Tag Archives: feminism

I have always wondered this. Is it easier to fight in really tight skinny jeans or in a floor length, ridiculously full, flow-y skirt? Or would it depend on training or fighting style or something? What about just in a random brawl? I’m thinking jeans so tight you can’t do splits in them or bend over too far, and the skirt not being tied up out of the way, because that’s the logical thing to do with a skirt like that in a fight. thanks!

The real question for clothes is always: does it allow for freedom of movement?

If the skirt allows for the legs to move freely without tripping you up or trodding on the hem, then that’s fine. Ultimately a loose skirt that comes down to around knee length is going to be better, simply because it allows for a better spread of the legs in order to create a base. If you’re kicking, then the long skirt is going to get in the way or have a greater chance of tangling the legs up in the fabric.

Skinny jeans seem like the obvious choice, but the question lingers on how well they stretch. When you’re fighting, you need a wide range of motion. When you look at most athletes working out, military uniforms, or martial arts’ gi’s, you’ll notice they all have two things in common: heavy duty, loosey goosey.

In the UFC, female fighters often wear tank tops or just bras. This is in comparison to male fighters who fight without shirts. There is a secondary, more practical reason for it, however. Tight sleeves will interfere with their ability to throw punches.

Physical combat like punches or kicks rely on rotation of the body’s joints to achieve momentum. Momentum creates power. You’ve got to turn and pivot, twist your hips in conjunction with your shoulders and achieve a full stretch of the arm.

Tight clothes interfere with that, thus limiting the body’s ability to move and generate power. It’s ultimately self-defeating.

What you see when someone takes a female character and dresses them up all cutesy without regard for the realities of what they’re facing is someone taking a character who is assumed to start at disadvantage and giving them more disadvantages. Then, they tell them to strive to meet the same high standard as those without handicaps.

Nothing is going to stop you from getting creative with your fashion choices, but conventional women’s fashion and a combat lifestyle don’t naturally mix. If you want a female character who dresses fashionably while they kick ass (and don’t mind their properly picked choices getting destroyed in the process), you’ve got to do the legwork.

I’m still wondering why the hell they’d even care, but there’s room to work within the paradigm for character flaws.

Fashion is ultimately what you make of it. Trend setters set trends. Androgynous fashion for women is a thing. If your girly girl character doesn’t mind tears and stretches in her flower print skirts or spending an extra $40 to buy a new blouse when hers gets spattered in blood then what does it matter?

The question is not what your character should or shouldn’t wear. It’s accepting the connotations implied and deciding on how do you want to deal with their lifestyle choices.

The power of knowledge is that it allows you to make choices rather than luck into happy accidents. Those choices are what ultimately give your character personality and depth.

The point of choosing the clothes one does for combat is:

1) Protection

A lot of different kinds of clothing, like leather, can function as makeshift armor. Layering on an outfit like loose fitting jeans, work boots, and a motorcycle jacket works well. All three pieces are designed for active/working roles roughly similar to the damage you can take while in combat.

Women’s clothes are, sadly, by and large not designed with practicality/activity in mind. They tend to be tighter and more form fitting, designed to enhance the figure rather than protect it from general scuffs, friction burns, and bruises. They’re also lighter and made from thinner fabrics.

Men’s jeans, for example, are thicker and denser while women’s jeans are thinner.

2) Freedom of Movement

Power is created via momentum, momentum is created by the body’s motion and rotation of the joints. If any piece of clothing restricts that, then it is hampering a character’s ability to fight.

Sometimes, you’ll see gif sets going around Tumblr of female martial artists doing sidekicks in high heels. They’ll talk about how impressive it is and it is, but then you’ll see someone else talk about how it justifies feminine beauty in conjunction with combat. It doesn’t.

One of the problems with high heels is not just balance but also rotation. When you perform a sidekick or a roundhouse, the foot pivots to either a full 180 or a slightly lesser 90 degree angle. The upper body tilts in relation to the height of the kick to mediate balance, while the hips either turn over or rotate across. For a successful connection, speed is also necessary. Kicks like the roundhouse or the sidekick are a big eye catching motion and fairly easy to avoid if you see them coming. It’s a huge resource commitment and can create a massive defensive opening if you fail.

