Dear Author reviewer Sunita made a post (itself inspired by a post on JesseWave) about why she was no longer reading as much M/M as she once had. Her discussion of declining quality of course resonated with me and reminded me to always make sure my own books are the very best I can write, submit, and edit.
But it's point 4 of her post that really spoke to my concerns as a reader, and inspired this one:
I’m tired of the woman-bashing. Women are evil plot devices, BFFs of the narrator/main character who exist to be sounding boards or comic relief. Generally they can’t get a date or you don’t want them to. It’s lazy, stereotypical writing and no mature genre with standards would put up with it. And that’s if there are women in the books at all. I just finished a short novel in which there are no on-page women. Granted, that may be because the entire word count was taken up by sex scenes, but having no women in a contemporary romance is quite a feat.I think this is an important criticism to make, and I never get tired of reading it or discussing it (and if you're the same, the discussion going on in the comments of Sunita's post is an incredibly fascinating and worthwhile read). I hope that my own books prove my commitment to doing better. So in the spirit of rewarding authors who do well, here's a list of my favourite M/M female characters.
Both male and female authors (of a variety of QUILTBAG orientations) engage in woman-bashing. But while women writers are criticized for it, male writers are called out much less frequently. All too often, gay male authors are valorized as something special whether their work is good or not, whether they insult their readership (which is majority female) or not.
|The second book, because Ben's so sexy ;)|
The two Under the Hill books are truly remarkable for their wonderful characterization, both of the main couple and the supporting cast. The female characters are no exception to this rule. They're agents in the plot with diverse personalities and goals and motivations, and they exist to do more than help or hinder the main relationship (which is the base measurement of a good female character in an M/M, in my eyes). They're also women of colour, which makes them unique on this list. Queens and goddesses and priestesses from British, Irish, and Indian mythology. Each unique and compelling and well-rounded with virtues and flaws. Seriously, if you haven't read these books you truly are missing out on a pair of gems.
2. Donata in Dark Soul V by Aleksandr Voinov
Donata is a dark horse. Reading about women being cheated on isn't a topic I enjoy, and in the first few volumes of Dark Soul, we're told that Stefano is in love with her and doesn't want to let her go, despite how compelling he finds Silvio. It's a great, genuine conflict with no obvious resolution, but Donata herself isn't all that compelling: she's beautiful and poised and, well, arm candy. A very pretty doll on a shelf. In the fifth book, however, she really comes into her own. How she responds to Stefano's admissions, how she chooses to resolve the series' romantic conflict, is a breath of fresh air. Donata easily could have just been an object, a woman acted upon, even if her arc came to the same end, but instead she has more agency than you ever expect. She determines her fate, she drives the story's resolution, romantic and sexual. All of it combines to make me think that maybe that was the plan all along: to have her first appear somewhat shallow and flat, but then surprise you in a very good way.
3. Angelica in Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander
Shattered Glass isn't a perfect book by any means, and the concept behind Angelica seems dangerous on the first pass: the gay main character's fiancee, the latest in a line of seemingly disposable women he can't commit to. Latest and last, because of course by the end of the book he realizes he's actually been gay all along. Angelica could easily be a shrew, an over the top example of why all women are just totally wrong for the main character, but she's not. She's a human being, and the book doesn't automatically forgive the main character for his behaviour toward her just because he's gay and figuring himself out. Part of his arc includes acknowledging Angelica's feelings, talking things over with her, making up like adults. If only all exes and beards in M/M could be given those same (very basic) dignities.
4. Tate in The Usual Apocalypse by Christine Price
Tate's one of my favourite character types: the sidekick/assistant who's frighteningly competent at their job (think Ianto Jones of Torchwood). But Tate is more than someone to move the plot forward by keeping the hero from having to do all that boring research and paperwork. She's smart and funny, full of memorable snark and some of the novel's best lines, a character with wit and drive who totally "clicks" with the hero and who you as a reader just really like spending time with. Sometimes that's all you need.
5. Natalie in Shivaree by Cara McKenna
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat because Natalie is an actual POV character in this hot series filled with M/M/F sex. However, I'm including her because this isn't a typical romance (M/M, M/M/F, or otherwise), and Natalie represents an intrusion on an established gay relationship. In your typical M/M book, you can only imagine how badly Natalie would be written and treated, and in an M/F/M, she'd be some kind of irresistible goddess that is just too perfect and lovely and sexy for only one man. Here, she's an actual woman, someone I found it easy to relate to. She's attracted to a pair of hot guys, has no concept of the substantial issues in their relationship, and stumbles right on in, shamelessly chasing her desires while also helping both men to work out their issues. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say it's unpredictable and massively satisfying, and what's more, Natalie is never once cast off as a homewrecking whore, nor a kindly saviour, here to selflessly magic away a gay couple's troubles. And the sex is pure wish-fulfillment. ;)
So there's my list of favourite portrayals. Have your own? Disagree with mine? I'd love to hear from you. :)
And if there's any M/M authors reading, take this as a challenge! Include a positive, well-rounded female character with a life and motivation of her own in your next work. Go on, do it!