“The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.”First line in Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I have a confession to make although you can probably tell what it is from the title: I prefer books with male main characters. Those are the ones I gravitate towards, the ones that make it onto my list of favorites, and the ones whose characters I connect with most often. From my time in the bookish community, I’ve gathered that that isn’t exactly an allowed preference to have, so this post is very anxiety-inducing but also one I still wanted to write. I want to explain why I think I have this preference.
Am I sexist? Believe me, I’ve asked myself this many times and as a self-proclaimed feminist, I’ve also agonized over this a lot. And well, I don’t think I am because I do like some female characters. You don’t need to have read my blog for long to know that I can’t shut up about Vasya and the Winternight Trilogy, or you might even have noticed how often I talk about Katniss and The Hunger Games. I do like female-led stories; I’ve just found that I need to read a lot of bad ones to discover the good. I’ll return to the point later.
First I want to give a brief explanation of my reading tastes because this thing about preferring male characters isn’t new Even when I as a child went to the library to find a book to read, I would read the synopsis on the back and as soon as I found out it was about a girl, I’d put it back and not read about the other cool stuff the book had to offer. Yes, young me was pretty stupid and also reread a lot because even then there weren’t that many male-led fantasy books for children. A few books about girls managed to slip through my tough selection system, and I did like most but probably because there was a male character in it I connected with.
While I cannot say if child-me was already influenced by some societal misogyny, I don’t believe that’s the reason behind my preferences today. I think a lot of it comes down to how most of the female characters I come across are written. As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a feminist, but if there is one thing I cannot stand it is feminism in fiction. Or rather what passes for feminism in fiction. It means strong female characters that can do no wrong, that might have flaws if you’re lucky but never ones that result in some actual consequences for the characters. They are tough and need no help from any man. And what does that give you? Dead-boring characters that barely show any emotions and are almost impossible to relate to or connect with. They are not human when they need to be that perfect, and I also often find that they’re characterized through compliments from other characters rather than their actions. You have characters telling me this woman is intelligent and brave instead of showing me she is those things. Maybe because we as a society don’t give men compliments they haven’t suffered the same fate so their characterizations need to be based more on showing instead of telling, which of course makes me like them more. And since a synopsis or a review can’t always tell you all this about a book’s female character, I tend to just avoid the female-led stories altogether unless someone is very good at selling me the book some other way. There are also so many fantasy books now that are multi-POV so it’s not like I never read about women, but like everyone else, I also always have favorite POV characters in those books and for me, they are always male.
So maybe my preference comes from badly written female characters, but I also want to acknowledge that I might just relate more to the male ones and find them interesting because of that. I don’t need much to feel that connection with a male character so it always feels easy to jump into a book where I’m staying with that one male character, whereas I very often have difficulties seeing myself in the female ones and have a tendency to get annoyed with them for that. It’s not rational, I know, and I’m trying to tell myself to at least not hate them for it because, clearly, other people like those characters, so it’s not like they’re bad. Accepting them is still a long way off from really being into books led by women though.
If you still want to unfollow me, I totally get it. The thing is, I can’t change what I like. I can’t just acquire the correct preferences just because the internet tells me to. I wish I could, but that’s probably only because I have this very public blog where I talk about my likes and dislikes. Had I not had it, I probably wouldn’t worry about it as much because then, obviously, no one could judge me for it. That’s why it was also a rule I made for myself when I started this blog: I wasn’t going to allow the blog to change the way I read or what I read. And isn’t that what I need to remind myself? That it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks? Well, I’m sure everyone can agree with me when I say that’s easier said than done.