I’ve been asked a number of questions about my detective, Lennox Cooper: Why doesn’t she have any girlfriends, why isn’t she closer to her mother, why does she have rotten luck with men? I’m not complaining, I’m delighted people think enough about the book to have questions. And because Lennox is edgy, I can’t expect everyone to like her. But here’s the thing, does anyone wonder why Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Derek Strange or Jack Reacher don’t appear to have guy friends? Or have a close relationship with their mothers? Why is it important to like female characters when we're satisfied with flawed male characters
It seems to me that there is a different yardstick for measuring female and male detectives, especially when you entered hard-boiled territory. Recently I ran across an article that came out in The Atlantic back in May 2013: Do Readers Judge Female Characters More Harshly Than Male Characters? by Maria Konnikova.
Here’s a quote from the article: “Over the last 30 or so years, work by social psychologists like Susan Fiske and Mina Cikara has repeatedly demonstrated that women are perceived and evaluated on different criteria than men: not only are the same traits that are seen as positive in one (say, assertiveness in men) reconstrued as negative in the other (say, pushiness in women), but we put different relative values on different traits depending on gender. Niceness, for instance, is seen as consistently more important in women than it is in men.”
Apparently this bias bleeds over to fictional characters as well. I think this is especially true when you’re writing in a male-dominated genre, such as hard-boiled detective fiction. There are some notable exceptions: Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sarah Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski. I can’t say whether their readers are happy about their character’s outlier status, I don’t get their fan mail.
How do you weigh in on the female/male bias?