Tuesday, 9 May 2017

In defence of female protagonists

If you've read/read about young adult books in any way shape or form, you're probably familiar with the fact that there are more female protagonists than male protags. According to this random website I found (points for research skills there), 65% of characters in YA books are female, 22% are male and the remaining 13% is shared. Just by looking over my library, I can see that there's way more female protags than males. 

Why is this? 

Not a real human skull, btw. My fabulous brother 3D printed it.

I believe it's because publishers believe more girls read YA than boys (who are off reading sci-fi or non-fiction or manuals whatever), and thus more books are targeted at teenage girls. It makes sense, right? People like to read about people like them, so more books have girls as main characters. (It's the same reason there's such a huge push for books with diverse characters at the moment. It's such a powerful thing to see yourself represented in media, and can be quite damaging when you're not or when you're wrongly represented. But that's a discussion for another day. (It's also why I like Spider-Man so much. I finally get to see my level of awesome on-screen.))

In response to this, there's been quite a backlash across the Internet. We're tired of female main characters, we need more boy books, we need more variety. All the female protags have the same voice, let's do something different! 

I have issues with this. 

First of all, I don't have a problem with male protagonists. I love reading them actually, because it's good to get into someone else's head. The writing style is usually quite different, and the stories end up being very different to stories by female MCs. 

I do, however, have issues with some of the reasons why people want male protagonists or why we have so many female MCs in the first place, or even over the fact that people don't like the fact that there are more female protags than male. But honestly? I think we're all just over-reacting. 

Let's get this straight right off the bat. Boys will read books with female main characters. The end. No arguments. Boys might not read books aimed at girls, which often have female protagonists by the way, which is fine. I don't usually like to read those either. But boys will read stories with female protagonists. To say anything else is to insult and stereotype boys, something I'm not interested in. 

That's also what annoys me about why we have so many female main characters in the first place. Why do publishers think girls will only read about girls? It's the same thing as assuming boys will only read boy books. People are intelligent and open-minded for the most part, especially if they're bothering to pick up a book. Give us some credit. 

Now for the controversial part of my post. I think we're just over-reacting. Look, teenage girls, proactive, strong, independent teenage girls, are so underrepresented in the media. It's ridiculous. Most of the positive teenage girl representation is in book-to-movie adaptations (The Hunger Games anyone?). Most other films/advertisements/TV shows/whatever show teenage girls as shallow and stupid, people who drain their daddy's bank account and get way too obsessed with makeup and boys. I'm not saying those girls don't exist. I'm saying they're not everyone. 

What's wrong with having better representation? Maybe so many girls read YA because that's the only place they can find someone like them having adventures and actually doing stuff. We should stop freaking out over the fact that there are more female main characters and just enjoy the fact that for the first time ever we have a half-decent representation of an often marginalised group of society. What's even better is that people of other diverse groups (for example, people of colour) are getting onto the page as well. Honestly, how often are independent, three-dimensional Chinese-American teenage girls represented in the media? (Answer: not often enough, but there's more than there used to be.)

Let it go, people. Enjoy a small victory. Yes, there are issues with the inundation of female protagonists in young adult fiction. No, we don't need to panic. 

Do you prefer male or female main characters? Do you think there needs to be such a controversy around this? 

12 comments:

  1. That's so true, because like you say, boys might not read books directly aimed at females, but if they just have a female protagonist, that's unlikely to put them off. The same as if I were to read a book through the mind of a boy, I've read hundreds like it, and no doubt I'll read hundreds more. Books are all about giving you different scenes and scenarios and ideas, so it's unlikely that just having a female protag would put them off.

    Amy;
    Little Moon Elephant

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! It's totally fine that boys usually don't read books marketed at girls, but just because they have a female protagonist doesn't necessarily mean they're marketed at girls.

