I’ve been reading a number of popular works on Wattpad recently. Something I’ve noticed about the novels in the increasingly popular Teen Fiction genre is that the protagonists (who are almost always female) are written as being absolutely perfect. Some authors have tried to avoid writing their characters as ‘Mary Sues’, and some have gone for ‘feminist’ protagonists who break the stereotypes you generally see in these online novels. Thing is, the authors don’t really seem to understand what feminism is. In addition, there are some dodgy ways that Wattpad authors try and fail to write feminist stories, and I’d like to talk about a few of them over time.
Not like the other girls.
This is when the author decides that it’s time to try defying stereotypes, and writes their main character – Mia – as a tomboy of sorts. She doesn’t wear makeup, she hates One Direction, and she loves being ‘one of the boys’. Maybe she’s into sports, maybe she doesn’t care about her looks. Hell, maybe she even orders a burger instead of a salad when she goes out.
Thing is, it doesn’t matter what Mia enjoys doing, because the focus of her personality and interests is on what she doesn’t do. This is often voiced in the story itself – because people like Mia firmly believe that they are not like the other girls.
This isn’t just about Wattpad characters, either – you see this in pop culture all the time! The main character is very proud to that they aren’t a ‘plastic’ girl who is interested in makeup and clothes and boys. They care about things that really matter!
Mia is everything that the other girls are not, and that’s what makes her good, the story tells you. Being yourself is a decent message in itself, but that isn’t what it’s about in this case. Mia isn’t a feminist character for not caring what boys think and not wearing makeup. She looks around at the other girls at her generic American high school and believes that she’s better than all of them by default. She doesn’t own a pair of high heels so she isn’t an ‘airhead’ like everyone else. So long as she’s putting people down to create a pedestal for herself, Mia is hardly a female character to root for.
If you’re going to write a character and you don’t want her to be a stereotypical Wattpad heroine, that’s good. If you want her to enjoy things that aren’t as feminine as the interests of her classmates, that’s good too! Your character can have platonic relationships with male characters and choose not to wear makeup. She can hate Starbucks and never wear dresses. She can even eat the god damn burger.
Just know that the second your character looks down on the girls around her for being ‘fake’ or wearing lipstick, you’ve failed to write a feminist character. You’re saying that the more feminine a girl appears, the less deserving of respect she is. That isn’t a message anyone should be spreading.