (Which then leads to the whole player guy/virgin girl trope being overused.)
And the fact that we are taught and raised to adopt that line of thinking makes me both angry and sad. It also makes for a very limiting environment for authors which leads to less diverse characters, more tropes, and ultimately a narrower range of acceptance. And isn’t that the opposite of what we’re trying to work toward?
This is timely, I read a review just today where the reader raged because the female main character fell in love with another man in the second book of a series, and apparently that was bad because it meant her first boyfriend from Book 1 wasn’t her ‘true love’. I actually find it really refreshing to see girls date more than one guy before they settle down, you don’t see it very often in YA fiction in my humble opinion, and especially to see them think they’ve fallen in love only to find something better when they’re more experienced.
I completely agree! Believe it or not lol, I have another post scheduled for a couple weeks from now about how I’m tired of it always being “love” in books instead of any other feelings, which is also similar to what you’re saying. But yeah, I also find it refreshing when characters date around. One of my favorite series at the moment, I’ve finished three books so far, and the protag is still kind of dating around, flirting, etc., and I love it. But that’s not quite YA. The whole one true love thing does seem to be worse in YA. But then, look how readers react when an author tries to do anything different :-/
If this is the series I think it is, I thought it was fantastically done, because for most young women (and men!) it’s realistic. Most people don’t spend their lives with their first love (some do, but they’re overrepresented in YA fiction). You can fall in love passionately and wholeheartedly with someone and they’re the person you want and need at that stage in life, and then you change and/or they change and you move on.
I agree that it seems way more common to have a male main character who has had multiple partners in the past than a female who does the same. Especially in certain genres like NA contemporary the player guy and virgin female are quite common, but I also see it on other genres. It can be refreshing when the stereotypes or tropes are turned around for once. And I would like to see things go both way, like any behavior is as likely to be done by females as males or at least have books show both of those happening.
A tad unrelated but I remember a time where I read a lot of paranormal romance and it seems so common to have the supernatural male fall in love with a human female, then i read a book where the female was the supernatural for once and it turned the whole dynamics around and I really enjoyed it. I am not sure if this has changed by now, but still most paranormal romance books I remember reading either have both characters be supernatural or the male only.
So what I am trying to say is that I am all for seeing things get turned around when it comes to things like these. While sometimes tropes can work and be a good things, I also think that sometimes they just make the stories feel very formulaic. Like with the virgin girl a and player boy, I’ve seem it so often it’s getting predictable. And there’s nothing wrong with the trope itself, but it would be nice to see it happen the other way around as well.
Like you said the most important thing is that the sex in consensual. I usually don’t mind if a character has had previous partners as well, although there’s also something to be said for their first love being their true love. I also think it’s realistic as well to not find your true love the first relationship you step in. I guess I just want to see all kinds of stories, characters and such, not have them always fit in a mold or trope we already know. That’s one fo the reason why I like ti when an author can write characters and make them feel realistic or have the stories feel a tad more original.
It’s definitely a common thing in NA contemporary, but I’ve also seen it plenty in paranormal romance, often also in the NA range. And it does get old. But what bothers me isn’t so much the fact that these tropes exist but rather when the men and women are treated differently by readers for doing the same thing.
I’ve also read one book in which the female was the creature (vampire) and the male was human. It is nice that there are books out there that twist the trope. I actually like the male creature, female human thing though lol, so that’s not a trope that bothers me. But I understand why you like seeing it done differently. It makes sense to want more variety in general with all the different romance tropes because things do start to get really predictable. It’s just, I think authors are afraid to do the opposite or do things differently sometimes because some readers react poorly, and that’s unfortunate.
By the way, I actually have another post scheduled for two weeks from now that pertains to the first love being true love thing, so I look forward to more of your thoughts on that 🙂
Another great discussion post! I do also believe that feminism is about each person making their own choices when it comes to their body. I also believe feminism is about woman being EQUAL with men, not below or above. I can’t stand “feminist” man haters! All that being said I don’t classify myself as a feminist though and I never would. ?
Thanks 🙂 But why not classify yourself as feminist? It sounds like you have the same idea of it as I do. Feminism is definitely not about man-hating. And it’s not about saying “real women” do anything in particular or whatever. To me it’s just about everyone making their own choices and being respected for it, man or woman.
