How can I stop making sexist games?

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#91 Post by trooper6 » Sun Sep 28, 2014 8:20 pm

I would like to riff a bit, inspired by breadslam's previous post.

A think the questions, "What would be traits that make a female protagonist likable to you?" "What would be traits that make female side characters likable to you?" and " Can you give me existing examples of positive women role models in gaming?" are the wrong questions to ask.

The person critiquing you Taleweaver was not upset that the characters weren't likable, but that they weren't fully realized human beings.

I don't need the female characters to be likable. I need them to be interesting and fully realized. I need them to be people and not accessories. Did you ever watch that show Damages with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne? Glenn Close's character wasn't likable...but she was an amazing character! She wasn't defined solely through her relationships with men, she was her own person. She was set up as sort of an antagonist to Rose Bryne's character...but she was also someone you could empathize with...well at least I did. She did some illegal and messed up things, but she always wanted to help out the underdog and punish large corporate bullies...for complex reasons of her own. Both the female leads were great. They were not likable...or positive role models...they were amazing characters. That is a feminist thing.

So, rather than answer what makes a female character likable, I'll answer what makes a female character interesting:
Her having a belief system (which could be messed up). Her having an inner life (not just "the girlfriend" but being an actual person). Her dealing with challenges in some way...sometimes well, sometimes less well, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. Her growing and adapting to her situation. Her being the main character in her own story.

Let me say that again. Her being the main character in her own story. She may be an NPC and not the main character of this particular VN, but I want to have a feeling that she is the main character in her own story. That she has a well developed life, with motivation, and people she knows, outside of and intersecting with the game I'm playing.

So now I'll give examples of interesting women in gaming:
Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic)
Female Shepherd (Mass Effect)
Aveline (Dragon Age 2)
Victoria McPherson (Still Life)
Zoë Castillo and April Ryan (Dreamfall: The Longest Journey)
Clementine (The Walking Dead)
Carla Valenti (Indigo Prophecy)
I was super fascinated by the Maria/Mary duality in Silent Hill 2
Aveline (Assassin's Creed: Liberation)
Faith (Mirror's Edge)
I thought all the women in Analogue: A Hate Story were really interesting...after playing Hate+, I really am fascinated by Mute

So...interesting and fully realized.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#92 Post by breadslam » Sun Sep 28, 2014 9:05 pm

trooper6 wrote:
A think the questions, "What would be traits that make a female protagonist likable to you?" "What would be traits that make female side characters likable to you?" and " Can you give me existing examples of positive women role models in gaming?" are the wrong questions to ask.

I don't need the female characters to be likable. I need them to be interesting and fully realized. I need them to be people and not accessories. Did you ever watch that show Damages with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne? Glenn Close's character wasn't likable...but she was an amazing character! She wasn't defined solely through her relationships with men, she was her own person. She was set up as sort of an antagonist to Rose Bryne's character...but she was also someone you could empathize with...well at least I did. She did some illegal and messed up things, but she always wanted to help out the underdog and punish large corporate bullies...for complex reasons of her own. Both the female leads were great. They were not likable...or positive role models...they were amazing characters. That is a feminist thing.

So, rather than answer what makes a female character likable, I'll answer what makes a female character interesting:
Her having a belief system (which could be messed up). Her having an inner life (not just "the girlfriend" but being an actual person). Her dealing with challenges in some way...sometimes well, sometimes less well, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. Her growing and adapting to her situation. Her being the main character in her own story.

Let me say that again. Her being the main character in her own story. She may be an NPC and not the main character of this particular VN, but I want to have a feeling that she is the main character in her own story. That she has a well developed life, with motivation, and people she knows, outside of and intersecting with the game I'm playing.
Ah, I really wanted to touch on this, but I couldn't think of how to say it in a concise (and constructive) way. You've got me beat. :)

This was pretty much the thrust behind my earlier rambling, especially your comments about making a character feel like (s)he's the protagonist of his/her own story. Ideally, every main character (along with some of the more important or developed side characters) should be like this.

