A few weeks ago I talked about the double standard of sexual promiscuity in books, but this week I want to talk about characters getting emotional.
If you know me, you know that emotion is my favorite thing about books. I love to FEEL things, and I do that through the characters, by feeling what they feel. So this particular topic is something I’ve thought about for a while and that really stands out to me in the books I read.
I’ve never seen this discussed anywhere, so I have no clue if anyone will feel the same way as me about this or has had similar reading experiences, but I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say!
If you haven’t yet seen my first post about feminism, double standards, and sexual promiscuity, you should head over and check it out! But as a reminder, I talked about my favorite female character and how shocked I was when I discovered the way some readers treated her due to her sexual history.
Well, another one of my favorite female characters is Jehenne Corbeaux from the Les Corbeaux: The French Vampire Legend series by Emma V. Leech. She’s still a teenager so all of her decisions are not perfect, but I always found them to be understandable. She’s smart, strong, and stands up for herself. And in the second book, she especially stands up for her right to make her own decisions about her body and won’t let anyone rush her or pressure her into things.
But yet again I was shocked to discover that many other readers thought she was too emotional. And also yet again, for some of those readers, it was as though that one trait overshadowed every amazing thing about her. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is allowed to have their own opinion, these things are subjective, but it was genuinely surprising to me.
The thing is, I thought her emotion was one of the amazing things about her. It wasn’t something I felt I had to overlook—it was one of the very reasons I loved her so much. I felt her emotions were completely realistic and justified. The fact that she actually had these emotions was what made her relatable and great to read about.
And what’s wrong with being emotional anyway? With crying? With sadness? With anger? With shock? With getting overwhelmed?
But then I thought for a moment, if it had been reversed and she were a male character, would the reviews have been different?
When a male character breaks down and cries or screams out in frustration because his relationship is in shambles, or because he misses someone he lost, or because he’s completely overwhelmed by some truly awful situation he’s in, do we as readers scoff and call him emotional? Or do we become even more into him because he has a soft side and awww he’s so sad that we just want to give him a hug because for a man to cry wow it must be really bad and he must be feeling so much pain :-( :-( :-( …?
I do. I admit that. It breaks my heart when male characters get upset. So I’m not condemning anyone for that. But when someone likes a female character less for having emotions and then turns around and likes a male character more for having the very same emotions, it makes me sad because it’s yet another double standard.
We’ve been taught our whole lives that women are just dramatic, so, when one is emotional, we have a tendency to just see it as dramatic. And we’ve been taught that men do NOT get emotional, so, when they do, we have a tendency to automatically think whatever they’re feeling must just be terrible and their emotions must be justified.
I’m not accusing every single reader of thinking this way or even attacking anyone who does—as I said, I fall prey to these things too. I love me a brooding and tortured hero. I don’t dislike female characters for showing emotion, but I’m pretty sure I feel emotion more powerfully when it’s coming from a male character because that whole “men don’t get emotional” thing is so deeply ingrained in me. It’s how I was raised by society. And things like that are hard to truly break away from, even when you consciously try.
I’ve noticed something else though. It seems to me that male characters, especially protags, are being purposely written with more emotion than females. Maybe it’s just the genres I read, or maybe it’s even just the specific books. But regardless, my theory is that maybe it’s because readers/viewers/society in general are often bashing any female character who shows emotion, so authors are trying extra hard to write “strong” female characters because of all the pressure. But when did “strong” come to mean emotionless and stoic? I firmly believe people can be both strong AND emotional. In fact, I think emotion makes a person even stronger because it means they’re passionate about things and it allows them to have empathy for others.
So I LIKE emotional characters, of all genders, and think we need more of them!