A kick in high heels is a test of balance but no matter what you do, it will halve the power of the kick and it will be much slower than it might be in flats, sneakers, or barefoot.

You’ll often see this problem with stuntwomen in tight clothes. They don’t move as well as an stuntman or woman in loose clothes. They’re inhibited and it hurts their ability to fight.

Ultimately:

This is where some of the jokes about women being magic come from. It’s also where discussions in feminism begin about unrealistic expectations, that women are expected to do more than their male counterparts for similar results.

“I want my character to be feminine and kick ass!” sounds innocuous on the surface but it emphasizes the duality in expectation. A female character who fulfills society’s requirements (which a woman must in order to be considered good) and still be successful enough at fighting while actively choosing to inhibit themselves so as not to die.

Kim Possible was probably a happy enough median, if you ignore the bare midriff.

-Michi

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We’re All in the Fridge

In light of recent television events, especially what happened this
Wednesday, let’s talk about Women (and Men) in Refrigerators.

The
term “Women in Refrigerators” and subsequent tropes was coined by comic
writer Gail Simone (@GailSimone) in 1999. It was specifically about a
panel in a Green Lantern comic when then Green Lantern Kyle Rainer
returned to find his girlfriend had been killed by one of his nemeses
while he was offworld and he returned to find her body stuffed into a
refrigerator. Gail coined this term as a way to point out a lazy trend
in the comic’s industry where the hero’s girlfriend is killed for shock
value and whose death serves as a means of motivating them. Aka making
their death all about Character X and turning the other character into a
prop. Despite the term, “Women in Refrigerators” can actually be
anyone, male or female (though more commonly female, and even more
commonly a love interest) who is killed to further the story of another
character.

Even as they die, their death is not about them. It is
about the hero, be they male or female, that they are dying for. Their
death is the ultimate disservice to them as a character, reduces them to
being a prop to further the narrative’s goals, and is almost purely for
shock value. Let me be frank, it’s a cheap gimmick on the part of the
writer(s). Where they ask the audience to sympathize not with the
character who has died, but with the character who has suffered the
loss. They make Character B’s death all about Character A. Even in their
final moments, they are usually concerned only about the other
character. Often this constitutes the worst excess in misogyny and
chauvinism as culturally women are expected to sacrifice everything
including for the men in their lives.

Let’s shorten it up.

A woman in a refrigerator is one who:

  • Dies for shock value

  • Whose death is used to motivate the hero

  • Whose death is rarely heroic, but rather shocking and gruesome.

  • Who the narrative places no focus on, even when they die

  • Commonly resulting in the Death of the Hypotenuse because the author murdered their way out a love triangle.

Basically, if your heroine says something along the lines
of: “I’ve always loved you, Character A, but I know you’re in love with
Character C and I just want you to be happy!” as her last words on her
deathbed instead of focusing on the more important parts of her life and
the other people she cares about then you’ve probably got a Fridging.
When you’re using the death to prop someone else, you’ve got a fridging.
When you’re treating your female characters as disposable props, you’ve
definitely got a fridging.

A fridging happens when you make a death all about someone who didn’t die and their character development.

If
you hate the term “fridging” then you should because it is exceedingly
common and the trope results in some of the trashiest and most offensive
fiction writing. It’s right up there with “Bury Your Gays”. In fact,
they share similar shelf spacing in terms of intent. Both treat the
dying characters as disposable and use their deaths rather than their
lives as a means of promoting a narrative about the other class.

“It
was only after his gay son was dead that Frank realized the extent of
his own homophobia and valued his son’s existence, leading him to
change.”

“In the death of long time ex-girlfriend, superhero Roly
King finally received the blessing to pursue the hot tech genius
secretary that he’d wanted all along.”

“In the death of his wife
at the hands of his nemesis, ex-psychopathic mass murder Felix decided
to pick up the knife and return to a life of murdering the murderers.”

