Hmm....interesting. I definitely see the point being made, though I also find myself agreeing somewhat with Badger and Mahr. "Caricatures" aren't necessarily a bad thing, since we tend to ascribe stereotypes to people for ease of reference, and having several visual cues and defining parts of those characters always helps set them apart from the rest. However, I do have to point out that what makes something a caricature has not exactly been well defined. How do you determine whether it's "removed from reality" or not? As offensive as some people may find it, there are women that exist that actively enjoy casual sex (I myself know about four of them) and there are males who aren't particularly fussed about casual sex and others who actively reject the concept (I know a couple of those latter ones myself). As has been noted, people are complex and any given stereotype or caricature is likely to accurately describe at least ONE person presently alive in the world. There're almost 7 billion of us...it's statistically unlikely that you could come up with a non-contradictory description that doesn't accurately describe SOMEBODY. But that isn't the point; my point is that since humans are complex individuals, "unrealistic" and "caricature" is ill-defined in the first place.
If it's based on appearance, well, first off obviously people exist who look like them or Faceclaims would be impossible. But further than that, it has already been pointed out that people very rarely create an outright unattractive character or average looking character unless the unattractiveness or averageness is in fact the point. Since play-by-post RP's are in and of themselves fantasies and vehicles for particular daydreams and fetishes, it's somewhat impossible to avoid and unfair to criticise given that very few people ever fantasise about themselves being unattractive. It's just a human thing that we want to idealise ourselves, and in scenarios where we're playing out fantasies, want to play idealised characters. Now, that doesn't necessarily excuse poor writing - Mary Sues and Gary Stues are rightly frowned upon - but it does go some way to explain why very few characters are unattractive. And I would hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 RPers primarily make characters that are, overall, attractive. That isn't a caricature, it's an idealisation because we want our fantasies to be...well...ideal. Hence the term "fantasies."
Now, I like to consider myself a decent writer...no doubt there are people who would agree, and people who would disagree, but I personally like to flatter myself in considering my writing to be of a decent standard. So, let's take one of my longest running currently active characters, Grace Elizabeth Young, as a case study in this hypothetical. She is currently involved in a small group RP I am GMing called "We Could Be Heroes," a character and story driven Year One superhero RP. There are a variety of characters involved, but Grace was amongst the first to be introduced (I'm not the original GM, but I am one of the original players who stepped up when the original GM disappeared).
Grace is a bisexual sex-positive female who enjoys casual sex and is, at this time, uninterested in a monogamous relationship with anybody. She's also part of the "clique" that "runs the school," and is a cheerleader.
On first glance, this would appear to be your standard stereotypical vehicle for lots and lots of smut, which not much substance to her as an actual character.
On first glance, I would assume that she meets the OP's criteria for a "caricature."
But the thing is, Grace has a reason
for all of that. Blonde? Eh, blonde people exist. In the west, at least, blonde is one of the most common hair colours. Female? Over half the population is female, so blah blah blah, banal explanations blah.
The real point is that I've written out Grace's entire backstory from when she was a young girl up until her current age, and written it in a way to try
and make it believable. Now, her bisexuality really has nothing to do with any of that - homosexuality isn't a choice, I just wanted to see if I could write a non-heterosexual character believably (it turns out I can; the secret is to gasp
write a normal character, since being non-hetero doesn't make you any less human. Go figure.) - but it was an aspect I wanted to work in regardless of what kind of character she ended up being. I won't go into any details, since my players might be reading this and I don't want to give spoilers for her character arc later on in the RP or any details of her past I've left out of general discussion, but the overview is this:
She is inspired at least in part by Faith from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and was designed concurrently with her brother Dante as a kind of compare and contrast. Whereas Dante is the kind of "damaged" that leads to an aloof, distrusting nature, somewhat awkward social skills and a general distaste for everybody else resulting in a feeling of loneliness and isolation, Grace is much the other way in that she's hiding within herself and is using casual sex as a way to deal with her ingrained trust issues. She still enjoys sex and I think will ALWAYS enjoy sex, but it stems from things that have happened to her that have kind of soured her on monogamous relationships for a while. She has trust and self esteem issues,which she covers up with bubbly joy and an enthusiasm in participating in casual sex. Plus, she's in a generation where that sort of thing is more acceptable (she's only 18), so that kind of adds into it as well.
