Seanan McGuire, author of the October Daye series, Discount Armageddon, and Newsflesh series (under the name Mira Grant) wrote a rather thoughtful discussion on the role of female heroines and secondary characters in urban fantasy novels.
If you’re interested in the portrayal of women in fiction or just writing in general, I suggest reading it all. Here are some choice excerpts:
It wasn’t until I read the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter that I noticed the creepiest thing about the Disney princesses: they never look at each other. Get six of them in a group, and they will all strike independent poses, they will all gaze at independent points off in the distance. They never make eye contact. They never acknowledge each other in any way. Why?
Because if you’re going to be the fairest in the land, you can’t ever admit that anyone of comparable fairness even exists. To be the prettiest princess, you must also be the only princess. So all you other princesses can just step off; this is my spotlight.
Urban fantasy heroines have a lot in common with Disney princesses.
The standards for “fairest of them all” are different when your kingdom is a city and your ballgown is a pair of leather pants. You need to be the best ass-kicker, the best snarker, the best crime-solver or magic-user, or whatever. But they’re still high standards to live up to, and it’s easier to do when there’s no one else in your sandbox. If no one else is kicking ass in leather pants, you don’t have to try as hard to be the best. Consequentially, we keep seeing urban fantasy heroines with no peers. No other women who kick ass. They might have sidekicks, or even other strong female characters in supporting roles, but it feels like a lot of them…well. Like a lot of them just don’t have any friends.
It can be easy, as an author, to smooth and sand the story until all the unnecessary characters are gone, and I can see where that might mean you have to lose a few of the members of the Breakfast Club. At the same time, if that process leaves six male characters and one female, and only one of those male characters is Prince Charming, why are the other five all dudes? Can’t we balance things a little? For me, female characters are more believable when they have friends. When there are other women around to talk to, trade tips on wearing leather pants without chafing with, and generally enjoy.
I’m not sure if her claim about the Disney Princess brand is true but thinking through what I have seen, it certainly seems true. Urban fantasy heroines in a lot of novels I’ve read also seem to suffer from this problem as well. Buffy is one of the few exceptions that I can think of off the top of my head.
It may have been okay back in the day to simply have a strong female heroine as a main character and call it progress from the perspective of gender equality but these days we should consider if it is more meaningful for our heroines to have peers and rivals to compare and contrast against, be they men or women.
There have been times when I’ve wanted to discuss social issues with people, not to convince them of the point, but to try to help evolve my own understanding by getting their opinions and beliefs. And instead of having the discussion, the person decided they didn’t want to discuss it. This has happened to me multiple times with different people, from close friends to friendly strangers.
But there are some social issues that need to be discussed. Over on my Tumblr I posted a video that explains the fight for women’s suffrage to the music of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Do you think at the time discussing whether women had the right to own property or vote in political elections was a polite topic at the dinner table? A good majority of men and women felt different than a smaller group of women regarding the issue. It required people like Alice Paul to bring the issue to people’s attention and get them talking about it, realizing the idea and implications. As more people thought about it, rather than simply forming their beliefs based upon the status-quo, the movement garnered support until women were considered equal citizens to men, at least in word if not always in practice.
One social issue that also needs to be discussed is sexuality. I could explain why but a recent post by Seanan McGuire, author of over a dozen stories, I think sums it up a little better. Show, don’t tell: why they need to be there by Seanan McGuire.
I was recently talking to a friend* of mine who is also a writer about inclusion and inclusiveness in fiction. He was frustrated. Why did people keep asking him to include a non-heterosexual character in a starring role in his work? After all, he’d said that non-hetero characters existed, and were actually the norm. It was right there, in black and white. So why wasn’t that enough?
I explained how, when I was a kid, the only smart blondes I could find were Marilyn Munster and Susan Storm. How I wound up identifying with the Midwich Cuckoos, rather than the humans who they were threatening, because the Cuckoos looked like me and were isolated like me and no one understood them. How, as I got older and realized that what I wanted wasn’t necessarily the kind of marriage my mother had, every gay character became a magical revelation—even the ones I would look at now and think of as stereotyped and cardboard. It was enough for me that they were there.
