Do female characters get critiqued more often?

This is something I’ve wanted to discuss for a while. I keep coming across these critiques of strong female characters, and I think that’s great. Constructive criticism is always good. However sometimes I feel that there is sometimes a double standard where male characters are merely criticized for being badly written while every time there is a female character with flaws in characterization, she is treated as a template to what a female character should not be. Similarly, whenever there is a female character who is judged to be actually quite well written, there is a hoard of people acting like she is some kind of template for all female characters-as if all female characters are  the same. On one hand, I’ve seen feminine and attractive female characters being criticized for promoting gender stereotypes, and on the other, I’ve seen female characters who are shown to be fighting, killing etc. criticized for promoting the idea that to be strong, a woman has to be ‘like a man’.

I take particular issue with the last criticism many a time. I think in some situations it is a totally valid criticism. For instance if in the world of a certain book women aren’t expected to fight, yet out of the loads of characters there every strong female character breaks the norms and becomes a warrior and all the non fighting women are shown to be weak damsels in distress, then yes, that is a valid criticism. However, I’ve seen such criticism leveled against books movies etc. whenever a woman decided to pick up a sword or a gun. And I think that is unwarranted. Firstly, I don’t think that picking up a weapon makes you a man. . There are a number of reasons why a woman would do that in a story, and I think the idea that every woman has to stick to a traditionally feminine role to be a realistic character is quite harmful. There have been plenty of badass women in history, and it is quite demeaning to assume that a woman taking on a traditionally masculine role makes her a ‘man with boobs’ as some people say. Some women are, believe it or not, not very feminine in the traditional sense. Genres like fantasy are known to have action-oriented protagonists, and using the same tropes used for male characters on female characters does not mean that you are promoting the idea that a woman has to be like a man to be strong. Of course, it is great if you have a wide variety of female characters who posses strength in different ways-for example in A Song of Ice and Fire, we have warrior women like Arya and Brienne alongside women like Sansa and Margaery who are more traditionally feminine yet powerful. However, not every story has the scope for a large cast of characters. Sometimes have characters who can kick ass are unrealistic and act as wish-fulfillment. I don’t think I would personally be any good in a fight, however, genres like fantasy and sci-fi are often escapist, and it is nice to be able to relate to a character who kicks loads of ass. Unrealistically badass male characters have existed since forever so why shouldn’t there be such female characters? Of course, you can have strong female characters who are traditionally feminine as well, but I strongly disagree with the idea that every female character should be that way or else you’re just emulating a male. Some settings just have an emphasis on conflict, war etc. and it is natural for most of the characters in such a setting to be action-oriented, regardless of gender.

Also, there is the thing about Mary Sues. While I think that Mary Sue characters are a result of bad writing, and deserve to be criticized, I’ve seen a difference between the criticisms of male Mary Sue characters (Marty Stus/Gary Stus) and female ones. Such male characters are rightfully criticized for being badly written, I’ve heard people connect female Mary Sues with their gender all the time. People assume that Mary Sue females are a result of an attempt to construct an overly strong female character in order to prove that women can be strong. That is a misconception, writers don’t write strong female characters to prove that women are equal to or better than men. Writers write them because strong women exist, and people, especially women and girls like reading about them. Yes, some writers aren’t very good at it, and they end up creating unrealistic or flat characters, but they are a result of bad writing, not an agenda. Just like it is with male Mary Sues.

I think it is great we live in a time when there are a number of books with strong female characters, that girls and women can read plenty of books where women take a proactive role and are not merely the love  interests or damsels in distresses. However, a natural consequence is that there would be such characters who are not very well-written, and it is unfair to attribute that to the female-ness of the characters rather than the bad writing.


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