Monday, March 30, 2015

I Want More Non-Sexualized Female Characters, But I Don’t Want to Read about Them

So, it’s not uncommon for people to be obsessed with who your female characters are sleeping with. My senior thesis in college was a script called Molly Aire and Becca Ette Do Theatre, about two women watching a play and making fun of it.

My professor was obsessed with “proving they aren’t lesbians.”

There was nothing romantic about their relationship, other than some bickering. Maybe they were an old married couple. And honestly, if a director wanted to make it a date, by all means be my guest. I am an advocate for gay acceptance and I don’t feel like that little detail changed the play’s point or remotely mattered.

I did, however, find it incredibly sexist that my professor was obsessed with my characters’ sex lives. It wasn’t the first time either. No matter how much a play, a short story, or a manuscript was not about romance, when its point has to do with some bigger, alterative picture, if I had a female character whose love life I did not discuss, it freaked people out. If I had two female characters with no obvious love interest, especially if those women talked to each other a decent amount, people—men and women alike—believed they were gay, and they found it very important I confirmed one way or another.

People always want to know who the women in the story are having sex with. It’s not the same for men. While I would argue that telling an entire novel from a man’s point of view and never discussing a sexual thought seems unnatural, when my male characters didn’t end up with anyone, no one cared. Not unless there was an obvious female option left over.

My professor harped on me long after I assured him that you can’t prove a character isn’t gay once people assume they are. It’d had been a repeated experience for me by that point, and I’ve yet to find a way to refute it that doesn’t actually encourage the belief. Like in real life, the more you press how straight someone is, the less people are convinced. And, considering that I didn’t care whether or not people thought it was a date, it wasn’t something I was going to waste my time with.

He wanted me to talk about their boyfriends or add in a third character. Talking about their boyfriends would be an irrelevant divergent—they were supposed to be funny, unobtrusive characters, like Mystery Science Theatre or the two old men from the Muppets. Adding in another character with a unique personality that fit into their dynamic would mean a complete rewrite.

I want more works that feature women whose romantic lives aren’t discussed. The more works there are, the more normal it seems, and therefore the more works there can be. Because the entertainment industry is so obsessed with romance, every woman ends up being paired off at the end. It’s expected. When they’re not, the audience feels ripped off. And while I would like to see more gay characters, I am so sick of movies that force two women together because there aren’t any guys around to fill the void. (I know you may or may not be aware of this trope, but I assure you that after you read this, you’ll start seeing it more and more. It happens a lot.)

Romance novels with love triangles that end with her not picking either guy because “she doesn’t need a man,” fight its own point. It’s really just a cop out because good romance novels contain a lot of conflict, and most drama in a relationship is considered unhealthy. Which means that they’ve been building up this storyline with a male character who any good feminist can’t actually have the woman end up with, and so, in order to avoid accusations of sexism, they pretend that the whole point is that happiness does not come from a relationship. However, when you’ve made thousands of dollars off of a love story, you’re not really convincing its readers that joy doesn’t come from love. For the last few days, all their joy has been coming from the idea of romance.

You want a story that proves a woman doesn’t need a man? Have a story that doesn’t involve a man. Have a female protagonist whose objective is to save the world, get vengeance on the people who killed her family, or help slaves escape imprisonment. Whatever. Normal movie plots.

We need more female characters whose life doesn’t revolve around love, movies featuring women with motivations outside of romantic stories. Female protagonists in thrillers, mysteries, or even adventures. Women whose main objective is important and failure has high stakes. We need more stories in which we don’t bother to discuss the woman’s sex life.

The problem? I don’t want to read that shit.

Even though I highly desire more diversity in how women are portrayed in entertainment, I’m not the target audience. I don’t care if your character is a man or a woman, I want romance, damn it. It’s often the only thing I care about. Either romance or at least a deep emotional bond like Lilo and Stitch or Calvin and Hobbes.

Even in Molly Aire and Becca Ette, the play they were making fun of? A love story. It was supposed to be a fully immersive (with some distraction) farce about a man and a woman trying to deal with his disapproving family. The appeal was their love.

So while I didn’t want to go into Molly or Becca’s sex life, it still focused on a woman’s sex life for entertainment.

My main goal in life is to be a successful writer, and it’s pretty much my entire focus ninety percent of the time. But I love love. I love love stories. I love being in love. I love talking to people about their relationships. I want to know all the gossip why they broke up, who cheated on who, who got together and how did they know it was love. I’ll often surprise new acquaintances who’ve been married for the last hundred years by asking them how they met, which apparently no one does. No, I’m not really into flirting or the dating scene, and I’m not the kind of girl considered boy crazy by my friends, but love and romance fascinate me more than anything else. And when I eventually do fall, I fall hard. If a story doesn’t have romance, I have a hard time caring.

It’s kind of a funny conflict for me. I think the world needs more female protagonists with non-sexual objectives, but I don’t want to be writing them. I don’t even want to be reading them. And if they came out, I probably wouldn’t be the one buying a ticket.

I don’t know what the solution is here. Other than to recognize that two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a guy doesn’t make them lesbians. Quite frankly, that’s true in real life too… It’s possible I may have just stumbled upon the reason behind some of the rumors about me.