Jul 17 2012 9:03am

Are Women More Critical of Female Characters?

Recently, three of the H&H staff—two female, one male—discussed a book in a YA series they’d all read (Insurgent by Veronica Roth). The two females were far more critical of the female character, Tris, while the male felt as though the male character Four was more to blame for the novel’s events.

Then there was a general discussion of how women dealt with female characters, and how it seems many of us judge our heroines more harshly than our heroes (another recent case in point: Tara Jean Sweet from Molly O’Keefe’s Can’t Buy Me Love).

What do you think? Are women harder on female characters than on male characters?

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Brandy Stott
1. brandeeleigh
IMO: I would say 100 time YES!. I as a woman have the insecurity that I think other women are judging me and right or wrong it makes be more harsher on other women and how they handle situations.. I know it is MY flaw but that is how I see it. Woman often times gather to gossip about other women, I don't often see men say: OMG! can you believe he has that top with those pants LOL. Just my two cents :)
2. Miss_D
I'm not. If anything, I tend to get more irritated with an author when a female character is written a certain way - usually headstrong to the point of stupid recklessness or a doormat - than anything.
Kiersten Hallie Krum
3. Kiersten
I think, absolutely. I know I am. Just last week, I had convo on twitter where I admitted how lately, I've noticed how much harder I am on female characters in television shows than I am on male. I think it's because I expect more from them than I do from the men. It's not a sexuality issue, more a TSTL issue.
Vanessa Ouadi
4. Lafka
Absolutely so. Pretty much as in real life, where women are not necessarily the most indulgent when it comes to other women.
I myselfef am not particularly clement toward male characters, but I'm definitely harder on female characters. Perhaps because, as a woman myself, I'm more appalled/annoyed by some reactions or behaviours from a heroine that I could be were I a man or were I reading about a man.
For instance, I'm actually considering giving up Mockingjay because Katniss annoys me to no end _ and I'm not sure I would be as intolerant as that, were the character a man. I don't know why exactly, but I do expect more of female characters than I do of males :-)
5. wsl0612
I'd say definitely. I think it's because I am a woman and that's my only perspective and I want the heroine to be "real". There are things she might do that I would consider unbelievable for a woman to do, as opposed to what the hero might do.
6. LibrarianJessi
I would say I am definitely harder on my female character peeps. I often think, though, it is because I identify with the female more and I am super hard on myself (as many women are). My self deprication in all of its glory often seems to rub off on my reading.
7. Isabel C.
I know that I am.

Part of it is identification: I often feel expected to identify with female characters, so when they're obnoxious, it's sort of insulting. This is more often the case with TV shows or movies--Jesus Christ, Battlestar Galactica--or with books written by men, where I get the sense that the author is making being female a much more defining character trait.

Part of it is also that, because I come at things from a female and feminist perspective, I'm more sensitized to certain tropes. Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or Faux Action Girl (oh, TVTropes, you are so helpful and yet so addictive) often blow right past my male friends, whereas my female friends and I notice, and roll our eyes.
Claire Louise Thompson
8. Nefersitra
If I read book, watch a show or movie I am far more critical of other women.

I think it's part of our social evolution; in general, men primarily resolve conflict and establish dominance between themselves physically whereas women bitch/gossip about each other. To do this we ladies must be hard-wired to be hyper-critical of women (including as
LibrarianJessi said ourselves).

In my circle of friends I've noticed that often the straight guys and gay girls in our group will have one view (harder on the hero) and the gay guys and straight girls will have another (it's the heroine's fault). Are we choosing our side of the arguement to align with our sexual preferences? And if so does that indicate an evolutionary driver to this behaviour?

I agree with Isabel C too - sometimes men do write very stupid/inspid/annoying women. What's worse is sometimes, IMO, the male writer(s) are trying to write an empowered female charcter and just end up with an annoying female character.
9. Gidge
I think it's an ironic book choice. Because while I tend to be more critical of female characters than male ones as a general rule, I liked Tris from Divergent almost instantaneously, and loved her by the end of the book. I didn't fully warm up to Four until I read the sequel, Insurgent.

For me, a huge factor is the type of attraction and the point of view. Chances are, if your male lead is written semi-decently, I'm going to be attracted to him by the end of his introductory chapter. I'm simply mentally wired that way.

But for the female, I have to like her as a person without sensual aspect. I need to understand her, but still feel that she has a personality that is uniquely her own. And given how often female characters are designed to be somebody that every woman can identify with, sometimes that second criterion falls short.

I expect male characters to make different choices from the ones I would make. But I'll be frustrated with a female who does something that strikes me as foolish or cowardly or immoral. I'll be less quick to forgive because they don't have the automatic ability to charm me that their male counterparts possess. They need to be smart. They need to be strong. And they've got to be good-hearted. But on the other hand, they can't be cookie-cutter. They have to be a unique fleshed-out character. That can be a tough balancing act.

Thank goodness that both romance and YA--my two genres of choice--have such wonderful women in abundance. I need only to seek them out. Tris Prior is one of them.
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