Your
story is promoting the idea that the only way these characters have
worth is in A) Memory and B) Someone else’s pain. They do not have any
value unless they’re dead. They can only be valuable in the memory of
others and what they push them to do.

It’s disgusting,
disrespectful, and ultimately heartbreaking in ways that have nothing to
do with the story being told. It continues to play into the narrative
that if you are a minority then you must sacrifice yourself for the
majority who care nothing for you and only your death, not your life,
matters. In life, you are degraded. In death, a hero quickly forgotten.

“Why do I have to die so you can learn your lesson?”

And
don’t kid yourselves, guys. For purposes of storytelling, this trope is
an incredibly attractive one and as soon as we all decide we can’t fall
prey to it then that is the moment we will. Part of being a writer is
recognizing what you’re telling, to control the flow as it controls you.
You get to decide how a character dies, what you choose to focus on,
and what will be remembered. It’s not that death is inherently bad, it’s
not that you can’t kill off women or minorities in your fiction.

It’s how they die that matters, it’s the way you set up their death, and it’s the death you choose to give them.

There are no rules.

So, how do you avoid the Fridge?

Avoiding
the Fridge is actually remarkably easy but it’s also difficult because
it requires time, attention to detail, set up, and a willingness to
stick to your guns. Ultimately, the best deaths are the ones that the
author earns. They structure the subplot around it, they lead up to it,
they tell it very carefully, and they open the trap door in such a way
that’s worthy of the character they’re sending off. This is especially
true if it’s a main character.

A good death is one that you build
toward, even when it seems surprising. Believe it or not, a good death
is actually narratively satisfying. You conclude their story. It feels
good and not because certain subsets of your audience hated the
character and wanted them gone or because you no longer had a use for
them so they could be sacrificed. It’s a conclusion and, unlike in real
life, a good one satisfies.

You’ll hear the arguments from fans that “it’s death, it’s not supposed to feel good.”

That’s
real life. In real life, death is often sudden and unfinished. It
leaves us stunned, angry, and wanting more. It feels unfair. We’re angry
because someone bright and beautiful has been lost to us. There is no
going back. They’re gone and they’re gone forever.

While art often
imitates life when it comes to fiction, death is actually cathartic. It
carries with it a sense of completion. It can have everything initially
that the above real life represents, but in the end it satisfies. It’s
supposed to. This is why tragedies are ultimately emotionally satisfying
in their conclusions. They’re sad, but we know they couldn’t have ended
any other way. The story has built towards that, it fulfills its
promises made to the audience and the character. You knew it was a
tragedy and you understand why it ends the way it does. (And if you’re
wanting someone to die because you think they’re a villain and they
deserve it or they’re standing in the way of a ship, I’m sorry. That’s
petty. That’s on you. That’s not what I’m talking about in terms of good
storytelling.)

Grief itself is entirely selfish.

The moment of death? That’s all about them.

Good deaths take work. Fridging is lazy storytelling.

Be the former, not the latter.

Tell good stories.

-Michi

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Aragorn tells Eowyn that she can’t come with him on The Paths of the Dead because her people need her and that renown isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. He’s not wrong, exactly, but he basically tells her it’s her duty to stay behind, something he would never say to her uncle or brother. And she calls him on it. Flat out. She tells him, “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.” Think about that for a moment. Not only is she calling him out for sexism, she lays out why it’s sexist and does a pretty damn fine job of distilling down the lot of women in this culture. To whit: if there aren’t men around, you don’t really matter, and you definitely don’t get to decide for yourself how you live OR die if you’re a lady. That’s very powerful, especially in a series that deals a lot with the trappings of war and glory from a distinctly masculine point of view.

“I am No Man” Doesn’t Cut It: The Story of Eowyn | The Mary Sue (via themarysue)

Except to take all of the blood line of a ruling family into battle is stupid. To lose the entire power structure at once would be catastrophic. It was incredibly selfish and immature of her to do so.

(via skypig357)

I think we can waive that as the guy with the irreplaceable blood of Numenor and last hope of humanity is the one telling her no. If he dies, Gondor is screwed. In setting, Theodin, Eomer, and Eowyn are all replaceable. Aragorn himself? Not so much. This is the pot calling the kettle black. He’s already doing something incredibly stupid, taking her with him isn’t going to make it any worse or make it any worse for Rohan.

