Luckily women in the writing profession don’t face the same endemic problems as those trying to rise to the “C” level of corporations (CEO, COO, CTO, etc.). But I began to think about how this might affect female characters in the stories I write.
I use a lot of female protagonists in my work partly because I think that historically, there haven’t been enough of them in the speculative field (particularly science fiction). Hopefully things have gotten better in this regard (although I haven’t done any formal surveys for protagonist gender in recent short fiction), but I enjoy writing female characters in any case. Now I can’t help but wonder, though, whether some of these characters will be less liked and less sympathetic than their male counterparts if they’re put into positions of power.
Sometimes I’m able to sidestep this problem completely because I write a lot of teenage female protagonists who inherently lack power because of their young ages. But if I write a female president, will her anger read justified, or will it read like a mood swing? Will a discontented female read frustrated or merely whiny? And how much of this will be because of my mistakes in characterization vs. our society’s preconceptions about women in power?
It’s also easy, as a writer, to fall into one way of showing gender. For instance, I have a couple of stories about relationships in which it’s fairly obvious that the man has most of the power over the woman, and I show the women grappling with (and possibly overcoming) this imbalance. But being that I’m a science fiction writer who gets to write about the future, I don’t want to limit myself to portraying women who find ways to empower themselves while starting out unequal. What about the women who start out confident and in power, who can take over the traditional “hero” role in a story? What about the women who take for granted that they can be both powerful and likeable in a changed future society? I certainly don’t want to forget about showing those women characters.
What has your experience been as a reader or a writer? Do you find women characters in power to be sympathetic? How much do you think our society’s bias against this is reflected in our current literature?