Would You Rather Have a Male or Female Protagonist? – Let’s Talk Bookish

Hello and welcome back friends! I hope you’re all doing well. As the title suggests, today we’re discussing whether I prefer male or female protagonists in books.

If you’re new:

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by me and Dani @ Literary Lion where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts. Today’s topic is about whether you prefer male or female protagonists in books. Join in on this meme by writing your own discussion on the topic, and sharing your link using the inLinkz available here.

The answer to this question has changed for me over the years, and I currently have a much different opinion on it than I did previously. Without further ado, let’s get started!

key: MC = main character, YA = young adult

When I first started reading, most of the series that I picked up starred female characters. Cam Jansen, Nancy Drew, the Gallagher Girls, Sammy Keyes, American Girl, I read a lot of books with female main characters. I think it was possibly because I could relate to them more, and boys were kind of like foreign concepts to me. I didn’t really know any boys my age when I was younger so, there was really no reason for me to be interested in them or in reading books starring male characters.

ah Geronimo, you were my childhood

However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t read any books that had male MCs. I read Geronimo Stilton, Magic Tree House (which is from 3rd person point of view following a brother and a sister so that wasn’t really only from a boy’s perspective), and A to Z Mysteries (which followed three friends, two boys and a girl as they went around solving mysteries in their town).

So, even the ones that I did read with more prominent male characters had some girl that kind of balanced things out. It wasn’t just following a male MC, except for Geronimo. And Geronimo doesn’t really count I guess: he’s a mouse. Sorry Gero.

Now, all of this was mostly in elementary and early middle school. As I got into my later years of middle school, I did have to read some books for school that had male MCs. Off the top of my head, I definitely remember The Sign of the Beaver, Treasure Island, Bridge to Terabithia, Charlotte’s Web, Henry Huggins, and Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies was possibly the only one of these books that didn’t have a female character at all. Actually maybe Treasure Island too, but I don’t remember that book as much as I remember loathing Lord of the Flies. It probably successfully convinced me that I was missing absolutely nothing by avoiding books with male characters at the time. That book was just…amazing for all the wrong reasons. I really disliked it.

There’s another book that I remember reading around the time I read Lord of the Flies, and it was about boys at a boarding school? Or something like that. I sadly can’t remember the title, but an interesting thing is that I actually began writing a girl version of the book after I read it.

I was really that unsatisfied lol. Of course, I never finished writing it, but the fact that I even started always makes me laugh.

You can also kind of see my strong bias because my favorite books from that period of my life were Little Women and Anne of the Green Gables. I didn’t totally love Little House on the Prairie, but I did like it so that slightly counts as well. And this is in addition to Nancy Drew and American Girl, and all those other ones that I read on my own without school influence.

I think this was the first ND book I ever read

Now, it’s not like the books that I liked to read didn’t have many male MCs. On the contrary, especially when it came to mystery, there were plenty of boy-led series that I could have picked from. Even Nancy Drew had a boy version in the form of the Hardy Boys, and I diligently ignored that series. Even after I ran out of Nancy Drew books to read (I read all the series possible: the Diaries, the Files, Girl Detective, and a few others), I still ignored the Hardy Boys, and even didn’t want to read the crossover books with Nancy and the Hardys.

I don’t understand why I had such an aversion to the idea, but I did. The funny thing is though, I didn’t necessarily hate boys. I loved Ned and Dave and…Bruce? Who was George’s boyfriend? *searches*, ah Burt, right. So yeah, I loved those guys, and Zach from the Gallagher Girls, Hale from Heist Society, etc. I didn’t hate guys.

I just didn’t like the idea of reading books from their point of view.

The first book that I can remember reading after this entire period that was completely out of my comfort zone, both in genre and leading character was the SYLO series by D.J. MacHale. That was a sci-fi book with a male MC. If you notice from all the books I’ve mentioned so far, I did not do sci-fi when I was younger. So this was extremely out of character for me, but I was bored and I didn’t have anything to read that weekend and SYLO was there, just waiting to be read. So I read it.

I actually ended up liking the series quite a lot, and it was a different experience reading with a male MC. However, that didn’t suddenly make me a sci-fi lover or a male MC lover, and I still went back to sticking to what I knew and liked.

Nonetheless, soon after, I discovered a spy boarding school series called CHERUB and I’d been wanting something like that ever since I finished Gallagher Girls. So I plunged in and read the 12 book series in a week even though it had a male main character. This series was a little more mature content-wise, and the guy was really so annoying and rude, and just plain sexist at times. However, at the end of the day, I liked the action and the missions and some of the characters so it got a favorable review out of me. If I revisit the series today though, I will probably hate the book’s guts.

the first book I read after CHERUB completely from a male MC’s pov

After this, I got introduced to the YA scene with fantasy and historical fiction, and I did read a lot of adult contemporary thrillers and mysteries, some of which had male main characters, but I’d started getting over my bias at that point and just read the book for the book.

Looking at my books from my first year as a blogger, I still read an overwhelmingly large number of books with female main characters, but I also occasionally read some with male main characters and it was fine. I don’t think I was really consciously avoiding books with male MCs anymore, I just was getting into genres that had more female MCs than male ones.

And that trend has continued to today. I’m no longer avoiding books with male MCs, it’s just that most of the books I read come from genres where female MCs dominate, so that’s what I end up reading. I’ve also come to see that male MCs aren’t always bad, and it’s not necessarily about their gender. Anybody can be good or bad, and even I sometimes get tired of seeing the same kind of female MCs all the time.

