I’m back this Friday participating in another Let’s Talk Bookish post, as always hosted by the amazing Rukky @ Eternity Books and awesome Dani @ The Literary Lion! For this week, our topic is: Protagonists and Gender, recommended by Mahita @ Amateur Teen Writer.
The official topic is a little bit longer and narrower: do you prefer male or female protagonists. I definitely have Opinions (I always have opinions, oops) and I’m curious to hear other’s thoughts on the topic!
So, when I initially read the prompt, I was like: Oh, that’s easy. Female protagonists, all the way. It’s for the same reason that I also always create or play as a female character in video games, when given the choice. The reason for that is simple. Growing up, I struggled to find female heroes to read about. Sure, I loved a lot of the fantasy I read: The Lord of the Rings, of course, but also series like The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, randomly finding history books by G.A. Henty (that were super old and even addressed the readers as “Dear Lads,”) and many others. Growing up, I didn’t…truly realize that I was missing, because society ingrains it in you that white and male is the expectation, the average, the standard, the default.
So, when I first discovered and read Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce? To say it was life changing is an UNDERSTATEMENT. I saw a girl who reminded me of me. A tomboy who desperately needed to fit in with the boys. She became a girl and woman I wanted to become: strong, fearless, true to herself and willing to stand up for those around her. Alanna is the HERO. It was the first time I realized that could be possible. She opened my eyes to the idea that was what women were capable of. I quickly devoured every book that Tamora Pierce wrote and then started discovering more characters; more female writers. It made me want to write books, myself, so I could continue to break the idea that women didn’t belong in SFF.
It wasn’t until I got older–much older–that I realized much more needed to break than that.
Destroying the Binary
That feeling of seeing myself on the page for the first time after only being exposed to male protagonists will always stick with me. (Obviously, since it’s been a decade since that’s happened.) I believe it’ll be with me for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I joined the blogging community and had my own worldview expanded that I realized how many identities also have the chance to experience that. Basically, if you’re not an able-bodied, straight white guy, then seeing yourself on the page for the first time after only seeing able-bodied, straight white bros, is there. Yet, for me, it’s much more probable, as a able-bodied white woman, to see myself on the page.
But what about a queer Black woman? A disabled trans man? A culture not based on Western ideals, traditions or beliefs?
Every single person should have the opportunity to see themselves represented in books. BookS, plural. Not just once, but over and over and over again. In the pages, on the cover, through the author, again and again and again.
As a reader, I will always prefer to read books about female protagonists, because it makes me feel seen in a way nothing else can. I still love books with male protagonists, of course. Yet, it’s also very important that each of us continue to break apart the expected binary and continue to read books that don’t represent us, but do represent those who have traditionally been underrepresented: books about and by BIPOC, queer, disabled writers and protagonists. This is something I’m trying to do a better job at, because the more we support these books, the better chance publishing will listen and realize the demand is–and already has been–high and should be met.
Just in case you’re looking for some books with some incredible female protagonists, I did want to highlight a few recs! See:
And, because I haven’t done the best job of reading books with non-binary, queer or trans protagonists, I highly recommend you look through this incredible list of recommendations, curated by The Quiet Pond!
I think it’s normal to have a preference when you read to prefer to read certain books, in relation to protagonists and gender. But, I also think we need to demand publishing do a better job at making sure that everyone has a chance to be represented regularly, so no one ever has to stick with the “traditional default”.
What about you? Agree or disagree? Have any thoughts you’d like to offer? Let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading!