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Ladies, Please (Carry On Being Awesome)

Liannan smash
So I was walking home from the new Star Trek movie, which I have previously indicated I found to be awesome. I was pretty surprised by this, as the Star Trek TV shows had not caught my fancy, and expressed this surprise to my friend, who was a fan of the TV show.

SARAH: But now I see I was TERRIBLY WRONG.
GASTON: Great!
SARAH: I'll watch the series now!
GASTON: Cool, we'll have a Star Trek weekend.
PASSERSBY: judge us for these words
SARAH: Sounds good! And I will watch the greatest love story of all time unfold over many episodes.
GASTON: What? Which love story do you mean?
SARAH: The love story of (highlight to see a spoiler from the movie) Spock and Uhura, of course!
GASTON: Weeeell... about that... it didn't so much actually happen as... not happen...
SARAH: That's it, Star Trek weekend is off!
PASSERSBY: judge us for these words

Feeling betrayed that I had been robbed of the awesomeness I was imagining, I decided to go in search of awesomeness on the internet. Surely, I would find much love there!

I did not see much love for Uhura, who I thought was a clearly brilliant and fabulous character. Even in the comments to my parody, people seemed against or indifferent to her.

Of course, I searched and did find love for her, and indeed here is a really great collection of Uhura thoughts, with a spotlight on race and feminism.

But my search made me think some more about fictional ladies, and an audience's approach to them. Now, I have already gone over my thoughts on how girls in fiction are starting out from a tricky place, given that the traditional way women were written is problematic, and you can also go too far in the opposite direction.

But there's another question, and that's the audience: I do think all of us tend to be harder on women, even if the women in question are awesome. This is totally natural - the society we live in has plenty of issues about the ladies, and sometimes we don't even know we're being influenced.

So without further ado, and with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Little Women, Harry Potter, my own book because responses to it made me think about these issues, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Dickens, Ilona Andrews and doubtless others mentioned, plus mangled song lyrics because... I may be crazy.



If He Was A Girl, Even Just For One Day

I certainly have seen girl characters who were too perfect: who were beloved by all, beautiful (though they always thought their mouth was too wide or possibly their bosom too generous), and eventually elected queen of the universe. (Sometimes literally.)

Let us think of the Question of Harry Potter. I do not mean to bag on the character of Harry Potter: I am very fond of him.

But I think people would be less fond of him if he was Harriet Potter. If he was a girl, and she'd had a sad childhood but risen above it, and she'd found fast friends, and been naturally talented at her school's only important sport, and saved the day at least seven times. If she'd had most of the boys in the series fancy her, and mention made of boys following her around admiring her. If the only talent she didn't have was dismissed by her guy friend who did have it. If she was often told by people of her numerous awesome qualities, and was in fact Chosen by Fate to be awesome.

Well, then she'd be just like Harry Potter, but a girl. But I don't think people would like her as much.

Thinking it over, there are a lot of male characters who are super popular, who fulfill a good few of these criteria. And yet, thinking about it as Male Character being a girl, you feel differently about it. I think Petra Pan would get more flak for being mean and selfish than Peter Pan ever did. Heathcliff is generally better liked than Cathy, even though Cathy has no history of animal cruelty.

Edwina Rochester would be Loathed By All. The older, not terribly attractive, super rich woman who almost lures the dude into a false marriage? Run, Jim Eyre, people would cry! Never dream of looking back!

If Laurie from Little Women were Lori who lived next door to a house full of brothers, and who gave up her interest in the dark, bookish, less attractive brother and decided she'd always loved the much hotter brother with less personality really? I know a lot of people don't much fancy Laurie and Amy's romance, but I haven't seen a lot of people dislike Laurie: I do think Lori would attract more hatred.

And some of that is of course because the character would be intrinsically different if they were a girl. But some of it's because we're more prone to judge girl characters harshly: we're suspicious of them when they're awesome.

She's the Girl All the (Bad and Otherwise) Guys Want

We're suspicious of girls when they're wanted.

Uh, if I may, I'll segue briefly into an example from my own book, it isn't necessary to have read it: I have two characters. Let's call them Character A and Character B. (Those are not their names. Those would be terrible names.) They're both important characters: they're both attractive and confident about their attractiveness. For most of the book both of them are too busy for romance, but occasionally both of them forget that.

There are four main characters in the book: Characters A and B among them.