This argument, of course, hinges on your personal beliefs regarding if certain types of sexuality are morally wrong or right. It appeals to that time when you finally found someone, be it a fictional character or real life hero, who you felt was going through similar problems and conflicts as you, and how you drew strength from the fact that they survived. Maybe not everybody had this experience but I believe that to be unlikely.
Discussing social issues is hard but challenging what we know to be right and understanding that it may be wrong or at the very least, partially incorrect, is a part of what makes us human and what helps us to continue to improve ourselves.
The Bloggess can be rather hysterically funny at times. This is one of those times.
Conversation with my elderly neighbor at our mailboxes:
Neighbor: Is your arthritis bothering you again? You look sort of limpy.
me: No, I’m just sore. I started doing adult hula hooping.
me: I mean, not “adult” like “naked hula hoop porn”. It’s just hula hooping for grown-ups. With clothes on.
me: Honestly, I don’t even know if there’s such thing as hula hoop porn.
me: There probably is though. Rule 34 of the internet, you know.
me: I should probably go back inside now.
And then I went back inside and she just stood there. And that’s why I’m not allowed to go check the mail unsupervised anymore.
So some more changes are happening. A lot of the content that you see here is going to be going away. Yeah. All the videos and comic links and such? Poof! Why? Because I’m going to be reserving room on this blog for more of my content. Posting opinion pieces, reviews, my writing, and writing I do elsewhere. Weird Words will continue and maybe a few other article ideas. Perhaps Comic Links, since comics are rather dear to me.
The other content isn’t going away however. Far be it for me to deprive the internet of my opinion on what is good or funny. Instead most of that content will be moving to Tumblr.
Tumblr is a lot like a condensed blog. I like to think of it like if Blogspot and Twitter had a weird genetically modified offspring, Tumblr would be it. It focuses on posting content quickly but with little restriction, and allows those people with Tumblr accounts to share it on their blogs quickly an easily, similar to re-tweeting.
Now A Singularity [Tumblr Edition] has existed in the past but it has acted as a repeater for this blog. Now it will be showing exclusive content. Now in the future I may start creating summary posts of Tumblr content here, perhaps on weekend days, for those of you who don’t want to go make a Tumblr account. Also if you’re a big fan of RSS and don’t want to make a Tumblr account, Tumblr fully supports RSS. Get A Singularity [Tumblr Edition]‘s RSS feed here. Keep in mind that content here will be reproduced over there, so you might have some duplication.
There is already some original content on the Tumblr, so go check it out.
More updates as they come available.
Every artist must eventually take one of two paths: the first promises long hours of hard, thankless work and no guarantee of recognition in your lifetime, much less any financial reward. Instead, you are guaranteed a life of purpose, where your work comes only from what you value, expressed in the most earnest form imaginable.
The second path is the same thing, but you have a ponytail.
For those of you who have been paying attention, there is a list of useful links below. For those of you who haven’t, stay awhile and listen.
Actions being taken by the United State government will begin to fundamentally change the internet. Please read or watch the following to understand what is happening and if you want to take action about it.
[spoiler show="For those of you who would like my words on the subject. Click here."]The United States created the Internet. Despite fancy names like “World Wide Web” and “Global Communication System” and “Series of Tubes”, the internet is not managed by the world. It is managed by corporations on the united states and is subject, for the most part, to US Law. Even more so these days since a majority of the people connect to the internet via their local telecommunication company (phone, cable, satellite, etc).
That being said the internet has been pretty untamed for the last few years. Anybody could put or post up anything. Your information was only as secure as how well your protected it. It was effectively the digital wild west. Now, however, the internet is in so many homes, has become the focus of so much economic use (online shopping, movie and song streaming, video games, marketing) that this can’t last. Just like the trains that brought big business to the west, killing off the last place where your only real protection was the gun at your side, progress is going to try to tame the internet for the good of all, to the detriment of the few.
This is more or less inevitable. The new internet that will come into place will be highly regulated and likely more forcefully controlled by the big economic interests that want to use it to provide services to the world for money. When they do, innovation will become exceptionally difficult. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like, will still exist, but their successors likely won’t appear. Blogs, chat rooms, social networks, bulletin boards/forums system, may or may not survive in this new internet. Words like “National Defense”, ”Anti-Piracy”, “Copyright”, and others will be used to tightly regulate any site that tries to provide the public with ability to communicate and share.
