Do you want to be a writer, of books, television, movies, web comics, or any other genre of fiction? Writing is challenging for any number of reasons, with half that number being "I want to click over and watch something on youtube". The other half of that number is that if you choose to introduce female characters, they will probably just show that you don't understand women, and indeed, hate them. Luckily, through my years of studying materials on everything from Mary Daly's deep feminism to flamewars on Livejournal's Doctor Who community, I have gathered a list of tips on how to overcome your misogynist tendencies and write fully developed, empowering, three dimensional female characters.
- First off, is your female character the main character of the work she appears in? In addition, is she a fully developed character, who has an independent, actualized personality? Is she believable? If any of these are not true, it is because you are sexist. In any work of fiction, women should never be relegated to secondary characters. Also, under no circumstances should they have a personality that isn't fully developed. On the other hand, if you have a boring or one-note female character, its not because you are a bad writer...it is because you are a misogynist.
- Is your female character an action girl? Does she like driving fast, blowing stuff up, and fisticuffs? If so, your female character is not a female, but a man with breasts on. The big strong woman who likes action is a simplistic, adolescent male fantasy, and is not a realistic depiction of women.
- Is your female character domestic? Does she enjoy baking, knitting, and taking care of others? Are relationships and nurturing important to her? This means that she is living up to an idealized male fantasy of a nurturing, meek figure who takes care of others and has no personality of her own. This is obviously a sign of deep sexism.
- At some point in the story, does the woman do something where she has to sacrifice something to help or save a male character, or a female character? Does she give up her time, money, health or very life for the sake of her partner or family? This is a very anti-female attitude, expecting women to be self-abnegating for those around them.
- Is the woman a stereotypical damsel in distress who waits passively for the male to rescue her? Does her entire role in the story consist of being in another castle? This unrealistic portrayal of women as passive victims is archaic and sexist.
- Lets talk about sex. Does your female character have a libido, and does she enjoy dressing provocatively, being flirtatious or straight out fucking? She is obviously a sex object created to amuse male readers.
- Is your female character shy about sex? Does she dress conservatively, not talk about her sex life, and not show much lust or interest in men (or women, as the case may be?) This misogynist portrayal of women keeps them as idealized figures to be put on a pedestal, and obviously is incorrect.
- Is your female character a well rounded, physically fit, intelligent, successful woman who cares about those around her, is at peace with herself, and can handle a family, a career, and using her scientific prowess to sabatoge an entire fleet of alien starships? She is then a Mary Sue, an idealized "super woman" who is an insult to actual women.
- Does your female character have flaws? Well, she should! Lots and lots of flaws, because that is realistic. But they can't be demeaning, weakening, or sexist flaws. They have to be empowering flaws. She should be so full of flaws that all the readers will be like "oh, isn't she TOUGH", but only in the realistic way of toughness.
Having gone through this list, I will turn off sarcasm mode and say that all of the things in this list are things that I have read, in some context, as being sexist. And of course, the items on this list are mutually exclusive, which shows just how tight the net of critical theory is when it comes to the feminist take on literature. All of the points I mentioned above have been things I have read as actual critiques, at differing levels of articulation and persuasiveness.
One of the things that makes this type of analysis misleading in my eyes is not that the individual critiques don't make sense, and not that they don't play into a larger tradition of sexism, it is that it forgets one of the most important laws of life, to never attribute to malice what can be explained with stupidity. For the most part, female characters in fiction are badly written not because of sexism, but because writers are either not good at creating characters, or because realistic character creation isn't important to the medium. Wonder Woman is a perfect woman with a perfect physique because comic book characters are always perfect with unrealistic physiques. Princess Leia is a fantasy princess who undergoes little character development because she is in a movie that is about aliens and explosions. Elaine Benes is a shallow, comedic character with stereotypically bad female personality traits because she is in a slapstick comedy that has to set up and resolve a plot in 22 minutes. And Bella Swan is not so much a sign of Stephanie Meyer's sexism as she is a sign of Stephanie Meyer's modest writing talents, because her character is not really any less developed than that of Edward Cullen.
So while it is true that there are many pits that a writer can fall into one trying to present believable female characters, the entire issue, rather than being a sociological issue, can best be viewed as a subset of Sturgeon's Law.