In the case of both Character A and Character B, each of these has two of the three other main characters attracted to them. (The character who remains in each case is related to the character in question, and thus not that likely to be attracted to them.) In the case of Character A, various minor characters are also attracted. A puts A's attractions to use more frequently than any other character: such uses include making out with people to get stuff, and being half-naked and expecting to get stuff.

The reasons for this are simple. Character B is cute and knows how to work it. Character A is the bombshell head-turner of the group, and knows how to work that.

Character B is the one who gets called out for having too many people fancy B, who's seen as responsible for other people's attraction to B, who's seen as using people's feelings and provoking their feelings. Nobody ever tells me Character A is too attractive.

Character B's a girl. Character A's a boy. I can't help but feel there's an unconscious bias going on there.

Of course, we've all seen fiction where every man within range is slain by a single glance from the lady's eyes, and sometimes it totally is excessive. But there are also a lot of guys ladies go nuts for in fiction: see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, subtitle 'Harry Potter, A Lot of Ladies Would Like To Hit That,' Edward Dazzle Me Harder Cullen, and The Name's Bond James Bond.

But it's the boys wanting the girls that seems to cause the most ire... directed towards the girls. And why's that?

I Don't Like Your Girlfriend

So lots of books have romances in them. As well they might: romances are interesting! I won't lie, I always assume evil will be defeated and am pretty engaged with who will get with who.

And there often exists a romantic rival lady in a romance, or even other ladies around who might be seen as the romantic rival, and they're often hated inside and outside the text as vile and unworthy and unattractive.

'Right, Little Miss Picky' you might say unto me at this point. What do you want from a romance, then?

Well, I will tell you. Through the medium of SONG.

A song called Kathleen by Josh Ritter begins 'All the other girls here are stars... you are the Northern Lights.'

And that is what I like. That's more romantic. If the hero isn't presented with a scheming evil diva from hell with no redeeming qualities and a taste for puppy blood in her Cheerios and you, if there are a lot of awesome girls around, if they're smart and funny and great, and the hero still picks the heroine, if he thinks she shines the brightest, is the awesomest of the awesome...

Well I think that's pretty romantic.

After all, if a girl's torn between two or more guys in fiction, often those two or more guys will be fairly awesome. Why should the other ladies be any less awesome?

There's also dislike for the heroine, often because she doesn't reciprocate a preferred guy's feelings. We've all wanted people to get together who never did get together (Jo and Laurie, for me, for one) but girls are seen as culpable for not liking a guy, sometimes, in a way that guys just aren't blamed for in the same way. Which I think is down to a perception of ladies' hands as being given away by someone else, as naughty women being temptresses and good girls being meant to go for the right guy. And a little bit down to girl readers putting themselves in the heroine's place.

Women are not prizes. And it's really easy to see them that way: when I was sixteen and reading LJ Smith's books (and loving the hell out of them, I might add) which are heavily focused on boy/girl/boy love triangles, I always passionately wanted the girl to get with the boy I liked best.

But no: nobody's owed a lady's love. Ladies, not awarded to the most deserving. Ladies are to be judged independent of guys: again, let's play flipping genders. Guys' romantic choices are held against them way less often - Dickens's David Copperfield has a hero who marries demonstrably the wrong girl for him when the right girl was there all along, but I've never heard anyone hold it against him.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

So, there's this thing called the Bechdel Test. I have handily looked up a definition of it for you!

Test is in three parts.

1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man

Here is an awesome link about both the complexities of the Bechdel Test and also giving a ton of examples of awesome fiction with ladies' friendships in it. It is COOL and you should read it. This essay will be here chillin' and waiting for you when you're done.

However if you don't read it, or if you don't read all the comments, part of mine is a recommendation for Ilona Andrews and her series, which takes apart a feature of a lot of books: the kickass woman who's surrounded by guys. The books (which start with Magic Bites) start with the heroine Kate being like that and then shows us she's like that because she's been raised in a terribly, legitimately messed up way, and as the series goes on it slowly ceases to be true. Awesome minor female characters are around being awesome, and Kate acquires a best friend called Andrea, who's very into guns and romance novels, and an adopted niece.

That is awesome, and I trust I do not need to tell you why. Andrea and Julie make me love Kate and the books so much more.

I don't mind some things not passing the Bechdel Test: there's reasons for some things not passing it. But a LOT of fiction doesn't pass it. I've recently been really dismayed by reading a bunch of books where the heroine apparently has no friends, or seems to actively dislike her friends (tons of mental bagging on them) or is at least totally prepared to dismiss her friends the instant Mr Right comes along and then friends can either talk solely about Mr Right with her or hop it.