      Delete
  2. Yes, I agree so much. We are overreacting. The panic over diversity seems to have happened after diversity was actually implemented? I could be wrong about this, but even then our call for diversity has been and is being heard. Meaning, we're getting what we want, so why are we whining? Yes, there's misrepresentation, but there's always going to be some bad apples. I'm not saying that excuses misrepresentation. But you aren't ever going to get books who always 100% represent properly. (Because authors are human and humans mess up. A little grace might be needed, yeah?) We do get books with proper representation too. The media and readers are overreacting so much. And honestly? I'm sick of hearing the mantra for more diversity. Not because I don't think it's important. It is important. But it's all we ever talk about. Let's move on to something new.

    Ugh, I'm so with you on the girls read about girls and boys read about boys. Why is the industry that is trying to adhere to diversity using stereotypes to do so? How backward is that? I actually enjoy reading about boy protagonists. It's a different perspective to be in, and seeing through a different perspective is one of the big reasons I love to read. Boys also read books with girl protagonists. I really don't think there's anything wrong with that. If we want diverse books, then we want to read about people who aren't like us as well as people who are.

    Love this post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *nods wisely* Indeed we are. Hmmm, I'm not 100% happy with where we are with diversity quite yet and it's always going to be a battle I think, but in some cases we definitely are overreacting. But yes, we do need to be graceful, we need to be thankful that people have tried and we need more POC writers to be featured more as they're better at telling their own stories than white people, if they so chose to tell their own story.

      YES IT JUST DOESN'T MAKE SENSE DUDE. Boy protags are really cool to read about, just like girls. Everyone reads everything, broadly speaking, and I don't know why people are freaking out so much. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment Ashley!

      Delete
  3. I have to agree, for the most part, although I am curious to learn some statistics on whether guys like reading books with female protagonists. My best friend's little brother was teased for reading "girl books" (i.e. books with female protagonists) in elementary school. I don't think guys have any natural aversion to female protagonists, but I can easily see how they would also be socialized to resist reading them. At any rate, many books with female protagonists should be no big deal!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From every guy reader I've talked to, they don't seem to mind reading about girl protags but they just won't read books aimed at girls. I don't have any stats to back me up, just personal experience, so take that as you will. I think often writers write something with a FMC and naturally aim it more at girls, consciously or unconsciously, and the opposite happens with MMCs. I think that's why something like The Hunger Games did so well, because even though it had a FMC it was a "traditionally" male story. Anyways.

      Delete
  4. Why is Western culture so obsessed with "quotas" of characters and diversity? It seems we must have exact representation of real life to make people happy. If it's good writing, keep it--whether the protagonists are male or female, black or white, Chinese or Indian, Muslim or Christian. If you can write a good, diverse character, do it! But this obsession over having exact representation of real life, in my opinion, is not healthy. If we focus on what's true, if we focus on writing well, things will eventually catch up. But if we focus on getting an exact split of male and female characters (or any other hallmark of diversity for that matter), we're just going to end up writing cookie-cutter cut-outs, likely as not.

    Sorry for the rant. *Shrugs sheepishly*.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good point, actually. I hadn't noticed the quota thing, which is totally true. Asian character, black character, Middle Eastern, LGBTQ+ character, female, male, etc. Yes, I wish we would simply just reflect the world around us and that should be good enough. Not at all, thank you so much! I love reading respectful rants in the comments!

      Delete
  5. This is so true! I would write more, but instead I'm being lazy and I'm supposed to be working so I'll just say that this was a great post & thank you for writing it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha I've been there ;) Thank you so much for commenting and for the support!

      Delete
  6. Haha. My brother admitted to me this year that he likes reading 'girl books' (it's obvious because he read most of my books but he wouldn't really admit it to most of his friends.

    I don't think many boys mind that much about reading books with female characters , but they should be more male characters because I think the only book I own that features a male character is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. So yeah...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's awesome of your brother! He can totally read whatever he wants, it's just too bad he feels embarrassed about it :(

      Hmmm, I just think you're looking in the wrong places. I have tons of great books with MMCs. Patrick Ness writes quite a few, Eoin Colfer, Phillip Caveny...

      Delete

Feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions! I'd love to hear from you. Please note that I reserve the right to delete comments that I think are hurtful.