Effectively the basis for the internet as we know it, sharing and communicating, will come to an end at the hands of capitalism and censorship.
The first steps for this have already begun. The United States government has two acts currently being discussed. The PROTECT IP act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Both have been getting a lot of news. As of right now, both look to be dying heavily under media massive campaigns set forth by various websites and organizations, despite the money being thrown at it by media and telecom corporations. The best example is today, February 18th, 2012, where websites all over the internet are “Blacking out” or putting up protest notices. You can read up more about what these acts do in the links below, but to summarize the acts allow and empower the US government to try to block or remove internet services (primarily websites) that infringe on copyright, without significant due process.
Now I am not a proponent of piracy. I make a living off of software development and I hope to some day make a living as an author. These are both areas that have notably high piracy rates, which concerns me. I would like to be compensated for my effort and work but I also feel that censoring the internet is not the answer. So for now, I protest.[/spoiler]
[spoiler show="For those of you who like videos. Click Here."]
- Wikipedia: SOPA
- Wikipedia: PIPA
- Blog.Reddit: A technical examination of SOPA and PROTECT IP
- TerribleMinds: Why SOPA and PIPA and other anti-piracy bullshit measures matter to writers
- TEDTalks: Defend our freedom to share (or why SOPA is a bad idea)
- (Wil Wheaton) WWdN: In Exile: Today the US Senate is considering legislation that would destroy the free and open Internet
- (The Bloggess) The Bloggess: Me and Vader, fighting together. Weird.
- Google.com (Protest Page)
- PATV: Season 3, Ep. 24a - Stand Together: The Gaming Community vs SOPA and PIPA
- Girls With Slingshots
- Abstruse Goose
- Kawaii Not
- Something Positive
- Dominic Deegan
And many, many more, including you, hopefully.
A few months ago I took a dead mouse on a plane ride to New York City. This probably happens inadvertently to lots of people (who have infestation problems and might be hoarders), but the difference is that my dead mouse was wearing clothes, and was traveling on my tray table (much to the chagrin of the man sitting next to me). My mouse (Hamlet von Schnitzel) and I were going to New York so that I could have some meetings, sign some things, and convince my publisher that a dead mouse was much more photogenic than myself and should probably be on the cover of my book.
The man sitting next to me on the plane just suggested that my dead mouse might be more comfortable in my purse. I explained that Hamlet von Schnitzel has severe claustrophobia. Then my seat-mate stared at the mouse skull in Hamlet’s tiny mouse paw and I explained: “He’s an aspiring actor. We’re going to New York for head-shots.” And then the guy put on his headphones and refused to speak to me. It was a good choice.
In hindsight, it’s possible that they staring at me because I was carrying a dead mouse and because the hotel porter had a hot-pink purse on his shoulder, and not because I was bragging about all the crack houses I hadn’t been to. It didn’t really matter though because we got off on the next floor, and then Bob explained that a “transient hotel” is one where people stay overnight. I explained that normal people just call that “a hotel.”
I am missing a toilet. No shit, y’all. There is no toilet in this room. Apparently, rich people just hold it. Or pay someone else to go for them.
They’re all very awesome and professional. I placed a dead mouse on the board room table and instead of freaking out they all excitedly said, “OH! Is that Hamlet von Schnitzel?!” because they’ve all read the book and know his backstory. It suddenly dawns on me that all of these strangers in business suits know more about my childhood than my therapist does. They also know far more about my vagina than of most people I have professional meetings with. It’s both unsettling and comforting all at once. These are things no one ever warns you about when you write your memoirs. This is probably why Stephen King never writes about his vagina.
