Archive for July 23rd, 2012
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.