Sexy VS Sex Objects

(re-blogged from old blog – 2013)


UPDATE: This is still an issue in Fantasy books but I do think it’s getting better. More strong female heroines have emerged in recent years. Especialy in YA books. Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent just to name a couple. We still need to see more of these types of characters in my opinion. I hope one day to contribute to it with strong female characters of my own.

Yesterday I was reading about the sexism that exists toward female authors in the Sci Fi/Fantasy genre. It got me thinking about a related issue… the sexualization of female characters in many of those books. We all know that sex sells. That’s the basis of a lot (and maybe even most) of the advertisements out there. And it works.


To some degree that applies to book covers as well. Especially Sci Fi/Fantasy books. How many books have we seen with scantily (and impractically) dressed women on the covers? The chain mail bikini has been a staple of fantasy art for generations. Those bikini clad women are sexy. Or are they? Are they actually strong sexy women or are they women being objectified and turned into NOTHING more than fodder for male fantasy?


And it’s not just the covers either. The female characters in many of those books are either the “damsel in distress” who just stands there and screams or the warrior woman in the chain mail bikini. At least the bikini wearing warriors do something. At least they fight. But are they well rounded sexy characters or just cookie cutter sex objects?


I suspect it’s the second one in most cases. Any female character who doesn’t have enough sense to put on more than a chain mail bikini before she goes out to fight the bad guys is likely nothing more than eye candy. An intelligent female would know she needs to protect more than just her “assets” if she wants to survive. Hell, she doesn’t even have to be all that intelligent to figure it out. If she has two brain cells to rub together, she knows fighting in a bikini is not usually the best idea. There’s a lot of exposed flesh to get damaged.


Which brings me to my point… we can create strong intelligent female characters that are ALSO sexy without objectifying them. Sexy doesn’t have to equal sex object. But unfortunately too many people don’t see the difference.


There’s nothing wrong with a female who is confident in herself and enjoys sex. There’s nothing wrong with her showing off what she was given to it’s best advantage. And there’s nothing wrong with making her sexy. As long as that’s not ALL there is to her. As long as sexy is just one aspect of the character not the entire basis for her existence.


There could even be an occasion when a strong female character might wear one of those chain mail bikinis. Maybe it’s part of her plan to distract the males she’s going into battle against. Maybe she weighs the danger of not being protected against the distraction she would cause and CHOOSES the chain mail bikini. The difference in that character and the majority of the bikini clad vixens in Fantasy books is SHE (the character) chose it as part of the story. There is more to her personality than just that bikini. It wasn’t forced on her by an author who didn’t write her as anything more than that. See the difference?


We, as authors, need to be aware of the messages we send. Even if we don’t intend to. Even if we are writing a story just to entertain and have no underlying message to convey, our readers are still receiving messages from our work. We need to make sure those messages are the right ones. And even though the majority of female warriors in modern fantasy no longer wear the famous chain mail bikini many of them wear some kind of modern equivalent. They are still portrayed as mostly sex objects. If all of our female characters are either helpless maidens or sex objects, what are we saying to our readers? What message are we giving them about women?


This is even more important for those of us who write for Young Adults. Our target audience is at an impressionable age. Without realizing it we could be shaping their perspectives of the world around them. That’s a pretty big responsibility. Don’t we owe it to our readers to make sure what they take away from our books is positive? Don’t we owe it to them to create strong female characters who are more than just their looks or their bodies? Don’t we owe it to SOCIETY to help break the stereotypes about females instead of reinforcing the idea that women only fit into two categories? I think so. And one of the best ways to do that is to write about strong well rounded females who break the mold.

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