I’m one of those people who thinks far too much. So, inevitably, I end up thinking a lot about the books I read and how they relate to life in general and to my own beliefs. And one of the things that comes up a lot for me is the way female characters are treated.
I feel like people are often pointing out the flaws in books when it comes to how female characters are treated by other characters, which is fantastic, but… what about the way we as readers treat them?
But the point of this isn’t to shame anyone for thinking or feeling a certain way, rather just to express my own thoughts, to maybe get some other people thinking by opening their eyes to things they never even noticed, and to have my own eyes opened to different perspectives and thoughts :-)
My absolute favorite female character is Grateful Knight from the Knight Games series by Genevieve Jack. She’s incredible. She doesn’t put up with any of the males’ possessive or controlling crap. She stands up for herself. She never sits around waiting for opportunities—she makes her own opportunities and makes things happen, even though she’s also not afraid to accept help when she needs it. She’s constantly thinking and observing and planning and figuring things out. Her greatest asset is her mind and her inner strength, and I love that.
But I remember reading some reviews upon finishing and being shocked to discover that quite a few people disliked her. And that’s fine, everything in books in subjective, but it made me sad that the reason some people disliked her was because of her sexual history. She didn’t cheat. There was nothing written that would indicate she used or manipulate or hurt anyone. She didn’t spread STDs around. No, apparently just the sole fact that she slept with over 10 guys, all of which she had some sort of relationship with, before finding one to settle down with in the story completely erased every amazing trait she had.
First of all, I’d like to state my belief that having a sexual history is not a flaw. I know I used the word promiscuity in the title, but I didn’t intend it as a bad thing. Everyone can sleep with as many people as they want as long as it’s all consensual and safe and they’re prepared to accept any consequences that may come of it, and it doesn’t make them any worse of a person. I’m not even saying that you can’t set a standard that the person you date must have had less than x sexual partners if any more makes you uncomfortable or goes against your beliefs, just that it doesn’t make someone a bad person for having more. This is what I feel feminism is—the right for each person to make their own choices regarding their bodies and their lives as long as they’re not harming others and to not be condemned for it.
But second of all, what about the many books I’ve come across and even read myself in which the male character had a sexual history with far higher numbers than that and oftentimes did hurt and use the women he slept with? I mean, surely people are even more outraged about that and hate those characters too, right?
Nope. For some reason, those characters are just poor, broken souls, and they were sleeping with women to fill the emptiness in their hearts. Or they had their hearts broken by someone in the past, so they vowed never to trust or love again and just had emotionless sex instead. Or they just had sex with as many women as they could for the pure fun of it because it was what they enjoyed doing. And because they were male, not only was their promiscuity ok, it’s also an endearing, sympathetic, and/or heart-wrenching thing.
But when a woman has consensual sex with numerous partners throughout her life, she’s automatically an unlikeable character. (Which then leads to the whole player guy/virgin girl trope being overused.)
And the fact that we are taught and raised to adopt that line of thinking makes me both angry and sad. It also makes for a very limiting environment for authors which leads to less diverse characters, more tropes, and ultimately a narrower range of acceptance. And isn’t that the opposite of what we’re trying to work toward?