Is There a Strong Woman Character or Are We Being Fooled?
Did urban fantasy excite you when it first came out because it was about women in something other than romantic roles? I found one of Laurell K. Hamilton’s early books, and it was the greatest, marvelous thing. This was a woman who knew her strengths and weaknesses, and better still, actively participated in the action scenes.
But something changed. We have more women characters in books now, and especially as lead characters, and it still doesn’t feel like we’ve made progress. I think that’s because of three reasons:
Maybe you’ve read a few books with women protagonists — main characters — and yet been vaguely dissatisfied, though aren’t sure why. I’ve found this consistently with thrillers. Women protagonists are “in” now. The writer gives her the starring role but doesn’t make her a star. She’s smart enough to get into trouble, but not smart enough to try to figure out a way to get out of trouble so the male detective has to come to the rescue. Yet, I can read a Clive Cussler book, and his male lead doesn’t have to be rescued by someone else.
Urban fantasy seems better with the kick-ass heroines, but when they get into real trouble, they still fall into the same pattern of needing the male sidekick to come to the rescue. I think the most problematic part about this is that these books are being written by women.
This one’s so insidious it’s hard to see because it’s common. It’s in the movies, it’s on TV, and it’s in books. The woman character might be the protagonist, but she’s often the only woman. How many women do you work with? Probably more than one. I was in the army, a male-dominated place, and there were still more women than there was in the last book I read.
Do the way the women look on the covers reflect the women you see every day? They sure don’t for me. I don’t know anyone who dresses in such skin tight clothes that they need perfect proportions or serious airbrushing help. Yet, it’s common on covers. The publishers are appealing to the men because they know the women will buy the book anyway. But the message it sends is: “Women are objects. Look. Enjoy.” Coupled with the other elements above, one more disturbing element gets added: “They can’t do anything by themselves.”
I think indie books are going to offer a big opportunity for women readers who want to see better roles that reflect who we are and not what everyone wants us to be.