Now that I’ve thoroughly rambled and given you the whole backstory related to this question, let me actually answer the question.

If there are two books that have exactly the same synopsis and cover, and the only difference is the gender of the main character, would I rather have a male or a female protagonist?

I would rather have a female protagonist because I would be able to see myself in her more than I would in a male protagonist. And that’s just a simple fact.

Would I not read a book simply because the main character is a guy? No, if the book sounds interesting and has the kind of plot or trope that I’m looking to read, then I’ll read it. I’m no longer biased about it like I was before.

One question that I wanted to answer related to this topic was:

Do you think it’s important for children to read protagonists of the opposite gender from them?

I think that kids should read what they want to read; nobody should force them to read something specific. I only read female main characters when I had a choice about it as a kid, and I think I turned out pretty okay. So there’s really no reason for it to be important for them to read from the perspective of the opposite gender. such a wordy sentence rukky, seriously

I also think that required reading in school already addresses this by sometimes not giving us much of a choice about the gender of the main character in our book options, so they might read protagonists of the opposite gender that way.

But generally, I don’t think that doing so is going to add any tremendous value to their lives.

Update: Ok, I’m revising my opinion. After bloghopping through this week’s participants, I’ve been convinced that children reading protagonists of the opposite gender can actually benefit them in helping foster empathy and understanding. It can also help break stereotypes that we quickly learn as kids about what the opposite gender should be like which is definitely important. So, I guess encouraging them to read books with the opposite gender as an MC would definitely have some value, but again, I still don’t think that they should be forced to do so if that’s just not what they’re looking for in characters.

And that’s my two cents for today.

Some questions for you:

  • Did you have a strong bias when it came to books when you were younger?
  • What were some of your favorite childhood series? Do you think those books would still stand the test of time if you gave them another try now?
  • What would you rather have: a male or a female protagonist?
  • What do you think? Should kids read about protagonists from the opposite gender?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

17 thoughts on “Would You Rather Have a Male or Female Protagonist? – Let’s Talk Bookish

  1. So many great questions! I didn’t have much of a bias when I was younger–as a spec fic reader, I feel like I was fortunate to grow up in a time where fantasy, sci fi and horror stories had more variety when it came to protagonists. So, while some of the older work I read had male protagonists, the newer work I read had female protagonists and that suited me just fine. I didn’t realize then that was due to the sexism of the past of course. Without naming names, some of the books I really loved as a child have been tainted for me by the author’s horrible backwards views, but I feel that the writing would probably still be well crafted. I think kids should be given the options to read books with protagonists different from themselves, but like you said we should still respect their tastes. As an adult I don’t really have a preference as to the gender of the protagonists of the books I read–I’m seeking out more non-binary stories and books written by diverse authors, but I don’t care too much about the gender of the main characters as long as the story is interesting. My favourite are books with switching POVs so we get the best of both!

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  2. I tend to gravitate towards female protagonists for the very reasons you stated – I can empathise with them more. As someone who has taught 11 – 16 year olds for a VERY long time, we are giving the vast majority too much credit by thinking they will understand/empathise with the opposite gender if they read a book from their perspective. It’s actually a simplistic and somewhat unrealistic view of how the (teenage) brain works. Some will have the maturity and self-reflection skills required to benefit in that way – most won’t. I know I certainly wasn’t that enlightened as a child, despite being a “clever” child.

    I do firmly believe that role models for all genders and sexualities should be available to children, so that they can see characters in books with whom they are able to identify.

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  3. I don’t have any preference with characters as long as they have interesting voice. I think readers should read characters with opposite gender as they give perspective that we might don’t see in same gender characters. Amazing post!

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  4. Yes, well… when I was a girl I read many male protagonist books, and few female protagonist books – mostly because there were fewer of them around that interested me. Today, you can get both more readily available. As for kids today… they should read cross-gender, but I can see trying to get them to do so won’t be as easy as it sounds.

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  5. I enjoyed reading your post. Most of my required reading had male protagonists. I also had to read Lord of the Flies, and I think it still haunts me to this day. I think that might have contributed to a desire to seek out books with female protagonists. I read books like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables.

    I also struggled a bit with the last question about kids reading the books of the opposite gender. It’s certainly possibly that it can foster empathy and understanding and it shouldn’t be discouraged, but I’m still sticking to read what you want. With the immense amount of required reading I had to do as a kid, it was always satisfying to know that I could choose my own books to read during my free time.

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  6. I love that you wrote that children should read what they want to read! Whether this or that is beneficial or not, I absolutely agree with that sentiment. I didn’t end up reading that many books with male protagonists in them because none of the other girls in my grade were doing it at the time. I slowly grew out of it but it’s something I have regretted holding me back. Children should read what they want, whether they want books with male or female leads.
    And yeah, there were some great responses this week, Rukky! Got me thinking really hard about gender diversity and teaching kids empathy!

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  7. Totally agree with your thoughts here, Rukky! And I totally agree with your little update though. While I do see the value that can come from reading both perspectives (and I do think that it’s important), I feel that inevitably they will come across the other perspective and might be mindblown at what they find. I doubt we ever need to force them to read certain things like that – I for one hate to be forced, so I totally empathize with that. Great post (and great formatting)!

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