I’m a little ashamed to say that when I was younger I was so judgmental about female characters. It wasn’t that I thought they weren’t needed or not important, but I always held female characters to a higher standard than their male counterparts. To me, female characters were never written right; they were too feminine, too masculine, too smart, too witty, too shy. Quite simply they couldn’t win. As much as I blame myself for this, I also think influences around me helped create these ideals I had of girls and female characters. Back then I was socialized to be critical about girls and it definitely affected the way I read books.
Here’s the thing: there is no right way to write a female character, just as there isn’t any right way to be a girl. I had internalized these expectations placed on girls, how they should behave, what they should do, and demanded that characters be that way as well. Not to mention I never gave female characters the chance to make a mistake. Recently I saw The Lightning Thief Musical (based on Rick Riordan’s novel) and the character of Annabeth Chase sings the line “Boys are always given a second chance,” and did that ever resonate with me, this happens in my day to day life, and was part of the reason female characters were never enough.
Watching the character of Annabeth on stage reminded me how much I had disliked her as a character when I was younger because she was smart and it came across as a know-it-all when really she was just excited about the things she knew. She also ran away from home which seemed so cliché to me back then. I didn’t approve of the mistakes she made, didn’t think she deserved redemption, but I always found it endearing when the male characters tried to do right after doing wrong. Girl are held to a different standard, they aren’t often given redemption arcs, they aren’t forgiven after a mistake, both in fiction and the real world. We need to be more patient with girls, let them know they are allowed to fail and try again without being ridiculed and scolded. I’m happy to say I love the character of Annabeth now. Her strength, her intelligence, her vulnerability, and kindness. She is who she, and she is unapologetic about it. Unless of course she does make a mistake, then she owns up to it, and she improves herself, but my point is that she should be allowed to do that without judgement. It’s the same way we should treat the girls in our lives.
We need to write all kinds of female characters and show their failures and their struggles and their victories. A well written female character is whatever she needs to be as long as she has her own goals and ambitions. As long as she is not there for no reason other than to have a girl represented in your book.
Instead of tearing down female characters into personality pieces let’s think of them as whole character representing girl everywhere. I think this is even more important for young girls who are still figuring themselves out because how are they going to figure out who they are if they aren’t allowed to make mistakes?