Let’s Discuss: Women in Literature

For the longest time, women were portrayed as nothing more than damsels in distress. We were portrayed as weak little things incapable of fighting our own battles, and we needed men to save us. Luckily, this has started to change. We’re no longer the ones being rescued; instead, we’re the ones leading the battles. 

But that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t problematic attitudes towards women in literature. There are, especially in romance and young adult literature. There’s this obsession in literature with having a “pure” and chaste protagonist. It isn’t that I mind a virginal main character. That’s a choice, and I respect it, but I have a problem with how it’s addressed.

The “pure” MC isn’t a great catch because she’s a virgin. It doesn’t make her better, prettier, or smarter than other women. And yet, there seems to be this trend that this is what makes her the better choice. Sometimes, the male protagonist chases her because he wants to prove he can get her in bed. Sometimes, he’s intrigued by her innocence.  But usually in the end, he respects her more because she isn’t “like other girls”. It suggests that her chastity is what makes her girlfriend material and that the sexual experience  of other women is what makes them unworthy.

More often than not, the pure MC has a problem with these other women because they’re mean to her and judge her for her lack of experience.  Essentially, they hate each other because the only thing they care about is getting the guy.  They’re superficial, desperate,  bullies who are portrayed as nothing more than “sluts”. So ultimately, there’s this suggestion that a woman’s worth stems from her sexuality.

I hate this.  I hate that there’s still this ideal in literature that the virgin is better because she’s a virgin and that other women are simply sluts. Even more troubling is that it often feels like the author’s fantasy wherein she’s the catch and all of the other women are anything but.  It perpetuates girl-on-girl hate.

Luckily, I think that as readers, we don’t see this as acceptable anymore. At least,  I  like to think that most people hate seeing this in literature. I like to think that it’s becoming outdated. And from what I’ve seen in the book blogging community, it definitely feels like it is.

But my skin still boils anytime I see the pure MC as the only “good” woman in the book (with the exception of an incredibly underdeveloped BFF), where  the antagonist/”villainous” woman as someone who isn’t chaste thus creating comparison between these women based on sexual history.  For lack of better words, it really pisses me off.

Ultimately, I want books with complex female characters. I want books that celebrate differences in women. I want books that show friendship and support. I don’t want books that slut shame other characters. I don’t want books that suggest a woman’s value is rooted in her sexual history. Because not only is that a load of crap, it’s a mindset that desperately needs to be changed because it’s so psychologically damaging.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on this? Are you still seeing this in books being published today? Let me know in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Women in Literature

  1. Mo @ Novelish says:

    “I want books that celebrate differences in women. I want books that show friendship and support. I don’t want books that slut shame other characters. I don’t want books that suggest a woman’s value is rooted in her sexual history.”

    YES. Yes to all of this. I actually tend to automatically get frustrated with a romance novel if the narrative seems to imply the female protagonist is worth more or more desirable BECAUSE of her virginity.

    I actually read a nice contemporary indie OwnVoices Filipino romance, Feels Like Summer, which had an unabashedly sexually promiscuous protagonist, and it was great. It also drove home to me how much I want there to be a better, more thoughtful variety of sexual experiences and sexual backgrounds with my romance novel characters.

    Anyway, great post! This topic really needs to be discussed more.

    Liked by 1 person

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