Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Writing Strong Women, Part III: Subtle Inequalities

'The Monstrosity'
Last time, I spoke about how our own biases often end up dominating our books if we're not careful to look at what sorts of ideas we're presenting and why. Now, in the least skilled authors, this can be overt--a character might just start ranting about some pet political notion of the author's without cease for pages and pages--but it can also come out in ways that are much harder to recognize, to the point that many readers (and even the author themselves) may not realize what kind of message is actually being sent. Let me demonstrate with a riddle:

A young boy is wheeled into the hospital, he's unconscious and blood is seeping through his shirt. A doctor runs up and asks "What happened?" The paramedic pushing his gurney says "He was in a car crash, his father died at the scene, and the kid's got a collapsed lung." The doctor then looks down at the and suddenly recoils in shock, then says "I'm sorry, I can't operate on this boy. He's my son."

Get it?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writing Strong Women, Part II: Independence in Action

Madonna, Whore, and Man in Le Fanu's 'Carmilla'
So last time, we talked about all the different things authors try to do to convince us that they've written a strong female character--despite the fact that such details have nothing to do with whether the character is strong or weak. What truly makes a character weak is when their actions and motivations are defined solely in terms of their relationship to other characters in the story--in the case of a weak woman, this often means that she is reliant upon the main character, who is male.

Women are impressed and intrigued by him, they follow him around, they arch their eyebrows at his quips. They get captured by the villain to provide something for him to do. Perhaps they come into conflict with each another over him, forming a love triangle, or some more complex polyhedron. Then, they sit back and wait for him to decide which one he wants to be with.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writing Strong Women, Part I: How It All Goes Wrong

Bradamante, as depicted by H.J. Ford
I think I've had to mention the problematic depiction of gender in at least half the fantasies I've reviewed. It's either a manly power fantasy where women are secondary objects of desire, or a pink-glittered melodrama about psychic unicorns, brooding prettyboys, and angst.

And yet, until someone asked me flat out why I hadn't written about it, I never really considered it as a topic. I had just been assuming that either people had an inherent respect and understanding of other people, or they didn't--and that nothing I said was going to make much of a difference in that. After all, plenty of fantasy authors are deeply invested in misogyny--they want to write books where women are toys and objects--the most egregious example being Gor, though it's hardly the only one.

But then, there are other authors who are clearly trying to write women as strong, independent characters, but just absolutely failing. Why this happens is a much more intriguing question for us to explore than why some people are insecure chauvinists--and it also might highlight a few bad habits that we can look out for in our own writing.