On Female Protagonists

Someone asked me why I prefer to write female protagonists. My immediate answer was “because male protagonists are boring.”

But that got me thinking: what exactly about male lead characters is boring? Sure, there’s the fact that the default assumption about a character is that they’re white, heterosexual, cisgender, and male. Having a female protagonist breaks the mold, and as a committed literary iconoclast, there’s something exciting about subverting conventions and expectations. But that in and of itself calls into question why the default template for a protagonist is what it is.

I think the answer as to my affinity for heroines lies in the fact that we live in an intensely patriarchal society. As someone who enjoys writing characters who are on the margins of society, I think that there is something inherently rebellious in choosing to centre women’s voices, especially in worlds that are typically exemplified by male protagonists.

I think this is the same reason why queer identity is such a central theme in my work as well. All of these characters experience sex and relationships outside of the mainstream. None of these identities plays a significant role in their stories, per se. I’m not writing queer literature. Rather, it forms another layer of outsider status: even as outsiders, they are outsiders.

Ultimately, the choice to write about women surviving and thriving in male dominated worlds contains an implicitly anti-authoritarian message. These are strong women who refuse to be held down by societal assumptions regarding their sex and gender. For any femme/female identified person in our society, merely existing is an act of rebellion, and I believe strongly in reflecting this truth in my work.

K. Julia Stamm