This may make me sound horrible, but at least I’m honest. I can’t classify myself as a feminist because I’ve told my husband too many times things like, “Taking out the trash is your man duty!” And pretty much I say that so I don’t have to do it. Lol. I would feel like such a hypocrite if I classified myself as a feminist. I would be so pissed if he said, “Do your womanly duty and clean the house!” LOL, doesn’t that sound bad? I don’t actually think men/women should be confined to any role, but yet I tell him that about the trash, car stuff, and anything else that requires a big strong man. ?
I don’t think it’s horrible because I think we all say things like that sometimes because it’s how we were raised, and we at least mean it jokingly. Like, yeah, you do really want him to do that stuff lol, but, like, you don’t expect that all men and only men should do that stuff. I mean, if I had a husband, I’d definitely be telling him to kill the bugs because I’m terrified of them lol. But I think feminism isn’t so much about men and woman HAVING to do everything the other does but rather respecting the woman’s decision if she wants to work on the car or her decision if she’d rather clean the house or her decision to do both. Really the label doesn’t matter though, I was mostly just curious 🙂 I’m not sure I’ve ever actually labeled myself as a feminist either, I just believe what I believe about it and talk about it when I have something to say.
Great point!! Oh mine definitely kills all the bugs. I’m scared to death of them.?? I still wouldn’t label myself a feminist anyway. Like you, I believe what I believe and that’s that. ?
I suppose if I had to choose yes or no, I’d say I’m a feminist, but exactly, it’s our actions and beliefs that matter, not the labels 🙂
I hate double standards when it comes to bookish characters. I read a lot of romance and is there a tendency towards sweet innocent female characters with little romantic/sexual experience getting together with a guy with sexual experience showing her the world? Yes, and it’s annoying. It’s annoying that it’s acceptable for guys to be sexually experienced and promiscuous but for women to be expected to save themselves. It’s ridiculous. I don’t mind reading about women who are promiscuous as long as it is something they are happy with.
You can’t make readers see the double standards they are employing to characters of different genders but it’s good that you’re raising the issue so people can look at themselves and realise the flaw in their judgement.
Great discussion I only wish I could write a more coherent comment but it’s a good read.
Exactly, it’s the double standards that I hate. I’m glad someone else has noticed it too. And yeah, as long as the woman is happy with her life, she can do what she wants and shouldn’t be hated for it.
I know that the truly judgmental or sexist people out there are not going to change their minds and probably won’t even see my post period. But I figure there are people out there who aren’t sexist or anti-feminist but just haven’t ever thought of this, people who want their eyes opened to things like this. That’s why I like to read feminist-type posts 🙂
Thanks! And I think your comment was great 🙂
Wow! I hadn’t given it much thought but now that I have read this post I can see quite a few examples. I don’t personally “treat” the female characters that way, but there have been times where others who were reading the same books have. I think it is wrong. Women are allow to be promiscuous just the same as men, but just like in real life they are view differently and there should not be that double standard.
I’m glad my post could help you notice the problem 🙂 It’s unfortunate that people treat characters AND real life women like that. Because you’re right, it definitely is that way in real life too when it comes to promiscuity.
Yeah there’s a double standard no question. I don’t really read a lot of stuff where sexual experience is an issue I guess but I get your point, as readers do we treat men and women differently? And yeah we probably do. If I read romance and it was always player guy/ inexperienced girl that would get old quick. Either or both can be experienced, that’s life. So I guess I agree? I will say if someone’s had like 40 partners or something I’m probably gonna say dang they get around but I would say whether it’s a guy or a woman lol.
I’m with Lola on the let’s have the supernatural be a female thing. I mean ideally we have both well represented, yeah, but I might read something where a regular guy falls for a paranormal girl. Not that I read para romance but just sayin, especially if it was part of an urban fantasy. Also to her point about first love vs more experience. That first relationship might FEEL like true love at the time, but usually it’s not and you move on. It would be nice if more books reflected that.
Haha, see, I don’t mind that you would say dang they get around since at least you say it equally for both 😛 And really that’s just a statement, not an insult. But yeah, you don’t seem to read a lot with romance, so it probably doesn’t come up that often in the books you read.
You should look up The Nightlife San Antonio. Here’s my review if you want to see it, though it’s probably one of those cringe-worthy ones lol. It might be too much romance for you, but if you ever decide you want to try a paranormal romance, it’s got a female vampire and a male human and is pretty gritty rather than mushy. But everyone has gotten ahead of me on the love thing, I have another post scheduled about that in a couple weeks, haha. I do agree though.
