I wrote Robin as my interpretation of a punk rocker. She was loud and unapologetic about it. She cursed, she drank and smoked in excess. She had questionable hygiene, had extremely high ambitions and was most comfortable when she was being a smart ass. She was a talented musician, but she needed to learn to love music for the sake of music and not for the wealth or popularity.
After writing her, I found myself speaking more confidently. More direct and less yielding. I stopped putting up with stuff as much. I enjoyed being a smart ass every now and then. It was as if writing the character proved that a different woman was inside of me. It was liberating.
But both Robin and myself were quickly labeled as bitches.
I didn't think much of the word before writing RockRobin. In fact, I defended the use of the word when an active feminist in one of my communities wanted to ban the word altogether. It's not a slur, I said. It can sometimes be endearing, I said. And then I wrote RockRobin. It was like slamming into a brick wall. I was wrong.
When I first started development, the age of otome games had not yet come. Girl pursuing boys was still a niche concept for English visual novels - and the rising amount of female developers was being met with some push-back. My characters were still at that stage of being highly malleable and since my main interest in the game was the simulation mechanics rather than the story (it's true), I had no initial attachment to them. Robin's character just naturally came out, due to the circumstances that she was put in during the first moments of the game: She is kicked out of a band that she co-founded with her lover. She's literally thrown onto the streets. She's pissed and she's going to be sore for a long time. Who wouldn't be?
The demo for the game garnered positive responses and even offers to help. People offered suggestions, corrected typos, and donated money towards the production of art and music licensing. But I became more and more worried that Robin's character was a mistake - that I screwed up and I needed to re-write a lot of her scenes. Yet every time I went back to do so, I barely made any changes. I truly felt that's how she would react in those circumstances. Every great story has a good character arc, but it became clear to me that some people were expecting Robin to transform completely and utterly into someone else.
Here is where it gets hairy.
Literally every single man that worked with me on my game called Robin a bitch. Every single one. They said it as if I needed to hear it. They said it like this was the first time I was learning that she had an abrasive personality. They said it as if it were simply a mistake to be fixed. And yet, when asked how I could fix it, they would offer nothing as a follow-up. They could identify that she was a bitch, but not why.
The only suggestion that was ever offered was to include a flash-forward scene that showed Robin near the end of her character arc. She would be a much, much nicer person by then, they probably thought. Well, I made that flash-forward sequence, disguised it as a flash-back to avoid spoilers and put it in. Even though I did my best to make Robin the best person she could realistically be in that flash-forward, it accomplished nothing. People thought Robin-at-her-best was the actual prelude to Robin-at-her-worst. She wasn't going to change enough for some people. Angry was bad. Not accepting her fate was bad. "Bitch" wasn't as innocent a word as I thought it was.
I didn't consider myself a feminist before writing RockRobin, but over the years, my attitude changed and my eyes were opened.
On top of disliking Robin, my male collaborators would love to correct me about my own characters. Or scour my writing with an eye to teach me about male behavior. One particular man told me on numerous occasions that "men would never do that." A woman writing about men was so novel to him that he needed to police my representation of men. Whereas I've grown up in a world where men have always written their women to be idealistic fantasies, the concept that the same could be done to men was unfathomable. He was upset that the characters didn't hate Robin more than they already did, despite 2/3 of the main cast disliking her at the start. It wasn't enough, I suppose, because I never really heard from him after that.
No, you're right. If this was the real world, a lot of men that approached Robin would call her a bitch and be a lot nastier than I portrayed them. I'm not going to include that in my escapist fiction. I'm also not going to include the massive amounts of sexism in the music industry, either. This was a game made for young women to pretend to be in a rock band and date cute boys. Let's be clear about that.
The sad thing is, I almost believed them. I almost gutted my game to cater to these complaints. I spent hours staring at the scenes wondering, "How can I make this better? How can I fix Robin?" The answer was that I couldn't.
After years and years of female characters only existing in games to titillate, to be desirable, to be submissive and be friendly all the time forever - this woman dared to be simply a human being with human flaws. "Would I be friends with her?" is always going to be a separate question from: "Does she have a story to tell?"
I think she does. I am never going to "fix" her. You are totally within your right to not like her, and I am totally within my right to not care. I share this because I want other people to not be afraid to write their own aggressive female characters. Don't compromise your vision when someone says they don't like her. If she doesn't fit in with your goals then address that, but create the person you want to create. Please.