I’ve realized that one of the reasons I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the whole you can tell she’s a strong female character because she spends all of her time rolling her eyes and threatening to punch the boys (as seen in The Maze Runner, for example) is that as a teenager I basically was that character. I spent a lot of my time threatening to punch people and hanging with the guys by being pretty aggressive.
You know what that got me told? You’re not like other girls. You’re cool.
And in a sort of chicken and egg feedback loop, that made me willing to laugh at and tacitly encourage some incredibly misogynist joking and “pranks.” Which also, by the way, apparently later fed into the idea that I was a butch lesbian and it was totally cool for guys to engage in some pretty sexist banter about various other women with me.
I’m ashamed of a lot of that in retrospect.
I obviously don’t think there’s anything wrong with being butch or having a masculine presentation. (Duh.) But the more I think about how that so often translates out into buying in to the most toxic aspects of masculinity:
- Casual violence
- Casual misogyny
- Belief that the masculine is on its face superior to the feminine
- Being not like the other girls or cool means abandoning other women and considering them inferior
…the more it really upsets me.
I’d like kids who were like me, struggling with being a girl while finding the feminine an ill-fitting societal construct, to be able to read about characters like them. I pretty much stopped reading books about girls/women at that age because I was reading adult SF/F and there weren’t a whole lot of female main characters to begin with, but also because in all honesty, reading about female characters putting on makeup and dresses and carrying their vampire killing guns in their purses—all of which are perfectly okay things, please don’t get me wrong here—made me feel inadequate and like an outsider. Like my books were telling me I was doing the whole being a girl thing wrong. And at that point, I generally defaulted to reading about men, because at least men got to wear trousers and sensible shoes.
(Nowadays, I do not have a problem with this any more. Probably because I’m no longer an adolescent, self-hating hot mess, and I’ve also developed a lot more empathy as a reader; I like reading about people who are very different from me.)
So basically what I’m saying is that I want to see female characters who are strong in a lot of different ways. And I want to see female characters who get to be “masculine” without doing it in a toxic, hurtful way. I want to see “masculinity” used as a character trait, not the marker that a character is different and better and strong.
Because as I’ve pointed out before, not threatening to punch people actually takes a hell of a lot more strength.
(Was going to tweet these thoughts. Realized I had way too much to say. Apparently 500 words of way too much to say.)