New Year. Time for new blog stuff. Time to look for the positives as the new year kicks off. Especially with the specter of the old year and Harvey Weinstein and #metoo and how sexual harassment and gender discrimination isn’t just in the entertainment industry but every industry. (The horror tales I’ve heard about fashion and then there are the things that only female writers hear and oh dear when I worked manufacturing.) And it’s got me thinking about consent issues and female characters and female agency.
Now, back when I started writing the Heaven’s Heathens series, I sat there and pondered the female to male ratio of characters in my books a lot. I fretted. Was I giving into the patriarchy by making Brand male? Wouldn’t it be better to make the leader of the club female? Or should I use this opportunity to show how difficult it’s going to be for a female to take on the international leader role even in a motorcycle club (of the future) that isn’t especially traditional? Can I offset it with other strong female characters, also in leadership positions? AM I OVERTHINKING THIS? (The answer to the last is usually yes. Yes. I am.)
At the same time, these issues are important and I did need to think about them. There are issues I don’t think I’ve begun to cover yet in the books in regards to gender, gender equality and emotional labor and I hesitate to say gender roles. Because, I’m trying to write a good story rather than a creed on “this is how women should be treated.” (Because that just never goes well, okay.)
But the last few months I’ve been doing more “fun” writing than “work” aka original writing as I fight my head/health and work on a portfolio in hopes of getting a job in a creative field. And I’m a fan of a few older shonen anime series. Now, please understand, that fan fiction writing (aka fun writing) is mostly about fantasy. Sure, you can make the argument that most writing is about fantasy, but fan fiction is about fantasy in the most extreme, whacky ways possible where the most out there romance novel tropes and cross overs and cathartic emotional release writing meet in this huge wonderful stew. And for some reason, one of my favorite couples has a very trashy romance novel trope as one of the popular alternate universe story ideas. It always seems to skew in one gender direction and ends up being very smutty. (Romance novel trope.) And there is nothing wrong with this! Fantasy writing for fun, here, take the smut! Take my time!
Then, it occurs to me that it would, at least in my mind, make more sense to turn it around gender wise because that would be turning the world a little less in knots at least. And suddenly, instead of smuttiness in my head, I have female spy adventures with a round of consent issues!
And Becca goes “Well, at least it gives the female character agency.”
I go. “What do you mean?”
Becca replies: “She’s not sitting around being protected.”
Me: “Oh, you mean the usual, Ginny gives the female character something to do.”
Because, let’s be honest here, if you read my books or knew of my fan fiction past, you’d discover that I’m not very good at writing the “girlfriend,” the “Damsel in distress” or whatever the last female that sits on the sidelines trope goes here. I think I have a fun/fan story on my computer that started out as “male character gets turned into a living ice statue to protect country” and turned into “female character has to rule separate country until she grows up and can go ‘save’ the male character.” Oh, he’s not sitting around doing nothing, but he can’t save himself. She has to do it! But she’s little! She needs to get bigger first! (And you know, recruit some pirates to turn into a navy and all that fun stuff.) So, if you don’t like original characters in your fun/fan fiction, then you wouldn’t like this story. The point being, it was a story about a guy and somehow got subverted by my girl going “no, I want to be cool too!” And since she’s so cute, I mean, how could I resist the pegasus, pirate, queenly, save the island from volcanic eruptions adventures?
I fretted about this a lot with the Heathens as well. (Not so much in Dawn Princess because honestly, she’s a warrior and a princess.) Was I giving the female characters enough to do? Is it clear that Esme is more than “the wife” of Brand? (Maybe not at this point.) Did I accidentally make Gideon “the boyfriend?” (Funny if so. Hysterical if so.) Did the female characters have power? Did they have a purpose? Could they choose their own way? I hope all the answers are yes. But I’m not sure how unbiased I am about this.
Maybe I do this because the writers that I read during high school and to a certain amount when I was younger were the romantic fantasy authors that put women in the forefront of their writing, McCaffery, Lackey. During college, I started reading people like Bishop, Briggs, Harrison, and some Hamilton. Female writers who aren’t ashamed to be put females in the forefront and celebrate female heroes. My favorite characters always tended towards the strong brash ones, Rogue from X-Men, Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo, though I preferred Hinata in Naruto. Even in the ensemble books I prefer that are often written by men, X-Wing series and Brian Jacques Redwall, the women weren’t treated as second class who needed to be saved and at times, stood up to the males in their lives and went ‘No. I’m not going to sit here. Here, I am a waste of space. I’m going to fight.” Jesmin Ackbar and Mariel come to mind.
I’ve never been fond of the girlfriend. “Eat a whole meal, would you and stop picking off his plate!” Or the damsel in distress. “PUNCH THE IDIOT ALREADY!” (Don’t watch movies with me, honestly.) Give me a movie like the Parent Trap or the Devil Wears Prada because in it the females are smart and crafty even if there aren’t explosions! (Well, the Parent Trap depending on how it’s written could have explosions.)
There’s nothing wrong with giving the female character something to do. Give her agency. Give her power. Make her an equal or better at something than the male and make that something better important to the story! Because if it isn’t important, why mention it (unless it’s character building. Then it should be mentioned somehow.)
Less TMNT April’s. More Wonder Woman’s! More women of all shapes, sizes, and beauty types that are treated as normal human beings that aren’t expected to smile or be groped or open their legs to get ahead. That would be true agency. And it’s way past due.