All around the internets, you can often see cries and complaints that YA is “too girly” or that there isn’t enough fiction to interest boys. Of the latter, I say that there have been centuries of “boys’ fiction”, so let the girls have a turn. Of the former, I say that if by “too girly”, you mean “too much romance”, then I would have to begrudgingly agree.
Not that I have an issue with romance. I like a good love story. Who doesn’t? But in my editorial career, while I often saw a good love story in my submissions, I found a disappointing lack of fiction that celebrated other loves in addition to romance. Familial love. Platonic love. Especially platonic love between ladies.
Those who cannot conceive of Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend.
—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, “Friendship”
I always found it curiously sad that so many fictional heroines seem to lack a great support base in female best friends. I’ve read about the Tomboy, the Lone Wolf, the Only Girl in the Clubhouse, et al, but not much about the girl with the BFF to whom she’s pours her heart and soul on a regular basis. Honestly, sometimes it’s difficult to find YA that even passes the Bechdel test, despite the plethora of books with great female characters. Nothing makes me a little sadder than reading books with fantastic female characters…who can only carry conversations about the men in their lives.
Now, the Bechdel test is not an indicator of quality; it’s simply a metric against which to judge a work of literature (or film, or television, etc.). There are plenty of amazing books and films that don’t pass, and plenty of, er, lesser works that do. Case in point: The ultra-camp, ultra- cheese film Sharknado passes the Bechdel test, but the awesome Pacific Rim does not.*
What I’m trying to say is that, for me, it’s not necessarily enough for me to have an awesome lady character exist in a vacuum. I’d like my awesome lady characters to interact with other lady characters, have relationships with other lady characters, and have those relationships also contribute to and be important to the narrative. In other words, I’d like more womances, please.
What is a womance? Everyone knows what a bromance is, and a womance is just that, but you know, with ladies.
How to Write a Womance
- Do you have two named female characters who are friends?
- Do they have a loving and supportive relationship with each other that occasionally encompasses petty jealousies as well as mutual admiration? (In other words, is it nuanced?)
- Do they interact with each other, cry with each other, laugh with each other, and sometimes fight with each other?
If you’ve answered yes to those three questions, then congratulations! You are on your way to writing a womance in your book.
How NOT to Write a Womance
- Does your main female character talk about how she doesn’t really have female friends?
- Does your main female character express contempt about other ladies (“shallow”, “vapid”, and “air-headed” are a few adjectives leveled by heroines against other female characters)?
- Does your main female character have a female friend that only seems to be around for her to go over her boy troubles?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions (especially No. 2), then perhaps you might take a chance to step back and evaluate why your awesome female character doesn’t seem to have room for other awesome female characters in her life. Granted, there are perfectly justifiable reasons a heroine may not have close female friends; however, these reasons may or may not be cliche. Is she a motherless daughter/only girl in a troup of boys who never had a chance to learn how to socialize with other women? Is she a tomboy who doesn’t like “girly” things? Did she grow up in total isolation on a lonely island with no one but her father?
I’m not saying these sorts of girls don’t exist in real life, but I also think there are many more ladies who have a support base of other ladies and consider those relationships very important. Why, the ladies of PubCrawl are incredibly important to me, and I was a tomboy who disavowed all things “girly” growing up. (I have since evolved.) And while a womance need not be the most important part of a story, I’d like to see evidence of one here and there.
What do y’all think? Do you like the term “womance”? Do you, like me, think it should be used more? What are some books with wonderful womances in them that you recommend?
*It makes me sad that in an otherwise feel-good movie, it fails in this regard. It has two fantastic POC characters with well-developed stories! A great female lead who isn’t sexualized or objectified! Mako Mori is a wonderful heroine, but could it have killed the filmmakers to have her exchange some words with another lady? Especially the awesome Russian Jaeger pilot? C’mon, Hollywood!