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Posts Tagged ‘women in media’

This Thanksgiving past, I did something I have never done before, something I didn’t think possible.  I wrote in a room full of people.

Not just a blog post or a Facebook status, but actual semi-coherent words of fiction, a scene appearing in a s.f. retelling of Rapunzel, co-written with my longtime friend and fellow scribbler Joanne Renaud.  (I’ll let you know when and where you can read the story as soon as more details become available.)  So there I was, in the living room at my grandma’s house, surrounded by family talk-talk-talking away, and I sat at the coffee table with my laptop and formed thoughts and words and images out of the ether (but not the Aether, because if I had that I would probably not be writing science fiction), or the raw material of creation, whichever you will.

Not this Aether

Not this Aether

Jane Austen famously wrote her classic novels in the sitting room, laboring away while the busy family chattered around her, and because of her industry we have Emma and Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion and Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.  Six novels of pure genius.  Virginia Woolf famously wondered what else Jane Austen might have achieved, if she had been less constrained by her circumstances.

I can’t speak for Jane Austen; maybe she had powers of concentration and focus that I lack.  It took me all afternoon to write an 800-word scene.  Some of my slowness came from not knowing what exactly needed to happen until I was writing it, which can lead to a lot of “Hmmmtypey typey typey … ponder … delete.”  (And in those cases it really is often better to get up and go do something else, washing dishes or folding laundry or just taking a walk, something to shake the appropriate neurons loose and get them working again.  But then again, other times stubbornly plugging away can also work.)  But even when one is focusing one’s best, trying to think of the words you need is hard when snatches of relatives’ conversation keeps catching your ear.

Still, I did it.  I finished the scene, and I emailed it to my writing partner so that she could do the next bit, and I felt triumphant and smug.  Take that, Virginia Woolf! I thought.  It can be done!

Yes it can.  But it adds an extra dimension of challenge to a process that is already challenging.  And I wouldn’t recommend trying it with a noisy toddler: the advantage of the chatty family is that they chatter around you, leaving you in an isolated little bubble–not of silence, but of separate-ness, giving you the space to concentrate.  The toddler is 1000% guaranteed not to do that.

So, pace Jane Austen, unparalleled quiet genius, I think I’ll take that isolated room after all.

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So this weekend my buddy Craig and I were kicking around ideas for the comic book we eventually want to put together.  Following the Rule of Cool–or maybe it’s Rothfuss’s Law*–we are throwing every awesome thing we love into the mix.  We’ve got Amazons riding flying bears and wolves and whatnot; we’ve got super-advanced ancient technology, the secret of which is now lost; and of course we’ve got sky pirates!  We’ve got two main characters, the sky pirate captain (older, male), and a young Amazon warrior (younger, female).  Then, as we were populating our sky pirate crew (cynical captain; ex-nobleman; Viking berserker bear-warrior), I said something like,

“We need a woman in the crew.”

Craig looked at me funny.  “Are you sure?” he said.  “Once we’ve got the Amazon girl travelling with them, the other woman won’t have much to do.”

I love this show, but why are all the Gargoyles dudes?

“That’s fine,” I said–rather emphatically.  “More women equals better.”

He still seemed a bit confused, but I carried the point, and we’ve got at least one female in the pirate crew.  (I think I can finagle some more.)

The incident got me to thinking, though, about the difference between my POV as a creator, and his.

I can’t read minds, but it seemed like what he was thinking was, “Why do we need another female main character?  We’ve already got one.”  And I was thinking, “Women kick ass!  Let us therefore have a variety of kick-ass womenfolk in our story!”

Craig’s line of thinking (or the line of thinking I am attributing to Craig, anyway) is based on the erroneous idea that, while men are good at lots of different things and have lots of different characteristics, women are basically only good at being female.  That is their character trait.  So you’ve got the Captain, the Former Nobleman, the Viking Warrior Badass, and the Girl.  What does the Girl do?  Well, she’s a girl, right?  What more do you need to know?

Stated baldly like that, of course it’s a ridiculous notion.  Think of any two women you know.  Are they exactly the same, interchangeable?  Of course not.  And yet it persists.  Check out the TVTropes page on the Smurfette Principal for examples.

