Discussion: Preferring Male Characters

“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.

10 thoughts on “Discussion: Preferring Male Characters

  1. I’m totally unfollowing you for this šŸ˜œ

    Seriously, though, this was an awesome discussion, Line! I am now sitting here, pondering my own character preferences, and wondering whether gender has anything to do with them šŸ¤” Because now that you mention it, I think my favorite characters in multiple-POV books do also tend to be the male ones… I’ve never really noticed a preference otherwise, though. I’ll read pretty much anything (and, as you know, usually not read the synopsis first, either, at least not in great detail šŸ˜) and not really give a second thought to the protagonist’s gender. I primarily care about their personality, so regardless of whether they’re male or female, the “withdrawn lost sheep who have difficulties opening up to people”, “analytical, socially awkward, but still very caring and emotional weirdos”, and “misunderstood chosen ones who have this huge burden no one else understands” tend to be the ones I end up loving. (No, I’m definitely not projecting anything here šŸ˜…) But maybe you’re right that those kinds of more vulnerable, imperfect main characters do tend to be male more often than they are female, especially in fantasy! There are definitely way more annoyingly perfect “strong female character” protagonists that I’ve encountered in fiction than their male equivalent, and I really wish writing them that way wasn’t such a big trend! šŸ™„

    However, my brain still very much separates that from gender. I’ve read so many good books with both male and female protagonists! And I think what also helps is that I’ve always been the type of reader who gravitates towards multiple genres. I feel like the annoyingly perfect female character who can do no wrong can primarily be found in fantasy and dystopian fiction, whereas contemporary fiction especially also have female characters who are very flawed an have a lot of emotions to wade through. And since I’ve always had a ton of those types of books thrown in as well, maybe I just never associated gender with the types of characters who annoyed me so much in fantasy worlds?

    However, before you start worrying too much about your own misogyny, here’s something for you to consider: I will always, always, always prefer a male audiobook narrator over a female one. Their deeper voices are so much more pleasant to listen to than high-pitched ones, particularly if they also have a British accent to go along with it. So yeah… I guess I’m racist in addition to being misogynistic šŸ™ˆšŸ˜…šŸ™ˆ

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    1. I knew it! I finally unveiled the thing that made you see me as the weirdo I am! šŸ˜‚

      I really admire your ability to read anything, and I would still say that I also care about a character’s personality and find that it’s connected to their gender. Like the types of characters you mention… I can see them as both male and female but I would also see slight differences in how they are handled, for example that the author would subtly make me feel pity for the female ones to make us root for them while I don’t think that’s being done to the male characters. I don’t know if that made sense šŸ˜… It’s not often I feel like I’m being forced to think a certain way about male characters.

      And maybe you have a point about the non-fantasy characters. I’m reading so few of them so it’s hard for me to tell. In the latest one I read, The Gravity of Us, I didn’t like the female characters at all, but then again, I didn’t really like anything about that book šŸ˜… So the only one I can think of right now is Cath šŸ˜„

      Not being an audiobook listener (at least not very much), I can’t say I have an opinion on that but interesting šŸ˜„ I think the last one I listened to had a female narrator but the book was also a woman telling us about something she had experienced. I think that would have felt weird with a male narrator, or at least confused me a bit. And everyone loves a British accent so don’t feel weird about that šŸ˜„

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      1. This is such an interesting discussion, Line, and it’s something I’ve actually never paid much attention to! I’m barging into this comment thread because I also wanted to mention that I think it might have something to do with what genres you read, and since Naemi already mentioned that, I thought I’d just add to it.

        Fantasy definitely sometimes over-uses the “strong female character” trope which, at this point, often feels like a caricature of what it should be. Sometimes it seems that more complex female characters are thrown under the bus and instead replaced with this stereotype that is very far from reality, and it can be hard to empathise with.

        Personally, I much prefer books with multiple POVs, so I don’t think I focus on the gender of characters all that much (instead of checking that like your younger-self did, I usually check whether it’s queer šŸ˜…). That being said, I feel like I’m usually much more inclined to read a book if it’s by a female author, especially when it comes to present-day writers!

