Hello readers, it’s me, Amanja. I read too much. Which means that I occasionally and unfortunately come across some books that don’t deserve praise. One of the biggest offenses I find in literature is the presence of severely anti-feminist tropes.
There are many reasons that I may not like a book. Often, I might just not be the right audience. However, when a book is sexist, misogynistic, or otherwise bigoted, I cannot forgive it.
Sometimes I get the hint that a book will be sexist before I even read it. I shut those down quickly in my inbox:
This guy is trying to peddle a lengthy pamphlet on Amazon about how you can fix yourself up to be wife material. Hard pass bro. Unfortunately, he did not respond to my offer to review his “book.”
I have stated before in a few reviews that I will automatically give a 1 star review to any book that unironically perpetuates negative stereotypes against women. These books are a big part of the general problem of finding equality. Many of these tropes are so ingrained in our culture that people don’t even notice them.
I’ll try to be brief but let’s break down a few of these problems. I will not be discussing titles and specific books because I am trying not to give those offenders any more publicity than they already have. I am sure you may be able to guess which anti-feminist books and shows I may be alluding to.
Problematic Female Characters
Representation doesn’t stop at including a female character in your book. Just because one is present doesn’t mean your book is inclusive. In order to have true representation there must be many types of characters from all genders, races, age groups, etc. And in order to not be offensive they must be complex, interesting, and not offensive derogatory stereotypes.
The book that I’m currently reading is only the most recent one to inspire this post. There are many others I’ve written about in the past with various degrees of the same problem. The women in these stories fall into a few basic categories of problematic:
(There will be sarcasm, please read in the appropriate tone of voice)
The Victim is your standard damsel in distress or your murder victim seen only in flashbacks. The Victim’s sole purpose is to drive the male hero’s motivation. They are the one to be saved or the one to be avenged. They have no personality or character traits of their own that aren’t tied to the man. They are wife, daughter, sister, lover, whatever it may be but they might not even have a name.
The victim shows women as weak. Or worse, shows them as objects. They are taken away from the male protagonist. Who cares how this affects her? How does it affect the man who lays claim to her? That’s the story!
The Sex Object
This one is obvious. It’s in every comedy made in the 80s and 90s. It’s everywhere throughout history. Women are seen in terms of physical beauty. We have them described by how they look not how they act. The plot is moved forward by the male protagonist’s desire to use this female for sex.
It might be disguised by use of the word “love” but if the female character isn’t given autonomy she’s still The Sex Object.
Powerful but Evil
Powerful but Evil characters are a budding feminist’s distraction. She finally gets to see a strong female character but the character is shown as being in the wrong. The Villainess can only come into power by dismantling the society that has chained her down, therefore she is wrong.
Witches are easy examples but we also see it in female CEOs who are raging bitches without a heart. Or ruthless female lawyers or cops who have no time for the touch of a man, they’ve sold their souls for success!
The implication is that in order for a woman to gain power she must sell her soul. She has to become aligned with the devil or throw a man off his perch. She must be ruthless, heartless, and well a bitch in order to gain a foothold on the ladder of success. This is an incredibly harmful viewpoint to have and makes people disrespect powerful women even more.
One of the Boys
One of the Boys could also be called Not Like Those Other Girls. This girl is one of the guys. She drinks, watches sports, curses, and perpetuates negative stereotypes about all genders. She embodies the worst stereotypes that males have to face while abandoning some of the best ones women have to offer.
She will always be in conflict with any other female characters. This is the character type that most perpetuates in fighting between women. Women aren’t allowed to get along, if they did they might overthrow the patriarchy faster.
She may get to go through a makeover in which she is “civilized” and made marriage material by putting on some makeup and learning to hold back burps. Because being a girl who likes sports is totally fine for a friend but not worthy for the love of a man until she’s also prettied up.
Dream Girl (Manic Pixie or Otherwise)
One of the Boys might also become Dream Girl. Or Dream Girl might just appear to the male hero like a male fantasy blown in on a breeze. She’s pretty, likes every single thing the man likes including not using condoms, and doesn’t talk back.
She’s only her to serve her master and look great on his side. She might have a quirky personality that helps balance out his seriousness. She completes the man but gets nothing in return.
Problematic Plot Devices
In addition to problematic characters we have problematic plot devices. These are the pre-approved paths that a female character is allowed to travel. They box women into a cage, allowing them only to play second to a male protagonist. And even when they’re the hero of the story their motivation is still driven solely by a male character.
Rape is the go to plot device when a female character needs conflict. It can be used as a backstory to explain past trauma and current behavior. It can be used to motivate the female character to violence. Or it can just be used to knock them down a peg once they start getting too empowered.
Rape causes the female character to always be trapped by the male attacker. He is what is always driving her for the rest of the story. She is never able to escape his touch.