Yet, when I think about some of my favorite stories, in whatever medium, they share a common characteristic: The main characters are defined by their role in the story first, and their sex second.

Why are they in Star Trek uniforms? Because it's awesome.

Think about Firefly.  (I know I do!  Almost all the time!)  Your main characters are: The Captain, the Stoic Badass Warrior,

the Merc, the Mechanic, the Pilot, the Hooker, the Preacher, the Doctor, and the Damaged Psychic.  (That’s a lot of main characters!  Way to go, Firefly!)  On a typical show, who do you think would be female?  Probably only the Hooker, and

maybe the Doctor also, and the rest would be guys.  But!  We already know that, on the show we loved and lost too soon,

nearly half the main cast is female!  Even better, it’s not the characters you’d expect: Zoe Washburne is perhaps the most badass of Stoic Badasses, and if anyone can fix up a ship better than Kaylee, we haven’t met that person yet.  As for River, she can kill you with her brain, and Inara, though she is the character most dangerously close to cliché-ville, is still a living woman with a complex relationship both with her job and her clients, and the life she’s chosen to lead aboard Serenity.

Similarly, maybe you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel, but you should.  Women are everywhere in these novels; they are brilliant thieves, politicians, gymnast/gladiators, soldiers, pirates, guardsmen … any job you see a guy doing, you see women doing it too.  The best part is, it’s completely taken for granted.  Not, “Hey little lady isn’t that sword a bit heavy for you there hur hur hur?” but “Oh ergh yeah please don’t impale me ma’am please ma’am.”  (The pirates in book 2 are hands-down awesome.)

Every time I encounter a work like that, like Firefly or Locke Lamora, in a world where women just do awesome things and no one remarks on it, because of course they do, I stand up and cry, “More like this, please!”

More pirates, adventurers, thieves, badass warriors, scientists, teachers, preachers, merchants, captains, rulers, rebels, sorcerers, mathematicians, grammarians, librarians, artists, writers, postal workers, good people, bad people, people who love cats and hate children, or who love children but hate people, people who get the job done, or who would rather let the job wait and just enjoy a nice cuppa, people who are women.

—–

*I don’t remember the context at all, but I’m fairly certain Patrick Rothfuss once said something on his blog about throwing lots of disparate elements into his books because he loves them and thinks they’re awesome–and what other justification do you really need for flying bears, sky pirates, amazons, etc?  I think this should be called Rothfuss’s Law.

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Silly Girl Stuff

So I thought this was interesting: Joanne Renaud’s Author of the Month interview is with Lora Innes, the artist and writer of the online comic The Dreamer.  In her interview, she said:

I think I get more respect from historians than comic industry professionals! In that world, I write a silly, sappy girls’ comic. In the historical world I’m performing an important civic duty of bringing history to life to a new generation in a responsible, well-researched way.

It’s a sad commentary on the comics industry, that a skillfully-written, exciting, suspenseful comic about the American Revolution (I mean, really, how much manlier can you get than a rag-tag band of patriots battling a superior force in order to win their freedom?) is written off as girl stuff.

If Lora Innes was, I don’t know, Laurence Innes, I wonder if the reaction from the comics world would be the same?

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The talented Joanne Renaud has interviewed me for her blog!

Topics covered include what it means to be a self-identifying nerd, and the difficulties of women in the comics industry.

Check it out!

 

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Just some stuff that I found cool or interesting during my recent ramblings over the wild and wooly interwebs.  (In no particular order, and with no particular unifying theme.)

First, you’ve heard about the new Spiderman?  Here’s a little bit about Why Miles Morales is Important.

Then, in case you were wondering, here’s How to Tell If You’re Doing Your Life’s Work.

Finally, (awesome) YA Author Holly Black weighs in on the discussion of Mary Suedom, and female characters in general, that’s been happening over the past few days.  She raises some good, think-worthy thoughts.

Oh, and Womanthology has not only funded–it quadrupled its goal!  More on that later, you guys!  (If, in fact, there are any of you guys out there reading this!)

 

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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.

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