For a long time, the world of fantasy, sci-fi and young adult books was largely populated by young boy protagonists. That's shifted, thankfully, though there is still a dearth of diversity. But the shift in the gender gap has highlighted how bias in the real world has crossed over to how people experience made-up ones.
Author and editor Danielle Binks brought the issue up on Twitter. She works primarily in Young Adult, and has said she has noticed that in negative reviews, readers don't say they didn't enjoy the story structure or found the prose boring. They often just say how stupid and bad the female protagonist is:
Binks thinks it's especially bad when the female characters getting dragged are teen girls. It seems like there's not even room for characters to be messy and make mistakes when they're kids if they're also women.
But have you considered how boring the book would be if they weren't flawed?
Her musings reminded her of something Shonda Rhimes recently said about how she sees female characters described in television.
Rhimes thinks the term "strong smart women" is condescending. We don't say Dumb Weak Women to describe other characters—unless we're really horrible, I guess.
Binks says that her observation isn't new, but we should consider why we applaud flawed male characters and now women, especially if we actually want to read something compelling.
Binks followers agreed that they'd noticed this as both readers and writers considering reviews:
She also offered some of her favorite complicated female characters in fiction, if you're dying to check some out after reading this thread:
Phew! That's a lot to read. If you just want to watch a show, she also recommended the new Black-ish spinoff, Grown-ish.
Of course, if you hate a character so much you can't get through something, that's understandable. But Binks encourage readers to use challenging characters as an exercise in empathy:
Start practicing empathy in fiction and eventually you learn to do it in real life. Full circle.