Don’t have time to articulate my own thoughts on the topic atm, but I found a bunch of blog posts touching on the same thing, all posted around the same time.
First, you guys have heard of Womanthology, right? The comics anthology featuring all female creators, kicked off by the uber-skilled Renae de Liz? (Still kicking myself for missing the boat on this one–maybe I can get in volume two or three; the response has been huge enough that I am sure they’ll happen!) Here’s an article from Comic Book Resources. The power quote (boldface mine):
“It’s sort of a staple of the comics blogosphere, the never-ending debate how to appeal to the supposedly elusive female audience,” Huehner said. “I suspect part of it is because there’s really no logical reason to treat stories by women or for women as some kind of anomaly. And it’s a huge audience who want to spend money, so from a business perspective it just makes sense to reach out to them and make them feel welcome.”
“The issue of women in comics, and comics for women, is an ongoing conversation, part of the overall discussion about diversity in stories and the medium,” the editor continued. “It always seems like this problem people want to solve. Sometimes it feels like we’re (women) this curious puzzle, and it’s not really as complicated as it’s made out to be.”
So there’s that. About the same time, fantasy author N.K. Jemisin (you guys! Have you read her books? They are awesome!) posted The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy (and everywhere else, but for now, fantasy), calling for more variety in the types of female characters portrayed in fantastic fiction.
I’d pull a quote, but I’d end up quoting the whole article. Basically she argues that by rejecting old stereotypes of “feminine” behavior, we end up rejecting womanhood wholesale, and that’s bad. So instead of authors portraying only certain stereotypes of womanhood, we need to start showing the whole she-bang.
She ends with:
“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. We also need librarians and nurses — or loremistresses and doulas, if you prefer. And women who are surviving abusive relationships, and women who can’t have children or don’t want any and aren’t defined by either, and mothers who aren’t perfect. Women who are crooked-but-well-meaning politicians, women who are underappreciated lab assistants, women who start their own businesses and fail, and women who are thaumaturgists by day and kindergarten schoolteachers by night. Women who like dressing in men’s uniforms, and who can wield a chainsaw like a Ginsu knife, and who think anatomy and physiology is the coolest subject evar, and who can cook and sew and give a roomful of thugs a beatdown… [….] 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.”
It’s a great post full of thinky-thoughts. But don’t take my word for it; read the whole thing!
And then finally, on the same theme, Max Barry writes about Dogs and Smurfs.
“Then you’ve got Smurf books. Not actual Smurfs. I mean stories where there are five major characters, and one is brave and one is smart and one is grumpy and one keeps rats for pets and one is a girl. Smurfs, right? Because there was Handy Smurf and Chef Smurf and Dopey Smurf and Painter Smurf and ninety-four other male Smurfs and Smurfette. Smurfette’s unique personality trait was femaleness. That was the thing she did better than anyone else. Be a girl.”
If I had more time and more brain power I could probably eloquently tie these ideas together, because they do go together. Male isn’t the default: the male consumer, the male reader, the male character, the male POV. According to the 2000 Census, in the US at least, females very slightly outnumber males: 50.9% versus 49.1. And, while I may decry modern society for many many things, freedoms for women is not one of them.
You know what I really wish? I wish there could just be stories, good stories, in whatever medium, stories about anything and everything, all kinds of people, without everyone getting all fussed about male this or female that. Womanhood and manhood in its full range of expression, read or watched or listened to and thoroughly enjoyed by anyone.
It’s a dream. The only way to make it happen is to make those stories.