Stupidity Is the Great Unfavorable
“There’s an infantilising of women in these programmes – they fall off their high heels or are still obsessed with handbags in their thirties,” agrees Geraghty. “And there’s an acceptance of a completely feminine persona, while many women do not see themselves as pink and fluffy.
“If you go back to the 1930s screwball comedies, the women never stopped talking and they never gave into the men – they had that femininity and glamour but without the infantilisation.”
The likes of Carole Lombard or Bette Davis wouldn’t have stood for the vacillations of Mr Big, it’s true: they’d have socked him in the jaw.
Source: The Scotsman
Readers talk about the likeability of a character but I think that term is misnomer. I think what we are talking about is the favorability rating because you can dislike a heroine or her ethics and still find the character intriguing; still view her character in a favorable light. What happens in our romances far too often is what the article refers to as the “infantilising of women” or the dumbing down of female characters in order to achieve a certain effect.
Too often heroines place themselves in danger to ratchet up the tension and/or to give the hero a chance to look, well, heroic. The heroine might go to a dangerous part of the neighborhood to constantly look for clues without having the first ability to defend herself. This places the heroine in peril. Cue the creepy music soundtrack. Then the hero is able to rush to her side; sometimes he is wounded, but this also gives the author the opportunity for the hero to chastise the heroine like a little girl and then they can kiss passionately. This might even lead to a hot sex scene as the hero is so wound up by his fear and anger that he must take it out on the heroine’s delicate body.
In the scenario above, the heroine acts to advance the plot. If the heroine’s character arc was that she acted stupid and immature but learned that her behavior was destructive and dangerous to herself and those around her thus she stopped acting stupidly, that would be one thing. Then the plot works to advance the character arc. In this example (and so many books), the heroine argues with the hero that she had to be there; that she was searching for the truth; that she was saving small children and their pets from danger and the peril was unavoidable.
Another example is when authors give heroine’s a smart mouth. Sometimes the heroine will be captured or put in a place needing leadership and instead of showing leadership, she’ll smart off in such as way that she should know will infuriate her captors or the enemy and place herself in grave danger. This allows two plot developments. Either it places the heroine in danger, needing to be saved by the hero or it makes her unbearably sexy to the audience such that the audience is wound up by anger and excitement that they/he must take it out on the heroine’s delicate body.
Or how about the heroine who has sex repeatedly with some guy without condoms and then is given the October surprise of pregnancy. Plot development alert. Major conflict around the corner. I always laugh at how some authors skip over the pesky condom part of the story with the obligatory “I’m clean” speech like any guy who was seconds away from the pearly gates wouldn’t lie his ass off in order to get some action. Any heroine that buys the “I’m clean” speech deserves to be given a VD rather than a night of ten orgasms that no one and no battery operated hand held equipment had ever provided before.
Then there is the Mary Sue martyr who acts to save someone in her family or her circle who is the least worthy of people. Oftentimes it’s that rapscallion of a brother but the martyrdom allows the heroine to have artificial barriers for falling in love with the hero thus prolonging the story and providing false tension. And speaking of artificiality, there are the heroines that completely lack physical self awareness. This allows the heroine to be absolutely knock down, traffic stopping gorgeous but still a good person because we all know that being aware one is knock down, traffic stopping gorgeous is one of the seven deadly sins (pride) and that brings down a character’s favorables in faster than a lightweight down the Super Slide. Another favorite is when the character believes information against the hero that she has no reason to believe because of the unreliable source: the ex-girlfriend, the bad guy, the mother of the hero who would rather eat her poodle than see her precious son married to the heroine.
Authors provide a lot of lip service about how strong, smart, independent that a heroine is but if she displays the aforementioned behaviors, I’m going to think that the heroine is an idiot regardless of how many characters are in alt over her savvy ways. Oftentimes, no one in the book calls the heroine on her foolish actions. Instead, the book goes on without a blip. Just because the characters inside the novel don’t acknowledge the crazy, it doesn’t mean that the readers do not. Instead we just think that the rest of the characters are also stupid for not recognizing how awful the heroine is and then it’s just a downward spiral of hate from there.
Simply saying that a heroine is smart doesn’t mean that she isn’t dumb as a stump. We readers have to be SHOWN through her actions and behavior that she actually has an IQ higher than a lumberjack’s leavings. If she makes a boneheaded mistake, she has to acknowledge it, not ignore it, deny it or, god forbid, be praised for it. If she owns her bad behavior, it actually raises her favorables. So lead her into the dark alley, allow her to be saved and then have her acknowledge its a stupid thing and then agree to stay home the next time that some type of combat is taking place or until she learns how to wield a gun or sword or lightsaber.
I’m never sure if the author inserts those scenes because she thinks its cute and sexy for the heroine to constantly jeopardize the safety of her person and those around her or whether it is authorial laziness. It’s easier to make the character act a certain way to achieve the desired plot effect rather than the other way around. I would much rather have the plot be integrated with the character arc of the story rather than the character to arc in accordance with the plot. It seems to me that when the character acts simply to advance the plot, the favorability rating starts its downward slide and sometimes* the book never recovers.
So many of these actions described above make the heroine look weak and in need of rescuing. She’s at least feeble in the mind, if not feeble spirited, and spineless. What’s heroic about those qualities? Just once, I would like to see the heroine give the hero a big old facer when he’s an asshole much like Jessica Trent did to Lord Dain in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. Or how about the heroine, who is placed in a precarious situation in order to obtain much needed information, say to the hero “You dickwad, I’m in peril because you were too hard headed to listen to me and the only reason you had to save my ass is because you refused to listen to my suspicions earlier. You deserved to get grazed by a bullet and no I’m not going to kiss and make it better. I’m going home and will work off my excess energy with the Bullet which gives me satisfaction without back chat.”
So I ask you readers (authors, readers, editors, you know the drill), what do you think of the “favorability factor”? Is there an increasing trend toward the infantilising of heroines? Am I just reading the wrong books?
*Caveat, sometimes the unfavorables are offset by something brilliant in the book so I’m talking generalities here and there are always exceptions.