Recently I had a discussion with a friend about the attributes of a good female lead character in a novel. Many female characters are often depicted as weak-minded women calling for male help as often as Penelope Pitstop when in a rut. Then there are those who allow the male lead to overpower them. After that, we have women who are super human, indestructible loners who spit on the very idea of needing a man’s help or even one in the their life. So which one is the most realistic? Which one can you identify with? Neither? Me too ...
I loved Twilight but I have to say I wasn’t very keen on Bella. I found her miserable and weak when it came to her relationship with Edward. I was actually concerned about my daughter reading it for fear she would get the wrong idea about relationships. Bella offers little resistance to Edward when he stalks her and prevents her from seeing Jacob. She also completely falls apart when Edward leaves her in the sequel, New Moon, to the point where her whole life is affected. Hardly a good role model for young women. She also allows Jacob to emotionally manipulate her in the next instalment, Eclipse, threatening her with his death if she does not love him. The character lacks strength and determination to remain her own woman in a very powerful relationship.
Then there is the other extreme. Some novels contain tall, high kicking, impossibly thin women who knock down tough male opponents like skittles in a bowling alley in their quest to save the world. Hmmm, nice thought that would be but not very realistic. These characters are often more male than female. They leave me feeling despondent that the writer couldn’t find any female qualities for the heroine to use. Instead they found it necessary to make their character an honorary man to help them win the battle.
So what has happened to authentic, realistic girl power in novels? The whole point of reading a romance, erotic novel, thriller or otherwise with a female lead is to be able to identify with her. The thrill of reading a story is to be able to put yourself in the position of the heroine as she makes her journey through the book. That isn’t possible unless she strikes some common ground with us as a woman.
There has to be a balance between acting tough and retaining femininity. A female lead character doesn’t need to be screaming for the hero’s assistance every time she runs into trouble. Neither should she be giving in to him left right and centre. She can use her intelligence, guile, determination and her own skills to get herself out of trouble. There are different ways for a female protagonist to be tough that are equally as valid as a man’s physical strength. Not to say she can’t engage in a small amount of hand-to-hand combat and spoil the fun but let’s be realistic. She isn’t Lara Croft. Nor should she bother trying to be. I’m not sure most men could ever attain Lara Croft status.
All I am asking is that we have more female characters who aren’t afraid of being a woman. We aren’t as physically strong as men but then we aren’t helpless either. In a novel’s often violent world, chances are the heroine is going to need help from the hero but equally there are many ways she can ride to his rescue. After all he isn’t superhuman either.
I have tried to achieve this balance with my journalist character Rebecca Eaton in my thriller, The Organ Grinder and in my Victorian vampire work, Knight Of Swords with Juliet. It’s not easy to achieve. I would be interested to learn if anyone believes I have done it well. But one of the best characters that has tackled this feat successfully is Sookie Stackhouse of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I love her straight talking no nonsense, fearless attitude. She isn’t afraid of anything and commands respect from the men around her.
Let’s have more realistic female leads who aren’t afraid of being a powerful woman. It would also be great to see a hero admire them for it. What do you think?
Thanks, Sara, for your wise words and for guesting on my blog.