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21 September 2009 @ 12:06 pm
Women in fantasy  

There’s a sort of on-going discussion about women–or more specifically, the lack thereof–in epic fantasy books. Marie Brennan and Kate Elliott discuss it here and here at SF Novelists, Kate Elliott & Ken Scholes discuss it here at Borders Blog, and there are a variety of other places I’m failing to link to because five links is enough for one paragraph. The question raised is essentially “where are the women?”, specifically lately in epic fantasy but also as a general statement in fantasy and science fiction.

What the question really is is, where are the women in books written by men, because on many of these blog discussions people’ve come up with roughly one zillion epic fantasy/sf books peopled with significant female characters, and 90% of them are written by women. Which actually is not at all my point.

My point, and I suspect this may be somewhat controversial, is that I never noticed they were missing.

This inevitably gets long.Collapse )

(x-posted from the essential kit)

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Mary Annepers1stence on September 21st, 2009 03:34 pm (UTC)
An additional thought -- sometimes the politics of gender seem to suggest that men should have to write good women characters, but if the author doesn't have the ability to write women well, I'd rather not read a half-assed attempt. And I do believe that men and women ARE different (not lesser or greater, but different) on certain levels. I'd rather read a cracking good story by a man about a boy on a quest that rings true to me than to read a man's poor attempt at writing from a female perspective just because it's politically correct or expedient. And vice versa....

Alix (Tersa): Arwen Reading (tersa)tersa on September 21st, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
Sunfeet: imaginedreamstrifer on September 21st, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
I never really noticed a gender problem either. Though to be honest, I haven't read the "major" fantasy (Outside of Tolkien and Lewis), except for a tiny handful of McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey. I tend to drift towards the more obscure books, just by nature of the cover copy. Furthermore, even as a teenager (I didn't read fantasy much younger than that, unless it was children's fantasy or Narnia), I didn't much care about the sex of the protagonist. I just wanted a good story with good characters.

Although I did have an alarming tendency to put down a book if it appeared there wouldn't be any romance in it. I think I missed a very good chunk of very good books because of that. Oh well, when you're 16 and you don't think a boy will ever notice you, you make weird reading decisions, I suppose.

But what I'm really getting at is even now, both as a reader and a writer, I want very good, relateable but still fantastical protagonists. If it's a good, rounded, interesting character, I don't give a crap if it's male or female. And I don't pay much attention to the gender of the author either.
Lady Doomlithera on September 21st, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)

I knew there was a reason we got on so well. Our reading paths and ages were very similar.

My points:

- Trixie Belden! Heeee!

- You and I got the same things out of Heinlien.

- I miss Mercedes Lackey. The more recent books have done nothing for me.

- And as for Covenant, well.... Yeah. It is horrible what he does. I won't get into a huge thing about it here but I don't think you're ever supposed to see him as sympathetic. He's not a good guy. He's rather loathesome. He just happens to be the only guy who can do what needs to be done.
bookmobilerbookmobiler on September 21st, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)
Reading between the lines
The bulk of this discussion has been about gender. In other places it has focused on race/diversity.

I understand the concern but find it difficult to formulate a solution.

As a reader I honestly can't find it in me to care about the race or sex of either the authors or their characters. What I want is a good story. If I get it I'll be looking for more by that author. If I don't, I wont.

Elsewhere on LJ at jimhines http://jimhines.livejournal.com/465944.html the focus was mostly on race but I stand by what I said there:

"Also as a reader I have to say that unless it truly impacts the story racial, color and gender simply go in one eye and out the other. I would only react if it was some how jarringly out of place. And that would be the authors fault."

And totally off topic: Why do people keep referring to Anne McCaffery's Pern books as fantasy?
They're all about teleporting, inter-species telepathy, time travel and genetic engineering! Not to mention colonizing and adapting to new worlds.
kitmizkit on September 21st, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Reading between the lines
Because they have dragons, and everybody short-circuits "dragons" to "fantasy" in their brains. :)
Re: Reading between the lines - shui_long on September 21st, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Reading between the lines - green_knight on September 21st, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Reading between the lines - bookmobiler on September 22nd, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Reading between the lines - eyelessgame on September 24th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Andrea Blytheblythe025 on September 21st, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
Well said. This is very much how I feel about this sort of thing. I always find is odd when others point out that a certain character isn't the right sort of powerful woman. To me a powerful female character (whether a warrior or someone who just stands up and faces their problems) is a powerful female character.

I get labeled as a feminist in my family, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but what I try to emphasis to family members and friends is that I am not so much a feminist as I am a humanist (though I wouldn't limit myself to that, either, if a new intelligent race decided to come to our planet and say, hello :) ). I liked to see well rounded and interesting people in books, and yeah, I'd like to see some of them be women, but overall I'm interested in people. No matter their gender.
Janne: Elfquest Savahjanne on September 21st, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)
I was discussing a tangent subject to this with a friend a few weeks ago -- how the tv-series we watched happily as children were horribly sexist when revisited as adults. I think my conclusion was that society itself was so sexist back then that the series/movies were perfectly fine in comparison. Now society has moved on, and Jeannie/Bewitched/Star Trek suddenly seem horribly sexist and dated while (back then) they were amazing just for having women with amazing powers in them.

