Recently, there was a Pete and Pete cast reunion. Remember that show? I used to love it because of quirky characters and a reality that wasn’t based in real life and yet still held truths. (Like the meaning behind a driver’s side elbow.)
The creators of the show did an interview where they expressed surprise that a large portion of their fans were actually female.
…the ones who were the most affected and were trembling and just wanted to hug you were girls. I don’t think we ever really wrote the show for them — probably one of its flaws, looking back, is that we didn’t do as good a job as we could have with Ellen [Big Pete’s best friend], giving her more to do and taking advantage of [actress Alison Fanelli]‘s comic chops.
Listen, male authors, screenplay writers, commercial makers– you don’t have to write for us. It’s also doubtful that you have to write for men. Just write a good story with good characters and that’s more than enough.
I’m not meaning to pick on the creators of the show. It was an innocent throw away comment. They just mean that they really wished they’d used the female character more, but because they assumed their audience was made of boys they focused on the boys. Which is understandable. How often are people told to write for the audience?
Here’s the thing– the sex of a character doesn’t matter. I can read a book and identify with challenges facing male characters. Often, those challenges aren’t even linked to their sex, it’s an outside force forcing the story. Men can do the same! I’ll admit that I was surprised by the number of men who’ve read my story and actually enjoyed it. So I’ve fallen into this same thought process too.
I’m not saying I’m against a character who is defined by their gender. I think it’s just important to stop thinking in black and white. Writing about a woman who has to deal with a choice between two men is not necessarily a bad topic so long as you’re not turning the characters into flat and tired stereotypes where the men are all dogs and the women are all beauty obsessed with ticking biological clocks that cause them to shank their best friend.
In defense of Pete and Pete, even though they say they weren’t thinking of the girls watching the show, Susana Polo makes a great point on The Mary Sue.
…Pete & Pete did right by its female characters: in a show that was entirely about the weirdness of suburban life, it never tossed off a stereotype to anyone. There was no stuck up, pink, and frilly older sister, and I don’t think the show even ever had a creepy cat lady. Female characters in Pete & Pete were never defined by their gender, femininity, or a relationship to a main character…
And that’s how you make a great show for kids, where the characters can just be characters.