Monday, February 4, 2013

What the Feck (WTF): Heroines vs Heros

What the Feck?! (WTF?!) 
Is a new feature here at The Book Nympho.
Every Monday we will post a book related topic 
that had us thinking WTF?! while reading a book 
or talking to others in the book community.

Give a heroine a break...maybe? 
Are we tougher on them than our heroes?
by Jonetta

I noticed recently that I, like many others, seem to give the heroes in my stories a lot more leeway than I give my heroines. I have a lot less tolerance for a heroine who seemingly takes unnecessary risks or makes questionable decisions, sometimes earning the label of Too Stupid to Live (TSTL) for doing so. I cannot think of one example where I've even considered assigning that label to a hero.

So, why was it so natural for me to beat up on my heroine for doing something I might have tolerated, or even justified, from the hero? Was it because I have higher expectations of my same gender? Am I perpetuating the expectation that women have little to no margin of error in comparison to men? Or, do I have lower expectations from my male heroes?

Here are some examples of where I might have been more unfair to the heroine than the hero.

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires) 

Merit seems to never miss an opportunity to snark at Ethan or get in his face. She's pretty disrespectful to him and I found her attitude unreasonable. But, when I thought of the situations being reversed (male vampire being snarky and disrespectful of the female House Master), it actually seemed...normal. I actually expected him to be resistant and would have felt less of him if he hadn't! Aaaggghhhh! Me, sexist?

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning (Fever) 

I KNOW I'm not alone here! How many of you found MacKayla (she didn't become Mac to me until the second book) immature and whiny in the first book? She annoyed me to no end and my review referred to her "endless mind meanderings and immature rants." Was I being fair? Think about it, MacKayla was just a young, sheltered Southern girl who still lived at home, enjoying the life of a debutante in pink when her sister was inexplicably murdered. She goes to Ireland to find out what happened and gets thrust into this extraordinary mythic world that is beyond imagination. And, her first serious relationship is with the most mysterious man on the planet! They don't get any more complicated than Barrons. In retrospect, I thought I was too hard on her and realized that as I watched her mature the hard way through this series. Would I have been as tough on the frat boy? Maybe so but I'm not so sure.

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong (Women of the Underworld) 

Okay, in fairness to me, this story also included the dreaded love triangle so Elena Michaels already had a strike against her. But, I also thought she took a long time in forgiving Clay for biting her. And, she messed up every strategic operation the Pack executed against the Mutts. In fairness to her, she hadn't developed Pack mentality so why did they expect her to behave as one of them? I tried to imagine how a man would have reacted to this kind of deception (being bitten without consent) and just knew that the woman would have been toast with no possibility of redemption. The love triangle, however, would have been worse for me. We don't tolerate a triangle involving two women and one man!!

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress) 

Cat seemed so impetuous in this first book and drove me nuts. She was the queen of acting first and thinking later and I questioned whether I even liked her. It took me months to go back to the series and read the second book, where I fell in love with the character. Cat's always smart and passionate with a tendency to leap before looking closely but she knows how to take care of herself. Yes, Bones made her tougher but she's always had the goods. Looking back, I wonder if I would have had more patience with Cat if "she" had been a "he" out to kill all vampires no matter what. I don't think so but.....

Naked in Death by J. D. Robb (In Death) 

Anyone who knows me is aware that this is my most favorite series ever. What they might not know is I wasn't so thrilled with Eve Dallas after this first book. She's surly, rude and doesn't suffer fools very well. Eve is also dangerously solitary in her lifestyle and I thought she was a cop on a ledge. Now, here I have to check myself. The mystery genre is where I live and have loved it since I was a young teen. I'm used to the hard boiled, flawed detective but this was the first time I'd seen these characteristics in a female detective. I didn't react well but the story was so compelling I had to keep going with the series. My gender bias raged with this story and I had to own up to it. Needless to say, she's now my hero, bad behavior and all.

There are many more I can cite with similar issues. It was suggested to me that there is a trend with first books in the Urban Fantasy genre, where the heroine is the lead character, to have issues with the first story. I have to admit that's true for me and most of my examples are from UF series where I've not been a big fan of the character in the first book but later adored the heroine. Am I setting a higher bar for female protagonists than I would for their male counterparts? Do we accept that the hero is allowed to screw up and bounce back without being considered TSTL? Or is it just that we don't see stories written where the men make these kind of mistakes or blunders?

The one UF series that comes to mind with a man as the main character is the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. In the first book, Hounded, Atticus made many mistakes that I thought were "out of character." That was an assumption I made, and made it rather quickly. I'm still asking myself why it was so easy for me to make this leap and not so much for the women in other series.

