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  • Writer's pictureateliernymphae

Why should you write this female character

(Note: in this post I'm going to talk about "female characters", "girls" and "women", including cisgender & transgender women. This post is solely dedicated to the issue of female representation in stories but I think this discourse can be applied to all minorities who suffer even more from lack of representation).

As a child, I was the kind of girl who was fascinated by princesses, warriors and fairies. When I watched a cartoon or played a video game, I always identified with the "girl" in the story. My idols and role models were all women, from Princess Peach to Sailor Moon to Nausicäa, I loved and admired them all.

Unfortunately, as I grew up, I realized how poorly women were cast in fiction and especially how absent they were in productions not intended for girls.

There is a general lack of interest in female characters, both from the writers and the fans.

It didn't get any better when I entered animation school in 2016. At that time I discovered how female characters were considered from the creator's side...

(Sailor Moon is a powerful and righteous warrior, but she has one dream above all: to marry her boyfriend. This is what makes her a girl, in the end, "like the others").

I still remember a short film assignment that the class above mine did. Out of the ten or so projects, there were, as I recall, only one or two female characters. The one I remember appeared in the film completely naked and her bra size was part of the information written on her character sheet. She was the representation of a drunken man's fantasy.

A close friend of mine was part of this class, and she had to paint a portrait of Mrs. Santa Claus. The teachers had encouraged her to make her look younger so that she would really look like a "MILF".

When it came time for my class to do this exercise, only 7 out of 28 characters were women or girls.

I had the opportunity to work as a team twice on two short film projects. Both times we were able to proudly deliver beautiful stories with a 100% female cast, but both times we had to negotiate with women who saw it as a form of "reverse sexism."

Because if Alice and I hadn't resisted, if we hadn't negotiated, even if it meant being labeled as huge bitches, we would have ended up with 5 female characters out of 28.

5 instead of 7, 7 out of 28, so much effort, so much energy, to not even come close to a semblance of parity, it's ridiculous.

Yet, I don't think the 21 male characters had to be the subject of much debate since, after all, the main character is a man by default. Isn't that right?

In the end, it's quite ironic that we were the ones considered extreme for only wanting women in our story. Do we have an obligation to bend our stories to parity when most people ignore it at the expense of women, without ever questioning it?

For my part, my philosophy is simple: I know that female characters are often overlooked and in the minority, and I know that when they are present, their roles are usually very limited. So I want to dedicate my stories to women, all my stories. For me, the balance needs to be evened out, and to do that I just want to throw a big weight on it.

So of course, it's a radical solution but it's my own way of getting back at misogyny in creation, that's how I want to fight.

My goal is not necessarily to convince you to only write female characters, but rather to invite you to make more room for them in your work if you haven't already.

(Studio Ghibli is often applauded for its memorable and unique heroines... Why should this be an exception?)

If you tend to create male characters by default in your stories, I don't want you to feel cornered or ashamed. Rather, I'd like to encourage you to question this mechanism and look for the root of it.

Chances are, you favor male characters out of habit or simply because you have suffered from the lack of female representation. For example, girls are rarely the protagonists of incredible adventures. You write an incredible adventure, you choose a male protagonist and it doesn't even occur to you to create a girl since you've never seen her. That's the snake biting its own tail.

Be interested in women, not only in the characters but in the women around you, your friends, and your family. They are plural, and they all have a rich inner life and a complex personality of their own, be inspired by them for your stories, and pay them tribute. If you are a woman, pay tribute to yourself.

The same goes for the heroines in your favorite works, I know there are a lot of poorly written and fantasized female characters that just copy/paste the same misogynistic trope. But I assure you that there are also a lot of equally uninteresting male characters, yet they don't seem to get the same treatment...

This very interesting phenomenon is often present in fandoms; male characters are much more often of interest, even when they are poorly or badly written. When a character, who is a man or a boy, seems incomplete, it is the fans who will rescue him by giving him a rich inner life and extrapolating small pieces of characterization that the writers left behind. It will be assumed that even if it is not told in the story, this male character has a rich life and they will do everything to invent one for him.

On the other hand, when the female characters have little to no development, it will be assumed that they are simply not interesting and not worth pursuing: they are and will remain poorly written, and there is no saving that.

(Genshin Impact is primarily aimed at a male audience, with many female characters who are mostly sexualized. However, the fandom seems to have chosen to leave them to their "waifus" fate...)

In this game, the majority of the characters are women, yet they don't get much interest from the fans (compared to the male characters), even when they have a good story. It is a common joke that they all have the same boring "overworked and tired woman" personality, when in fact the game has a nice diversity of characterization in its female characters. We have leaders, witches, goddesses, regular girls, commanders, pirates, spirits... They are strategists, serious, kind, funny, mischievous, seductive, smart, sly, wise... But they are so under-explored and usually generate indifference.

There is a character who has neither name nor face and about whom very little is known: the dead friend of one of the heroes. The fandom took care of inventing a name, a face, and a story for him... So much so that he appears in many fanworks while some female characters, though more impactful, remain forgotten.

The question here is not to ask if it is mandatory to write or to be interested in female characters, or if wanting to write a male character is necessarily a bad thing (just in case: it is not necessarily a bad thing). I'd rather we ask ourselves together, why is it that most people, even women, seem to be so disinterested in them that they don't even include them in their stories? There are still so many paths to explore, and so many stories to tell...

(In "The Owl House" Eda is a witch who takes under her wing a young human girl, Luz. This mentor/pupil relationship between two women is, to my knowledge, very rarely portrayed).

If you're a creative person, you've probably heard the statement that people like to bring up from time to time: " Everything has already been made, and everything has already been told ". I find there is nothing more false. There are thousands of stories that have never been heard and they are mostly those of minorities.

I am deeply convinced that now is the time to write them.

Men are wrongly considered the universal referent, but we can see today that this is completely untrue. We are more than ever craving for representation.

I know that including a majority of women in your stories has a cost. You'll probably lose a part of your potential audience and chances are you'll be asked the silly question "why only women?" Maybe they'll say, "Too bad it's not more balanced," but know that in return, there are hundreds of people who will thank you for offering them a story that finally puts them in the spotlight.

Believe me, it will be worth it.

Many thanks to my Alice and @kami._kaze._ for proofreading ♥

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