Legit Tip #196
or - “On Writing ‘Gender Conforming’ Women”
As people started to realize that not all women are the same - because, you know, we’re people - we started getting a lot of stories that featured women who didn’t precisely conform to their gender roles.
This is an awesome, amazing things. I loved that I grew up with female characters who didn’t love fashion, who were nerds, who liked science, etc.
But the thing is… some women do like fashion. Some women hang with large girl groups. Some women LIVE for the latest makeup trends. And that doesn’t make them any less important as characters than the women who don’t fit these supposedly “stereotypical” roles.
Unfortunately, a lot of writers are scared to create women who have female interests or otherwise conform to society’s standards of what a woman should be like. Maybe they’re afraid that liking makeup and fashion will make her seem shallow. Maybe they have some other reason for being afraid to write these characters.
Either way, it’s NOT something to be afraid of. But there are some things to keep in mind if you want to write this “kind” of woman in your story.
1. Elle Woods
This is basically the reason I decided to write this post. Legally Blonde to this day remains one of my favorite films. The reason for that? Elle Woods is a total badass.
You can learn a lot about writing this type of character just by watching that film. Elle is smart, driven, and ambitious, even if she loves fashion and cute small dogs she can fit into purses. She may have chosen law school because she wanted to follow her ex-boyfriend there, but she learned and grew as a character and realized what was really important to her. And also that her ex was a jerk.
All this to say…
2. Let Women Have More Characteristics than “She’s a Woman”
The biggest problem with stereotypical “girl” roles is the fact that these characters usually have no personality beyond the aforementioned liking fashion and makeup and being part of a girl squad. That’s often true whether the girl is a sweetheart or a catty bitch.
Like I already said… Elle may like fashion and boys and the color pink, but these aren’t her defining characteristics. Her defining characteristics are her intelligence and her drive and her ambition - and especially her confidence to stand up for herself even when everybody else is putting her down.
So when you want to write a character like this, remember. Maybe she’s not so confident. Or maybe she’s super-confident. Maybe she has anxiety issues. Maybe she’s incredibly passionate about her hobbies, which can absolutely include makeup. Nothing wrong with a girl who’s biggest ambition is to become a badass fashion designer. That takes a lot of goddamn work.
Just don’t let it be the hobby that defines the character. Your hobbies are not your personality, and this is very much true when writing female characters. Two girls who love makeup can have totally different philosophies and ways of thinking about the world.
3. Women are Diverse…Duh
Shocker, I know. But women come in all shapes and sizes and from many different ways of life. So write “stereotypical” women who grew up in poor homes, others who grew up in poor homes, some who suffered abuse and some who have amazing family relationships. I don’t think there’s much else to say. Oh, except…
4. Women are REALLY Diverse FFS
Like goddamn, why is it that only straight white cis women can be the stereotypical girly-girls? Black girls can be super into fashion. I follow trans girls on Youtube who have taught me SO much about makeup. And lipstick lesbians exist. Nothing against butch girls, of course - I say this as a woman who likes women. I’m just pointing out the obvious - a bi, lesbian, pan, or ace girl can love stereotypically girly things too.
5. Love Your Bitches
I’m going to come out and say it - some girls are bitches But just because a girl is a b-word doesn’t mean she’s automatically a horrible person. Misguided, sure, but not necessarily evil like a lot of fiction wants us to think.
So, love your b-words. Give them a little more attention. Show WHY they are the way that they are and, more importantly, GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO GROW. People change and a bitch can become a better person. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking every bitch needs some sort of grand comeuppance. That’s bad writing and just plain bad for women. (Let’s stop pitting girls against each other. Come on.)
Really, I just want to see better written girly-girls in fiction. Even some of my favorite writers have fallen victim to thinking that strong female characters can’t be the “typical girl”… whatever that is.