« Common mistakes parents make with their beginning readers | Main | Ebooks and the great equalizer »

March 04, 2013


Ashley R.

This is sadly, very true. I think it is important for everybody to be aware of this. I will definitely need to make sure I don't fall in this trap. Thank you for this insight.

Amy Wilson Marshall

I think we are trained to see the "other girl" as a tragic figure. Every time I watch Thor I think of the other Asgaardian woman as someone Thor should have loved and is now heartbroken. I also see the assistant scientist as the "unwanted nerd" even though she is just as pretty. Am I really that brainwashed?!


Amy Wilson Marshall, it's not brainwashing. It's stereotypes. If you see commercials saying that female characters are always the love interest, and they're always the only female. THEN, it will be brainwashing.

Of course, there is always having all the characters be female, and there's one male love interest, but that doesn't happen much. What seems to happen in YA novels now is this:

1. Main character is female. Of course, she is beautiful, and denies that she is.
2. Introduce: incredibly hot guy who is charismatic, witty (um...whatever is supposed to witty.It usually isn't.), perfect, blah blah blah. He instantly loves the main character.

3. Introduce OTHER hot-but-in-a-different-way guy who ALSO instantly loves the main character.
Other option for 3:
3. A guy who is, apparently, hot. The girl has been friends with him for a long time, and he has loved her the whole time he has known her. She suddenly realizes that she loves him too, after Character #2 is introduced.

4. LOVE TRIANGLE. She loves both characters and can't choose, and so on. Rarely is there a love triangle with one male and two females.

I rambled there. Sorry.

Amelia Loken

I totally get this!!! Some books that stood out to me that broke those 'rules' were "Outlaws of Sherwood" by Robin McKinley, "The Walking Drum" by Louis L'Amour, & "Court Duel" by Sherwood Smith.

I also loved the "Avatar: the Last Airbender" animated series that had LOTS of guys and girls through out the series. And all of those girls were STRONG! Katara, Toph, Mai, Suki, Ty Lee and the crazy villainess, Azula! Everybody had their own story arc, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Very engaging and satisfying.


We just saw Jack the Giant Slayer. Aside from the poor princess that needed resccuing and (for one small scene) her mother, I am not sure there were any other women in the film with speaking parts at all. Not sure how the race of giants procreated as there were NO female giants. Strange strange world Jack lived in.


In shows (usually cartoons) where all the guys are "Types," too, it's like the token girl's type is "The Girl." You have The Hero, the Loyal Sidekick, The Goofy Fat Kid, The Nerd, and The Girl. SOMETIMES in effort to appear progressive they'll let The Nerd be a girl, too, but she's not really any different than a male The Nerd would be, because making her A Girl would encroach on the Girliness of THE Girl.

Have you seen the PBS cartoon Word World? It actually startled me because it does it RIGHT. The characters are all animals, and they all have their individual schticks (not strict stereotypes though), and yet THERE ARE A VARIETY OF FEMALE (as well as male) CHARACTERS IN IT. Sheep and Bear and other less-frequently-occuring-females like Cat or Kangaroo or some of the bugs (I don't know all the bugs) are all INDIVIDUALS, not just "females." I thought "Why is this even sticking out? Aren't there MORE shows out there that do this?" But apparently it IS rare enough that seeing it done properly still amazed me.


I totally agree. If our supporting characters are all men, that makes the story quite uninteresting!
Look at a classroom. We see a wide variety of girls and boys, all with quite different personalities. However, there is usually only one girl that a boy likes, the rest are friends, allies, enemies, or acquaintances.
I think that a refreshing story line would be like that, with a good number of male AND female characters who all have something wonderful to contribute to the story. If the male man character has a love interest, let it be one of many interesting and diverse female characters.


The show "Once Upon a Time" is doing a great job of not putting girls in boxes. What do you think?


I think the Percy Jackson series and the Heroes of Olympus Series are a good exception to these rules. Harry Potter also.