Yeah the stuff I read doesn’t usually get into that too much, and it will be interesting to see your post down the road because yeah in YA it always seems like hi what’s your name? We’re in loooove foreverrrr oh isn’t it great lol? She or he is the ONE! Sigh. How do you know when you have, like, one to go by ha ha? Although I know there’s a place for that too. Anyway…
I went over and read your review. That’s what I’m talking about. If there’s a vampire in it I want it to be vicious and nasty- they’re out to feed, and it it can be sensual too yay but the feeding comes first. lol that’s just my conception of a vamp I guess. For other paranormal thingies though I could see it being more romancey with the guy being more than just food. 🙂 I’d like to see a UF with the female being the more powerful one and the guy falling for her but being at the mercy of her crazy world too.
Haha, you’re gonna love my post about love since that’s pretty much what it’s about, YA characters falling head over heels like that. And people defend it on the grounds that teenagers THINK they’re in love when they’re not, but I never thought I was in love in high school, so that seems like a weak defense lol.
I actually do like the sexy vampires despite the cliche lol, but I also appreciate when they *can* be vicious, or the ones who kill but are kind of debaucherous (ok apparently that’s not a word but whatever lol) about it.
Agree with everything you’ve said here! It’s a cruel double standard in our society that women get the crap-end of the deal on. 🙁 I’m also with Lola in that I’d like to see the themes and characters reversed and the ideas played with more. It would be a breath of fresh air.
Thank you! Ugh, yes, women really do get the crap end of the deal in this double standard. And it would be nice to have more variety. Unfortunately I feel like double standards like this end up encouraging tropes :-/
Yes to all of these! I’ve read way too many books that feature the usual player that sleeps round and the virgin girl that just hasn’t met the right guy yet and what pisses me off is exactly that, when the roles are reversed, she’s a “bad” character. Also, I hate when female characters who are supposed to be “good” and not sleeping with more than one guy (the hero) shame the other female characters of the story. We need to have better fictional characters than that.
Exactly! Player guy/virgin girl is so common and widely accepted, but, as soon as it’s reversed, there are people who get all upset. I’m actually not sure if I’ve read any books with slut-shaming, but that would definitely make me dislike a character, if she was shaming other people who sleeping with more than one person. That’s just encouraging disrespect.
One of my fave TV characters is Lydia Martin from Teen Wolf. She is promiscuous, but no one gives her crap about it – because why should they? She slept around when she was single and ready to mingle, and that didn’t make her evil or “immoral” or “cheap” or “dirty” or blah blah. Lydia has the freedom and choice to engage in those activities (safely, I’d like to add), and it doesn’t make her any less a person or a woman. Glad you wrote this post as a way to discuss and open up about this topic!
I watched a few seasons of Teen Wolf and it wasn’t really my thing, but that show does do certain things right, like having parents who are actually involved and no slut shaming. And exactly, just because someone sleeps around, that doesn’t make them any less valuable as a person. Thank you, I’m happy to see people getting involved in this discussion 🙂
Oh my dear, you’ve hit a topic that makes my blood pressure rise. 😉 I get so very irritated and saddened that readers hold a heroine’s sexual history against her while simultaneously championing heroes with a similar history. What?!? I do not understand why we can forgive a ‘player’ in a male character but condemn a female character as a ‘slut’. I agree with you – it is a person’s or character’s choice what they do with their bodies and decisions. And as a mother of girls and a boy, it’s what I teach.
As an aside, I clicked your Knight Games link thinking I *must* meet this character whom you adore…and found out I’d purchased the book back in November of 2013!! Oh my! Knight is going on my reading schedule for June or July. 😀
haha I’m glad I’m not the only one Brandee!!!! I need to pull myself together before I start ranting here. Poor Kristen! She doesn’t know the viper she unleashed 🙂
Let it out! Unleash the viper! Lol as I said to Brandee, I’m glad other people also feel passionately about this 😀
Yes! Well, not that I want you to have high blood pressure lol, but I’m glad someone else feels passionately about this. I try to cut people some slack sometimes when they’re judgmental about things because we’re raised in a society that teaches us to be that way, and I know in the past I often didn’t even realize I was being narrow-minded or sexist or anti-feminist or whatever. But I guess that’s why I write posts like this, to point it out to people who might want to change their way of thinking but don’t realize these things. Anyway, I’m glad you agree, and if I had kids, I like to think I’d parent them the same 🙂
And yay! I think you’ll like the series 🙂
I think I kind of hold an unpopular opinion on this one because I’m actually not terribly fond of characters who do A LOT of sleeping around, whether they’re male OR female. It’s not that I think a person is “bad” for having multiple sexual partners – obviously they’re not hurting me, and I don’t go around thinking someone who’s had sex with more than a certain number of people is a horrible person or anything, but I do kind of wonder sometimes about the current message that I feel like I see more and more often in books lately … that one step toward being an “empowered” woman is to have sex with guys you don’t actually care about – preferably many of them. On the one hand, I can kind of see the idea of, “If guys can do it, why can’t we?” but on the other hand, this is one “male stereotype” that I wish we could just try to do away with rather than live up to.