One thing that I think a lot of writers and developers get hung up on is what's "acceptable" to women when they look at female characters. While this varies, my personal feeling on this matter is this: there's no wrong way to be a woman and, as long as you can make your characters their own people, there's no such thing as "acceptable" either.

Could there be an incredibly feminine and traditional woman who's a great character? Heck yes. There's a power in every woman, every person, and the way they choose to present themselves shouldn't diminish that. All you have to do is show us that power exists, and you can shove just about any stereotypes together and make a "good character".

(Also, I'm embarrassed that I didn't include Aveline in my previous examples of great women in video games. She was honestly my favorite part of Dragon Age 2 and is a wonderful case study on how to write a complex female side character.)

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#93 Post by Taleweaver » Mon Sep 29, 2014 2:59 am

Alright. I think I can consider my questions answered now, not necessarily directly but indirectly.

I've never made games to pander to one specific demographic (except for "people enjoying visual novels", duh), and before receiving the e-mail I quoted from, I thought my stories were pretty much enjoyable to everybody. Sure, not everybody'll like it; people might hate certain plot points (or even the entire game) for personal reasons, but then again, you can't take into account every single person in the world.

You can, however, take into account certain groups of people - and "women" is a pretty large group of people to overlook. I've never made games only for women (and frankly, I find a few of those claiming to be "for women" to be enforcing certain stereotypes I'd consider offensive if I were a woman), and I'm not going to start doing that now, but I think I now have a pretty solid grasp of how to make my next projects more inclusive.

Some of you may already know that I'm a brony. I'm a forty-year-old male who genuinely likes My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, a show written with young teenage girls as the target group in mind. I love how the series balances the needs of the target audience with a love of well-written plots while (mostly) avoiding the "now be a good girl" trope - and still remains entertaining for people like me.

My stories tend to be a little more mature than those presented within the series. But I think the general direction - tell awesome stories while remaining respectful to everybody who might read them - is one I'll be trying to follow more closely than before.#

Finally, a confession: When I started this thread, I was somewhat hoping for everybody to jump to my defense and tell me that my VNs are great as they are, and that the person who wrote that e-mail was only a single voice, and that I shouldn't care. But I pretty much had the suspicion it wouldn't turn out like that - that at least someone here would have something more than that.

Thanks to everybody. You sure didn't disappoint.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#94 Post by Arey109 » Sun Oct 05, 2014 3:52 pm

That's my personal opinion, but I think, every piece of art has its right to be created and exist. What it means? It means, that if an author did made his story this way - he had his reasons.
Story must be good, dramatic and educational. And if there's some sexism or violence, or some other thing - that's normal (as for me). One condition - it must be part of the story and must tell to reader/wiewer/gamer something valuable. So THERE MUST BE REASON for this.
I even say more - if fictional characters will stop making bad things - the art will die. Because it will be ABSOLUTELY BORING.
The art itself is some kind of "Psychological test laboratory" - we see something, that we usually cannot see in real life. And we make our conclusions out of this stories. And we gain emotions and experience, that unavailable or very hard to find in real life.
So, in movies, literacy and games MUST be invisible guys, who spies on girls in the shower. There MUST be man, who kills another man due to ask of some bad girl. And there MUST be a serial killers, mad dictarors, aliens, zombies, and schoolgirls with homicidal tendencies and big knife :) .
That's the art.
By the way - in all-known movie "Saving private Ryan" there's NO FEMALE CHARACTERS AT ALL.
Is this a sexism? No - it is a realistic film about war.

So, i put it simple - if someone tells author something about sexism or cruelty to animals - that's a nonsense.
What author really should worry about - that's if someone tells him, that he is a bad author, and created a bad story.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#95 Post by fruitionpaper » Mon Oct 06, 2014 12:23 am

Taleweaver wrote: Finally, a confession: When I started this thread, I was somewhat hoping for everybody to jump to my defense and tell me that my VNs are great as they are, and that the person who wrote that e-mail was only a single voice, and that I shouldn't care. But I pretty much had the suspicion it wouldn't turn out like that - that at least someone here would have something more than that.
So people criticized you and told you why they had a problem with your games. Big deal. You know what's worse than your game getting bad reviews?