Funny enough, I was thinking about this just recently while writing, worrying that anyone reading would believe that the two main characters like each other simply because there's no other choices.


Completely, just last night I was watching an action movie and there was a bunch of guys, one oldish woman (the bad guy), and a very attractive girl. The main character met this girl and naturally I thought, "These two are going to fall in love" but The guy didn't find love in the movie at all. As it turns out she was his half sister. The second choice for a girl character but it was pretty refreshing.

Lisa Asanuma

I do find this an unfortunate and tiring truth in a lot of fiction. But there are a lot of exceptions, too. And I think that the exceptions are gaining in interest, too. Hopefully.


It seems that in some popular YA novels, even though the female is the viewpoint character, she's still 'just the love interest' and the boys are the ones making plot-changing decisions and doing all the fun stuff. Until the end of course, when the girl finally finds her strength just in time to save her true love, but only because their love is the strongest love that's ever existed in all of time.

A lot of epic fantasy I've read seems to have better balance with gender, but that could be in part because it's so much longer than (most) YA and the writers have more space to develop a larger cast of characters.

It could also be something that happens because some writers aren't sure how to write complex characters of the opposite gender, so they write what they know (their own gender) and stick to wish lists and stereotypes for the rest.

Harmony B

First of all, bravo for bringing this up and second of all, bravo for not running wild with it. Just as we take a stand to keep our moral ground, we should also not perpetuate the behavior that will crumble our foundation. I thoroughly enjoy your temperance, Shannon. That is the trait that is lacking in writers today. The wise man (or woman) built his (or her) house on solid ground. I will keep a watchful eye for the cracks that take away from our beautiful, hilarious, gentle, spastic daughters.


Even though I do find the "girls only being the love interest" quite true in many situations, there is another end of the specturm. When women are put into hero roles they are sometimes too independent to the point where the character comes off as very inhuman. This strong, independant woman character is then unable to form any bonds with other characters (romantic or not) because that would be consider weak. This makes that character flat and rather uninteresting as their only character trait is that they are independent. It is a truly good work of literture or film that presents a strong female character who has emotions and feelings. And when this is accomplished, it shows everyone that women are not only strong and indpendent but also caring and relatable people.


What if there was a movie where there were only two beautiful girls in the whole thing and the main character doesn't even fall in love with either of them! No love story at all! HAHAHAHAHA... that would be funny... maybe with the lack of tacky, predictable love interests filmakers would spend more time on other things like making the movies better in general. You know develope plots, create a mind blowing twist, work on a theme or moral, and overall make it an appealing story.
Next question: Do action movies actaully have a theme or moral besides "shoot 'im in the face"?


This problem in movies is never so apparent than on a playground, where everyone wants to play Star Wars, but there is only one Princess Leia. (Nowadays you can play more than one generation of Star Wars, bringing the female character count up to...TWO!)

Have you ever read The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins? It has a woman who is the stereotypical beauty who you know by convention is the love interest. (The male MC knows this, too.) And yet, there is also a smart woman, her sister, I think, who the MC actually has something in common with--only, she's ugly. It leaves the reader feeling confused, but on purpose, I think.

Maggie makes an interesting point above, about writers sometimes choosing to make a lead female appear strong by making her "above" any kind of relationships. As if relationships make a person weak. And yes, they come off unlikable for the very reason that they don't like anybody. I mean, even typical male heroes are allowed a love interest--why are "strong" female characters not allowed this??


@Angela: Speaking of Harry Potter, I figured out why so many people support Harry/Hermione pairings. We as readers generally assume the hero(ine) will fall in love with the first girl(or boy) shown (unless it's the fiance. Those are disposable.) Granted, Ginny's actually the first girl, but she only has a few lines. We don't know her until the second book.
More on attractiveness. Superman and Batman get to wear their manly tights, but not Wonder Woman. And the Black Widow never seems to realize her zipper can go up to her throat. And is there any female villain without the black leather and lipstick uniform?