That being said, I’ve read plenty of books where the main female character has had sex with multiple partners and thought that they were all-around fantastic characters. Unless I was being beaten over the head with how “amazing and cosmopolitan” the character was just because she’d had sex with a bunch of people, I wouldn’t use that as a qualification of how much I’d like the book! And I do agree that there’s a double-standard, which is never a good thing.
I don’t think that’s really an unpopular opinion. I agree with what you’re saying, I don’t think a woman needs to sleep around to be empowered, being empowered is simply doing what’s right for YOU, which could very well be waiting until marriage and sleeping with one person, or even never sleeping with anyone. And if I had kids, I wouldn’t want them to take the message of “casual sex = empowerment” away from the books they read. But where I disagree is that I’ve never felt like that message was being sent by any of the characters I’ve read about. I’ve never seen it as the females sleeping around in order to be empowered or the author conveying that message, but that could just be a difference in the books we’ve read.
Anyway, yeah if the author were just using the promiscuity to make the character seem cool and cosmopolitan, that’d annoy me too. But if it’s just part of her character, then it’s fine with me 🙂
I actually think my response to this post was really affected by a book I’d JUST finished (The Loose Ends List) – I was really frustrated because the main character was a 17-year-old girl who hadn’t had sex yet, and pretty much EVERYONE in her life talked to her like she was stunted and hadn’t experienced life yet. Even her grandmother, for goodness sakes! They all played a game of “Never Have I Ever” (again, even the grandmother) and they were all saying things like, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll catch up eventually.” As if the poor girl should feel bad that she hadn’t done the wild things they were all confessing to doing. The message of the book seemed to be that these other characters were all hip and cool and oh so sophisticated and she was naive. I was not a fan of that message. I’ve felt that way with a few other YA books I’ve read as well, but that one felt extreme to me – and then I came and read this post and couldn’t help but be influenced by those feelings since they were so fresh!
Well that does sound like a rather messed up book :-/ But your comment also cracked me up because what kind of family sits around playing Never Have I Ever with their children and grandchildren?! Haha. I totally get why you didn’t like that particular book.
Oh, come on. You don’t want to know about your grandma’s sex life (and tell her about yours)? How odd!
Actually I have told my grandma about my sex life, hahaha. But playing Never Have I Ever with your family still seems vastly stranger than being close to a particular family member and having conversations lol.
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Omg, I’ve wanted to write a post on this for so long! It’s one of my huge pet peeves.
1. I don’t understand why people get so upset when in a book, it shows a heroine having sex with another partner before she gets together with the hero, yet it’s okay for the hero too. I see people bash it all the time.
2. What also bothers me, is how the author will make it a point to make it clear the heroine hasn’t been with a man in a long time – at least a few months – before she hooks up with the hero. Like, if she had sex the week or day before, is that too slutty or something? I don’t even know why it has to be mentioned at all. I notice this a lot in romance too.
Haha yay! We think alike!
1. Exactly. Men can do it but women can’t? How does that make sense?
2. I don’t think I’ve read any books like that but that does sound ridiculous. What, exactly, is the appropriate length of time between different sexual partners? Lol. You’re right, that doesn’t seem like something that even needs to be mentioned in most cases.
Of all the things that can bother me in a book, any character’s sexual history is about the last thing I worry about. I worry about it fitting within the narrative and being true to the character, but seriously, I don’t understand how falling in love with someone else is so bad. that’s what people do
I completely agree! It’s definitely not one of the things that bothers me about a character. And I don’t understand why it’s considered such a bad thing to have had past relationships either. Most people don’t end up marrying the first person they date, so it’s entirely normal.
