By Liz, absolutely loving the spring weather of late here in CT!
If you’ve been following the blog this month, you know we’re talking about strong women and the impact they’ve had not only on us individually, but on our world as a whole. Strong women make the world go round, right? And here’s the thing: Strong women aren’t always going to be seen as likable. Nor should they be.
I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot lately as it pertains to not just every-day life, especially in the corporate world where I spend a lot of my days, but also in fiction writing. I’ve seen firsthand women who are brilliant, talented, assertive and unwilling to take any crap get labeled as “uncollaborative” or “not good partners” or, in plain English, “unlikable.” And we know that men who demonstrate the same tendencies don’t get the same labels. We’ve been having this conversation for a while now, right?
And guess what? Our female protagonists get stuck with the same labels. And ladies, I think it’s time to fight back.
When I was writing my Pawsitively Organic series featuring Stan Connor, I worried A LOT about making Stan “likeable,” whatever that means. I distinctly remember creating her best friend Nikki’s character out of a need to be able to have opinions on animal rescue topics that might have seemed too strong to come from Stan as my main character. Looking back now, I do love Nikki, but really? Stan had every right to her opinions, even if they may have been harsh every now and then. That’s the reality when you work in rescue. Sometimes people make you very angry, and you have not-so-nice thoughts about them. (And seriously – that’s the reality in all areas of life, not just rescue, am I right?)
So, moving on to the Cat Cafe series. I started writing about Maddie and her world when I was in a very different place than when I created Stan. I personally didn’t worry so much about everyone liking me all the time, and that carried over into my writing. Maddie is a lot more confident and unapologetic than Stan. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. She’s deeply caring, but she’s also really human.
And Maddie got some feedback in one of my early drafts about having too many angry feelings, not being as likeable as one might expect in a cozy, etc. I went back and adjusted the scenes, but I remember thinking, of course she’s angry, something terrible just happened! Is she supposed to squash her feelings and just smile?
In Whisker of a Doubt, Maddie is struggling with her relationship during most of the book. She’s upset about it and uses typical coping mechanisms like throwing herself into work and acting out in certain instances. She’s certainly not happy about what’s going on, and it takes a toll on her mood. And shortly after the book came out, I got an email from a reader who chastised me about Maddie’s attitude and warned me that she should really be “nicer.” And as I watched women around me every day hear the same types of things from a colleague or boss, or get penalized for speaking up and voicing concerns or displeasures, and in some cases really convinced that something was wrong with them, I knew I had to write this blog.
We need to stop demanding that women – fictional and not – be so nice. Of course, we should be kind. We should be caring. We should be human. But that goes for everyone, not just women. And we ARE human, so we’re not going to feel like singing and dancing with joy every second of the day. I mean, who complains that Harry Bosch isn’t nice enough? Harry does what he’s gotta do, and we all cheer him on. When he has dark thoughts, we sympathize with all he’s been through. We respect his moods and his approach because he’s earned it.
So why isn’t it the same for our female characters?
Readers, what do you think? Do you judge female characters differently than male characters? Leave a comment below – let’s have a conversation about this.