Linda Maye Adams

The Idiocy of Women Characters


One of the most frustrating things for me as a reader is that it’s tough finding books with women characters who are competent.  We get ones who are smart-mouthed and can’t go a day without insulting ten people; or seem to be smart and then blunder into trouble for the sake of the plot; and then there are the idiots.

That’s the book I was reading.  It’s a typical religious thriller — search for the lost relic, cryptic ancient clues, and murder.  The protagonist is a woman, and she has a male sidekick.  They spend the rest of the book trying to stay alive and find the relic first.

In an early scene, a gunman spots them in a museum and tries to kill them.  The characters flee, but they end up boxed in at a bad location: the restrooms.  Sidekick thinks fast and suggests they go into the ladies room.  What does the protagonist do?  Screech at him about not being allowed in the ladies room.  Not once, but multiple times.  She seems more worried about a man in the ladies room than a man trying to kill her.

I finally had to put the book down because the protagonist continued to be an idiot, while the sidekick got all the stuff the protagonist should have been doing.  I’d like to say this was the exception, but it’s hard for me to find an adult action book where the woman is reasonably competent.  Most of the times, she’s lucky she doesn’t get herself killed because of what she does, and there are plenty where she qualifies as TSTL.  We have women fire fighters, women police officers, and women soldiers, all in situations where they have to be competent because lack of it can mean death.  Yet, in an action novel, a lot of these women not only do nothing to even help themselves, they often make things worse.

And who are the worst culprits?  The male writers generally have trouble making the woman competent.  The TSTL tends to come from women writers.

It makes me wonder if writers feel like they’re somehow devaluing the intelligence of the male characters by making the female characters smarter.  In terms of the story, I’m all for making ALL the characters smart.  It just makes for a better story conflict with worthy characters.

6 Comments

  1. I hate it when the woman protag is all “Oh, I can’t possibly love him” and just generally a b**** to the guy who’s not being so mean to her. It’s annoying. It’s why I stopped reading Nora Roberts. But I’m with you and totally agree.

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    • Yeah, that really comes across as fake — especially when she’s supposed to get the guy at the end.

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  2. Eric Mosley

    The more prevalent a prejudice the more likely it is to be culturally embedded. I liked many of Robert Heinlein’s female characters because they were often smarter than the men. Friday comes to mind. And I didn’t know the acronym TSTL but laughed my butt off when I discovered its meaning. 🙂

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    • I wouldn’t be surprised that it’s culturally embedded. I’m reading a book now that describes how women do things that actually sends a different message than what they think they’re sending.

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  3. Good points. It peeves me when writers make women protagonists ‘kick ass’ in physical terms and then mealy mouthed and weak in dialogue. I do like strong women characters in action and deed, with realistic vulnerabilities and challenges.

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    • I just wish I could see more characters like that!

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