Female Characters: Why All Of The Hate?

Fandoms—the community of fans of a particular work of fiction, be it Harry Potter or Doctor Who (and even non-British series)—are somewhat notorious on the internet. Say one thing, and an entire fandom rises up as an angry (verbal) mob. Sometimes, fandoms get their shows renewed (sending a ridiculous volume of peanuts to a network got cult-favorite television show Jericho a second season). A lot of the time, fandoms just exist to discuss their favorite books, films, shows, writers, and characters.

And that can be a very positive thing. It can also be a very negative thing. Sometimes, people in fandoms just detest certain characters in ways that seem to be beyond justification.

Unfortunately, though I cannot name a reliable statistical study to prove this, I have noticed that a lot of the targets of this . . . fan-based vitriol . . . are female characters.

I am not necessarily talking about villains. When a character is said or shown or implied to be a rapist or a child-abuser, these are the characters whom we are supposed to hate. Other villains might be those whom we enjoy seeing but still root against. I am talking about . . . characters. And I am talking about female characters.

Depending upon the genre, a female character might be cited as being “annoying,” “having a chip on her shoulder,” or “forced on us by the writers.” Female characters who cheat on their boyfriends seem to get more hate than cheating boyfriends do. When a boyfriend cheats on his girlfriend with another woman, some fans seem to spit venom at the other woman and even at the girlfriend.

I am honestly not sure why female characters are so very polarizing. But I can guess. And, honestly, it is a discussion worth having. Because the things that we say about our favorite shows, whether talking to our friends or on posts to Tumblr, say a lot about us and our society.

First of all, sometimes female characters just make a bigger impact on us, psychologically. Perhaps because (though women outnumber men in …

… the real world), female characters tend the be the minorities on most shows—with the exception of certain types of dramas. They “stand out more,” sometimes visually and often in our impressions of the show. I’ve mentioned my fondness for strong, “terrifying” women in television. Perhaps this is a part of why fictional women earn so much ire.

But I also think that it has a lot to do with how women are regarded in real life. We are all familiar with double-standards. A girl’s boyfriend is beloved by her parents but they also do not want him “robbing their little girl of her innocence.” That hypothetical girl’s brother’s girlfriend will never be good enough for him, in his parents’ eyes, but if she’s not sleeping with him then there’s something wrong with her.

That double-standard is not universal, but it’s weird. And unhealthy. A simpler example of how society trains people to think of men and women differently is the (slowly vanishing) “stud VS slut” bias, in which men who have sex with many women are studs to be commended and women who sleep with many men are sluts who should be ashamed of herself. And that dynamic completely ignores the fact that, without sluts, it’s a lot trickier for there to be studs.

I think that our society trains us to pick at and find fault with women and female characters. “She’s too opinionated.” “She’s such a know-it-all.” And I think that this dates back to a time when women had to conform to certain expectations in order to “get a good husband.” Men, in the mean time, could be varied and flawed and have many qualities, because to “get a good wife,” they simply needed to provide economic stability. Very different pressures.

These ideas about what society separately expects of men and of women are changing, but some things are changing faster than others. I do think that female characters of fiction are met with more unfair criticism than male characters. Do you agree with my criticism? Or do you believe that there is something else at play?

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2 thoughts on “Female Characters: Why All Of The Hate?

  1. I think you are pretty much spot on. It’s called male privilege, and it’s been around for a loooooooooooong time (as you know already). It’s just found it’s way into geek culture, too. Our attitudes (male and female, both) are just now, I think, coming to a place of conscious incompetence, as psychology would term it (generally attributed to Abraham Maslow, though none of his major works mention it). This means we are now aware of it (most of us), but we have a ways to go yet. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence)

    Thanks to persons such as yourself, and many before you, it is coming to the forefront of our thinking, and some of us are making the effort to move it into the conscious competence stage, where we are not only aware of these attitudes, but that we begin to act differently with regards to this. My hope is that, if I ever have any children, that my daughters won’t take any guff for being girls (but will be fair to the boys who genuinely want to understand), and my boys will become better men for my efforts.

    My apologies if I seem to ramble. I am a writer myself, attempting to find my way within the art of quill-craft–particularly fantasy and scifi. I have noticed these tendencies too, in geekdom. Not only the attitudes of fellow geeks, but also within the geekery itself.

    Take comics, for example. Until recently (and even now), comics were rife with disproportionate depictions of female superheroes (and villains, as well). I discovered this via something horrific on TVTropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WomenInRefrigerators).

    Then we have video games, in their many forms. Judging by some of your articles, I would guess that you’re a fellow geek, and being a feminist, I think you might enjoy these two articles. (http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2011/11/nerds-and-male-privilege/) and (http://kotaku.com/5873885/nerds-and-male-privilege-part-2-deconstructing-the-arguments)

    Females are treated in a very different way from males in the games. Female villains are often depicted as seductive succubi that use their sexuality to lure in the male hero.

    Female heroes, if they are secondary characters, are treated similarly as they are in comic books, and suffer from a phenomenon where they can’t seem to figure out their powers and abilities, or are somehow less-capable in their use than their male counterparts, or they are just given ridiculous powers to begin with.

    Then, as you mentioned in the above article, there are the attitudes of fans concerning female characters in stories. In any form of geekery, female characters -are- judged on a steeper bias than male characters. Strong female characters are often regarded derisively (though the number of us males who enjoy strong female leads and secondaries is growing, I believe).

    I personally rather like strong female characters, and believe they not only capable, realistic, and viable, but that they can make better leads. Like all characters, male and female alike, they have to be written smartly though.

    There are some female characters that are annoying, case in point: the princess in the movie adaptation of Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time, with Jake Gyllenhaal. I’m not sure if that was just her character–the spoiled princess–or if the scriptwriter purposely made her irritating, or if that particular actress could not act the character any better. I don’t know.

    In at least two of my story worlds, I have strong female characters (or ones who will be gaining strength in the story), and am attempting to make them, well…not dumb. Being male, I have a certain handicap when it comes to understanding what it’s like to be female, but then, that’s why I read sites like yours–so that I can understand. ; )

    I do understand that even if I make the “most awesomesauce female characters evar”, I still won’t please everyone–especially those afflicted with the male privilege syndrome. But, dammit, I’m going to make ‘em anyway!

    Thanks for reading my rambling, Z.L. Keep up the good work! <3

  2. I absolutely agree with your assessment. I’m a regular reader of the “Luann” comic strip, and over the past several months there has been a character named Ann Eiffel. She has been portrayed as a beautiful, but crafty, devious, and manipulative woman. There is also another character–a regular–who possesses the same traits, yet he’s (yes, he’s a guy) portrayed like he’s a good guy, while Ann is portrayed as pure evil, the prototypical temptress or seductress. While I definitely don’t like Ann, I don’t see anything redeeming about T.J. (the male character), either, yet the strip’s creator made him out like he’s a saint. I think it’s the same, old double standard, as you’ve said.

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