When nobody knows your games exist. When no one cares about your art. I'd rather get get told by critics what went wrong and have a discussion than for my game to be covered in spider webs, unheard of and unseen. You kinda have to be flattered that someone played ALL of your games and with passion, wrote detailed analysis of the game's flaws. Like damn. They could've wrote, "You suck and r sexist, now suck my feminist ****", but wrote you an essay.
Arey109 wrote:That's my personal opinion, but I think, every piece of art has its right to be created and exist. What it means? It means, that if an author did made his story this way - he had his reasons.
Story must be good, dramatic and educational. And if there's some sexism or violence, or some other thing - that's normal (as for me). One condition - it must be part of the story and must tell to reader/wiewer/gamer something valuable. So THERE MUST BE REASON for this.
I even say more - if fictional characters will stop making bad things - the art will die. Because it will be ABSOLUTELY BORING.
The art itself is some kind of "Psychological test laboratory" - we see something, that we usually cannot see in real life. And we make our conclusions out of this stories. And we gain emotions and experience, that unavailable or very hard to find in real life.
So, in movies, literacy and games MUST be invisible guys, who spies on girls in the shower. There MUST be man, who kills another man due to ask of some bad girl. And there MUST be a serial killers, mad dictarors, aliens, zombies, and schoolgirls with homicidal tendencies and big knife :) .
That's the art.
By the way - in all-known movie "Saving private Ryan" there's NO FEMALE CHARACTERS AT ALL.
Is this a sexism? No - it is a realistic film about war.

So, i put it simple - if someone tells author something about sexism or cruelty to animals - that's a nonsense.
What author really should worry about - that's if someone tells him, that he is a bad author, and created a bad story.
Just as people should have the freedom to create whatever they want, no matter how hateful or sexist it is, people should have the freedom to criticize your art as well. When an author writes a story that has a clear malicious or even unintentional bent on a minority group, people should have the right to call you out on it.

How angry would you be if I made a game where the clear message was, "All men are rapists!". You'd rightfully tell me I'm mad and hateful. Criticism is not the enemy, active attempts at censoring someone's work IS the enemy.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#96 Post by Caveat Lector » Mon Oct 06, 2014 12:29 pm

Just as people should have the freedom to create whatever they want, no matter how hateful or sexist it is, people should have the freedom to criticize your art as well. When an author writes a story that has a clear malicious or even unintentional bent on a minority group, people should have the right to call you out on it.

How angry would you be if I made a game where the clear message was, "All men are rapists!". You'd rightfully tell me I'm mad and hateful. Criticism is not the enemy, active attempts at censoring someone's work IS the enemy.
Yes, THIS. Seriously, not all critics are evil supervillains whose sole goal is to crush the spirits of artists. Also, there are ways to mine tension over a character's safety without relying on tropes that are starting to get outdated and just a touch misogynistic. Just a touch.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#97 Post by Taleweaver » Tue Oct 07, 2014 2:17 am

fruitionpaper wrote:So people criticized you and told you why they had a problem with your games. Big deal.
That IS a big deal to me, especially considering the content of said criticism. And the length and detail of the mail I got clearly showed that person spent quite some time both playing my games and writing the e-mail.

Like most people here, my games only get little public recognition. Most of it is only a few words; there's the rare in-depth review from weeaboo.nl or vnsnow.com, but most people leave it at "nice story" or "hey, I liked that". And you know what? That's perfectly fine.

But a single voice like that one here saying "your games are sexist" really sticks out, simply by the effort taken to get that point across. This is why it IS a big deal for me. Someone actually took the time to call me out on certain elements of my stories and, in-depth, tell me what's wrong with them. And yes, I do think that matters.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#98 Post by dizzcity » Tue Oct 07, 2014 7:32 am

Sorry, a little late to the party, but for what it's worth, here's my two cents on suggestions that may result in more interesting female characters. I can't give you much comments on how to create interesting female characters beyond what has already been said, but I thought I could comment on some other aspects of storytelling which may result in added complexity to the female characters you said:

- Setting: For the most part, your stories have been grounded in patriarchal environments (some of which are true to the historical time period you're drawing from). How about changing the setting up to a matriarchy instead - let your characters live in a society where women are the ones in power, and men are subordinate for whatever reason you think would make a compelling setting to explore - aftermath of war where most men were killed, infectious disease/racial characteristic that makes women more stable and better able to organize society than men, religious/national founding figures were female, telepathic link to hive mind that places the Queen at the top, hunter-gatherer society where women rule the camp while men are off hunting, etc. Or simply because that's how history and culture turned out. Bonus if you make the society matrilineal as well (i.e. a woman passes down her wealth and inheritance to her daughters, not father to sons, and men have to marry into their wife's family).

