That is an interesting point about the idea of women characters often being used as a way to prop up male characters. As I indicated with H.G wells as long as I think the story is good, I could happily read a book which had an entirely, or predominately male cast as it were. I usually relate better to the male characters than the women anyway honestly. But it would be interesting to read a book with predominately female characters in which there was not any romance, or love-interest.
Oftentimes books that are written by women authors featuring female characters annoy me more than the books that get criticized as being sexist. Perhaps it is in part because the author is trying too hard to create that positive, strong female role model. It would be nice to read a book featuring a female character who is indeed very humanly flawed and whose life does not revolve around finding love.
In regards to the rape issue. I can understand where you are coming from and the point you are making but as someone who is genuinely interested in history, I think it would be naive to write a work of HF where you just pretend like rape was not very much a fact of that time period and life in that time. It is an acknowledgement of things which actually happened. I would not want to read some idealized, romanticized version of history where all the violence and bad things are swept under the rug, so not to offend anyone's delicate sensibilities.
You see this:
[QUOTE]and for me in a way I find it kind of refreshing to read a book in which there is not this need to create some romantic story line as a way to make the book more interesting, or appealing to women readers. [/]
Is a classic 'sexist' comment and, perhaps, the crux of the misunderstanding about sexism in books and the reason many women rail against the portrayal of women in books (e.g. solely there to prop up male characters, to add love interest or sexual interest or sexual exploitation) or the portrayal of books for women. In fact your whole post sums it up in a roundabout kind of way. Just because you're a women doesn't mean you're interested in romance. Women manage to have whole lives filled with action, activity, intrigue, exploits and dramas which have nothing to do with men or the domestic sphere. So why do these things not exist, or seem so hard to find, in literature (and movies)? Interestingly in the movies they are now starting to understand that you can take a character which has been written as a man and cast a woman in the role and there is no need to make any changes because, you know what: women are people too. Flawed and interesting, just like men. Just poorly represented, typecast and, often, dismissed. I think this is also a problem with the idea of the 'strong, independent female role model'. I'm not too fussed about an idealistic representation of women, but a realistic and representative one would be nice. The issue with rape in books is that it's often there for male titillation, and contributes (in a roundabout way, as lots of things do) to the ongoing representation of women as being for male consumption and male desire being the primary appetite being served rather than historical accuracy.