Monday, June 20, 2016

In Which Characters Make Mistakes Pt. 3

Today is part III on my characters making mistakes rant.
Part I and Part II can be found by clicking on their links.


Some readers hate books when they find characters making mistakes.

I do not, and I oftentimes find this reaction baffling, or sometimes just flat out wrong. So I'm writing posts breaking down why I think characters who make mistakes are the right way to go about things. Or if not that, why I find the hate for these mistake-making characters misplaced.

Part I was all about how mistakes make conflict and conflict makes drama.

Part II was about how real people make mistakes, so your characters should, too.

Today, is Part III, which is where Sarah's blood pressure really sky-rockets (and there may be more swearing) because we're going to talk about the bullshit that is the double standard.

So I've been talking about how some readers really hate when characters make mistakes.

But actually, that's not quite true.

What they tend to actually hate is when female characters make mistakes, especially if those characters are teens.

shocking, I know

I'm not kidding when I say there is a ton of hate out there for female characters who make mistakes (ESPECIALLY if the reader thinks the mistake is "dumb" (the quality of the mistake seems to be based solely on the reader's own scale. What's dumb to one may be dumb to another. And rarely is there any discussion about whether or not this "dumb" mistake is actually how the character would act.)

Those same readers who HATE a female character for making mistakes will often give a pass, or flat out love a male character who makes the same sort of mistakes.

And that's some bullshit right there.

Now, I want to step in and say, I'm willing to bet that 95% of the time, those people don't realize they are doing this. It's sort of an invisible sexism thing. We're raised to think of men and women, boys and girls, in a certain light, and therefore characters associated with those genders are judged based on those ingrained beliefs.

IE: our society has a boys will be boys mentality. Boys can and often do, do whatever they want and face no repercussions (ie: rape a girl, and then get sentenced to 6 months in jail because any more jail time might be hard for him.) Our society turns the other cheek when boys make mistakes.

Girls, though. No way. Our society tends to value teen girls the least. We're taught that teen girls are dumb, and vapid, and they make mistakes and, most importantly, they deserve whatever's coming their way.

Therefore, it's no surprise that this crops up in reviews with teen main characters. No one says that Harry Potter is too dumb to live when he makes mistakes. But you have a female teen who does one thing wrong and all bets are off.

Newsflash - boys and girls make mistakes. We're all human. But it's not fair to hold female characters to some sort of alternate code of conduct just because of their gender. Yeah? Yeah.

So next time you hear or see someone talking about a character making dumb mistakes, take a note of that character's gender. I bet more often than not, it's female.

And that's it for my 3 part rant on characters who make mistakes! Hopefully I made you think about some things, or at least entertained you with those Harry Potter gifs.

If not, sorry. Here's another random gif just cuz.




Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry, I got distracted by the otter and his cups...
No sexism here. All teens make dumb mistakes. Common sense just vanishes at that point in their life.

mshatch said...

well, it was only 20 minutes of action, right?

But seriously, you make an excellent point and I am going to be on the lookout to see if I do this and if I do, slap myself.

Tamara Narayan said...

I will watch for this. I was never really conscious of sexism until I got married and saw how the world treated my husband vs. how it treated me. That otter is adorable.

Hart Johnson said...

I actually like reading and writing teens BECAUSE this is a group where mistakes are understandable--their brains are not fully developed. They are impulsive and don't necessarily think things through and this is normal. In adults mistakes are still interesting, but it is more important to set up a difficult choice that forces it--a no right answer sort of situation. Because I don't like DUMB characters. I need a reason for them to act a certain way. But teen reasons are easier to come up with... they may not have thought why something they were taught was wrong so they act on it, or they might be insecure or jealous or feel invulnerable... Adults often should know better.

Nicola said...

Great, spunky post!! Love it Sarah. Sexism is still rife. I actually discussed it with my husband the other day. Teens should be making mistakes - that's how we all learn how not to do things and how to do things better! Thanks for the post - loved it!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I agree with 100% of what you just said.

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