- Relationships: Interestingly enough, if I can draw upon Disney for a second, notice that the last two Disney Princess movies (Brave and Frozen) revolved around female-female relationships. One was between a daughter and mother, the other was between two sisters. You could try centering a story around a particular female-female relationship (romantic or otherwise), and exploring a conflict that happens between the two female leads. This probably works best with a female protagonist. And ideally, the conflict shouldn't revolve around a man or marriage, but other aspects of their relationship (protecting one another from hurt or dangerous habits, fulfilling societal expectations, dealing with character flaws, lack of communication and misunderstandings, etc.)

- Themes: I think there are some themes that resonate more with female audiences than male ones. I'm not an expert on this topic myself, but I think one of the biggest themes to explore for female audiences is the clash between Societal Expectations and Inner Selves. What role are you expected to play in society, and how do you resolve the conflict between what is outwardly demanded of your behaviour and your inner desires? There's some of this in Japanese culture as well, for both male and female roles. Though I would argue that Japanese women have obeyed or subverted their roles in more interesting ways. (Consider the yamato nadeshiko versus the kogal versus the fujoshi versus the female yakuza boss/delinquent).

Another big theme tends to be Intra-Familial Conflict - i.e. when family members are arguing and you have to take sides. Perhaps it's because society expects women to be more concerned with family matters, but the end result of this seems to be that female protagonists tend to be more affected by family conflict and family relationships, in one way or another. So how would a female protagonist deal with a conflict between her mother and her grandmother regarding adopting/aborting a child? Or between her father and her brother about staying out late with a bad gang of friends versus drinking parties with the company boss? Or between her father and mother about money / work? Or between her sister and brother about dangerous dating habits? Or any sort of combination of the lot. Family drama is a big thing for female readers.

Cheers,
-Dizzy-

EDIT: I'm not sure if it'll help, but if you want to read through a funny manhwa (Korean manga) that shows some of the insecurities that women have to deal with, I would highly recommend the series called "Dear, Only You Don't Know". Don't think I'm allowed to post the link to the scanlations, but I'm sure you can find it.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#99 Post by Taleweaver » Tue Oct 07, 2014 8:24 am

