On narrow genre tastes, female characters, and a wider variety of books

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Title: On narrow genre tastes, female characters, and the wider variety of books
Creator: Carmarthen
Date(s): January 14, 2007
Medium: online
Topic: female characters, fiction writing
External Links: here, Archived version
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"On narrow genre tastes, female characters, and the wider variety of books" is an essay by Carmarthen.

It includes many interesting comments on the topics of Tamora Pierce, strong female characters, book fandoms as compared to screen fandoms, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Pratchett, and many other things.


When I turned 16 we got a TV. I'm pretty picky about TV; there are shows I watch for the ensemble/plot, like M*A*S*H and CSI and not for individual characters. There are shows I watch for the characters, like House and Firefly. There are not many shows I really love--and yes, there are female characters I love. Jordan and Lily (Crossing Jordan), Cuddy (House), every woman on Firefly. I didn't like most of the women of Buffy and Angel, I'm afraid, and Firefly aside, I've never loved any of the female characters on TV as much as the ones in books. TV is, in many ways, constrained by stereotype more than books, especially when genre comes first. I'm sure other genres of television are swarming with awesome female characters I would love--if I could get past the genre itself leaving me cold. It doesn't help that female characters on TV that I start out loving (e.g. Sydney on Alias) often end up bogged down in endless, annoying romantic plots (Sydney and Vaughn [equals] fine, Sydney/Vaughn [equals] booooooooring and it would be neat if we could see Sydney SMILE again sometimes, and why don't characters STAY DEAD). As much as I like Jordan, I found her Parent Issues a lot more interesting than her Romantic Issues. It's like writers go "Oh, we wrote an interesting female character whose life doesn't revolve around men! We can't have that! Let's give her buckets of romantic angst!"

I can see how a woman who is fixated on TV--with its narrower range of choices--and a few particular genres (narrowing the range further) could have trouble finding the specific type of female characters she loves, especially given that most TV still has the male characters outnumbering the women by at least 3 to 1. I don't think it's necessarily sexist--the odds are generally better for people with narrow tastes to find male characters they like on TV because there are a lot more choices. I'm not sure people with broad genre tastes and broad character tastes always understand that when there are two shows you like airing at any given time, with four female characters and 12 male characters between them, the odds of loving all the female characters are pretty slim, given the rampant stereotype of TV-land. I like femslash as much as boyslash or het, but the odds of the two token women in a given show having chemistry (from my POV) are rather slimmer than the odds of two of the four or five men having chemistry. I'm not saying there isn't a patriarchal brainwashing problem here, or latent misogyny. But I don't think it's always there. I think we need a lot more women and a lot more diversity of character in the visual media before we can entirely dismiss the women-IDing-primarily-with-male-characters phenomenon as latent sexism.

Reactions and Reviews

See the essay: "You know I wouldn't want it any other way..." .