I'm on a serious 90's music kick lately. Not sure what that's about.
Building off Monday's post, I thought I'd talk about female friendships today. I have to admit, I find it incredibly disheartening how infrequently I see a focus on building female relationships in all sorts of media. We're all probably familiar with the Bechdel Test, which largely pertains to film. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the same criteria left unmet in YA. With female protagonists. Written for girls. Written by women.
I adore literature that seeks to explore female relationships beyond the superficial. Sisters, mothers and daughters, friends, girlfriends, or any other female relationship imaginable. It feels like they're so often overlooked in fiction in favor of male love interests or other predominant male characters.
Many secondary female characters (aka, not the protagonist) seem to fall into specific categories. The wisecracking but sidelined "best friend" who all but disappears when Male Love Interest comes onto the scene. The catty bitchface mean girl who hates the protagonist because she decided to exist. The overhanging but useless plot-point of a mother figure. Annoying little sisters. Slutty slut-whores who want to ruin everyone's lives. Cold, aloof, nasty antagonists who usually want to destroy the protagonist because, of course, they want The Love Interest.
The focus always seems to fall toward a lone female character and... a lot of male characters. Or one specific male character. The other female characters flit in and out of scenes, dropping necessary plot points or snarky one-liners before fading into the background. When female characters do have a moment to themselves, it's often devoted to talking about a male character.
This isn't a blanket statement! There are several recent YA releases that relish in building female relationships of all stripes. It's a trend I hope to see more of. I'm tired of female characters who don't interact. I'm tired of female protagonists who find no value in members of their own sex. I'm tired of girls who undercut one another and fight for the affection of a male character. I'm tired of characters in general who exist as props and nothing more.
If you find your female character is the lone lady in an ocean of testosterone, ask yourself why. If all the other females are one-off appearances or dead weight or antagonists, ask yourself why. Why do we spend so much time carefully crafting a half-dozen male characters, but can't be bothered to hone more than one female character? It's not that female characters are more difficult to write, although I hear that excuse AN AWFUL LOT. Maybe, just maybe, it's that we're subconsciously (or actively) valuing males over females?
In the end, writing female characters is very much like writing male characters: you write a person. You write a human being who is shaped by their circumstances. There's no secret code to crack. There are no extra-special complications. A layered character is a layered character regardless of sex.
Let's break that pattern. Let's relish in building female companionship. Women don't have to exist to tear each other down or serve as a conduit to finding a male mate. We matter. We matter on our own, and we matter to one another.
Do you have a favorite female relationship? Any kind! Please share :)