dizzcity wrote:- Setting: For the most part, your stories have been grounded in patriarchal environments (some of which are true to the historical time period you're drawing from). How about changing the setting up to a matriarchy instead - let your characters live in a society where women are the ones in power, and men are subordinate for whatever reason you think would make a compelling setting to explore - aftermath of war where most men were killed, infectious disease/racial characteristic that makes women more stable and better able to organize society than men, religious/national founding figures were female, telepathic link to hive mind that places the Queen at the top, hunter-gatherer society where women rule the camp while men are off hunting, etc. Or simply because that's how history and culture turned out. Bonus if you make the society matrilineal as well (i.e. a woman passes down her wealth and inheritance to her daughters, not father to sons, and men have to marry into their wife's family).
Funny you should mention that. I wrote the script for one of DaFool's currently on-hiatus projects, a tactical RPG/VN hybrid named "Elspeth's Garden". That one has a matriarchical society as its background and, thus, an abundance of female characters, with the only male hero in the story being an intelligent chimpanzee. (It makes sense in context.)
- Relationships: Interestingly enough, if I can draw upon Disney for a second, notice that the last two Disney Princess movies (Brave and Frozen) revolved around female-female relationships. One was between a daughter and mother, the other was between two sisters. You could try centering a story around a particular female-female relationship (romantic or otherwise), and exploring a conflict that happens between the two female leads. This probably works best with a female protagonist. And ideally, the conflict shouldn't revolve around a man or marriage, but other aspects of their relationship (protecting one another from hurt or dangerous habits, fulfilling societal expectations, dealing with character flaws, lack of communication and misunderstandings, etc.)
Not sure how to make a setting like that very, well, suitable for a broad audience without resorting to common tropes. "Brave" revolved around the main protagonist not wanting to marry and remaining independent, "Frozen" was, at heart, a classic "save-the-princess"-story, with the added twist "save her from herself". Then again, maybe Disney movies aren't the best place to go looking for innovation in plot.
- Themes: I think there are some themes that resonate more with female audiences than male ones. I'm not an expert on this topic myself, but I think one of the biggest themes to explore for female audiences is the clash between Societal Expectations and Inner Selves. What role are you expected to play in society, and how do you resolve the conflict between what is outwardly demanded of your behaviour and your inner desires? There's some of this in Japanese culture as well, for both male and female roles. Though I would argue that Japanese women have obeyed or subverted their roles in more interesting ways. (Consider the yamato nadeshiko versus the kogal versus the fujoshi versus the female yakuza boss/delinquent).
But isn't the mere notion of "themes more suitable for one gender than the other" sexist in itself? Shouldn't, say, Lara Croft have the potential to be one of the great icons of gender-inclusivity if she weren't so sexualized? She's essentially a woman in a typical male role, while still retaining her femininity.
Another big theme tends to be Intra-Familial Conflict - i.e. when family members are arguing and you have to take sides. Perhaps it's because society expects women to be more concerned with family matters, but the end result of this seems to be that female protagonists tend to be more affected by family conflict and family relationships, in one way or another. So how would a female protagonist deal with a conflict between her mother and her grandmother regarding adopting/aborting a child? Or between her father and her brother about staying out late with a bad gang of friends versus drinking parties with the company boss? Or between her father and mother about money / work? Or between her sister and brother about dangerous dating habits? Or any sort of combination of the lot. Family drama is a big thing for female readers.
THAT I can see feasible. Though, to be honest, I'm not big on writing soap opera.

Let me consider your ideas a little.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#100 Post by dizzcity » Tue Oct 07, 2014 9:02 am

Taleweaver wrote: But isn't the mere notion of "themes more suitable for one gender than the other" sexist in itself? Shouldn't, say, Lara Croft have the potential to be one of the great icons of gender-inclusivity if she weren't so sexualized? She's essentially a woman in a typical male role, while still retaining her femininity.
Hmm... I think this is where my personal philosophy may disagree with what some of the feminists say. There are two ways to approach gender differences - one way is to acknowledge and celebrate them equally, the other is to try and eradicate them. The current problem is that gender discrimination (sexism) has currently acknowledged gender differences, but the measuring stick they use compares the weaknesses of women against the strengths of men. What 2nd-wave feminists would suggest is that we eradicate the differences in gender by saying that women are just as strong as men in the same areas, and thus are interchangeable with men. And if women don't measure up, then we must change the system so that women can rise to the same level as men are on the measuring stick.

I personally believe in a "complementary but different" philosophy - we're not the same, we don't have to be the same, but we should be valued equally for our differences. Why should a woman be forced to have the same traits as a man, or respond in the same way and be treated the same way, in order to be perceived as successful? Are the only successful female role models the ones that have competed with men in the male-dominated arenas and been good at exercising traits which are valued in men? Change the measuring stick instead, so that it measures strengths of women and strengths of men. Which means acknowledging the differences in gender and the suitability of something for one gender or another, and making media products that can play equally to the strengths of women as to men.

One example: Women tend to have stronger intra-group bonding and empathy than men do - i.e. they become associated with a group of people more easily and more often than men do, and often have stronger loyalties and emotional bonds to the other members of that group. Instead of making a game where a female protagonist has to be an independent and lone wanderer (male role), make the game such that you could succeed equally either as a lone wanderer or as part of a tightly-knit group with strong empathy and loyalty. Where success doesn't only depend on the power and control you have over your independent character, but also on the strength of the understanding and empathetic bonds you have with your party members / group of friends. Where successfully understanding enough about a person to persuade him/her to do something is valued just as much as having the power/skill to do it yourself. Thankfully, many games are starting to head in this direction, but there's still more to go.

