Are Crime Fiction Heroines Held To A Different Standard Than Heroes?

I’ve often wondered what makes a terrific crime fiction heroine. By that, I mean a woman of honor. I’ve been told my tough-guy heroes are men of valor and honorable men. And that makes me really happy.

However, in the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) small critique group I run, as well as in the larger “critters” group I often drop into I’ve been hearing authors say they’re getting comments that their strong-minded heroine isn’t sympathetic. These authors go on to state everyone loves their rough-and-ready hero, but can’t warm up to the very capable heroine. Ya know what? I’ve had similar comments and have labored to get my heroines more likeable.

Are sleuthing and detective heroines judged differently than their male counter parts? I’m beginning to think they are. A hero can be blunt, caustic, assertive to the point he’s nearly aggressive and everyone loves him. Let a heroine toss off one barbed remark and half the readers begin cooling to her.

Quite frankly, this might just be the reality and we crime fiction writers who love a tough heroine are gonna have to deal with it. It just may be that if you’re going to write a snarky heroine, you’re going to have to work overtime to make her sympathetic. Many women complain that in life, in the workplace, even in the home, a man can get away with things a woman can’t. (I’m sure the reverse is true, but we’re not talking about that.)

It seems in crime fiction the hero can definitely get away with things a heroine can’t. In a thriller, he can shoot five bad guys dead. Put a bullet right through one of the thug’s eyeballs and still come off with high praise from readers. Let the heroine do that, in the same back against the wall scenario, and readers might suggest she’d been excessively violent.

Strictly, between you and me, I’m not crazy about sappy heroines who seem to catch the killer almost by accident. I’m also not happy with novels that don’t have accurate police procedure. I’m equal opportunity on that one. Just as unhappy if the hero is making stupid mistakes in police work. It doesn’t have to be the heroine who doesn’t have a clue as to what’s expected of a law enforcement officer in the field. There are plenty of detective novels out there where the hero seems to stumble through.

That said, is it just me, or is there a tendency on the part of female readers (and let’s not forget writing contest judges) not to give the heroine a break? And is that doubly true if she’s rip-roaring strong? I think so.

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9 thoughts on “Are Crime Fiction Heroines Held To A Different Standard Than Heroes?

  1. I think it's a double standard. Think of tough ladies–Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martha Stewart. They are so disdained. Yet their counterparts are heralded.Our female heroes are indeed held to a different standard


  2. I agree ladies. It's a tough line to follow. Carol, your mention of Hilary C is a perfect example. Henry Higgins asked Why can't a woman be more like a man? Females must be as tender as they are tough or they become dislikable. I've struggled with my heroine too long. I think I'm getting close.


  3. I agree. I write romantic suspense and have found your observation to be true with my own crit group.Women are conditioned to expect other women to behave a certain way and when they stray from that they are classified in not so nice terms.


  4. I do think female characters have to be a little "gentler" – even if only in their own thoughts. But I don't like a heroine who isn't strong. And my daughter HATES them. She yells at novels with whimpy, love-sick girls, telling them to grow up, get a life, stop being so stupid, etc! Unfortunately, we are not what the publishing world hears. They hear women who buy love stories and who want Prince Charming to save the Damsel in Distress. Sometimes, women are their own worst enemy!!


  5. Hi Ladies,Yep, a tough gal has a rough row to hoe in life and in fiction. I think maybe the author has to get that back story in very early so the reader can sympathize. Or, give her something endearing like she's hard nosed to everyone except the 80 year old lady who lives across the hall from her. There's nothing she wouldn't do for that old woman.LD, You're my kind of suspense reader. I also have no patience with inept, weepy, clingy heroines. But, I'm OK with a totally feminine gal, who's highly intelligent, stylish, and outsmarts the villian w/o so much as mussing her hair. That could be fun.Tammy, I can't stand the stupid heroines. The villian has to practically shoot and hog tie himself for her to catch him.


  6. I like the being kind to 80 year old ladies–I love In Plain Sight. Mary is really not a lovable person, but she's devoted to those she needs to protect–and thus I love her.


  7. A woman can still be in control and likeable; it's a trust issue, which needs time – I think your question dealt more with heroics, though. To be heroic, any character has to have a goal and the means to accomplish that goal. Often a character fails the hero test because the goal is not well defined, stupid people get in the way and the character does not have the means to accomplish the goal, be it training, natural instinct/ability, or special gift and the right people/information to access to help to resolve the problem. Take Patrick Bowers, Steven James' hero. He has a lot of deliberate training in his field, a bit of luck, some quirky special instincts, surrounds himself with the right people, avoids the ones who interfere, he's kind of a loser with women, yet he's trying to understand his stepdaughter. A great combination.


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