        Anyways, I really liked reading this discussion, and I think it’s very interesting to think about what biases we might have when it comes to reading and where exactly they come from!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I welcome any barging into comment threads, and I’m really glad you found this so interesting! šŸ˜ I do agree with both you and Naemi that this could be a very natural preference based on how much fantasy I read. I actually used to read more contemporaries so maybe I started to notice this trend in my reading because I’m turning more and more towards fantasy. Because, yes, there’s definitely a problem with these “strong female characters” in fantasy and there has been for a while. I’m not sure female characters in other genres completely avoid the issues around it (at least not all of them), but it’s less of a glaring problem as it is in fantasy. But again, this is my opinion based on very few examples.

        On another note, I find it so fascinating that some people prefer multiple POVs because I can’t relate to that on any level šŸ˜… But it makes sense why the gender of characters hasn’t been something you’ve noticed then. However, I also check if a book is queer and also gravitate towards female authors. There’s just something about them that makes it feel “safer” to pick up their books, like I have a bigger chance of liking them šŸ˜„

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      3. Oh yes, come barge in here, Maria!!! šŸ¤— I always love having more voices in a discussion, particularly when they agree with me and somehow phrase what I meant so much more eloquently than I did myself šŸ˜ Because yes, I agree with both of you guys that this “strong female character” thing is a fantasy problem in particular, although I think Line also has a point when she says other genres don’t avoid it altogether. Particularly in YA – I’ve actually found myself reading fewer and fewer contemporaries in that age range, and I donā€™t think it’s just because I’m growing out of it – I also just don’t like that the genre seems to feature more and more “woke” teenagers who are strong, opinionated, and, despite their shyness, end up reforming their whole community to forward-thinking, open-minded allies with their perfection and vigor for feminist ideals šŸ˜… It is often just a little much for me… But still, compared to fantasy, I feel like those characters are much rarer!

        I’m totally with Line though – single POV books all the way!!! While I do have a few multi-POV favorites (like The Liveship Traders šŸ„°), I usually end up becoming way more attached to one character than the others, and then I’ll just be desperately waiting for them to get their turn again and be super bored with the others šŸ˜…šŸ˜‚

        And now that I think about it, almost all queer books that I’ve liked a lot were by female authors, not male ones šŸ¤” Somehow, though, I tend to prefer m/m romances over f/f ones.. So yeeeaaah – you’re definitely not the only people with weird gender preferences here! šŸ˜…

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      4. Oh, I totally agree that those characters are a bit too much sometimes! But yeah, fantasy is definitely the genre where I’ve seen that trope the most, particularly in YA!

        I guess I understand that, but I just adore multiple POVs because you get to learn so much more about the characters (also, I’m eternally doomed to always like secondary characters more in single POV books, so having multiple POVs is a good way to avoid it).

        We definitely all have our preferences, Line shouldn’t worry about it šŸ˜‚ M/M romances have definitely been on the spotlight waaaay longer, with everything that entails, but I love that we’re seeing more F/F ones as well as getting more queer identities represented!

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      5. I do think that makes sense! I agree that it happens way more often with female than with male characters that authors try so hard to make them “strong” and “vulnerable” and “likable” and “pitiable” that I end up hating how overdone everything is šŸ˜… It’s kind of like how I’m immediately skeptical when a people praise a book as being “really diverse”, because I’ve often found myself hating books that were pitched that way… Nine times out of ten, the only character traits those diverse characters end up having is their diversity, and they’re otherwise so flawless that the book is absolutely boring with no plot whatsoever šŸ™ˆ It’s like these authors think you can’t promote feminism, love for the LGBTQIA+ community, or antiracism unless characters from minority groups are utterly perfect, completely unrelatable people! šŸ™„

        And yeah, I also think it’s kind of weird if audiobooks written from a female first person POV are narrated by a man šŸ˜… But that’s why I tend to avoid listening to those kinds of books unless I can’t get access any other way and really want to read them! Otherwise, I’ll just end up choosing a male POV audiobook instead, so that I won’t have that problem šŸ™ˆ

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