I’m certainly not the first, nor will I be the last to expound on the issues of representation and quality of female characters in YA Paranormal Lit and even in the Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance Genre.
However, I am currently reading Simone de Beauvoir, and like millions before me, I’m currently in sparkle-eyed, obsessive admiration of her…
Seriously, she does strange things to me… like turn me into a dreamy anime girl…
Simone takes her readers through a profound, deeply insightful look into the continued failure of the modern and not-so-modern feminist movement. One of the biggest reasons for the protracted and difficult struggle women have had in order to win equality and basic human rights is our inability to unite together into a single cause.
As Simone points out often, women are often tied to their homes with a greater sense of responsibility to their family than to their gender. They don’t always mix well with women of different social strata since they are usually unable to adequately sympathize with each other and usually have completely different yet, in the end, complementary needs.
So what are these three different, but intimately related genres teaching us about OTHER women, and I’m not really addressing the shitty quality of female protagonists, either.
Representation of the OTHER Women in Literature
In almost EVERY SINGLE YA, PNR or UF I’ve read, other women are the bad guys.
If it is a story centered around a school then you will have your bitchy, evil, female MeanGirls. If it is an Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance women will either feature rarely or if they do, they are either a plot device (more on that later), ridiculed by the text or evil. The only exception to this rule is a series based on a group of characters who hook up with the Twue Loffs over a series of books, like Black Dagger Brotherhood or Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander Series. Then they’re all allowed to be friends after the fact but during their own novel’s, they’re almost entirely the only women present!
The Plot Device Woman, The Ridiculous Woman and the Anti-Protagonist
Often this woman exists as the sole friend of the Protagonist’s. She is there as a counter-weight to make the (usually) already lacklustre female protagonist look more interesting.
For example, Nora’s Vee from Hush Hush.
**I would like to point out that I am naming these characters in a function that clearly shows they belong to the protagonist because they wouldn’t exist except as an extension of the protagonist.
Vee is often described by Nora as overly-curvy. She is simple-minded (this is me being polite to a non-character), desperate, boy-driven, reckless and ridiculous!
Her function is to allow drooling over Patch, which Nora can’t be seen doing because then she would, apparently, look ridiculous. Thus that is Vee’s job. She’s also needed to further the plot and is easily discarded when not needed to make this book more ridiculous than it already is.
The same could be said for Luce’s Penn in Fallen and Ever’s Haven in Evermore.
They serve to do what the main protagonist can’t and dress the protagonist and make her pretty, whilst reminding the reader how ewnique the heroine is and that she’s cool because she’s not into all that “girlie shit”.
The Evil Women
I’ve read a number of books lately in which there is not ONE positive female character other than the protagonist. Surprisingly, Kathy Reich’s Virals come to mind as the latest, and most unexpected entry onto my list of Books Lacking Positive Female Representation.
I’m not kidding when I say that not a SINGLE female character in this book is in anyway positive with the sole exception of the protagonist. Almost every male character in this book turns out to be either: awesome, nice, good, misunderstood or wronged.
The girls at school are complete bitches who the female protagonist describes as stupid and uninteresting, her father’s girlfriend is nothing but a mindless society girl and that sums it up.
Similarly with Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Another disappointing entry onto the list, despite my enjoyment of it.
The more obvious entries would be: Shiver, The Iron Witch, and a bevy of rubbish YA literature.
The Non-Existent Women
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, one of my favourites, has virtually no other female characters in it and the one woman who becomes a female werewolf (in a sequel novel) is a stupid, manipulative liar who we’re supposed to despise and ultimately pity.
Anita Blake which is supposed to be ALL ABOUT woman power and yet women are, for the most part, non-existent in her world. When they are finally represented they are either evil, useless, incompetent or vindictive.
A number of novels, such as Stray by Rachel Vincent, and the aforementioned Bitten simply remove the hassle of creating ANY female characters from them by creating a mythology in which women aren’t powerful enough to become paranormal creatures and the female protagonist is one of the sole exceptions.
To a lesser degree, the Mercy Thompson series also does this and one has to wonder why?
Why Do Authors Do This?
As mentioned above, for a number of reasons. A diamond looks less special when it’s surrounded by other diamonds and a quartz looks even worse surrounded by diamonds.
Their protagonists aren’t really unique, special or amazing (in most cases). Luce, Ever, Grace, Nora etc aren’t all that distinguishable when you pile them all together. If you were to create a story featuring all these characters then it would probably have a lot of girls who all sound and act almost entirely the same.
Similarly many Paranormal Romance Heroines and Urban Fantasy Heroines are only distinguishable because of their different powers or abilities or SPECIES.
How different are Stormwalker’s Janet Begay and Moon Called’s Mercy Thompson, really?
Or Kim Harrison, Anita Blake, Gin Blanco and Cassandra Palmer?
It’s easier to either feature other women in far worse light or to not feature them at all than to create a truly unique, vibrant, living, breathing character that can stand up to some competition.
What Are the Effects?
As in, we’re all in one.
Other women aren’t there for solidarity and sisterhood. In these novels, most of these women are far more comfortable around men and male companionship than they are around women.
Simone de Beauvoir speaks constantly about how men see women as Other. The ones Not Like Him. Yet, aren’t these books sending the same message? Other women are Other. They are either competition, in the way or something to be used to gain the prize: The Man.
Because in the end, that’s what most of the conflict stems from in these books.
Hot Guy likes Heroine. Evil Bitch wants Hot Guy. Evil Bitch attacks Heroine. Heroine is more awesome than Evil Bitch and Hot Guy recognizes this. Heroine Wins.
It’s a formula, too often used, that only hurts us and our perception of other women. There is no sense of sisterhood or solidarity in these novels. These novels routinely show us that our benefactors, peers and supporters are pretty much only men.
And hey, there’s NOTHING wrong with men. Many men have joined to help fight and continue to support women’s rights around the world. But we’re certainly not doing ourselves any favours if society is teaching us to be suspicious, wary and uncomfortable around EACH OTHER.
I don’t believe fiction is the cause of this, merely an unfortunate victim and unwitting propagator of what is becoming a more and more prevalent and damaging view.