If we’re also going by real world rules then while Eomer fighting in the battle is understandable, it’s just as selfish, immature, and stupid.

Here:

“Behold! I go forth, and it seems like to be my last riding,” said Theoden. “I have no child. Theodred my son is slain. I name Eomer my sister-son to be my heir. If neither of us return, then choose a new lord as you will. But to some one I must now entrust my people that I leave behind, to rule them in my place. Which of you will stay?”

No man spoke.

“Is there none whom you would name? In whom do my people trust?”

“In the House of Eorl,” answered Hama.

“But Eomer I cannot spare, nor would he stay,” said the king; “and he is the last of that House.”

“I said not Eomer,” answered Hama. “And he is not the last. There is Eowyn, the daughter of Eomund, his sister. She is fearless and high-hearted. All love her. Let her be as lord to the Eorlingas, while we are gone.”

“It shall be so,” said Theoden. “Let the heralds announce to the folk that the Lady Eowen shall lead them.”

1) Theoden does not even remember she exists as a member of his House and viable candidate for leadership until Hama reminds him, even though that’s what she was doing when Theoden was under Wormtongue’s influence.

2) If someone is being stupid, it’s a family trait. Her uncle and her brother are guilty of the same flaw. The only reason she’s not allowed to go is because she is a girl, which Tolkien points out in the quote above.

I feel like that’s the thing that’s holding back many young women writers, and many young women in general now—this idea that we don’t put our work out until we believe it’s immaculate, and there’s no such thing as perfection to begin with. Secondly, the lack of a perfected idea never stopped men from speaking out! To be successful I think you really have to shove yourself forward, and I consider myself really lucky that I’ve never held myself back in those ways. To a fault! I’m sort of a pamphleteer for my own work, standing on a street corner ringing a bell, shouting, “Look what I made! Look what I made!”

Elizabeth Gilbert (via robinwasserman)

I feel that Elizabeth Gilbert is right, but I wanted to talk a little bit about bell-ringing, and why women are held back, and how much people resist women shoving themselves forward—how much they resist women doing something that might lead to success.

Compliments are two-edged swords for women: thinking well of yourself is a dangerous activity people will try to stop you engaging in.

I remember vividly being sixteen and having a friend come up to me and compliment my outfit. ‘Thank you!’ I said. ‘Wow,’ she said, and blinked. ‘Normally people say—oh hey, I like *your* thing, but no, it’s cool you just said thanks! It’s great you’re so confident!’ ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘No, I really like your top. I’m sorry.’

And from then on, I remembered to compliment back rather than act like I was so great I could just take a compliment. If possible, I complimented first, just to be safe!

And there’s nothing wrong with complimenting other people. And my friend is and was a lovely person. It wasn’t her fault she said it, or my fault I took it that way. It’s that this is a system that tries to get you coming and going.

THE WORLD: Have high self-esteem generally.

LADY: I’m so cute.

THE WORLD: Uh but don’t be vain!

LADY: I’m so smart.

THE WORLD: Do not be a stuck-up bitch!

LADY: I quite like my…

THE WORLD: Gosh you think HIGHLY of yourself, don’t you?

Girls are trained to say, ‘I wrote this, but it’s probably really stupid.’ Well, no, you wouldn’t write a novel if you thought it was really stupid. Men are much more comfortable going, ‘I wrote this book because I have a unique perspective that the world needs to hear.’ Girls are taught from the age of seven that if you get a compliment, you don’t go, ‘Thank you’, you go, ‘No, you’re insane.’ “ – Lena Dunham

It’s not that guys don’t get insecure, too. Of course they do: they are human. But it’s true that girls are *taught* insecurity, via a barrage of social pressure… pressure from everybody.

A friend of mine wrote a post a few weeks ago talking about being a woman writer online, and the things you heard from people while… being a woman writer online. Two of those things were: it didn’t sell so she’s a failure, and the other was: it did sell and I liked it but it’s rubbish.