The point of this case study is this:
Is she still a caricature, since she has in the end been designed to be a certain way, or has she crossed the line from caricature and stereotype into a nuanced, believable, realistic character? Or has she simply crossed into being a different
I think the answer is kind of all of the above, because the OP kind of paints a false dichotomy; you either have a caricature and stereotype, OR you have a believable, realistic character...when it isn't that cut and dry. You can be a nuanced, interesting, realistic character that reflects aspects of society and life experiences and STILL fall into what some people would call a stereotype. Somewhat ironically, we have as many stereotypes as we do actual personality types - which kinda renders the whole point of stereotypes moot in my opinion, but that's a whole different matter - so in many ways, it's almost impossible to create a character who ISN'T a caricature or stereotype when boiled down to their bare basics.
If you have an attractive, athletic cheerleader, some would consider that a caricature.
If you have an average looking everygirl, that's a literary archetype and - thanks to more modern teen fic - a caricature as well.
If you have a bookish introvert, that too is a archetype and stereotype.
Any character, when boiled down to their basics, IS a stereotype, because stereotypes and caricatures are by their very natures basic traits exaggerated to extreme levels.
So I guess the overall question is: What separates a caricature from a nuanced character, and are caricatures in and of themselves inherently bad,
which is what the OP seems to be suggesting.
And I do want to hit one final thing in my random, meandering ramble:
The OP says that caricatures of female characters are "more offensive" when it's women writing them.
What right do you have to label their characters as caricatures and therefore - if I'm reading your tone correctly - "inferior?" The OP states that straight men can distil certain feminine traits into a character without a females input, but previously acknowledged that women writers also do this (according to his own definitions, of course)...and they're OBVIOUSLY having a female voice in the conception since they are themselves female. You can say that they're just "sexualising the character" in order to participate in fetishes (which, as pointed out previously, is what we're ALL doing, to some extent) but what gives anybody the authority to label their characters as bad or as caricatures based on solely that?
What makes a character a sexualised caricature as opposed to just a sex-positive character? Fetishized characters exist, of course, but the line between them is vague, ill defined...and you know what? Fetishization of a character doesn't necessarily make it a bad character. Taking a video game example for a moment, Bayonetta is definitely sexualised and fetishized, but it makes sense given the character. Bayonetta is that way because she herself decides to be that way, not because somebody else is telling her to be that way. It is, in universe, her decision. Contrast that to the jiggle physics and skimpy outfits that don't make sense in things like DOA and Soul Caliber and the cliche 90's Fantasy RPG...so the final question is kind of directed at the OP: Why is a character being a caricature or fetishised in some way inherently bad? Why can't a character be a well written, nuanced, believable character and not also be a caricature or sexualised? Because I think a false dichotomy has been created here inadvertently where people are saying that you can't be sexualised or based on a caricature and STILL be a nuanced, interesting, believable character. Human nature is so diverse that personality wise, at least, there's no such thing as "unbelievable."
More, and this is a side question, why do people find the existence of these characters "offensive?" What's wrong with them being created and played? as Mahr said; Everybody here is creating idealised characters to some extent, so what separates a well-crafted, believable character from an "offensive caricature" under your separate definitions?
Also, I apologise for the somewhat scattergun approach; I was attempting to gather disparate thoughts and points into one vaguely coherent ramble, so apologies if it comes across as a little...mismatched and unfocused, haha.
I think my attitude towards this matter is generally in line with Mahr, Badger and Tainted, haha.