The Problem of the Passive Princess

The book has female characters, who act like women, rather than cardboard cut-outs or men in dresses. They talk to each other about things other than men. But is that enough? There seems to be a problem with women, (and it nearly always is women), who talk up their strengths, who take the lead in stories, and then don’t do anything.

If the plot carries on around them, if they only react to other people’s actions, if they sit around and wait for things to come to them, is there really a point to them being there? If the strong independent princess can handle a sword as well as any man in the kingdom but doesn’t, is there any reason for her learning to first place?

What bothers me most is not just that it happens, but we don’t always notice. Hell, I’ve done it myself. When I wrote Apple, I handed the draft to betas, feeling pleased. I had a bright, brave little heroine, who survives on her own and saves her big brother from a nasty fate. That was great, right? And the feedback came back that it as okay, but Apple was very passive. She doesn’t do much. Things happen and she reacts to them. She doesn’t really do anything to try and change her situation.

That feedback hurt, probably more than anything else I’ve received. I thought it couldn’t be true, but when I read back I could see their point. Plot fell into her lap. Other people did things and she reacted. At no point did she do anything as simple as even go exploring the house. I rewrote to take care of the issue, but I felt disappointed in myself that I had let it happen. And it’s not just me. I’ve beta’ed books and seen the same effect. Read them and been unable to point it out.

It’s not just  books either. My partner was discussing a TV series he’d started watching, and was saying how it wasn’t great but it was still watch-able.

“It’s got a very male dominated cast,” he said.

“That’s not necessarily a problem for me,” I replied, trying to decide if I should watch it myself.

“Well, it should.”

And he was right. It should bother me that predominantly male casts exist because it says that women aren’t necessary for stories. And it should bother me when, even when they are there, they don’t do anything towards solving the plot. It says that plot happens to women, around women, but is not controlled by them. And more, that we accept this happening.