And yes, I think I also tended to just identify with the hero of the book as a child, regardless of gender and color and species and whatnot. (My daughter OTOH apparently always identifies with the dragon/pokemon/fantasy creature of the hour. I'm not sure what that says about todays society...)
Al Pettersoneyelessgame on September 24th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
Not to mention 99, who (for all her fawning adoration of Max) was also a professional secret agent and unmarried career woman, much more competent than anyone around her. Barbara Feldon says she was uncomfortable finding out she was such a role model to so many little girls, but for the time it was quite the progressive role.
Edward Greavestemporus on September 21st, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
Wait, do you mean the Happy Hollisters???

Someone else out there read those too???
kitmizkit on September 21st, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Er, yes, wow, how embarrassing that I got the name wrong. The Happy Hollisters, of course! Yes, I read all of them. :)
(Deleted comment)
kitmizkit on September 21st, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
...I would rather strenuously object to Friday not being counted as a girl. What the hell? o.O

I suspect I'll talk about the boy-readers-backlash thing pretty soon too... :)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - mizkit on September 22nd, 2009 08:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - mizkit on September 22nd, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - eyelessgame on September 24th, 2009 07:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - veilofgrace on September 21st, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mizkit on September 22nd, 2009 08:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
Legolas McGee: Leon - lurkerseveredscythe on September 22nd, 2009 12:54 am (UTC)
I uh, am probably going to get smacked for this but I don't give much of a shit whether the lead is male or female. I think that the author chooses the best character to tell the story. I write male leads myself, because I don't understand girls, for all I am one.I try, and women in my stories are generally strong and capable and also kick ass quite a bit, but I can't write a female lead that doesn't sound wrong in my head. I would love to be able to write something where a girl saves the day (or pick up on my old stories and change things around a little) but yeah.

I love reading books in general. I mean, I read Rob Thurman's Trick of the Light and LOVED it, recently. And the uglies series, for all it's problems, has female leads that are just teenage girls. <3 And your books are quite awesome and I love contempary fantasy for having so many girls doing the leading and the discovering. I'm not sure what kind of point I'm trying to make, and it sounds like I'm saying "look, don't kill me, I read girls in books!" but back to my original point. I trust the author to choose the voice which is the strongest and makes the most sense for that paticular adventure. If they're a boy or a girl or genderless or queer or whatever.

Just a side note, but it carries over to games as well. The Silent Hill series is entierly driven by women. I'm serious. Most of the playable characters (with the exception of 3) are boys, yes, but women control the world. The world was CREATED by a woman. The female characters are the strongest and the most efficient, and I'm pretty sure that's why I love the series (and the comics, because of Christabella) so much, aside from it scaring the pants off me. Alessa gets her revenge and turns the world upside down to do it and she's a fantastic character, and when I played the games when I was younger, that amazed me. That a girl could do all that and still manage to have a soft spot for her father. or something.

seconding or thirding the anne mccaffery love, because regardless of what she says or does (And urgh, her son should not be writing those books, I'm sorry) her books got me through a difficult time in my childhood and I'm grateful for them.
silkiemom on September 22nd, 2009 04:58 am (UTC)
Oh thank you so much for writing about this. I read it right before I had to nap to get rid of my headache. As a result, I had a dream about wandering around a castle with a bunch of people, and we were all looking for a strong, female protagonist. There was much wandering around and discussing on whether that girl or that woman qualified as being strong enough or proactive enough or whatever. While we were dithering, bad guys came up and started chasing us around so we had to run. Until we got to an exit where there was a line of people waiting to get out. We had to wait in line, so we were nervously peering over our shoulders at the bad guys who were waiting in line several people behind us and glaring back at us.

See what you did? :)
plums deifyalmond_tiger on September 22nd, 2009 10:12 am (UTC)
I really like your point here. Nicely said!
Al Pettersoneyelessgame on September 24th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)
My older son should not be taken as any anecdote you can pluralize into data, since he's His Own Self and not much like anyone else, but two years ago when he was eleven, he read A Wrinkle in Time and identified very strongly with Meg ... though prying him away to try anything non-Star Wars is temporary at best these days.

My daughter, who's now eleven, eschews most Girls' Fiction (tm) because not enough happens in it and it's boring; she wants books with plots (as opposed to being composed of vignettes, like Anne of Green Gables). She does like Harry Potter and Order of the Stick and Elfquest, though oddly she complained that there weren't enough women warriors in Elfquest.

I've done and got my consciousness all raised and corrected and stuff, to the point where I am feeling Bad about encouraging the fiction I loved as a kid to my daughter, or even to my sons (Mad Scientists Club, Three Investigators, Phantom Tollbooth, LotR, Asimov, Clarke, Niven) because in most of this stuff girls aren't just secondary, they're completely absent.

But I think perhaps I will worry less and encourage some of my favorites anyway (along with Pern -- which she's oddly resisted giving a try, but perhaps I'll point her to this thread -- and Valdemar and such) over the next few years, and just encourage her to be sure some of her books to have some XX chromosomes somewhere within, since adventures do in fact happen to both boys and girls. And if she ever reads a Xanth book I'll make sure she knows that boys who actually act like any of those characters are excellent candidates to practice her crescent kicks on.