To redeem myself here, I do have one great example of a heroine who I thought was brilliant from the start, even though she's not perfect. Patricia Briggs' heroine, Mercy Thompson from the series with the same name, is one of my most favorite heroines. This series was my first venture into UF and I think I've judged every heroine since to Mercy's standard. She's smart, loyal and has a rational process for thinking through situations and I like her moral compass.  
So, maybe I am being tougher on the women in these stories. Or, it could just be that I started off with a pretty good role model and that's the standard I'm expecting them all to live up to. I'm still trying to figure that out. I know where my judgment comes from as my first job out of college was in a profession dominated by men. There was no margin for error as women were held to a different standard. However, that was long ago and no excuse for still holding on to that point of view. I’m hoping that Mercy Thompson just shaped my view of the ideal heroine

Where are you on this topic? Are your heroes getting more of a break than your heroines? Do you follow the trend or are you bucking it? And, if you’ve got some examples, we’d love to hear about them.


  1. What a great, thought provoking post!!! I think I'm guilty of the same. But most of the time, the stories are so good I can get over that. But... I think I tend to judge the heroes more harshly if they are alpha-holes. Then I want the heroine to kick them in the nads or to the curb!

    1. I normally come around near the end of the book but definitely by the second book. Über alpha males affect me the same way they seem to strike you!

      Thanks for your post.

  2. I have to admit, I'm the opposite when it comes to heroines. I'm even one of the few who liked Mac from the very beginning because her reactions felt realistic to me considering the situation she was thrown in to.

    Faythe, Elena, Eugenie, Chess, Annabelle, the list could go on. All heroines with huge flaws, including bad decision-making skills and indecisiveness when it comes to relationships...but I love them! If they were heroes instead I don't think I would tolerate it.

    Great topic, Jennifer!

    1. I wish I'd had your foresight about Mac when I was reading the first book. It wasn't until I reached the end of the series that I got the brilliance of what Moning intended. It made for a richer story and I always feel like I owe Mac an apology.

      I need to take a page out of your book and start giving these flawed but wonderful women a break.

    2. Sorry! I gave Jennifer all the credit. I should have said, "Great topic, Jonetta!" =) Looking forward to the next WTF.

  3. Even though Fever is one of my favorite series (it inspired my blog design) I must say I'm one of the ones that thought Mac was too stupid to live in the first book and half of the second. But I love that she was a character that grew over the time of the series.

    Wither the heroine is a wimp or "blonde" like Mac and then grows into a kick ass heroine or starts out as a bad ass like Gin Blanco and then fines her softer side, I love heroines that GROW with their story.

    One heroine that comes to mind as one that's not really grown that much (IMO) is Sookie Stackhouse. I still think she is too stupid to live and that's why I've broke up with the series. I don't feel like she has really grown enough.

    As far as the heroes. Same goes.

    I want character development and growth from them. Where some female characters are too stupid to live, some male characters are just too big of an ass hole that I don't care if they live. I think if KMM didn't show us the other side to JZB he could have fallen into that ass hole type. But we saw his "softer" side as the series moved on. Yeah he can still be a prick but one that we love.

    Great job this week Jonetta!!

    1. Mac most DEFINITELY grew with each book in the series. You make a great point in that most of the heroines in my examples really matured or honed their skills as the series progressed.

      JZB was just an enigma to me for most of the series. He remained pretty much a question mark until Shadowfever. Most heroes will fall one way or another much earlier than this normally but KMM deliberately kept this character murky.

  4. I have to say, I'm always tougher on women, and it is because I know that we might no be the physically stronger gender, but I know for a fact that we are emotionally stronger, and I do believe we possess an intuition far superior to that of our counterparts, so in my case, I want my heroine to act accordingly.
    But than again, a book with a hero TSL. Won't make it to the second chapter :)

  5. I know a lot of readers really hated Mac in the first Fever book. I do understand why, but I didn't hate her myself, for the reasons you mention above. She just had no idea what she was getting into.
    I'm generally pretty accepting of TSTL syndrome, as long as they aren't suffering from it forever. If they don't learn and grow as characters, my tolerance drastically diminishes and I might become very harsh. The Match series is a good example of this. I didn't think Cassia learned much at all. Booooo.

    1. You make a great case for reserving judgment until at least the second book.

  6. I just found this feature and it's so great! I think you make an interesting point. However, just to play devil's advocate why do I need to wait until the second or third book to warm up to a character? However -- sometimes we need to get to know people before we like them or know what they're all about, why not characters too? Is it b/c we feel we shouldn't have to wait with a character from a book? We bought the book to be entertained, why do we have to be annoyed by a character?

    I felt the same way about Mack...but I think I even put in my review that I needed to remember that she is just young and naive. But to get back to the point, I don't know if I would have been just as hard on a male...I'm trying to remember some main male characters that annoyed me. I'm sure there are some, but none come to mind at the moment.

  7. I think I'm equally hard on my heroes as I am on my heroines. I always loved Cat, and I thought Mac was realistically portrayed as well. What I can't stand is a character who never questions his/her decisions, who never listens to others, or who looks at another character with stars in his/her eyes all the freaking time.

    But it's definitely a great subject! It's easy to judge the characters we read about, and I know I'm often guilty of that as well - but when I think about it more closely, I think I would freak out if I lived in one of their worlds! They all need serious skills to survive, right?


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