Along with the Demon’s Heart trilogy, I’m working on another series that’s been brewing in one form or another for a good decade now. I’ve worked at it on and off through the years, but it went through a long stretch on the shelf for one reason:
Both the main characters were boys.
I felt somehow that I was betraying my fellow women by writing a story in which the female characters play only supporting roles. I read articles about how we need more strong female leads, how girls need better literary role models, how vital female authors are in battling sexism.
And, you know, I agree with all that. I like reading MG and YA books about girls who are strong, compassionate, and resilient. In fact, after reading a post from a fellow blogger about how she made a special effort to seek out female authors this year, I went back to my Year in Books to see how much of my reading list was written by women.
The answer? Two-thirds. Easy. And I wasn’t even remotely making an effort to read more women authors.
(What I also found interesting was that there were two books I read this year with grossly shallow female characters, and only one of them was written by a man. But that’s for another post.)
Our girls today have an abundance of literary role models to learn from, and for that I am so grateful. I can’t wait until my girls are old enough to read The Penderwicks or Princess Academy or Jane Eyre or Tuesdays at the Castle.
But at the same time, I can’t help thinking–who are our boys looking up to?
See, most of my friends growing up were boys. While I spent most of my youth fielding jabs about all my boyfriends, the truth was, they were practically brothers to me. I loved them to pieces, and I worried about them a lot. I was painfully aware, especially in middle school and high school, that the fictional characters they idolized were often either trained killers or sex-obsessed. Often both.
And the thing is, that doesn’t just affect boys. Just as the portrayal of women in fiction affect what boys think women should be, the portrayal of men in fiction affects what girls think men should be. Do you know how many girls I’ve met who are in love with Captain Jack Harkness? Do you understand how this is a problem? The man is (according to popular opinion) gorgeous, charming, and willing to sleep with anything that moves. Is that the kind of man you want your daughter going on a date with?
What worries me even more is how often these stereotypically violent, shallow men are romanticized and “redeemed,” which often just means excused with the most fleeting explanation possible. I’m in the middle of the Lunar Chronicles, which are incredibly well written with a depth of world-building that makes me drool. BUT. Wolf? I’m sorry. “He can’t help it” doesn’t make me fall madly in love with a man who has spent his life tearing throats out. And as for Captain Thorne, you can’t spend two books setting him up as being dumb as a post and twice as shallow, then convince me that he’s turned his whole life around and suddenly has hidden depths.
AND THIS IS A SERIES WRITTEN BY A WOMAN WITH TRULY STELLAR FEMALE LEAD CHARACTERS.
Our boys AND GIRLS need upstanding male characters as much as they need upstanding female characters. If we want our boys and girls to grow up respecting each other and capable of working together, children’s literature is a good place to start modeling that.