Those two things (she does sell/she doesn’t sell) can’t be true of one writer at one time: obviously she was talking about stuff that happens, across the board, to women writers. Several people, of course, rushed to inform her that she was a bad writer (so she deserves what she gets!) and a bad person (so she deserves what she gets!). Because of course, she had to be whining about how she was treated personally, and she had to be told she deserved it.

Pretty classic method of trying to shut someone up. And never mind that a LOT of women writers, with a lot of different careers, reblogged it: probably they were bad people too, or bad writers too, or whiners, or making everything about sexism, or when they thought it applied to them they were mistaken. (So silly.)

I see this all the time, from people who are openly like ‘Yuck, feminists’ in real life, to people online who are like ‘I am one thousand per cent dedicated to feminism, and I haven’t noticed that a huge amount of my hatred is devoted to women doing it wrong and I love no lady real or fictional as much as I love Bucky Barnes/Tom Hiddleston/Joseph Fink/Derek Hale/a member of One Direction chosen by lottery.’

And it has a profound effect on women’s ability to do their jobs. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, not being a bell-ringer for your work is holding you back: but being a bell-ringer for your work is something that comes with the risk of being attacked, feeling lousy… and stopping being a bell-ringer for your work, learning it’s too risky, sacrificing a bit of yourself to preserve the rest.

This training makes women very quiet for a while, because that’s how self-doubt works: you don’t think ‘it’s the world, the world’s all messed up.’ You think: it’s me. You think, I just have to do better. You’re ashamed that you didn’t do better before you spoke up. 

But there is no way to do well enough: there is no time there won’t be pushback when you speak up, because the desire behind the pushback, conscious or unconscious, is not for you to do better. It’s for you to stop.

Emily Gould’s talked about the impact an online attack had on her professionally.

I felt fear doing events around publication. Not stage fright, fear for my physical safety. Instead of planning celebrations I was arranging with bookstores and my publisher for adequate security at events. I felt worried that the location of my apartment had been revealed in so many profiles. It’s not like I experienced physical trauma or was tortured but I felt under attack. This wasn’t something that “happened on the internet” or something that could have been avoided by “just unplugging.” Talking to readers, doing events, and promoting books online is my job.

I still haven’t sorted out what kind of damage was done.

http://emilygould.tumblr.com/post/98563959520/just-want-to-say-this-to-have-said-it

And leaving aside individual examples, science has shown the barrage of nasty messages women get for just existing, let alone daring to do something.

The study found that female bots received on average 100 malicious private messages a day while the male bots received an average of 3.7. ’ 

http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2009/03/cyber_harassmen.html

So ladies, getting harassed about thirty times more than dudes? And that’s just online… think about what happens in real life, like Joanne Harris having a publisher reject her based on her ‘lack of physical appeal.’

http://joannechocolat.tumblr.com/post/97879457176/are-you-too-fat-to-get-published

One cannot help but think ‘Gosh, if I was receiving thirty times less crap, I might have a better opinion of myself and I might get more done!’

And it’s not just online, and it’s not just publishing, sometimes it’s also your nearest and dearest who have an interest in shutting you up: the people you love and should be able to trust.

Zelda Fitzgerald had her work stolen from her by her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald, who frankly said he was just typing out her diaries sometimes, and she was depressed (who can blame her!) because stories written solely by her got more money when F. Scott Fitzgerald was listed as co-author… or when he was listed as the only author!

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323393304578362314070442492

It’s very reminiscent of the way Walter Keane pretended that he was the one painting his wife Margaret Keane’s paintings, which were a phenomenon in the 1960s. 

(She won the court case by having a paint-off.

MARGARET: I painted the paintings. Hey, I’ll paint one right now! In court. Let’s both paint one! Right now. In court.

WALTER: I… uh… brought this note from home to say I’m delicate, so…)

And yet, *would* the paintings have sold like they did if everyone had known they were painted by a lady from the start? I don’t know, but I’d guess probably not.

Which doesn’t make it right. Women deserve credit for their work, and they deserve a fair valuation of their work, and often they do not get either.

http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/23/magazine/style-an-eye-for-an-eye.html

(THE WORLD: You want the CREDIT?