/*end soapbox*/

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#101 Post by E-night » Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:03 pm

There might themes that, on the avarage, more women than men prefers, as well as there are traits that more women than men possess, but there will always be women who wants something different as well as women who have 'masculine' traits.


I like fantasy with lots of magic, so I want more women that can kick a dragon's behind on her lonesome with swords and magic both. I also like political intrique fantasty so I want more ambitious and clever women who employ machivellian tactics.

I also like mysteries, detective games and adventure games, so I want more female Phonenix Whright (Mia Fey's cases are still my favorite). Else I can only think of Nancy Drew and Nicole (I think her name was) in some of the Broken Swords games.

I also want more Laura Crofts. A female action heroine uncovering ancient mysteries in ruins? Sign me up.

I adore villain protagonist so I want to see more women there too.

While I enjoy romance, I dislike family dramas and sisterhood and female friends stories - generally I just don't enjoy slice of life or friendship stories..

I want more women in the stories I like, which a 100% selfish, but most women prefer reading the stories they like as an individual and there every genre have female readers.


And the one thing I don't want? Being told by a story that these traits are a women's strenghts and these traits are a man's.

If I get a sense that an author or a story says that this are how women are strong I will never touch that author books again, because I will (and it doesn't matter if it is fair or not) read it as being told by the subtext that this is the only way for a women to be strong.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#102 Post by 2dt » Tue Oct 07, 2014 2:28 pm

This doesn't directly answer your questions, but it's a bit of outside the box thinking that might give you a new perspective.

If the problem is that you might be unintentionally writing stories that are perceived as sexist, why not experiment writing a story that's intentionally sexist? Take your understanding of sexism, objectification, etc... and apply it as if you were dead serious on writing a compelling script that incorporated these seemingly negative elements. Then compare and contrast it to your other works. Perhaps you could even try to rewrite some of your older works to this effect.

Seems like a strange thing to do, I admit, but I think it could help in some ways:
  • It forces you to really try and understand what this whole sexism thing really is, because you need to apply it in a convincing way.
  • By layering individual sexist elements into a story, you can almost build a checklist of things to watch out for when you write your next, non-sexist stories.
At the very least, it should be an interesting experiment that you can learn from, and should make you more comfortable analyzing sexism in your works in a very hands-on, non-defensive manner.

Sometimes the person most qualified to hunt down a criminal is another criminal. :wink:

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#103 Post by blankd » Fri Oct 10, 2014 8:01 am

Ok OP this will likely sound like an asshole suggestion buuuuuuuuuuuuuut:

-Write a story or take one of your current ones
-Swap the sexes
-Take notes of what change or what you may think you want to change about the characters actions or appearances.

Honestly speaking writing female characters is only as difficult as unlearning what media and language beats of your head that "woman aren't important". Give your female characters wants and needs and let them have variety. Mix up your character ratio so that women aren't the 1 of 3 minority.

And OP, please, consider other options than this:
[snip]THAT I can see feasible. Though, to be honest, I'm not big on writing soap opera.

Let me consider your ideas a little.
Because you're falling into that trap again about how the character doesn't have a selfish want or need. Too often writers end up making characters who care too much about family end up being a doormat or people pleaser and thus the character is not actually a proactive character but a reactive one. (This is the fasttrack to having a boring lead and coincidentally a very common one!)

Instead I recommend actually hard-pitching some ideas for us (c'mon we need something to work with) of... female character stereotypes. Make us care about damsels in distress. Make us care about the jealous hag. Make us care about a femme fatale. These are characters that can be interesting, it's a matter of how you write them and make them compelling beyond their initial descriptors. This is the fundamentals of character building after all. (If you want clarification about this exercise I can demonstrate what I mean by it.)

Other mistakes to be mindful of is that there is no magical genre formula to suddenly appeal to women aside from not being a raging sexist work because that's probably the most important thing you should unlearn- women do not have significantly different interests in narrative than you/men.

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