Wednesday, 7 March 2012

"Kill the bitch" - a couple thoughts on women in m/m fiction

Real life is currently extremely busy, due in large part to a madcap deadline we're all chasing at the day job (and regulatory requirements - I'm not going into any kind of detail, but things are a bit frantic at the moment). It's definitely the kind of frantic where a slotted-in free day is necessary to preserve sanity (and catch up with important stuff). My to-do list is a good 40 items long, and people are starting to send me reminders about stuff, so I'm way behind on most of them, too.

Anyway. Writing's so slow you could say it's not happening (no, not even the 500 words "minimum" I've set myself at the start of the year). Real life has swallowed that, too, but I'm pretty optimistic still - the Muse is plotting in the background.

One day, I want to blog at length about women in m/m fiction and reader responses to female characters. (I can use only the women in my stories, since I know them best, and get the responses pretty much directly). I'm not sure today is the day to do it; it's contentious like hell, and actually somewhat disturbing. I do hope I haven't created an "evil ex-wife" - the character that a huge amount of m/m writers seem to fall back onto when they need a villain and a knife-wielding maniac who jumps out of the bushes just as the two male lovers are about to set off into the sunset.

Then, there's Katya of Special Forces, a character who has my readers split about 70:30 in favour of hating her bones. (Amazing that Katya gets off far worse than Vadim, who's objectively committed far worse crimes than she has - and the one thing they did both, Vadim did with intent to kill and actually inflicted some serious injury, too).

I'm not sure how I feel about a number of reviewers hating Donata and wishing her dead so Stefano is free for Silvio. That sounds oddly like a gay relationship is somehow "better" than a heterosexual one - or is the "die, bitch die!" reflex somehow natural and conditioned into readers? Have readers read so many stories where the "old relationship" dies with the death of the previous partner that they expect it? Has it become a trope, a cliche, an expected turn of events, even "the way to do it"? (Yep, several people seem to expect Donata's death in part 5 - far more than those who expect either/or Silvio's or Stefano's death.)

I find that puzzling. As a bisexual writer, the "kill the woman!" reflex feels somewhat disturbing. I've been in love with women - gut-wrenchingly so. My best friends and business partners are women. It's entirely possible that I'll fall in love again with a woman. Just because a person is female doesn't make them "lesser" or "evil" or an "obstacle" in the context of fiction - not even m/m fiction (and how odd that women writers and women readers pour so much hatred out on women... but that ties into a different theory which I want to develop at some point in peace and quiet).

Katya had a number of hardcore haters, too, with people desiring the most gruesome deaths for her; how odd that her racist, rapist, genocidal husband gets off pretty much scott-free. Apparently the worst thing a woman can commit in m/m fiction is to love one of the main characters and have any claims over him.

That is an aspect of m/m fiction I will never understand - and I don't feel much like indulging the "kill the bitch!" reflex. I'm not doing it. I'm not killing any of these strong-hearted, courageous, tough women. Not one.


  1. I think m/m is really nasty with the woman-hate. I personally don't mind female-characters, though I'd rather not read too clear details of their sex-lives (I simply have no interest in that, that is all.)

    There are women I do hate with passion in m/m-fiction, but that is due to their personality, and even more than that, their actions, not their gender.

    As a huge Marvel-fanboy, lover of Mystique etc, I am still waiting for books with strong female characters (like Donata), as it does no one any favours, if m/m continues excluding females. I'm one of the readers who prefer realistic books, and gay utopia is way too far off in lala-land. If all the characters are just always male, and even worse, gay males, it gets boring. This is coming from a gay dude.

    Even though I don't much care for Donata, she is one strongheaded woman, and I respect her. I just have few personal irks with her character.
    I have trouble understanding why someone would hate her with raging passion as she isn't actually standing in the way of Stefano and Silvio, or wanting her dead. (Hell, I'd rather keep her than Silvio if I had to choose. Don't shoot me?)

    In m/m, there's room for bi-characters, and even on-screen straight sex. But it will have limited readership. I have no interest in woman-anatomy, nor want to know how it works, or read pages of breast-play (I'm an arse-man myself), but I do like bi-characters. They come with great amount of angst usually. :)

    So yeah, I understand dislike to certain degree from gay men, but what really boggles my mind is this: I've never seen gay readers go 'eww straight sex, ew women, die bitch die'... But I see it from straight women all the time.

