Recently, I've been reflecting on a post I wrote awhile back about my tendency to write main characters who are male. Through no intent of my own, my three publications so far have had female main characters; two for anthologies that were specifically looking for this. Does this mean that I write female characters better, or that having a blatantly girly name like Marissa immediately discredits my male characters in editors' subconscious, or is it random? Maybe it has to do with the different sorts of subject matter covered with male vs. female main characters--and yet, those three publications don't have a lot in common in this sense ...
But looking at my latest round of submissions has evidenced a changing trend, it seems. Without thinking about it, I managed to split the stories evenly, half male and half female main characters. So, I tallied up all my marketable stories and found that the shorter ones (say, 0-5000 words) divide evenly, while most of the longer (and older) ones (5000 all the way up to 20,000) have mostly male leads. The difference? Longer stories are, for me at least, more often epic and action-oriented in tone. Which is sort of obvious, as you can't get too epic in under 5000 words.
So this means two things. 1) I have been writing a lot more stories under 5000 words lately, and a lot more with female leads, and 2) I have concurrently moved away from epic action tales. The first is good, while the second is maybe not so good. Something in my subconscious is telling me that female main characters don't belong in epic action tales. They can lead stories, just not big adventurous ones. The rest of me, now aware, disputes this.
I mean, it hardly sounds fair!
Theoretically there could be all sorts of issues with having a female main character who is, say, a swordswoman or assassin or something. Foremost being the believability factor. Is it logical to put a woman into the role of sword wielding super-barbarian? Or whatever? If the answer is yes, which it certainly should be, can you accept the fact that a cast-iron bikini is not logical battle armor? Nope, this epic women thing isn't as simple as it so often sounds.
The biggest problems I've had with female leads in fantasy fiction fall in two categories (looks like today is the day of twos!). Firstly, if you accept the widely held belief that a main character must be proactive to move the plot, then these females do so by being amazingly annoying, noisy, pushy, whiny, demanding, rude, and snotty, and these are accepted as typical female traits. Often these are younger main characters who propel the story by either being obnoxious or pretending they are, or by opening doors they shouldn't, touching things they shouldn't, breaking things they shouldn't, crying/fainting/etc. to get their way and move the plot ... in general being or pretending to be immature as though this is how young women should/do behave and solve problems. Or even save the day.
*Oh, and don't ask how many such stories I've read--it probably hasn't been all that many, really. You just have to read one or two like this to be pretty irritated and repulsed. But I promise you it's been more than one or two. If I didn't like snotty little girls when I was in grade school and having to coexist with them, why oh why would I want to read about them as though these are virtues? I guess because little boys get all the good qualities?
The second way in which female fantasy characters are presented is, obviously, as over-sexualized iron-bikini-wearing super-chicks. Which is no more complimentary than the snotty-baby image. This image lets us know that a woman can do anything, including slaying gods and banishing demons, as long as she is amazingly sexy and mostly naked. The greatest threat to super-babe in these instances doesn't come from the possibility of death/pain/maiming which she might suffer at the hands of enemies, but rather that her oh-so-sexy self may be subjected to abuses of a different sort. As though I really want to read about this, either, and have random authors informing me that even in made-up worlds women (even strong and capable ones) are concurrently viewed as sexual and inferior objects. Why can't this just NOT happen once in a while?
Honestly, why not? This question has bugged me since going through my own stories. Why can't there be female characters who solve problems and lead epic stories like REAL women? And, moreover, what would this look like? I'm still thinking about it and certainly I don't have all the answers, but I can tell you that, at least, when I write this theoretical epic story, there will be no whining or breaking of things, and also full suits of armor.