Thoughtful Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Is Fun Again. This week:
Do you prefer to read books with a male or female protagonist? Does the author’s gender matter?
I very nearly forgot about this post because, you guessed it, Orphan Black happened to me. This week I’m stuck in a world of conspiracies and plot theories. Go me. (Everything is a conspiracy. Trust no one unless they have Tatiana Maslany’s face.) But anyhow, a short break for breathing before I dive back in!
Generally, despite my deep love for the Harry Potter books, I heavily dislike male characters. It’s not on purpose, but I just have no patience at all for all the whiny bullshit they let loose. Sure, I’ve read a bunch of John Green novels that have male protags, I’ve read two Dan Brown novels and one of my favourite reads is a delightful contemporary m/m romance set in an arts and crafts store, but all in all I gravitate towards female characters.
I went so far as to make two new shelves on my goodreads just now to see how I actually had read that had male protagonists and the numbers are rather telling. Out of all the books I tagged (with some I just wasn’t sure anymore because I simply can’t remember), there are 207 for female protagonists and only 52 for male protagonists. Ouch. Among those 52, uhm, let’s call them male books there are a lot of books for children. And two sets of Harry Potter books. It’s not looking good for the boys, is it?
The problem with male characters is that they just piss. me. off. I can’t really connect with them on an emotional level and I have no time for their whiny emO CAPSLOCK RAGE!!!1!! (I’m looking at you, Harry.) I don’t hate them on purpose and I don’t avoid them, but I’d say at least 7 times out of 10 if the protagonist is male, I’ll just end up wanting to punch them in the face. Like, wow, such a hard life. (Now I’m not looking at you, Harry. You actually have my sympathy. I just think you could’ve maybe used your goddamn brain instead of whining and whinging and being a brat.) Look at Holden Caulfield. Or better yet, don’t, because he’s going to analyse that and drive you insane with all the reasons he’s totally figured out for why you are looking at him, this wonderful specimen of humanity, and what it all means and whether or not it’s going to change the way the world works. But still, personally I think you can lump at least half of the male protagonists together — Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, Miles “Pudge” Halter from Looking for Alaska, Colin Singleton from An Abundance of Katherines, that one guy whose name I forgot because I DNFed that book so fast from High Fidelity… They’re all obnoxious, self-absorbed Nice Guys™.
Not all male characters are like that, of course not, but it’s overwhelming how many of them are. And even those who aren’t, they’re just frustrating to me as a reader. Is that really how they think, is that really their reactionary process to events, is that really how they think they should behave? REALLY?! And then some of them have the audacity to whine and complain, and I realise I am being unfair now because boys don’t have to be always strong, never showing weakness, but as a girl I just get highly offended that these male characters get to whine about the unfairness of the world. Try being a girl. Not even with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Just a normal girl. It’s really difficult and hard and I don’t get to whine either.
Sure, female characters aren’t perfect, not by a long shot, and there are enough out there who frustrate me just as much, but I can at least comprehend their thought processes, the way they feel and behave. It may not make sense, but it doesn’t feel like I’m seeing the world through the eyes of an alien. I just don’t get boys, and I don’t get their POVs either. Besides, I’d rather read a shitty novel with an idiotic female protag who has some kind of bamf moment, no matter how ludicrous it is, than a story about a boy who is oh so heroic and oh so great and oh so wonderful and oh so perfect. Sorry, not here for all that boy propaganda. (Except for Harry Potter. He may not be my favourite character of all time and heaven knows I wanted to punch him in the dick all throughout OotP and HBP but those books are part of my childhood and teenage years and they mean the world to me, frustrating male protagonist notwithstanding.)
As for authors, I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but I avoid male authors where I can. I don’t know exactly why but their writing is different. It just is. I feel like male authors are focussed more on the different points of action in the plot and objective details, whereas female authors know how to give a character life with emotions and motivations. I read an article somewhere at one point, I can’t find it anymore unfortunately, that detailed that difference in focus and subsequently the writing. When I read books written by men I often struggle with the overload of almost clinical descriptions and run-on sentences.Take, for example, Dan Brown. I liked the books I read by him but by god, would it hurt you to calm the farm a bit and tone down the unnecessarily long rambling about stuff that has nothing to do with the protagonist themselves. Now take any female writer and chances are we’ll get more talk about their protag’s feelings and thoughts instead.
The thing is that despite having read some interesting books by male authors, I tend to struggle with their characters. Robert Langdon isn’t particularly dear to me nor are his adversaries and Bond girls particularly enticing as characters. In fact, I can’t even begin to figure them out. It’s like male authors often (not always! there are always exceptions, just as there are female authors who fuck shit up) ignore character growth and character personalities in favour of the plot. Now it might have just been bad luck, but the last book I read by a male author was The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. I thought it might be interesting, you know, a book about Nicholas Flamel and his adventures. In the end I was very disappointed because Flamel barely featured and was inconsistent as fuck and the protagonists, Josh and Sophie Newman, were obnoxious and even less consistent than Flamel. Sophie was a convenient plot device and Josh was mentally five years old. If at all. That’s how he acted anyway. I don’t know if that’s how male authors think teenagers act?
Another book that comes to mind is Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane. It wasn’t bad per se, but the author exchanged a logical plot for commercial value — the amount of times Google as a company was mentioned was incredible, and not in a good way. In general I’ve made the experience that male authors struggle with writing real characters — it’s like they can’t empathise with them, can’t put themselves in their shoes (unless they’re Nice Guy™ shoes, to be honest), and it’s especially noticeable with female characters — which is what I actually look for in a story. I can overlook a bad plot for characters I like. It’s difficult to overlook shoddily written characters for unnecessary amounts of technobabble or pages upon pages of exposition to make it clear that a character does in fact possess the traits A, B and C.
I suppose though, that I’m also not a perfect human being and I know I am very opinionated, even when my opinions are shit. I know that my reactions towards male authors are partly based on the fact that I have yet to face a man in any position of power over me (and that’s how I see authors as well, really, because they have power over my imagination and my pleasure and joy (or the opposite) when I am reading) who hasn’t treated me like I’m not worth their attention. I know that it’s partly because — despite having liked some of his books — the fact that John Green is treated like the messiah of YA, even though loads of female writers before him truly awakened the genre and its readers, and yet he gets all the credit in news articles and stuff like that, pisses me off to no end. It’s not even that John Green himself bothers me, but the hullaballoo around him and how he’s hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread, when the honour should go to a whole bunch of women who came before him. It’s partly distaste in regards to their writing style and partly rebellious boycott, I think.
TL;DR: I LIKE GIRLS IN ALL THE WAYS AND GIRLS >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> BOYS FOREVER. Sorry not sorry. I’ll now go back to my regular programming of Orphan Black conspiracies.