Anita Blake: Strong Female Protagonist?

Reprinted from Goodreads:


I love lists. I love making lists, I love adding to lists, I love writing blurbs about why something is on a list. I love compiling lists, organizing them by order of magnitude, justifying my decisions, analyzing, re-anazlyzing and a million other things that cement me as someone with OCD.

One list that is fairly common is "Strong Female Characters". Now we could go into all the crazy reasons why this is somewhat sexist, or analyze how SFC's seem to be an aberration (how many "Strong Male Character" lists have you seen lately?), but that isn't what I want to talk about. I'd rather talk about one particular SFC that keeps making these lists.

Anita Blake. Vampire Hunter. Executioner. Animator. Necromancer. A 5'3", dark haired woman with a bad attitude and a tendency to "shoot first, ask questions later". At some point, you typically see her name pop up in these lists, sometimes with the added note "Especially in the first X books".

As you may be aware, I've been reading the Anita Blake books. Once upon a time, I read that the first X books were really good, but it was that dratted "Narcissus in Chains" that ruined the series and sent it plummeting into the depths of horrible writing and laughable sex.

Thing is...I don't really like ANY of the books. I've read up to book 11 (I'm currently on "Incubus Dreams", which, as of this moment 40% through, appears to have no plot), and I can't say that Anita Blake has ever struck me as one of these enigmatic SFC's.

Why, you ask? Here are a few reasons:

1. Anita comes off as insecure. Anita likes to talk about how much she knows, but she feels more like an unsure teenager: all talk and little to back it. She may know how to pack heat, but when it comes to embracing sexuality, she is scared as a newborn kitten. You could argue that it's because of her religious mores, but I have trouble buying it. Over the course of the novels, Anita racks up quite the kill list; she also beds several men. Why the insecurity about seeing and enjoying a nude male?

2. Anita seems to believe that being a feminist means hating all "girly" things. I can't tell you how many times Anita will rail against things she deems are girly: makeup, shoes, dresses, hobbies, cooking, cleaning, anything. Being a feminist doesn't mean wearing men's jeans and avoiding anything traditionally female. Being a feminist is wanting equality for the sexes, to give both men and women the choice to be and like whatever they want, be it sports and nylons or Barbie dolls and LEGOs.

3. Anita is a misogynist. Anita loves to hate on her fellow women. No woman is as adept as she is; any woman that comes close gets a nice, hearty does of Anita hate. She has no problems showing sympathy to guys she barely knows, but her own friend, Ronnie? Anita immediately takes offense to things Ronnie says in jest and forces a depressed and emotional Ronnie to apologize for every offense.

4. Anita is unlikeable. I've always said that I can handle protagonists that are unlikeable, and usually I follow that up with mentioning Scarlett O'Hara from "Gone with the Wind". Anita I don't consider that kind of "unlikeable". Sure, I don't like her, but I am one person. What I don't get is how such a mean-spirited, bitter, unpleasant woman has so many people worshipping her at her feet. As of "Incubus Dreams", she has several men begging to sleep with her--Jean-Claude, Asher, Damien, Nathaniel, Micah, and Richard.

5. Anita is a hypocrite. We all are, I realize (well, everyone except me); that's what makes us human. I could forgive Anita's hypocrisy if the author made it clear that Anita was occasionally in the wrong, but the fact is: LKH doesn't. Anita can sleep with many men because she has to; other women are sluts. Anita expects respect when she enters a crime scene; God forbid she actually give some to the person in charge.

But most importantly:

6. Anita is never forced to change. Anita doesn't have to choose one man in her life; she gets to have all 6 for various inane metaphysical reasons. Anita doesn't have to worry about being physically removed from a crime scene and arrested for belligerent behavior; she ends up schmoozing up to someone and getting her own way. Anita is never given the chance to be wrong about something (or at least hasn't since "Guilty Pleasures" in which Philip is tragically killed); to make a hard choice and learn that that wasn't the right way to go, that her choice ended up with someone dead. So Anita is pretty much the same woman she was in "Guilty Pleasures": rude, anti-social, bitter, mean-spirited, self-righteous and whining. Her author has coddled her so much, that even with all the crap she's been through, none of it has really changed her into a different person.

And this is why I can't stand Anita and don't consider her an SFC. A true SFC is a woman who doesn't feel the need to look down on other women because their penises--I MEAN, guns--aren't as big as hers. A true SFC undergoes changes, makes difficult decisions, is forced to become a different person. She may be unlikeable, she may be a hypocrite, she may be a misogynist, but an SFC will face challenges that force her to grow.

Good authors, like parents, realize that coddling your babies doesn't make them strong adults--it makes them brats, users, abusers. Good authors may not like the things they put their SFC through, but they realize that their SFC will end up stronger at the end.

Laurell K. Hamilton has been coddling Anita for too long, but there is still hope. She can learn to let go; she can stop holding her baby close to her breast and let Anita have the keys to her car. Sure, Anita is going to make mistakes. She's going to have a broken heart, to lose people she loves, but what's best is that these experiences will make Anita a better person.

And THEN Anita Blake will truly be a Strong Female Character.