My favourite female character of all time is Rose Hathaway from the Vampire Academy series. I also really, really liked Xhex from the BDB series, which I no longer read . Both have been maligned for being tough or “slutty” but both are strong, confident, independent, loyal female characters. I’d like to add that Rose Hathaway is a good role model for teenage girls as well, IMO.
Sadly, sisterhood is not terribly strong in real life so naturally that translates to characters in books and movies/TV shows as well. Women are often the first to bitch-slap other women for not being pretty enough/too pretty, not virginal enough, being mistaken as bitches when they actually have strength of character. Of course, there is also the ire of a woman having the “audacity” to lead a country, not parenting right, because, you know, parenting is all the female’s role. When you hear and see these thoughts in RL you know that women in books are going to be tough to get right for mass readership.
I am very much a card-carrying feminist because it means not just equality for women, but support for men, anyone, who wants to be or is different than the stereotypical ‘norm’. I get peed off when people use the term ‘feminazi’ because, well, self explanatory. So, solidarity from me for women in books who are strong and determined – but I’m not against those who are softer and more gentle either. Just write them well, primary or secondary, and give me a good, interesting story.
Don’t know how you find the time for the posts but glad you do 🙂
I haven’t read either of those series, but they sound like perfect examples—characters whose good traits seem to go flying out the window for some people simply because, what, they’ve had sex? (If the Vampire Academy is YA, has she even had sex, or are they just basing her “sluttiness” on how she dresses or flirts or something equally ridiculous?)
But I agree, the reason people treat characters the way they do is because people treat people in real life the same way. And seriously, nothing is ever good enough when it comes to women, so I can only imagine how tough it is for authors to write them because, no matter what the character is like, someone is going to hate her and insult her for something.
I also completely agree that I see feminism as not just being about women but being about everyone. Unfortunately, there are some people who give feminists a bad rap, but I guess that’s why I like writing these posts. And like you, I think female characters can be great whether they’re tough or softer, it all just depends on how they’re written!
I have no life, that’s how I find the time 😉 Thanks!
In Rose’s case it’s because she’s so strong, the guys like her, she has a flirtation with a couple of the male characters – one whom a lot of followers loved (madly). So, bad Rose. Bad! Xhex, because she’s tough as nails and hurt the feelings of one of the more loved characters in BDB – don’t mind that he slept around, and in front her when she was working one of her roles as security at a club, and she loved him – but “boys will be boys” and women will be “‘mean sluts.” BDB is a tad misogynist as a series anyway, interesting as a woman writes them.. So, yeah. There is an imitation of life in books and that double standard definitely exists so much so that we could probably talk about it for weeks, if not months
Oh, psshh, I am quite sure you have a life, I have too much of one these days 🙂 Keep the posts coming. You inspire me to think I can,. someday, write some more again.
I completely get what you’re saying, and that’s ridiculous! It’s ok when the guy flirts with other people and hurts the girl, but as soon as the girl does it she’s a slut?! I’m not surprised to hear that it’s written by a woman though. Some of the worst books I’ve read in terms of sexism were written by women. I never understand that.
Haha I’m glad someone thinks I have a life 😉 I do plan to keep the posts coming though! Glad you enjoy them 🙂
As someone who has always been religious, I have certain expectations regarding what I do and what I read and thus don’t often read about characters (of either gender) who are currently promiscuous. Although I don’t have a problem with the concept of dating more than one person before you decide who you want to commit to.
With that said, I am very opposed to double standards. If it is or isn’t alright for one person then it is or isn’t alright for a different person. And I really really dislike the trope where some jerk or player meets some sweet thing and is quickly reformed. It’s even worse if his reformation only extends to becoming monogamous with her and not to how he treats her and others.
Not being perfect, I still occasionally read about and even like bad boys (and girls). An example of that is Cinder & Ella, where the guy becomes a total player after the girl he is in love with apparently dies. I think that, as women at least, we really want to believe in the power of love.
That’s understandable, I respect everyone’s right to have their own beliefs in regards to sex and to decide what they want to read about. I agree it’s the double standard that is the problem. I also don’t like that trope. Not only does it perpetuate double standards and stereotypes, it’s not even realistic. Of course I’ve also read books like that since it’s such a common thing and sometimes you don’t even know it’s in the book until you read it, but I try to stay away from it. Though I’m sure you’re right, we read things like that because we like to believe in the power of love.