Allison J.

But in a book or movie where the love triangle was with two girls and one boy, it doesn't create that same level of interest in the audience. Well in my mind two girls fighting over one boy just sounds like some drama-filled cheesy story full of jealousy or at least some bitter rivalry. Such a plot has never appealed to me. The boy is often seen as some kind of player and the two girls would most likely tell him that he had better make a choice, soon. In society today- one girl and two boys makes a more endearing story. (Although it is getting old.)

Ashley R.

I think another reason why stories don't have two girls and one boy is that girls usually have a plan of what they want. They are more mature.
The boys in stories are usually "blind" as to what the girl wants and feels (until the end), and they are just friends. At the end they realize they are in love, and have been for a long time.
I also agree with the jealousy between two girls in a triangle.


Honestly, this trend has been going on for a long time. If we look back at Shakespeare plays, there are significantly more male characters than female, and the females tend to have less scenes than the men. Practically, this makes even more sense for Elizabethan England, as the female parts were played by young boys. However, it's definitely our own fault for perpetuating this into our own books and movies.


I thought bringing up the animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender was awesome, because it is a show with a variety of male AND female characters. And the female characters, while strong, diverse, and beautiful, also have moments of emotion. Since when does emotion make you weak? I love it when a strong character cries. How can those who've never known sadness truly be counted as strong?
I, personally, have grown to hate love triangles (though, it does seem there's an exception to any rule). Why does a girl have to be conflicted for the story to be interesting? Why does she need two men in love with her to be attractive?
I enjoy classic literature as well as modern, and I love a good love story. I don't mind typical storylines sometimes. But not all the time.
Each individual man and woman, real or fictional, is a PERSON. Characters are PEOPLE. I appreciate writers who are capable of portraying their characters as such; with strengths, weaknesses, fears, flaws- whether they be male or female.
I'm sorry I tend to ramble. I don't know of I got what I was trying to say across, because I'm sure what I was quite trying to say, except that I wanted to share my opinion.
I love that this blog is a judgement free zone. I adore the way Shannon is able to talk about such issues and express her opinions without it turning into some huge argument, like everything else on the Internet tends to do.
If you actually read this far into my comment, thank you :]

Kathryn Purdie

Oh, how I love this post. I'm going to pay more attention to this in my writing. As an actress myself, it was incredibly frustrating to audition for plays (I mostly did non-musicals) and hope I'd get cast as the one or two roles not designated for men. It was even worse for my slightly overweight friends who rarely got cast at all--and if they did, got the "funny friend" or "old aunt" roles. My husband directed several plays on the middle school and high school level, and he changed genders all the time. Charlie in the Chocolate Factory became a girl Charlie. Willy Wonka was also a girl (her full name was Wilhelmina, naturally). Much better than girls playing boys as those roles.


I just ran across your post about missing moms in stories (http://oinks.squeetus.com/2012/05/where-are-all-the-moms.html) I've a perfect example. It's a YA trilogy with a strong mom who is there for the main character the whole way, and yet the kid still has the adventures and the growth on his own. Dan Wells' "I am not a serial killers" "Mr Monster" and "I don't want to kill you."

Hmm, now to look at it from the non-love interest female character angle... ...it still wins with a good number of female characters. The mom, sister, and aunt, are the most rounded and persistent, but other strong females show up in smaller rolls. So ya. Go Dan Wells!

...though, to Ashley R: The predominance of males makes sense for Shakespeare. All the actors were male and only so many male actors could play female, so why bother casting more than were needed?

Not that it doesn't also reflects the relative valuation of male vs female. That has been a long standing issue. What is surprising is how the ebbing tide of male centrism leaves these odd tide pools behind. The reason to pay attention to them is that looking makes us look at ourselves. Makes us reevaluate if we've actually changed our views or if we have just made superficial vocabulary shifts.

The comments to this entry are closed.