Love Stories: I Love Them. But.

24 Oct

I like romance in my media.

It feels a little bit odd to type that like it’s revolutionary, because it’s hella not. Stories of romance have been around since the first cavelady got a prehistoric crush on the clan leader. Most of modern media is full of romance. Much of that romance is shitty, unhealthy, underdeveloped, and/or totally nonsensical. Much of it is aimed at female audiences to the exclusion of all other stories. There is a boatload of really valid, really good criticism and scholarship about this problem. Far too often, female characters only exist to be part of a romance. I totally understand the desire to see female main characters exist in stories without romantic components. I am super glad that neither Moana nor Jyn Erso ever kissed anyone on screen. I only ship Katniss Everdeen with years of intense therapy.

But I also really like romance, ya know?

I have a great husband who I not only love, but also like and respect. He loves me, and (tragically rare in heterosexual relationships) he likes and respects me too. We support each other in our separate endeavors and work together towards our joint goals. We play video games, harass our cats, share stupid jokes, eat too much junk, and sometimes even go to the gym together. We’ve been through some rough shit together. We enjoy each other’s company. We ease each other’s fears and take care of each other. Having him around makes life easier, better, and more fun for me. Plus? Also? I like sex. Getting down with myself is pretty swell, but having sex with another person is just the bee’s knees. Like let me tell you about the other night–wait, no, my mom reads this.

Again, I totally understand the criticisms levelled at the vast swaths of media where the single female character only exists as a prize for the hero. That trope is bullshit. As Princess Jasmine once said:

Fucking right you’re not, Jasmine. You’re a strong, independent princess who keeps a fully-grown tiger as a pet for some damn reason.

But what I’m saying is that I like having a good romantic life partner. It makes me happy. And when I’m enjoying the exploits of fictional characters, I want them to be happy too (eventually, as much as possible after much turmoil). To me, being happy included having a good romantic life partner. That’s not true for every real person, I realize, and it needn’t be true for every fictional character. But for me it’s true, and that’s what I tend to want in my fictional characters.

As a consumer, I seek out media with female main characters*. As a creator, I create female main characters almost exclusively**. Whether I’m consuming or creating, I want female characters that I can desperately and deeply relate to, and I want them to do several things:

  • have a goal (save the world, get tickets to a sold-out show, find her glasses–whatever it is, something that feels important to her)
  • fight like hell to achieve that goal, even if it changes
  • move the plot along in interesting and dynamic ways (related to point 2)
  • do something pretty cool (related to point 3)
  • have deep, important relationships with interesting and varied female friends
  • wear attractive but comfortable footwear (THAT MEANS NO GODDAMNED SPIKED HEELS IN ACTION SITUATIONS)
  • engage in consensual, mutually satisfying sexy-times appropriate to the audience

That seems like a long list, I guess? But it’s really not. Han Solo does most of these things. So does Peregrin Took. So does Sebastian the crab. None of them are even the main character. Most of this is just par for the course in creating a well-rounded character***. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Too many female characters in movies, books, TV, video games, comics, plays, whatever, are straight up not well-rounded. They are one-dimensional objects who exist to give the hero something to achieve, and the creator/audience something to project their fantasies on.

So yes, if that’s all your heroine is doing? If she can be summed up in one word, whether that’s “princessy,” or (God forbid) “badass,” “kickass,” “strong,” or any of their nonsensical ilk? Then fuck right off. I will take well-rounded, three-dimensional female characters who never go to Bone Town over some cardboard cutout of The Hero’s Reward any day.

But I really like romance in my adventures, and I don’t feel like I should have to pick one or the other. I want stories where the interesting, flawed lady protagonist gets to do interesting, awesome things while falling in love with an interesting, flawed other character. I want lady characters who fight to save the world/their friends/the MacGuffin/10% on car insurance while standing back to back with their supportive, competent, blisteringly attractive lover, both of them wearing sensible but flattering footwear.

There’s no fucking reason consumers should so often have to choose interesting female characters OR female characters who fall in love. I am sick to fucking death of it. Creators have got to do better.

Related: I should be working on my WIP.

*as a side note, WHY THE FUCK is it so hard to find good sci-fi/fantasy media with lady protagonists? AND PS I’m not interested in having the “conversation” about whether or not I should be content with the Holy Trinity of Ripley, Leia, and Buffy, so please shut up.
**can I tell you about my D&D characters?
***this, incidentally, is why I will fight like hell for the honor of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. She knows what she wants (to be human; later, to be human and bone the hottest Disney prince^), and she goes after it when everything she has.
^this is 100% true^^, don’t @ me
^^because neither David from Lilo and Stitch nor the hot ancestor in Moana are technically princes

4 Responses to “Love Stories: I Love Them. But.”

  1. AnnMCN October 24, 2017 at 6:37 pm #

    I offer to you the great and wonderful Barbara Hambly, writer of excellent fantasy with women leads who fit all your requirements.
    She tends to write series, and can be very dark and have you laugh out loud in the process.

    The first one I read was The Ladies of Mandrigyn, who kidnapped a top notch mercenary to teach the women of their town how to fight and win against an unbearable foe. There’s another series that alternates between modern California and another fantasy universe. Another one off is The Bride of the Rat God, in Hollywood, just before talkies began.

    The women and men are not interchangeable, and do not sound like each other (*cough Robert Heinlein*)

  2. Lainey Elise October 24, 2017 at 7:15 pm #

    You have written the post I have ALWAYS wanted to write! Thank you! I cannot agree more with everything!

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