Rape works as a plot device because it’s real and it’s scary and it’s extreme. But overuse of it starts to diminish the experience of real victims. Clearly not all rape victims become crazed maniacs on revenge trips. They’re even stronger than that in real life.
Fridging is a term used to describe the plot of having a, typically female, character murdered near the beginning of a story in order to propel the hero’s journey. It uses the character as nothing more than canon fodder.
Career vs Romance and “Having it All”
The notion that a woman can’t or even the notion that a woman should “have it all” is nonsense. There is no end goal for everyone’s life purpose.
Having it all refers to having a fulfilling career, a husband, and at least one biological child. This is some outdated cis breeder propaganda.
When used as a plot device it is typically a conflict of interests involving a very frazzled and stressed out woman trying to succeed in a male dominated career while also breastfeeding and keeping her husband supplied with orgasms.
Guess what, some woman do “have it all” and they have all of those things very successfully. But also, many many women don’t want those things at all. Many women don’t want children, don’t want a spouse, or even don’t want a traditional career. Individuals are different and it’s harmful to put this one view onto young readers or viewers over and over again as if they must make a choice in black and white.
Mommy’s Sole Purpose
If a woman does choose to have children she is typically portrayed as no longer her own person. Suddenly she is a baby oven and then a mother. She loses her own identity only to live through her children. When a mother character steps outside of the mothering role she is portrayed as negligent, cold, or selfish.
What’s even worse is when a female character’s path is motherhood against her will. A character might be raped or otherwise forced into carrying a pregnancy to term because it’s “the right thing to do.” She is not given an option, she is not given autonomy over her own life and body and she is not her own character. She’s diminished only to be mom and to live only for her children.
The Male Gaze/Fantasy
This is not solely a problem with male authors, this is a problem with literature. I’ve seen it with female authors as well as they describe male characters objectifying women.
The male gaze or the male fantasy is how women are viewed through the lens of a male author or male characters. Often female characters are described far differently than their male counterparts.
Male characters will be described by their actions and their titles. A male character may be a Doctor, Lawyer, King, Salesman, etc who had a big defining moment in his past that describes who he is as a person.
Female characters will be described by their looks. I’ve seen this countless times when an author will not visually describe a single male character outside of maybe physical build while going into great detail of every female character that even comes near the story.
Even a woman passing on the street completely unrelated to the plot will be described in terms of hair flowing in the breeze and statuesque legs striding over cracks in the sidewalk. This is when all the talk of ample bosoms and silky skin comes into play.
When did you last read a male character described in terms of skin texture?
It diminishes female characters to their outward appearance. Their accomplishments do not matter. Their actions do not matter. They are props to move the male’s story along.
Sexism Toward Men
Many of these books are not sexist in only one direction. They often amplify negative stereotypes of men as well. It is extremely insulting to portray all male characters as completely unable to keep their libido in check, for example.
Men are described as being completely unable to control their actions in the presence of a pretty lady. How unbelievably weak does a man have to be that he must sexually assault someone because he saw some side boob? Hot take, most men aren’t slobbering rapists and are able to function in a society.
It is seen as manly to be aggressive and fight with violence instead of having a constructive conversation. It is seen as manly to objectify women. And it is seen as manly to hide emotions and serious mental health problems.
I know many men who are far more capable than these stereotypes make them out to be. It is just as diminutive to place men in this light as it is to place women in the sex object roll.
It is harmful to everyone to put these black and white labels on people. Everyone is entitled to their emotions. Everyone is capable of rising above violence. People have motivations that go far beyond sex and revenge.
Authors need to do better for all genders, not just for cis females. Anti-feminist literature is a term that can be applied to any gender degradation.
Lazy and Uninformed Writing
I wrote a review for a book earlier this year that I felt was very anti-feminist. It happened to be a book requested to me by the author so I confronted him about it. I told him I was concerned that he had never spoken to an adult female before. His misconceptions about how women act and think were just that far removed from reality. He claims he has healthy relationships with adult women but I still have my doubts.
If an author is going to write characters that they are not personally familiar with they should at least attempt to learn a little about it. If you don’t know any adult women with whom you feel comfortable asking questions there are a ton of internet forums that would be happy to help.
Literary tropes and stereotypes are lazy. They’re already out there in the world you just have to apply them to your book. No creation necessary. Likewise, readers get comfortable with them and don’t question it. They wrap themselves in this security blanket and never leave.
We all need to do better. Call out sexist and bigoted tropes and stereotypes. Boycott unhealthy and harmful media. Change the freaking patterns already!
I vow to always tear apart sexist and anti-feminist literature without mercy. Regardless of who the author is or any other redeeming factors of the book I will post 1 star reviews for any book that is insulting to any gender.
Please add your name in the comments if you vow to smash the patriarchy with me. Together we can bring down anti-feminist literature and help readers open their eyes to the wide world of books that don’t continue to harm our culture.