Like I said, go read the full article. There are hilarious pictures.
|Graham:||[STYLING HIS HAIR A LA FLOCK OF SEAGULLS] Hey look! “And I raaan, I ran so far awaaaay…”|
|Graham:||I won’t. Except when I change into an elephant, but that’s only once every three months.|
|Kathleen:||Well, apart from that, yeah.|
|Kathleen:||If you WERE a were-elephant, I still wouldn’t want you to change. But I would make sure you weren’t going to wreck your clothes. I’d watch the calendar and be like, “Full moon tonight, don’t wear those jeans. Here’s some sweatpants I bought at Value Village.”|
|Graham:||Our people prefer the term Werlephant.|
|Kathleen:||So, I guess what I’m saying is, you CAN change, but only into clothes with a lot of give.|
Earlier generations have weathered recessions, of course; this stall we’re in has the look of something nastier. Social Security and Medicare are going to be diminished, at best. Hours worked are up even as hiring staggers along: Blood from a stone looks to be the normal order of things “going forward,” to borrow the business-speak. Economists are warning that even when the economy recuperates, full employment will be lower and growth will be slower—a sad little rhyme that adds up to something decidedly unpoetic. A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents.
Generation X is sick of your bullshit.
The first generation to do worse than its parents? Please. Been there. Generation X was told that so many times that it can’t even read those words without hearing Winona Ryder’s voice in its heads. Or maybe it’s Ethan Hawke’s. Possibly Bridget Fonda’s. Generation X is getting older, and can’t remember those movies so well anymore. In retrospect, maybe they weren’t very good to begin with.
But Generation X is tired of your sense of entitlement. Generation X also graduated during a recession. It had even shittier jobs, and actually had to pay for its own music. (At least, when music mattered most to it.) Generation X is used to being fucked over. It lost its meager savings in the dot-com bust. Then came George Bush, and 9/11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Generation X bore the brunt of all that. And then came the housing crisis.
Generation X wasn’t surprised. Generation X kind of expected it.
Generation X is a journeyman. It didn’t invent hip hop, or punk rock, or even electronica (it’s pretty sure those dudes in Kraftwerk are boomers) but it perfected all of them, and made them its own. It didn’t invent the Web, but it largely built the damn thing. Generation X gave you Google and Twitter and blogging; Run DMC and Radiohead and Nirvana and Notorious B.I.G. Not that it gets any credit.
But that’s okay. Generation X is used to being ignored, stuffed between two much larger, much more vocal, demographics. But whatever! Generation X is self-sufficient. It was a latchkey child. Its parents were too busy fulfilling their own personal ambitions to notice any of its trophies—which were admittedly few and far between because they were only awarded for victories, not participation.
In fairness, Generation X could use a better spokesperson. Barack Obama is just a little too senior to count among its own, and it has debts older than Mark Zuckerberg. Generation X hasn’t had a real voice since Kurt Cobain blew his brains out, Tupac was murdered, Jeff Mangum went crazy, David Foster Wallace hung himself, Jeff Buckley drowned, River Phoenix overdosed, Elliott Smith stabbed himself (twice) in the heart, Axl got fat.
Generation X is beyond all that bullshit now. It quit smoking and doing coke a long time ago. It has blood pressure issues and is heavier than it would like to be. It might still take some ecstasy, if it knew where to get some. But probably not. Generation X has to be up really early tomorrow morning.
Generation X is tired.
It’s a parent now, and there’s always so damn much to do. Generation X wishes it had better health insurance and a deeper savings account. It wonders where its 30s went. It wonders if it still has time to catch up.
Right now, Generation X just wants a beer and to be left alone. It just wants to sit here quietly and think for a minute. Can you just do that, okay? It knows that you are so very special and so very numerous, but can you just leave it alone? Just for a little bit? Just long enough to sneak one last fucking cigarette? No?
Whatever. It’s cool.
Generation X is used to disappointments. Generation X knows you didn’t even read the whole thing. It doesn’t want or expect your reblogs; it picked the wrong platform.
Generation X should have posted this to LiveJournal.
… The cat tearing down the hallway set off the beagle, who lunged from under the bed after the cat, baying hysterically, which did nothing for the cat’s nerves. Cat and beagle streaked down the hallway. Cat made the turn successfully and went off down the steps. The beagle…did not.
… At this point, the beagle’s life was forfeit. There is really no getting around that fact. Even given my decided partiality for Ben, I must point out that no jury in the world could convict him.