LADY: Well, I made it…

THE WORLD: But maybe you didn’t! Maybe your husband did it! Maybe your brother Branwell did it!

LADY: And also, work takes time, and I need to eat.

THE WORLD: And now you want to get PAID? Where’s your pride in your work, you money-grubbing ho?

LADY: Oh, *now* I’m meant to be all about the art?)

It is not just one’s husbands who snake women’s work: writing novels at all used to be sneered at as a lady thing, and then suddenly men started doing it and there was serious important literature, and women should stop doing that thing they invented! On a smaller scale but in the same vein, a woman called Victoria Lambert created Doctor Who, but no women have been allowed to write Doctor Who episodes for six years and counting.

It is not, of course, writing but all work done by women that is devalued in various ways: Female scientists’ contributions are overlooked and forgotten, teaching changed from a male-dominated job to a female-dominated job in the 1800s when people realised a) oh no all kids need teaching! and b) oh wait thank god we can just pay the ladies half as much… and it is still a female-dominated and thus underpaid job today, the games industry chases women away savagely (http://elizabethsampat.com/the-truth-about-zoe-quinn/), actresses are not given their own movies to lead (51% of the population, 10.8% of the lead roles in big movies!), women directors are just not given jobs (6% of 2013’s big movies had women directors), women take jobs as film editors instead of directors and then are not given credit for their contribution to films (e.g. Thelma Schoonmaker, who has edited all Martin Scorsese’s movies since 1980), women have 5% of Fortune 100 CEO positions, Taylor Swift gets it in the neck for writing songs about her own love life while Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, to name but one dude, can do the same thing for a decade and nobody cares.

It’s not easy to love yourself or what you do or what you have created. It’s not easy to promote yourself or praise yourself. The whole situation is fixed to make it difficult. 

Bell-ringing is so complicated. A writer friend of mine asked for several promotions she knew male authors who sold less well than she had received: she got turned down. So she literally invented a new kind of promotion. They gave it to her in sheer puzzlement.

(It worked, and since then many people have been given that kind of promotion. Mostly dudes. The writer friend who invented it has been criticised a lot for not being a true artiste, and being arrogant. The dudes who got the promotion she invented have almost without exception gone on to win prizes women seldom win, be reviewed in many major publications that feature very few women, and talk about their own genius and get others to talk about it too.)

Dorothy L. Sayers, a badass writer who knew what she was talking about, said it was surprising anyone going through the wringer of sexism ‘retained any rag of sanity or self-respect.’

That’s why bell-ringing is such a complicated thing. It’s why shoving yourself forward is so difficult. ‘Well, just do it anyway’ is good advice, the only advice possible, but it’s also important to acknowledge what gets in the way of doing what we want to do. So that for every time we get pushback or feel ashamed, we remember to celebrate rather than be ashamed.

Despite the pressures of the world, so many women have done and made so many things! Just concentrating on writing, they: invented the novel. Popularised science fiction. Now, they’ve popularised young adult fiction and invented new adult fiction. 

So, if you manage to get by and think you’re not so bad most days, that’s a triumph. If you manage to create something despite the voices inside and outside your head telling you not to, that’s amazing. If you make a mistake, own up to it, but know it’s probably not as bad a mistake as everyone is rushing to tell you it was. If you feel shamefaced about something you have done or made, that’s an injustice the world has put in your way—it’s not because you did or made something to be ashamed of. If you can create something, and believe in it and yourself enough to talk about it and think about how to get it out in the world… you have accomplished a series of amazing deeds. You have triumphed against a series of adversities.

That’s something worth bell-ringing about.

(via sarahreesbrennan)

What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative. And besides heroines, I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains. I want not to be asked, when I try to sell a book about two girls, two boys and a genderless robot, if we couldn’t change one of those girls to a boy.

Sophia McDougall, “I hate Strong Female Characters” (via charlottefairchild)

I recommend reading the whole article in the link.  It’s long but good, and also points out the annoying trope of Hollywood thinking that as long as the female character gets a token “can beat people up” scene, then it’s totally fine that otherwise they still are filling very typical fictional roles women are pigeon-holed into, and usually are still just a love interest or plot device.

