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Should there a similar number of male and female characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by fantastic, Jun 10, 2016.

  1. fantastic

    fantastic Minstrel

    Should there be a similar number of male and female characters?

    I have a story where many people have magic and special powers. There is a system how it works and it is quite common. Anyway, they have many different uses but they are mostly meant for fighting.

    The thing that I noticed was that most of the characters or characters who are relevant are male.

    Of course, there are also female characters. In fact, one of the five main protagonists is a female and she is strong.

    But I am thinking, whether number of magically prominent male and female characters should be equal.

    Let's look at Harry Potter. The number of male and female characters is similar, maybe there are a few more male wizards. But now let's look at the magically prominent ones:

    Legendary males are Harry Potter, Dumbledore, Voldemort, Grindelwald, possibly some wizards from history
    Elite males are Sirius, Remus, Snape, James Potter, some would place Harry Potter here
    Powerful males are most of the active professors and members of the order, most of Death Eaters, Ron Weasley, Weasley brothers and a few other characters
    There are many other weaker but quite strong males including Malfoy, his Henchmen, Neville and various other wizards.

    Legendary females are possibly some witches from history
    Elite female is McGonagall
    Powerful females are female Death Eater, Molly, female auror
    There is a few weaker but strong females like Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Umbridge

    Even if we consider Hogwarts creators, it is hinted that males were more prominent, including Gryffindor and Slytherin.

    Unless my list is very wrong, clearly males are magically much more dominant. If you think about it, this should not be the case since everyone can learn magic and it doesn't seem like their culture would prevent women from learning it.

    In my story, the situation is actually similar, though there are more magically prominent females. The question is, would the world be better or more realistic if the number of males and females would be similar?

    Do you think the following idea is true? The more clear hierarchy of magic users is (distinction between different levels of wizards), the more likely it is there is more magically prominent males. While when the distinction is less known, the number of prominent males and females is similar.

    Obviously, there are stories where males and females have a different role, magic works differently or where physical aspects are more important. But I am talking mostly about stories where everyone can have same abilities and opportunities to learn them.

    What is your opinion? Do you have any examples from your own stories?
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2016
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Interesting questions.

    However, if the magic system does not favour one sex over the other, than doesn't the answer lie in the dictates or tendencies of the culture that the magic system exists within?
  3. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    I don't think this is a problem if it fits with the culture, even if everyone can gain the same powers it's not hard to imagine fewer females being dedicated to pursuing a career that involves fighting compared to males.

    In my own stories there are still more male warriors than female, despite the top female warriors being insanely strong and more than a match for any males.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2016
  4. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Whatever you want to do, there is no rule. If it fits the framework of your story then go for it. I don't really pay too much attention to these kinds of things because I'm not purposely focusing on gender as an important factor in my story. There are women in my story with different personalities, goals, appearances, etc. They are there because they are important where telling the story is concerned, not because I feel there absolutely must be more females represented in fiction. I do not care for that mentality. At all.
  5. fantastic

    fantastic Minstrel

    In Harry Potter I didn't notice any notable cultural ideas that favours male characters. It has been mentioned that both males and females used magic since ancient times. Both males and females had access to same magic schools and all jobs, including aurors, seem to be for females as well.

    Obviously, if a culture makes a distinction, that explains it. But if the abilities of both males and females are the same, why make a distinction between what is a male role and what is a female role?

    In your stories, I assume characters fight only physically, which would explain why there are more male warriors. The question is, how does males and females being equal influence power of female characters.

    For example, Harry Potter magic system does not favour males over females. From what I understand, neither does culture. So, does the fact that males are much more prominent make the world less realistic or consistent with its premises?
  6. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    For example women become pregnant while men don't which would make it likely for a woman pursuing a dangerous or physically strenuous career who wants to have children to take more breaks from it than a man in the same line of work. That could be a disadvantage in terms of reaching the top compared to male counterparts.

    Also unless everyone in the world uses magic to fight, I imagine there could still be physically based cultural ideas (eg. men are more 'natural' fighters) which might influence females' career choices.

    In my stories most characters fight primarily physically, although there are also some magic users.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2016
  7. fantastic

    fantastic Minstrel

    That makes sense. In a world, where you have to constantly train if you wish to be the best, pregnancy would not be an option. It does make an interesting conflict, a female who wants to be the best warrior can either keep training or have a child but not both.

    Though it does not explain the cases where characters can afford themselves not to train for a year.
  8. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

    Harry Potter was set in the real world with the addition of magic. As per our horrible history, many women in the past (such as in Grindelwald's time) may have been downtrodden and unable to study. Whether or not this case is the same in your world or not is entirely up to you.

    One thing to keep in mind, since you say that magic is predominantly use for fighting in your world, is that men may have evolved to be more proficient in it in order to hunt and women less so as they would birth and look after children (in the same way that men in our world have evolved to be, generally, stronger and larger than women).
  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    IMHO, you don't have to balance anything out. In the real world, there is no perfectly balanced ratio between the sexes in fields of study/careers. There are fields of study that are male dominated and there are ones that are female dominated. And then there are fields where things are in flux, where happenstance may shift the balance from one side to the other.

    If you think balancing things out will help the story, then consider doing it, but if it doesn't, then maybe it's best to leave things be.
  10. Trick

    Trick Auror

    I don't encourage that you read the whole thing but some responses to a thread of mine were quite helpful - it got kind of out of hand with people disagreeing etc, but the first few pages helped me a lot.

    Too Few Female Characters
  11. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    The number of male and female characters should be exactly what the story needs them to be. Just piling up female characters to balance the ratio will result in a bunch of woman-shaped cardboard cutouts that do nothing but detract from the story.

    Besides pregnancy being a hindrance, there's also a couple other biologic factors. For a species with predominant single births with long gestation periods and a (roughly) 1:1 gender ratio such as ours, for smaller populations the females are very valuable while the males are expendable. From the population's point of view, if a significant chunk of males die, the remainder can still impregnate the females and keep the birthrate stable. On the other hand, a great amount of female deaths will decrease the birthrate, which is a really bad thing for a small population but survivable for large populations and even preferable if there is overpopulation.

    There's also the issue of athletic amenorrhea, which would probably be a problem for female soldiers on campaign. The high stress and energy expenditure of marching, besieging and battling combined with the less-than-optimal nutrition would probably cause their menstrual cycles to stop. Amenorrhea causes fun side effects like osteoporosis, so outside of a modern military structure with proper healthcare and infrastructure, there wouldn't be many women warriors going on long campaigns.
    Trick likes this.
  12. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I actually made a spreadsheet for my characters' demographics (gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.). I found it was not very balanced. But also, I don't care.

    So, there's my experience with gender ratios effecting my writing. Other than that, my thoughts on the subject reflect what other people in this thread has said.
  13. Velka

    Velka Sage

    I think it depends on a multitude of factors, many of which have already been discussed. Here's two more to consider.

    - Don't add more of one gender (or change the gender of a character) just for the sake of balancing the scales. Your characters should be living, breathing people who are "who they are" for a reason. I've never written a character that I could look at and say, "Hmm, I could make this man a woman, or this lesbian heterosexual, or this transgender person cis".
    - Think about who your target audience is. If you want to draw in more female readers, then you might want a good representation of female characters (disclaimer - females can enjoy fantasy novels with primarily male characters, we have lots of practise ;), but it is nice to have representation). I would think the male viewpoint is just as varied. If I recall correctly there was a thread here way back (maybe a year or so) that discussed readership and gender of characters.
    Miskatonic likes this.

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