    1. I really don't understand this mindset either. IDK I think people get too caught up in what love is acceptable and not acceptable. I love strong female characters, especially supporting ones in the world of M/M. I think too that there are different types of love, and what works for one couple isn't what works for the next. I hope author's are strong enough to stand against what their reader's might want to happen. In real life complications don't usually just die off, you have to deal with them, and sometimes everything isn't tied up with a pretty bow.

  2. I have less than zero tolerance. I can and have stopped reading m/m stories at page one after spying the slightest trace of it, and that's AFTER carefully considering blurbs and reviews to avoid anything misogynistic.

    I have no problem understanding it. Internalized misogyny is a killer. It hits all women to some degree, and it's a heavy burden to fight against. I'm not saying I'm free of it myself, but I interrogate it whenever I can.

    I absolutely love writing great secondary women characters in m/m. There's a great freedom involving in writing women where sexuality isn't the primary focus.

  3. I've been getting disgusted my this misogynistic stuff since my days in fandom, and was sad to see the same attitude from some m/m writers.

    I like writing female characters. In such male focused stories they can give another perspective, a change of tone. And the way the male characters relate to them is useful characterisation too. One of my couples, one of the guys was a bit nervous around women, not sure how to relate to them. The other would be their BFF within five minutes of meeting them. So it gave me the chance to add more elements to their characterisation.

  4. I do think 'yes', it has been conditioned into m/m readers, just like HEAs have.

    I would be disappointed in you for going that direction with Donata. It's not realistic for the woman to always die or be the "evil ex-wife" so that the boys can go on to their HEA with no impediment or guilt. In reality, it's never so clear cut and there SHOULD be guilt. The woman gets hurt and her heart gets stomped on in this situation just as much as the man's. Most women aren't cock-blockers. They just want to come out the other side without being shredded. Sure, there's anger and resentment. But not everyone is petty and self-serving.

    If she loves Stefano, and he loves her, then they figure out together what works best for both of them. Real adults talk like grown-ups; they don't exact petty, pointless revenge. They may go forward together. It may be separate. But they'll decide together because that's the way it SHOULD be, despite what we see on Jerry Springer's show. (I've no idea if non-Americans will get that reference.)

    Also, not every story has to be HEA or HFN for the male MCs - that's something else that's conditioned in m/m romance. I like happy endings as much as the next person, but sometimes the journey is still beautiful even if the end is unexpected and not necessarily happy for all.

  5. Thanks for this. One of 2011's most popular books had a careless misogyny in the first half that I couldn't wrap my head around. Maybe it got better in the second half, but I didn't stick around to find out. And I'm reading one right now in which the main adult female character is a bitch (so far). The thing is, it wasn't necessary to make her that. There could have been conflict aplenty even if she had been a decent person (it was just built into the relationship).

    I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the reaction to Donata, but I still am.

    (I'm not anonymous but I can't get my credentials accepted -- VacuousMinx)

  6. I have yet to figure out the need to bash women in m/m literature. Sometimes the current SO/EX is an understanding (ie she prob knew before you did, you DA!) and forgiving person. But they are very rarely written this way :( I read straight/het romance just as often as m/m romance and find what call unredeamable characters. I actually read a whole series even though I HATED the female MC. I wanted to find out how all of the supporting casts' stories worked out but it was a struggle to get past characteristics of the MC that really had no need to exist. Not sure why it seems necessary for a strong female character to be a bitch in most cases. *shrug*

    I really want to see Stefano come clean to Donata and have her be understanding..........but that is just me wanting Stefano to have his cake and eat it too >.<

  7. I am also disturbed by the threads of misogyny apparent in more m/m books than I would like. Sometimes this isn't just that the woman must die/be the villain in order for the heroes to live their HEA but in a hero who codes as female not in a transgendered/queer sense but in that the writer has dressed up a stock charcter in a stock romance arc probably because m/m sells.

    I find my self disturbed (and disturb myself) because I know that one of the things that attracts me to m/m stories is the particular sense of agency and possibility that the heroes have as men in my mind and through my understanding of how society works. I think that how power/agency exists in individuals and between people and is structured by society is one of the core elements of the romance journey. It seems to me the construction of women in what can be quite ugly ways in the m/m genre is the canary in the coal mine warning of this.