I am so incredibly pissy right now.
The constant chorus of whines from my students are driving me up a wall, I have four appointments today to meet with more whiners, and I can’t get any time to work on my paper; I didn’t get any time last night because I was so busy looking at GODDAMN STUPID DRAFTS.
Perfect rant mood.
Lately I’ve learned to dread picking up a fantasy book by an author I don’t know (or sometimes one I do- Lynn Flewelling, what happened to you?) and finding out it has a female main character. Most of them suffer from a terminal case of the Stupids. There are male hero Stupids, too (which I’ll rant about next time), but at least no one is going around telling me I should love the male heroes because they’re my gender, and hey, that makes it easier for me to emphasize with them! Also, the female Stupids destroy story consistency and internal reality as well as other characters, and mostly in the name of making the character Special.
I think you know by now how little I think of that.
1) Make the heroine’s treatment consistent with her society, or give me a reason why it’s not.
It puzzles me mightily, yea, when the heroine’s family treats her like shit and she runs away- only to meet a group of people just a few miles or towns away who believe that all women are the Second Coming, and that the heroine in particular is the Mighty Destined One. Lies, sweet lies, the author is whispering in their ears. But I’m more concerned with something else at that point than with the author’s campaign to make me realize that her heroine is abused and tortured ohmygod.
How did these two groups escape influencing each other? Why do they appear to have two completely separate cultures, especially when they often speak the same language, have the same physical heritage, use the same magic? And if the pro-women group is so noble and good and wise, why don’t they go stop the anti-women group from treating their children that way?
Now, if the pro-women group is trading with the anti-women group for something they need, and thus balancing principles with practicality, that could create a nicely sticky situation. But I’ve never, ever seen that. It’s pure Black and White, Evil and Good, and yet the Good sits on its ass and never does anything about the Evil.
Ah, yes. I must be suffering from the Stupids myself. The Good side exists only to comfort the heroine and tell her how Special she is. How could I forget that?
Introduce some real feminism into the story, people, not just some that will serve your main character.
2) Don’t valorize women for their genitals.
To me, this is just another side of the same coin that produces racism and sexism in the first place: hatred of people for something they were born with. Valuing someone for something they were born with is just as stupid, which is why destined heroes and heroines drive me nuts in the first place. They don’t do anything to earn the regard of everyone, they just are.
I don’t think this means that it isn’t possible to have matriarchies in your stories (though I could stand to see matriarchies presented as less perfect than they are). But there’s a definite line, for me, to cross between depicting a matriarchal society and depicting a heroine that everyone grovels for because of what’s between her legs.
That’s what happened to Lynn Flewelling. Her Nightrunner books are set in a matriarchal society where women have to rule if the land isn’t going to dry up and wither (I suppose that should have warned me, but I was having fun at the time). The women aren’t ditzes, but neither do they lord it over the men. The main characters of the books are male, so maybe the perspective was a bit skewed, but I didn’t feel like the books were forcing any ideology down my throat.
And then along comes the Tamir Trilogy, and I shriek and die. In the first book, the main character, Tobin, literally does nothing but be born female, and they kill her twin brother so that she can look like a boy and live- because, of course, the evil King who’s making the land die is also killing all his female relatives. This could have been fascinating. Was it? No. Tobin grows up an absolutely mopey child, of course, with a mother driven crazy because of her brother’s death, and no one tells her what’s going on, and the ghost of her brother hurts her, and everyone is sure she’s going to be the bestest Queen ever. Meanwhile, the “evil” King is actually ruling the land quite competently, not that anyone notices.
I won’t read another book of Flewelling’s again, at least not until after she gets off this kick. Tobin does nothing to earn anyone’s regard. I suppose I could enjoy the irony that she doesn’t even have breasts for most of the book, but I don’t, really. It’s a prequel anyway, so you already know how it’s going to turn out: Tobin triumphant.
3) You know how some authors use their fantasies to work out their own issues? It’s especially noticeable here.
I have a nervous breakdown now when the teenage heroine’s parents are still alive. I know they’re going to act like normal parents- worrying about her safety, wanting her to do certain things they think are better than others, insisting that she behave in front of company- and thus are going to become EVIL. This is different from the mere Evil that doesn’t value women and beats up the beloved heroine. This is EVIL that makes her clean her room and wear dresses.
Yes, they want her to wear dresses. ‘S the truth.
Look, author, I really am sorry if you have issues with your parents. But don’t inflict them on the world at large. Write about them in your diary, or talk about them to your therapist. If everyone who reads the book could recite a real argument you had with your father, you are making the heroine too much like yourself.
This is even shallower than the idea that the society exists just to beat up on the heroine, until she runs away and reveals how incredibly Special she is. That, at least, is worth getting outraged over; it’s the solution, not the problem, that’s the problem. (Is that a tautology?) But wanting her to wear dresses? Wanting her to marry someone nice in a society where single women can be condemned to forced marriage? Wanting her to learn languages or music or the other skills that they think she needs to learn? OMG THE MEENIEZ.
Not wanting your character to wear dresses isn’t creating a feminist character. It’s creating a character who mistakes the symbol for the deep-rooted problem that causes it.
4) Avoid the cliched dialogue. Ride it down and hunt it to death, then hack its body so that it may never rise again.
The same phrases appear over and over again when Special heroines have fights with their parents, want to go hunting or riding, run away from home, or just mope about their Special lives.
- “…just because I’m a girl.”
- “Act like a lady.”
- “I like a woman with spirit.”
- “That’s nice, dear, but you’re not a boy.”
- “Girls don’t get dirty.”
- “Girls don’t do that.”
- “But you’re a girl!”
My god, SHUT UP.
It doesn’t impress me with your level of creativity when in the background I can hear a thousand whining voices repeating the same dialogue and thoughts. And it makes even less sense that every single fantasy heroine, in worlds that are supposedly wildly different and the products of wildly different minds, would have the exact same thoughts.
Find a different way of expressing yourself. Give the heroine troubles that don’t arise from what’s between her legs or on her chest. Try it. You’d be surprised how much more “woman-like” the girls and ladies become.
5) Good girls don’t do that.
The way that female heroines get treated in sexual relationships is frankly disturbing. The relationship is just about never equal. Either the heroine gets rescued (less often these days) or the man just about worships her (now more common). One’s just as debased as the others. The authors who switch the polarities haven’t done anything new.
Also, there are many things that Good Fantasy Girls apparently do not do:
- Get pregnant, except towards the end of the story in a married relationship with their true love.
- Lose their virginity to anyone except their true love (unless it’s rape).
- Get STD’s.
- Actually enjoy sex with anyone but their one true love.
- Have multiple good partners.
- Accept the existence of lust.
- Have children out of wedlock (except through rape, again).
- Raise their children on their own (unless their husband is dead or abandoned them).
- Have kinks of any kind.
- (Most of the time) Have sex with women.
People, honestly. If you’ve created a world where no one appears to care whether a woman is married or single when she has kids, why does your heroine not get pregnant until she’s married? If she has no protection, is young and fertile, and has a fertile male partner, it’s going to happen sometime. But those babies miraculously hold off until the couple is properly wed.
Get rid of the Puritan morals. They don’t fit with, “I am woman, hear me roar!”