in defence of females

Why do female characters in fiction generate so much hate?

In books, movies, TV shows—across the board, there are female characters that are criticised. Most often in ways that male characters with similar personalities and traits would not be. And have not been. Sarah Rees Brennan made the point that if Harry Potter were actually Harriet Potter, she would not be as beloved by millions.

This is sadly true, in my opinion, especially when you consider fans’ attitudes to characters like Hermione and Ginny. Some fans criticise Hermione for not being “strong” in the seventh book, for falling apart when Ron leaves. And yes, she did fall apart to an extent, but remember that Harry didn’t react well to it, either. If you consider the fact they were being hunted by Death Eaters and were Undesirables Numbers One and Two, they had a lot of valid reasons to be stressed. More than that, Hermione was strong. She stayed with Harry, kept trying to figure out where the horcruxes were and what the deal with the Deathly Hallows was.

That’s where Hermione shines: in all seven books, she’s always the one with the answers. When she’s petrified by the Basilisk in the second book, Ron and Harry are at a complete loss—until they find the note in Hermione’s palm, telling them that it’s a Basilisk. Seeing a pattern here? Hermione is just as heroic as Harry.

Ginny is mostly criticised for being a “tramp”, or worse, which is something that is frustrating to no end. She likes Harry and Harry never notices her until the sixth book, so she’s not allowed to date other men? And if she does, that automatically makes her a tramp? It’s a double standard in a lot of fiction. You don’t see Harry getting flak for dating Cho Chang; in fact, for the most part, people criticise Cho Chang for that. You also don’t see Ron getting flak for being with Lavender; again, it’s Lavender being criticised. And while these two female characters may not be the most likeable, do they honestly deserve the criticism more than the guys? Not really.

Harry Potter is just one example, of course. It’s an example that does, for the most part, pass the Bechdel Test. Which is: there must be more than two female characters in the text, and they must interact with each other about something other than a man. Harry Potter has a multitude of female characters, all amazing in their own way. They do interact and form close friendships, and no, they don’t solely talk about how amazing Harry is. (Even though they sometimes do.)

For that matter, Twilight passes the Bechdel test, too. Yes, Bella Swan does not like a lot of her human “friends” and sometimes acts as though she and the Cullens are superior. This can be considered a flaw. But she does interact with Alice, and Angela. And Rosalie, too. Yes, they do talk about things that aren’t Edward, shock horror. Yes, they do have a close relationship, though the latter one takes some time to develop.

It’s not a crime to criticise the flaws of characters in fiction. But, to me, it is a crime when the character is female and a large part of the response to the character is based around the fact that she is female.

No, female characters do not need to hate skirts, be uninterested in men or know five different martial arts styles to be considered strong women. As I mentioned in the last article, Mae from The Demon’s Lexicon is a shining example of a strong young woman comfortable with her body and sexuality, and she’s not afraid of flaunting it. This is completely okay, and she’s pretty amazing in her own right.

Buffy Summers is another character who’s severely criticised, and yes, she does know five different martial arts styles, but that’s part of her charm. A blonde, spunky Vampire Slayer who likes clothes and guys and other things outside of slaying vampires? Whoda thunk. How dare you, Buffy!

She’s a character that a number of fans seem to dislike because she’s flawed, which is really not a very good reason to hate a character, since someone who’s perfect is not very interesting. Yes, sometime she makes mistakes. Yes, sometimes she dates vampires and they lose their souls and she has to kill them. Yes, sometimes she sleeps with a vampire because she’s just been brought back from the dead. Yes, she’s a young woman who lost her mother and didn’t know how to raise her sister on her own. Is this really a crime?

You know what, she managed to avert a couple of apocalypses as well as deal with these crises. To me, Buffy is a fantastic character, never mind her flaws. She makes the show and, without her, what would the show be? Blank the Vampire Slayer? As attractive as David Boreanaz and James Marsters are, sorry, they can’t make a show on their own. They need the badass ladies alongside them.

And does Buffy the Vampire Slayer pass the Bechdel test? Absolutely, with flying colours. Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Tara, Anya, Dawn—they all interact with each other, a lot of the time not about any of the male cast. In fact, their relationships generally have more depth than the relationships between the males.

You’ll note that the female characters discussed all have very different skill sets. They all have different avenues of strength available to them, but that doesn’t make any of them weak. Female characters have always been criticised harshly, have always been judged more than the guys.

In fantasy, female protagonists that are oblivious, naïve and don’t know how to use a sword are often viewed as weak and pathetic. Male protagonists that act exactly the same are generally accepted, and their leap to heroism is not examined cynically. Not usually. But are both protagonists heroes? Absolutely. None of this heroine business. They both mean the same thing regardless.

Basically, female characters don’t deserve the treatment they get. They can be flawed, they can make the wrong decisions, and they can pick whichever guy (or girl) they want. Women aren’t prizes or trophies or objects: they are complex people with complex strengths and flaws, and they are allowed to shine like stars without being hated for shining too brightly. After all, stories are written about people, for people.

So people should really stop complaining when they get presented with female characters that act like people. It’s only logical, isn’t it?

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