Sunday, September 13, 2009
Women Writers Writing about Women
Tina and I will post two original messages each over the next week. One a day. Writers are invited to connect the topics to their own artistic interests. And if you don't write, there's life, reading and media examples to draw on. Today is Tina's second and final post of the discussion.

Wow. What an amazing discussion this has been. Lynda's post on Friday got some really great comments on Facebook. Like from Cenobyte B:
"...Because the genre developed in this predominantly male audience, there
developed certain tropes, and I think one of those tropes is that female
characters must either be lovers or adversaries... I think the era of
multi-faced female characters is just now coming to the forefront of all kinds
of literature, although more 'mainstream' literary fiction has had more time,
more space, and more of an audience to develop these themes. Science Fiction and
Fantasy are still eking on to the 'literary' scene, and so, as genres, are still
having to overcome some of those traditional tropes."

This and other comments over the last week have prompted me to ask myself a question.

As a writer, does the gender we are born to (or choose to embrace) have an impact on our ability to write from the opposite sex?

Many of the writers I know have asked this question at one point or another. It's normally asked if a man can write from a women's point of view convincingly or vice versa. The answer always seem to depend on the author, but for the most part authors are more comfortable writing from their own sex's point of view. There are of course exceptions to this rule. Our own Lynda Williams has a very male dominate cast in her Okal Rel series. I, on the other hand, find is easier to write from the female point of view even though I tend to write from both male and female perspectives equally.

Could this be the cause of these "tropes"? Is it because men were the storytellers? But why would women not write from women point of views when they finally broke into the genre? Was it because the "normal" storyline and characters were expected?

I agree that true women characters are just starting to be seen in genre fiction, and perhaps this is because it's only now become acceptable to portray that in genre fiction. I think fantasy caught on to this much sooner than Science Fiction, but it's coming. A new era perhaps?

I know that Lynda will write a closing post shortly, and I won't take away from that, but for myself I would like to close by saying I think that a strong female character doesn't need to have a fist fight or beat up a guy to captivate an audience. She can be hero without lifting a finger in anger, just as some of my female hero's have done in real life... but sometimes kick butt stories can be really fun to read. :)

Tina Hunter

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This article, from Extrapolation, makes some (to my mind, needful) points about the distinction between media SF and written SF, and the "kick butt heroine" being more a media than a written SF creation.
Redefining women's power through feminist science fiction
Extrapolation, Spring, 2005. Maria Derose

I would argue that robust, well-characterized, diverse female characters ceased to be a rarity in SF as early as the late 60s/early 70s, when feminism took up SF as one of the tools for exploring questions of sex and gender. For which it has been and is ideal, since any and all of the 'givens' (biology, nature, society etc) can be interrogated and discarded at will. And scholars of earlier periods would probably take me to task for neglecting the utopian tradition in writing, which in the process of reenvisioning society, reenvisioned sex roles.

Maybe we should stop using 'strong' as a shorthand for a significant/satifying/non-stereotypic female character, given the prevalent cultural definition of strength?
A nice distinction Alison. I can see how "strong" can not take on the meaning I was looking for.

I also agree that feminism used SF & F to push the envelope in that area, however I've always found that true "Feministic" SF is just women doing what men can do. There are feministic SF that highlights women in non-stereotypical and stereotypical roles without going to far into "the fighter" or "damsel" roles. Real women are far from stereotypical.

If you are interesting in reading more about female authors and their take on this, here is an interesting article from The Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine written by Susan Elizabeth Lyons in October of 2008.

Women Writing Science Fiction!

I did notice that my "kick-butt" archetypes tend to be media figures (like Buffy), although the "kick-butt" females of military SF are written-word in origin, I believe. Good point. Ditto the equating of "strong" with "beat-you-in-a-fight". I write male characters who don't win the fights, as well, and find their predicament equally interesting. Ranar in Courtesan Prince, for example. And thank you muchly, Tina, for scooping comments from facebook to expose here.
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