Also, to the above quote, this is about having that diversity in a single story, or even having many of those traits in 1 character, and not just plucking a few examples out of all of fiction and go “see, in this story, the woman was shy and quiet, and in this story, the woman beat somebody up, and this story the woman was mean.  There!  Diversity!”  It’s about overall trends, it’s about not just having one or two women in a cast, it’s about how women are situated in the story, it’s about whether the women are protagonists or plot devices, it’s about all sorts of ways that women are marginalized, pigeon-holed, etc in fiction, and not simply just about one thing.  There’s no easy fix where you go “see in my story, the woman warrior wears a shirt and she doesn’t get raped!”  The problem is there are so many issues with the way women, and every other marginalized group, are portrayed in fiction (and even more so with the intersectional problems with characters who are part of several of those groups), and only so much that people can talk about in one go, so usually people are only able to address one or two issues at any time, and it leads to the idea that as long as you fix (or superficially) fix that element, then it’s all good, and it’s more than that.

From the standpoint of this blog, sometimes there comes the misconception that as long as a story has fully armored women, or has battle-ready posed women, then that’s something that’s necessarily a good story about women, or necessarily a good depiction, and it’s more than that.  It’s a step forward, definitely, and I absolutely think it’s good for people to keep the visual portrayal of women in their minds when creating fiction and not just doing one thing over and over because it’s just how we’re so used to seeing women depicted visually.  But it can’t stop at that.  How many women there are in the story matters.  Whether or not she’s portrayed as being “exceptional” for her gender, and therefore all other women in the fictional world are still flat stereotypes matters.  What happens to her in the story, how she’s situated, presented, talked about matters.  Whether she’s the protagonist, or if despite her armor, she gets kidnapped by the villain to anger the male hero matters.  It’s about more than simply avoiding one single way women are portrayed, and then dusting off our hands and patting ourselves on the back for fixing how women are portrayed in fiction.  It’s about examining the way we see women in our society, and being aware of how that affects the way we depict and situate them in our writing, often without realizing it.

Escher Girls, The Bechdel Test, Bikini Armor, etc, are all catchy terms, and great things to keep in mind when writing fiction with women in it, but it’s not as simple as just “not doing this one thing”.  These phrases and ideas are meant to highlight specific issues about the way women are written and drawn in fiction and to open up a discussion about the larger picture of how women are portrayed.  The Bechdel Test is meant to point out how few women have roles and how even fewer of them have stories of their own that don’t revolve around men.  Escher Girls is about showing the prevalence of female characters being contorted or dressed in ways that maximize titillation over function. They are symptoms, not the cause, and addressing just one of them once doesn’t fix the underlying issue.  Change comes by challenging ourselves to not just settle at “my princess punches people before being captured” or “the male hero’s love interest talks to her female friend about dogs at one point”, but to be willing to examine the overall way we’re depicting women in our fiction, how many there are, and how they’re situated.  Centaur women, battle bikinis, and the boobs and butt pose are the beginning of the discussion, not the end.

escher-girls

(via moniquill)

Fantasy, Feminism, and The Wheel of Time

I’ll be the first to say that Robert Jordan, rest his soul, had some pretty weird sexual politics. From his work, he seemed to firmly believe that men and women could never truly understand each other. Many of his female protagonists are varying shades of shrill, bratty, vindictive, pushy know-it-alls, about whom the boys constantly moan and whine in their inability to understand them. There’s been a lot of discussion in the YA community about unlikeable characters and debate about whether or not a female protagonist needs to be likeable (though the definition of what is unlikeable is often subject to debate). For me, when I was reading The Wheel of Time in my teens and early twenties, characters like Elayne and Nynaeve were as frustrating and unlikeable as they came.  Katsa? Katniss? Sansa? Cersei? They don’t hold a candle to the burning hatred I felt for these women, but they’ve also never managed to capture my admiration in the same way. And you know what? Looking back, they’re awesome.

