megwrites: Dualla from BSG. Dualla > EVERYONE ELSE.  (dualla)
[personal profile] megwrites
I know I'm late to this party, but N.K. Jemisin, in her unending awesome, says what I've always wanted to say, but says it much better in her post The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy.

I'm tempted to quote the whole thing, but that's not cool or ethical to do, so I'll try to quote the most relevant part. Note: All the parts are relevant.

By the same token, readers need to stop embracing only superficial examples of strength in women. We need more than ice queens, or femme fatales, or feisty gun-toting redheads juggling harems of men, or mighty-thewed chainmail bra-wearing Conanettes....

I want to see female characters who are judged strong based on their choices, their determination, and their refusal to be limited by what others think — not what they look like or do for a living/hobby.



Yes, thank you N.K. Jemisin. Thank you for that. I could not be more right if it tried. I just want to hug that entire post and tell everyone about it.

Especially as it relates to the reasons why I am so frustrated, fed up, and enraged at a lot of the urban fantasy and paranormal genres. Genres which do not lack for women writers and readers, and yet? It seems like we keep falling into the same patterns outlined above.

Want an example. I just put down a book which starts out with our half-vamp heroine going to question a vampire who has killed his two servants for attempting to steal from him. That is, until she finds out that he sired her vampire ex-boyfriend who she is relentlessly pining over. Against said ex-boyfriend's will. At which point, knowing that he murdered these two human beings, she decides to let him go. Because she's sentimental.

This is exactly what Jemisin is talking about. This protagonist the very walking definition of the fiesty redhead. Though she has knives instead of guns. Point of interest: she actually throws five knives at once during the opening scene. Five. Because that totally convinces me that this is a believable scene in which I should invest as a reader rather than something that's just for show. Which, if I wasn't eye rolling enough because of it's over the top nature really got me giggling at the book and not in the way intended.

All that physical prowess contained in a person who apparently can't see past herself or her romantic entanglements enough and lacks the moral (or practical) compass to see that letting a murderous vampire go for "sentimental" reasons is a seriously weak action to take, and that any further kills that he makes will be on her head as well since she had the chance to stop him and didn't take it. Furthermore, it isn't clear that her ex-boyfriend wouldn't want to kill the bastard anyway.

Thus, you have a protagonist who throws five knives but then orders wine instead of a gin and tonic on a date (because apparently wine makes a better impression or something? Hell if I know!), who abuses her position with little consideration, because her strength seems to be entirely external and supernatural, not innate and internal.

I put that book down, because I'm aware of all the skewed visions of women out there in the world. I don't need to spend another 300 pages stuffing my brain with another portrait of an essentially empty character, as though conventional good looks (to say nothing of how holding up white/thin/able/cis/unscarred characters reinforces so many ugly cultural norms) and some weaponry and some fancy trappings and maybe a sexually charged but otherwise emotionally void romance with the Alpha Male are equal (or better) to a woman's inner self and inner strength.

It's almost as if it's a way of saying that women are so unimportant, so unequal, so utterly unworthy of close consideration that it doesn't matter you replace a conscience, an inner strength, an emotional fortitude with decorative trappings, with show pieces. It's all the same. Because the strength of women - the strength that doesn't come from physical power but from the will to use our agency in ways that change the world, ways small and silent sometimes, ways that come from just existing as ourselves in the face of a world that wants us obedient - just isn't worth writing about.

I don't know about you, but I disagree in the strongest possible terms. I think that exact thing is exactly what's most worth writing about.

Date: 2011-07-24 07:49 pm (UTC)
green_knight: (Inner Feminist)
From: [personal profile] green_knight
This ties in with the widely-linked article about Smurfs, where Smurfette's skill is _being female_. And I think that as writers, we need to counter that by challenging ourselves to write about women in all kinds of roles - ordinary human beings who happen to be female.

I've started to notice just how sexualised the portrayal of women in so many books is, and it's starting to seriously cut into my enjoyment of books. I think it always annoyed me, I just didn't have the critical vocabulary, but when we get a page of a woman following her profession and she seeks approval of a male audience member, comments on the appearance (not skills or actions!) of another professional woman and considers that the man would disapprove, very briefly *does* follow her profession, and then is embarassed by a wardrobe malfunction, I feel there's something endemic at work.

(I'm holding off the review until I know for certain whether the book is _about_ a woman breaking out of an abusive relationship or whether the abusive relationship (and it is _ugly_ even though there's no violence) is just a standard that is not worth engaging with.

the will to use our agency in ways that change the world

*Definitely* worth writing about. What the worlds needs more of is the female gaze: seeing women as strong and resourceful and important, not in male terms (pretty, strong, providing sexual services to men) but on their own terms.

Date: 2011-07-26 12:11 am (UTC)
cynthia1960: me from Wiscon Chronicles v. 3 (Default)
From: [personal profile] cynthia1960
Thank you for the pointer to Nora's awesome!

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