Do You Prefer Male or Female Protagonists? (Let’s Talk Bookish)

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

The Prompt: When it comes to books, do you prefer male or female protagonists and why? Do you not have a preference? Have you ever not read a book because the protagonist was male/female? Do you think it’s important for children to read protagonists of the opposite gender from them? Do you feel like certain genres have more of a certain gender of protagonist than the other? (Mahita @ Amateur Teen Writer)

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I pick books based on plot and premise; the main character’s identity is not a factor in my decision. Some of my favorite books feature mostly male characters, while other favorites are mostly about female characters. (See: The Lord of the Rings and Anne of Green Gables.) The important thing is that the story is good and that the characters are complex and well-written. This also means it doesn’t matter whether a female author is writing a male main character or a male author is writing a female main character; as long as they can write a convincing and engaging protagonist, I’m in.

Because I read a lot of YA books, however, I do read a lot of books that are about teenage girls. While publishing is often accused of being male-dominated, the facts are that children’s literature, and particularly YA books, is dominated by women agents who rep books by women authors about female protagonists to women editors. It’s actually hard to find a YA book, especially a mainstream popular one, that has a boy protagonist, and the ones that often jump to people’s minds tend to be older (ex. Eragon or I Am Number Four).

This is a problem in the sense that teenage boys often feel as if YA is not “for them” because they are so sparsely represented, and because girls in general are more likely to be avid readers than boys, I would love to see publishers publish and market more books featuring boys. (Yes, boys can read and like books about girls and vice versa, but the reality is that people DO like to see themselves in books sometimes, and it would be nice for boys to see more YA options that are about them and for those books to get a lot of hype.) Middle grade tends to be more balanced in terms of protagonist gender, so there’s really just a gap between MG and adult books that I think publishers can still fill. (Read one of our lists of YA books with male main characters here.)

So while I personally don’t choose books based on the protagonist’s gender, I do think it’s important to have balance in the market in general, and I hope that more male-focused stories can find their way into YA just as I hope more female-focused books can find their way into adult SFF and other genres.

Briana

13 thoughts on “Do You Prefer Male or Female Protagonists? (Let’s Talk Bookish)

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I admit I was a bit surprised by the question because it never occurred to me to choose based on gender, and if one reads a lot of YA, well, there’s not much choice in the first place; 95% of protagonists are girls!

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      • mphtheatregirl says:

        It really is a strange question- usually choose book based on plot

        In all of my WIPS, which are are children’s books, my protagonists are girls. Just could never think of a boy protagonist for any of my ideas.

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  1. Ari Augustine says:

    I don’t really care what the gender of the protagonist is in most cases; for me, the themes/premise/plot/world are what determines whether or not I’ll pick something up. I think the only genre exception is maybe adult PNR (Paranormal Romance), where I prefer a female protagonist. In my experience, male protagonists in PNR are rarely done in a way that isn’t cringe-worthy.

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  2. frayedbooks says:

    I was thinking that middle grade seems to be more balanced with gender of protagonists – and I feel like thats because some parents feel like boys can only read books with “boy” leads and same for girls, which is silly, but I feel like thats why middle grade is more equal in that sense.

    Still, great discussion post, loved reading your thoughts!

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  3. Hasini @ Bibliosini says:

    I agree that YA seems to have an abundance of female protagonists while lacking a similar number of male protagonists. When I was in high school, my school library would have plenty of middle-grade books with male leads but hardly any YA, so I naturally tended to gravitate towards female-led stories. Now I’m a lot more diverse in the gender diversity of the protagonists of my reading though. Great discussion, Briana!

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  4. Michael J. Miller says:

    I wasn’t even going to leave a comment because it would just be, “Yep, I’m with you Briana!” But then I realized I do think about this in regard to my book buying – well, comic book buying, in particular. For SO long the world of comic writers and artists was overwhelmingly white and male and the characters in the spotlight were overwhelmingly white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered heroes. So when I think of what comics will be on my pull list, what I’ll pay $3.99 for every month as opposed to waiting for a collected trade to buy or get from the library or read on Marvel Unlimited, I intentionally prioritize more diverse characters and authors. I “vote with my money” in that way. The growth of diversity in comic books – both creative talent and characters – that has come over the last decade is one of the things that brought me back to active comic reading after nearly twenty years away. So I do try to make a point to support that in what I buy, even though I’ll read anything with, as you said above, a good story and complex and well written characters.

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