As a female, I naturally gravitate toward books narrated by women. That being said, I am growing tired of reading from the perspective of female protagonists, and not because of the fact that they’re female — but because they possess characteristics or exhibit certain behaviors that I detest.
Lately, especially as I have continued reading YA novels despite their determination to disappoint me, I have noticed a pattern of behavior displayed by the female protagonists that I wish to address in this post. I’m going to use the word “tropes,” even though most of these are mere personality traits, because I can do what I want, thanks.
The following opinions may be controversial, but I have a feeling most readers will agree that these top five tropes need to die, no matter the genre.
–Spoilers Ahead for Before the Broken Star by Emily R. King–
#5: I Can’t Decide What To Call This
Indecisiveness irks me. Fictional characters who can’t make their own decisions are prone to becoming flat because other characters will end up making decisions for them. They don’t have to make all the decisions, just some of the more pivotal ones, please. There’s nothing more refreshing than reading about a character forced to confront an impossible choice and making a choice anyway. Mind = blown.
#4: Would You Like Some Cheese With That Whine?
Why is there an upward trend of whining female characters? Or has this always been a thing, when a female MC thinks she is the only one with problems, she is blind to the sufferings of others, and she assumes “nobody could possibly understand.” Um… Okay, maybe she has had a rough go of it. Maybe nobody would truly understand what she has gone through. Can she not have compassion as well?
Besides that, what could whining possibly accomplish? Why do we need to read about a girl who complains about how hard things are and in the same sentence refuse anyone’s help or consoling words?
Most of the whiny MC’s I’ve read come off that way because their male counterparts are stoic and reasonable, despite the fact that they’ve clearly suffered more than the MC. What annoys me most is when the woman finally finds out what the man has gone through, and she barely shows any compassion because he still doesn’t understand me.
I get it. When you are in pain, you don’t want to hear that someone was in worse pain than you at one point. But what’s the appropriate response in this scenario? They just revealed their deepest, darkest secret so you might be motivated to get your act together and save the world. Maybe a little gratitude and sympathy are in order?
#3: Keeping Secrets [Unnecessarily]
People have every right to keep their secrets.
…Unless they keep them at the expense of people’s lives. I suppose this is a result of stubbornness as well. Or pure stupidity. Your secrets aren’t worth as much as you think. And I would know, because when you finally reveal them 3/4’s of the way through the book, hardly anything bad happens directly as a result. In fact, the plot can actually move forward now that this information is out in the open.
The reason this is on the “female character tropes” list (male tropes coming soon), is because I’ve noticed it primarily with females. They hold onto the secrets of their identity/past like their most cherished possessions. They won’t even tell the people they love the truth. They withhold the truth “for their protection.” Or even just because. Sometimes it’s justified, while most of the time it’s just frustrating. Personally, I like open communication between characters, especially love interests. It doesn’t have to start that way, but over time they should open up more and more if I’m going to believe they’ll get together by the end.
On the flip side, men keep secrets sometimes as well. When they finally reveal the truth to their female counterpart, the woman will likely be reluctant to forgive him, even if she admitted she loved him three pages ago. Granted, it can feel like betrayal depending on the severity of the lie, and people shouldn’t lie to people they care about. I don’t care what the stakes are. However, the reason this is upsetting is because the woman will drag the man over a lake of hot coals before she will somewhat forgive him, whereas the man, if the roles are reversed, will understand the woman completely and forgive her on the spot. “You did what you thought was right.” If we’re gonna talk about double standards here…
It can take a strong woman to keep a secret she knows will hurt someone she loves. I’ll applaud her (and I have before) when it actually matters.
#2: Stubborn as a Mule
A little bit of stubbornness is fine. I’m stubborn. I normally like to go about things my own way.
But! If I were in a life-threatening situation, or if the fate of the world rested solely on my shoulders, you best bet I would take all the advice I could get, no matter how inane.
Stubbornness is a common personality trait for modern female protagonists. They don’t like being told what to do, they don’t like being warned about potential dangers, and their feelings trump everyone else’s. Typically, they get advice/warnings from men, so they are completely justified in ignoring it. How dare this brute of a man tell me what to do?!
Then they go out, guns a’blazin’, and fail epically, thereby giving the hot-headed men around them more reason to seriously doubt their ability to “got this.”
Listen, women: if you are stubborn to the point where you fail a task when you could have succeeded had you listened to the advice you were given — or the “mansplaining,” I should say — then you come out looking like a pitiable moron. Nobody will take you seriously, least of all the men you resent. When a female character’s judgment is obstructed by her own emotions, when she refuses to listen to people who know what they are talking about, I lose interest in her and the story. I begin to hope that she fails just so she can learn her lesson (of course, she never does).
Even if she doesn’t fail, if she magically succeeds against all odds and the advice of her mentors, then it feels cheap. It doesn’t feel earned. (Except when, for some strange reason, her mentors are morons. If you have to make every other character stupid in your story in order for your MC to appear smart, you’re doing it wrong.)
Another issue with stubbornness is their reluctance to apologize even when they’re in the wrong. This is a quality I detest most of all.
Give me more female protagonists with a degree of humility. Give me characters who will at least listen before taking action. Give me someone I can root for. I can’t root for morons.
#1: She Don’t Need No Man
A disturbing trend in YA (particularly romance), is the need for “strong” young women to treat men like dirt. This includes their fathers, brothers, teachers, or love interest(s), and it puzzles me why some women cheer these characters on.
One minor example comes from Before the Broken Star by Emily R. King. I thought the story was interesting, and the protagonist was interesting for the most part. I didn’t hate her, and most of the time I could see why she acted the way she did. However, at the end of the book [SPOILERS]
she finally kisses the love interest and then immediately cuffs him and leaves on her own quest with the attitude that she doesn’t need him nor love him enough to bring him along.
Why would she kiss him, then? Why give him something he wanted that badly and then leave him in a cell alone? After everything he did for her and shared with her about his own past? How is this “strong woman” behavior?
Pro tip, teens out there who are reading these books: if you don’t like being used and tossed aside, odds are that men don’t like it, either. Don’t lead them on when you have no intention of following through or offering an explanation. Geez, Louise.
There are many more egregious examples, but this is the most recent that comes to mind. Feel free to leave your own in the comments.
What common female character traits do you loathe the most? What should I include in the “male tropes” list (coming Sept. 25th)? Let’s discuss!