Where Are the Women? The Importance of Female Protagonists

I talked recently about doing a textual lineage with the high school students I work with. What was your favorite book as a child? What is your favorite book now?

One trend I noticed is that most of the books students named as their favorites (or even books they remembered reading) had male protagonists. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Maze Runner, The Giver, The Outsiders, to name a few.

This should not have been surprising.

But now’s the time to not just notice but to act. I started my column Favorite Female Characters because I realized that nearly all my fictional role models were men. I’ve been guilty of favoring male characters, and my own textual lineage is full of them: Bilbo Baggins, Armand (from the Vampire Chronicles series), Felix Harrowgate, and any number of characters not mentioned on my lineage but who influenced my literary development (Goku, Vegeta, Slade, Batman, Nightwing, etc).

Books with male protagonists are meant to be for all genders. Everyone should be able to relate to a man’s story–as if a man’s story is the only story. It shocks me to think about how many people (not just the small population of high school students I work with) are implicitly told that women’s stories don’t matter because we don’t read books that feature their journeys. If we read books starring women, women become humanized. And if people of all genders can see themselves in a female character, that’s one huge step forward in ending violence against women.

As of the 2015 report from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds. Reading books with female protagonists is not going to change this statistic on its own, but it is an active way to ensure we are conscious in our book choices to emphasize women as human. Please, go through your bookshelves. Recommend your friends and family read books starring women.