Female Characters – Without the Romance

I just read this Candi strip.

In case you can’t read it, here is a transcript:

Laura: Don’t most of the stories you read have some kind of romance in the plot or something?
Jess: It’s not always the main part of the story, but yes.
Laura: So what’s wrong about getting to read the actual result of the romance. [NOTE: While I dislike the notion that sex is by default the main result of romance, it is consistent with Laura’s character that she would say something like this]
Jess: Nothing, but do you only watch porn, or do you watch a variety of TV shows? Sometimes they show sex, most don’t, and you’re still watching them, yes?

Now, as I’ve said before, I do like romance in fiction, and most of the fiction I read has some romance.

But this strip got me thinking … what romance free fiction is out there?

I could think of two general categories:

1) Children’s fiction
2) Stories where 70%+ of the characters are male

Maybe, if I think hard enough, I’ll think of a fictional story which is dominated by female characters, is aimed at an adult audience AND which does not have romance or sex.

I almost mentioned play “Nickel and Dimed” as an example of a story with mostly female characters and practically no romance … but then I remembered that it’s based on a non-fiction book. Curses. But, when I think about it, there are plenty of interesting non-fictional stories which revolve around females without having romance or sex … so why can’t fiction be the same?

And I think it’s important for such stories to be told. When I was a child, one of my favorite things about the So You Want to Be A Wizard books is that the relationship between the female and male protagonists was EXPLICITLY non-romantic and non-sexual … alas, it’s for children, so it doesn’t count. I also like that the female and male protagonist in the His Dark Materials Trilogy could work together in a totally platonic way … until I read the ending of The Amber Spyglass … ewwww (note: I normally do not react to sexual or romantic content by saying ‘ewwww’, but I think the ending of The Amber Spyglass merits such a reaction).

So, here’s my question:

What works of fiction a) have at least 60% female characters b) are aimed at an adult audience and c) have no (or almost no) sex or romance?

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13 thoughts on “Female Characters – Without the Romance

  1. This question makes me sad from all the wrong reasons. I tried to remember a book that would fit all your points and realised how rarely they fit even the first one! I read mostly scifi/fantasy and I jump with delight when a book passes at least the Bechdel test.
    I found on my shelf several that are “almost there”:
    Melvin Burgess – Burning Issy. Story about witches, main characters all women, no romance… but it’s a young-adult book.
    Daniel Polansky – Low Town. Noir fantasy, only the faintest hint of romance… but doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test.
    Alan Campbell – Scar Night. Dark steampunk fantasy, two strong main female characters, very low key romance… close, but still not a book aimed at women. And it has romance, moreso in the sequel.
    All three are very good books, though. Just… not good enough.

    Aside of that – glad to see someone who was as weirded out by that Dark Materials ending as I was. I mean… eeeeww! Not OK!

    • You know, most of what I’m reading nowadays at least technically passes the Bechdel test, although not always with flying colors … but most of the novels I’m reading nowadays are 1000+ pages long, and it is really, really hard to flunk the Bechdel test when a novel is that long.

      I have not heard of any of those writers or novels. Maybe I’ll check them out when my reading pile is a little shorter … as if that will ever happen (they are also going to get lower priority because I presume they are in English, and I mainly read fiction in Chinese these days in order to sharpen up my foreign language skills).

  2. PoppyAdams – The secret life of moths
    It concerns two sisters, one of whomhasis probably an Aspergers Syndrome. There is some sex where she has a physical relationship to give birth to a child which her sister will adopt but she is not emotionally involved and only academically interested. That is a novel.

    What about Angel by Elizabeth Taylor – the Edwardian romantic novelist who does marry but has no interest in sex and who spends most of her time with her animals and her best female friend.

    I know how you feel – I long sometimes for a detective story where the female lead isn’t completely preoccupied with sexual relationships and children or anything the equivalent of Maigret

    Imo

    • Do you mean The Behavior of Moths? I couldn’t find a Poppy Adams novel called ‘The Secret Lives of Moths’, but I did find that one.

      And the

        Angel

      novel is not what I’m looking for (about a romance novelist, has marriage) … but thanks for the suggestion anyway.

  3. I’ve thought hard about this and the closest I can come up with is Canadian sitcom Corner Gas, webcomic Homestuck, and maybe a few Stephen King books like Carrie, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and maybe something else I can’t think of.

    • I’ve only read a little of Homestuck, but it seems the main character is male, so unless it gets dominated by female characters later down the line, it is missing one of the main criteria.

      I have never heard of Corner Gas before (not really connected to the Canadian media loop), but it looks like something worth checking out. Thanks.

      • I read the whole thing, and Homestuck doesn’t have a clear main character and John isn’t even the most important character. Male and Female characters are equally represented in a near-perfect gender ratio (not counting a male-only group…. who died immediately after their appearance). They get roughly the same amount of screen time, not counting Act 1, which was all about John. It easily passed the Bechdel test, female characters get a roughly equal amount of screentime and take and equal part in the plot. But, as the characters got older, romance did occur. The relationships in Acts 1-5 are platonic (including the platonic side of troll romance), aside from one pairing that happened before the story started… unless unrequited, child-like crushes count. On the bright side, it’s still excellent from a feminist perspective and LGBT people are represented positively in the cast.

        I do not remember reading a story in which there is absolutely no romance that was intended for adults. :/ I’ve read plenty where it takes a backseat to the rest of the plot, though.

  4. ‘The Haunting of Hill House’? Female main character, though there are a few implied maybe-crushes, but that’s it. Of course, it’s a horror novel that deals with insanity…

    A lot of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. Usually there’s some romance going on, but it’s often just minor characters. ‘Hogfather’ and ‘Witches Abroad’ are the first ones I can think of.

    Un Lon Dun… oh drat, that’s technically a kid’s book.
    Gunnerkrigg Court? It’s a comic, though. Drat, this is harder than I thought. I have nothing against a good romance subplot, but come on!
    (Brought here via AVEN, by the way)

    • GUNNERKRIGG COURT!

      It’s been years since I’ve read it but … wow, it’s the first thing that I am familiar with which, if my memory serves me correctly, meets all of the criteria … mostly female characters, no romance (IIRC), and while it’s kid-friendly, I don’t think of it as a kids’ comic.

      I really, really need to actually read some of those Discworld books. Many people I respect are fans. Sigh.

  5. I’d try The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. It’s set in a world based on her other books, but does totally stand alone on its own. The main character is a young girl who’s crazy uncle makes her dress like a boy and learn to sword fight. She’s pretty disinterested in romance/sex throughout the entire book (and the other books in which she appears) and is a WONDERFUL example of the strong female character. All of Kushner’s books have some pretty bad-ass ladies in them, actually.

    • I don’t know why it took more than four years to reply to your comment. Whoops.

      As it so happens, by sheer coincidence, I ended up reading Swordspoint about a year and a half ago (or more accurately, I read most of it, since I lost interest towards the end and did not make it to the final chapter). I haven’t read The Privilege of the Sword, but maybe it would be good for me to give it a shot.

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