Many of my favorite books growing up had male lead characters. From Sherlock Holmes to Of Mice and Men to the Harry Potter series. Though this was the case, I found that the female characters in these books stood out to me. Hermione remains my favourite Harry Potter to this day. Irene Adler possessed the uncanny strength to penetrate Sherlock’s barriers, making her one of the most unforgettable characters. Nowadays, I’ve come to appreciate books with strong female protagonists.
Something about experiencing a woman’s perspective in a written narrative is enjoyable. Much of this has to do with the reasons I enjoy fiction. I want to delve into alternate realities and explore the minds of characters far removed from my own.
When Twilight came around I became swept up in the hype. I decided to read the series, not even caring about the fact that it was considered girly by my peers. I remember instantly disliking Bella, mainly because I didn’t identify with her values. Her lack of decision making in the matter of romance drove me crazy.
Then I realized something; although I didn’t identify with Bella, I enjoyed reading about her. I liked being driven crazy by her actions. I made me intrigued with her way of thinking. I wanted to find a way to empathize with her. This intrigue had me flying through the books to see how her story would unfold and how she would evolve.
Later on, the same happened with The Hunger Games. Eventually, my intrigue at reading about female characters transcended the YA genre. I started reading what was considered Women’s fiction and romances. Currently, the obsession has come full circle as I have now stepped back into the YA realm to read the catalogue of Sarah J. Maas.
I haven’t abandoned reading books with male characters completely, and I still enjoy the male perspective. But I do enjoy books with a female lead to the point where I am actively seeking them out. Men can be insensitive in the way they perceive women. They are perceived as emotional and attention seeking. Though this can be true of anyone; stepping into the mind of female characters presents a chance to understand their situational responses. I find the growth of female characters to be empowering.
That’s not to say that I am simply reading books with a female lead in hopes that I will understand them more, or to gain favour with them. Fiction is still fiction at the end of the day, and the trials these characters are put through aren’t always in line with reality. The fact is that I enjoy the perspective that female characters provide and I believe stories with females to have a deeper layer of intensity.
When you also consider that male readers make up just 20 – 30 per cent of the fiction market, there’s no logical reason for us to just stick with “guy stuff”. When we were boys, we would always look at girls toys as lame. We have a tendency to view the things that girls enjoy as emasculating. In some sense this can be true but it isn’t a mentality that is constructive when it comes to reading fiction. I enjoy books for the escapism they provide; but books don’t just allow us to escape, they also help us build empathy. This is why I think it’s important to explore different genres and perspectives in the books we read.
A common talking point that arises with female protagonists is whether they can be written authentically by a male author. I believe it is possible if that author has a good understanding of women’s values. They must also realise the challenges that they face and not always make them appear lovestruck throughout the books. Men who write women can often fall into the trap of writing females as shallow objects of love. A book about women shouldn’t always been about them seeking male affection.
Instead, these authors should understand how women would think their way around the obstacles that they are facing. Women are after all, still human. They may approach situations and process information differently, but they still have the same physical capabilities as men do. They can be adventurers, or warriors, or detectives.
For example, even if the book was to be fantasy fiction, the male author would need to understand how a woman may feel and respond to situations to make it convincing. What are her views on arranged marriages? How does she perceive other characters based on their attire? Women have great attention to detail which allows them to see objects and environments differently than a man would.
To me, it doesn’t matter the gender of the author as long as the female is written in a way that’s authentic. Women writing women is a preference for me but not necessary. In the end, I just want to be swept away by a compelling female character and witness her trials and tribulations. Most of all, I want to forget that I’m even reading a female character. I want to become her, even if I don’t agree with her actions. Her world must become mine for the duration of the story.