I was on social media the other day (shocking, I know) and stumbled over a thread that piqued my interest. Someone had read a book in which women seemed to be vilified to the point of misogyny. The disappointed reader said it was a theme she’d been running into frequently and numerous other readers chimed in that they had the same issue with MM books. I haven’t read the book in question, so I can’t speak to its content, but women being portrayed negatively in gay romance is hardly a new phenomenon. Readers have been complaining about it for years.
When I first began writing MM, rumblings about women being cast as conniving harpies abounded on review sites–every female in nearly every book was pure evil. Or there were no females in books, in other cases.
Long ago, I vowed to be super conscientious about how my female characters came across. And then I largely washed my hands of the worry. Seriously, I’m the girl who likes to joke that women can’t do X because their vaginas are so cumbersome they get in the way. I used to go to parties in HS to challenge dudes to mercy competitions just to prove what a bad ass I was. Well, and to drink (shot for shot with the guys, of course). Yeah, also to get laid because treating men the way I perceived they’d treated women since the dawn of time–like a piece of meat to be used–was my shtick, I’m rather ashamed to say (they rarely minded, for the record, so I guess I won’t feel too guilty).
My point is, I’m not the girl who thinks women are in any way inferior to men (really–why would any woman think that?). I mean, we squeeze squalling 8 lb beings from our bodies and then we’re like, give me some fucking pizza and let me walk around or I’ll drown you in breast milk. If anything, I’ve got a chip on my shoulder when it comes to how undervalued women are.
Yet, whenever I see these posts, I get paranoid.
I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t. I am woman, with better plumbing, carpentry, and electrical skills than most men I know. Hear me roar. I won’t even mention my chest hair (I blame gin).
Oh, but people were complaining about the evil fictional ex-wife! The evil mother-in-law!
Well, I’ve written a character mid-divorce in a nasty custody battle. Yes, his wife came off witchy, but she’d given her best years to a guy and wanted to keep her kid. No, she wasn’t nice to her soon-to-be ex-husband, but I’ve seen more ugly divorces than I can count, and I don’t think a bit of reality is untoward. Guaranteed, if I’d been writing from the ex-wife’s POV, Gio would have looked like a total cobnobbler.
Not that anyone has accused me of defaming women. But the conversation makes me rethink every female character I’ve ever written. Was she too bitter? Did I make all women look bad by writing one woman going through a shitastic stage in her life? Should I never write female characters I wouldn’t want to be friends with IRL? Should I never write a female as an antagonist for fear of being labeled a misogynist?
I have more awesome women than bitchy women in my books, when I do the math. Probably equal amounts antagonistic men to antagonistic women. Realistically, someone needs to be the adversary in contemporary romance.
And then I just wrote a rather unlikable mother-in-law(ish)…
Maybe exes and MILs are overdone at this point. Maybe that’s the problem, in which case, contemporary MM may be overdone too because, well, as I know I’ve complained before, we can’t just pull a (sexless) monster out of our asses to make a villain.
Now, is Greg’s mom in my latest book (Balancing Act~~Coming soon to a website near you! Shameless plug!) absolute evil? No. Not even remotely. Matter of fact, she’s based on a woman I happen to adore. Is she a horse-pill to swallow? Oh, you bet your ass. On the flip side, Kyrie’s mom is a love, she just doesn’t get major screen time in this book. Same for his cool friend, Liv.
Nice can be boring, TBH. Suspense doesn’t come from that totally humorous Comic-Con scene I keep contemplating. A book needs to move forward and then get kicked in the teeth to make it step back. It needs tension. Bad guys and bad girls.
Sigh. No one was complaining about my characters, so I know I shouldn’t get all twitchy about this. And, yes, if I happen to come across a book that makes me think the author hates women, I’ll get way fucking twitchier, but I hate how this conversation makes me think twice about using female characters at all. Much like complaints about authors writing persons of color incorrectly make me nervous about just writing any damn character that comes to mind.
I don’t want to shy away from female characters–or any characters. Occasionally, I even want to write a hard-nosed bitch. Just as sometimes I want to write a psychotic would-be murderer who happens to have a penis. Neither one makes me a misogynist or a misandrist.
I guess I’ll just keep reminding myself of that and follow wherever my characters lead. No fear. After all, they’re in charge–even if that means they come off a little cunty sometimes.
Hey, don’t we all?
February 23rd, 2016 at 3:34 pm
Well not all women are likable people in RL so it’s only natural to run into them in books and other fictional pieces. Perspective is accountable for how people view female roles and even if someone may have deemed themselves to have created a nice female role it may not be that way for some readers. There are two sides to a story and both sided aren’t always presented.
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February 23rd, 2016 at 4:05 pm
You are so right, H.B.!
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February 23rd, 2016 at 7:31 pm
Eh. You can’t please all the people all the time. As a rule, I’m not offended by a villainous female character. There was one book that’s a fan fave that many have found very funny. I found it quite offensive because of the numerous jokes & negative comments about females & female genitalia. I’m also getting to a point where I’m finding it offensive if numerous times, a character refers to himself as acting like a girl because he gets emotional or cries when something really bad happens. If it’s occasional it doesn’t bother me, but it if happens a lot then IMO it becomes misogyny.
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February 23rd, 2016 at 8:17 pm
I agree, Lisa. IMO “acting like a girl” is so insulting because it’s meant to be. I’d love to reclaim it. Say acting like a child, if that’s what it is. Say fucking crying. Everyone does it. That phrase will absolutely make me toss a book, but I’m a DNF’r of epic proportions these days. Life is too short to be annoyed by my leisure time.
February 23rd, 2016 at 9:14 pm
Female characters that are annoying or evil don’t bother me if they are intended as the villain. What bothers me is when they are horrible but in the context of the book and in the minds of the other characters their horrific-ness is “just the way women are.”
i’m also guilty of having very few female characters. I’m trying to get better about it 🙂
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February 23rd, 2016 at 10:30 pm
I’m glad to hear this, Amelia. Honestly, I don’t read that much MM and don’t see it…so I start to wonder.