There are a massive number of characters in The Wheel of Time saga, about as many or more as George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus The Song of Ice and Fire.  The difference between them, setting wise, is a great many of these characters are female and, for the most part, none of them ever really questions their ability to get shit done. Also, there are a lot of women in these novels. You can’t really go ten pages without tripping over one or two, from barmaids, to ladies in waiting, to noblewomen who are natural inheritors of their own estates, to queens who inherit through the matrilineal line, to Aes Sedai (probably the greatest political force in the setting). Women who are interested in getting married, women who don’t like men, women who use sex for power, women who like to torture, women who are bookish, women who can see the future, women who consistently speak their mind, women who drink, fight, and swear, women who like to study, women who gamble, women warriors, female politicians, noblewomen who run away from home, noblewomen working to claim what’s theirs, noblewomen content to let others rule for them, lots of queens, female servants who work for queens, women who own their own businesses, female captains, female betrayers (on all sides), women who use magic, women learning to use magic, women who have different opinions on how to use magic, women who want to stop the Dark One, women who serve the Dark One, women who don’t give a crap the world is ending, women who don’t believe the world is ending, women who love Rand, women who hate Rand, women who want to control Rand, women who want to kill Rand, women who don’t care about Rand, women who want to swat Rand upside the head, but mostly women who have their own storylines and agents of their own destinies outside of the main plot. There are lots of women, from bit characters to major players. It’s true that Rand can be very paternalistic, but there are plenty of female characters (including his lovers) who cheerfully tell him where he can shove his concern and even use those traits against him.

I’m not sure if The Wheel of Time is a truly gender equal setting, but it’s closer than a lot of other fantasy settings get. If there’s anything we can take from this series and others like Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar. The key to creating one is to include women, lots of women, many different kinds of women. Not just one or two female characters floating around in the background or surrounding a female protagonist, but put women in the background and the foreground. They may not even be full characters, they may only get a few cast away references to their existence. Don’t comment on how weird it is that there are women trainees in with the men, don’t think about how your character is “awfully good for a girl” and if you do, have a counterpoint ready to smack that character upside the head. She’s just good.

Maybe your male character had a female mentor. After all, the renowned warrior-woman Sgathaichtrained the great hero Cú Chulainn in Celtic myth. Why not yours? In The Wheel of Time, Elayne is the daughter of the Queen of Andor and her heir. She shares a very close relationship with her mother because Morgause is the one who taught her statecraft. Elayne’s major arc in the series after she learns to control her magic is taking control Andor after her mother is murdered. Rand’s initial tutors in the One Power are all female as there are no male channelers who can teach him (except for the Forsaken) because of the Taint in the male half of the One Power. It’s not much of a long shot to state, even after he captures a Forsaken, that his most important tutors are still Moraine, Cadsuane, and the Aiel Wise Ones.

The presentation of women in The Wheel of Time isn’t always positive, but there are so many differing characters that the character flaws are just character flaws instead of immediate commentary. We, the readers, have our pick to choose who we like and who we don’t. This is true for all the characters, both major and minor, throughout the series.

So yes, I don’t like Nynaeve or Elayne, especially in the early books. I have never warmed to Faile. Moraine is a little meh for me. I really, really hate Elaida (though it’s really a love to hate). However, I happen to love Verin, Egwene, Cadsuane, Aviendha, Semirhage, Moghedien, Graendahl, Tuon, Siuan, Amys, Sorilea, Baire, and a host of others. If I’m criticizing one female character, I’m not criticizing all of them. It’s clear I’m criticizing that character, I don’t like that character not I don’t like women in general.

You make your character special not by making them unique or by giving them one or two characters they compare favorably too, but by having many other characters exist alongside them. The reason male heroes are deeds are based on who they are instead of their gender is that there are plenty of other male characters surrounding them in the novel. If your female character is the one female character within a host of male characters, then the presentation is that she’s special and unique because she’s female or somehow different from the rest of the setting’s nonexistent women. Put female characters everywhere in your fantasy setting, mix things up, and don’t define traditionally male occupations as being the only noteworthy parts of the culture.

-Michi

I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

I was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl