"Too Stupid To Live"
Updated: Mar 4
Let’s talk about the plight of "stupid" female literary characters.
See the original Facebook post here.
How many times have you read a fantasy book and either found yourself calling the female main character TSTL ("Too Stupid To Live"), or read reviews disparaging her as such?
As a female writer of FMCs (Female Main Characters) I'm here to (hopefully) put this “TSTL” label to rest, because it’s not only unfair, but terribly sexist. Here’s why.
First of all, I’d like to point out the sheer number of MMCs (Male Main Characters) in fantasy books that have made terrible, idiotic, literal war-losing/nation-dooming choices: Rand al’Thor (WOT), Kvothe (Name of the Wind), and Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit), to name a scant few. Now, when you read reviews of these books, you will never see the term TSTL to describe to MMCs, even though these characters repeatedly make terrible, sometimes-life-and/or-limb-threatening mistakes. What you WILL see are words like “stubborn,” “aggressive,” “head-strong,” and “resilient” – but never “stupid.” Even when these characters’ actions throughout the books(s) are incredibly, inarguably stupid.
Meanwhile, you’ll see FMC’s making these same (or even lesser) mistakes - not trusting someone they should, taking time to get acclimated to their new (oftentimes magical and/or dangerous) surroundings, or making risky decisions that, more often than not, end up paying off in the end – and yet these young women are often labeled as “stupid,” “idiotic,” or “annoying.”
(And before someone chimes in and says, “I’ve always said Rand was stupid,” or “But Bella really WAS stupid!” I think we all know that we’re going by the rule in this discussion, not the exception.)
Conversely, if a female character is strong, makes good choices, catches on quickly, adapts to her newfound magic/power/skills with little struggle (etc.), we write her off as a “Mary Sue” - a (specifically female) character who is disparaged for unrealistically lacking in flaws or weaknesses.
So, let me get this straight – if a FMC (whose life was just turned upside down) initially struggles, makes poor decisions, and/or winds up putting herself in dangerous situations because of her own stubbornness/impetuousness/poor judgement (but eventually learns and grows from them, as any well-developed character should), we label her as TSTL?
But if she is capable, talented, self-assured, and, let’s be honest, traditionally masculine in her behavior, she’s called a Mary Sue?
What the hell?
This is NOT cool. And we need to stop doing this.
By the way, before someone accuses me of picking on men, I’m NOT just accusing men of calling FMCs stupid. In my experience, it is actually women who are more likely to disparage female characters in writing. Why is that? Is it because we as females are conditioned to be embarrassed for reading romance, YA, and female-lead books, so we therefore feel the need to defend ourselves by putting those characters down? If that’s the case, we’re indeed opening up a whole other can of worms – one that deserves just as much, if not more, attention. But seeing as I’ve probably lost 60% of you by now, I’ll save that soapbox rant for another day.
I realize I’ll likely get a lot of hate for this post; folks will claim that MMCs get called stupid all the time and FMCs with the TSTL label truly deserve it, and it has NOTHING to do with the characters’ genders. But the fact of the matter is, this IS a problem. Once you’ve combed through as many book reviews as I have, you will see a clear and distinct pattern: female MCs are deemed stupid for their poor choices, but male MCs making the same poor choices are either headstrong (or some other forgiving synonym), or just need a little bit of time to come into their own.
I could go on and on, but I will instead leave all of you with this one, single thought challenge: the next time you read a book from a female’s POV and are tempted to call the FMC TSTL, I encourage you to ask yourself whether you’d still be using that label if “she” were instead a “he.”
On a final note, I’d like my readers to know that I proudly stand by every single one of my FMC’s choices, which means that I, apparently, am Too Stupid To Live.
And yet, here I am – living. Go figure.
Stupidly Yours, Rachel
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