Which doesn't endear me to the heroine, who then seems like a pretty sucky friend. And which certainly does not help her be the Northern Lights. There should be other ladies around being stars!

These books make me think, this one lady being validated by the approval of the dudes, being different from the (ew) other ladies. What's wrong with the other ladies? Why does she need to be so drastically different? I don't like seeing fiction where it seems like all girls except for the Chosen One has cooties.

I've had to wash the taste out of my mouth by reading Eloisa James's romance novels: many of her serieseses...eses are based on the bonds between ladies, notably the Desperate Duchesses and the Essex sisters books. As they're straight romances and historical, marriages and menfolk are on these ladies' minds. But I always get the sense they legimitimately care about each other, that they have things to talk about besides dudes, that they're interested in each other - and seeing a heroine be interested in someone who's not her love interest makes her a lot more interesting to me.

No Woman, Quite A Lot of Cry (At Least From Me)

I get a lot of people assuming I like Supernatural when I haven't watched it in years, and never more than a few episodes off and on. I assume this is because there are demons and brothers in the book what I wrote, and the show also. But no, not a Supernatural fan, ever since I realised there was never going to be a female character who was awesome and stuck around for a while.

Which is not to say people are wrong for liking Supernatural - everyone's hot button is different. I like Gone With the Wind, while some of my friends can't deal with the race issues. I like Anthony Trollope.

ANTHONY: Feminists are ladies who has gone CRAZY.
SARAH: OH ANTHONY WHY.
ANTHONY: No, no, wait, I'm not done. Do you know why they went crazy?
SARAH: Anthony, why are you hurting me. Anthony, I ONLY WANT TO LOVE YOU.
ANTHONY: Because nobody has MARRIED them. LOL!
SARAH: *weeps*
ANTHONY: Oh little lady you know what you need.
SARAH: THE VOTE.
ANTHONY: Wrong answer. Right answer? A MAN.

I totally still love Anthony Trollope. There is no judgement here.

Nor does it mean I will be sad if people relate my book to Supernatural. People relate stuff to other stuff: it is the nature of fiction. I do it myself all the time.

SARAH: So you should read Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty because it is like Harry Potter.
PATIENT FRIEND: There is a lady in a corset on the front.
SARAH: Um yes. Well like Harry Potter if Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, Blaise Zabini and Neville Longbottom were all girls living in the 1800s and wearing corsets and having illicit midnight swims and trysts with gypsies and going to school.
PATIENT FRIEND: ... Magic school?
SARAH: No.
PATIENT FRIEND: This does not sound like Harry Potter AT ALL.
SARAH: Well, there IS magic in it.

I believe I have strayed from my point, though I like how I've strayed since it brought up A Great and Terrible Beauty which features lots of awesome girls, and awesome female friendships, and never any fighting over a guy. My point is, I'd like to watch a show with two attractive brothers and a focus on horror movie examples of the week mixed in with a road trip through America. Who wouldn't? But I can't enjoy something without ladies in it.

It makes me feel icky: it makes me think the people who made the show don't like ladies, or the people who enjoy the show don't like them. And I don't think either of those things are true: probably people don't want to get girls wrong, because it's easy to get girls wrong, or they just kind of overlooked it, because it's easy to do that.

And I don't mean to pick on Supernatural especially here: it is just an example. There are a lot of shows, and movies, and books like it, and I mostly don't enjoy them. I've kind of given up on detective noir because I've seen women float through it, be evil or killed or both, and never stick. Women being evil or killed or both is why I didn't much like the movie Brick, which lots of my friends like: which is a very good movie.

My point is, people will enjoy books and movies and shows more if ladies are in them being awesome. (I know I will.) And people will enjoy them more if they maybe take a step back, examine their prejudices, and relax into accepting that they're awesome. Even if some girl characters are missteps, even if some of them you just will never personally like because tastes are subjective, it's worth doing to have them, and it's worth trying to love them.

The femme fatales, the ninja ladies, the shy girls, the chatterboxes, the ones several guys wanted, the ones none of the guys wanted, the heroines, the sassy sidekicks, the girl the hero fell in love with in one episode we never saw again, the girl who wanted a guy she didn't get, the girl who was with a ton of different guys, the girl who was devoted to her job, the girl who was into other ladies, the murder victim, the tomboy, the feisty redhead, the dumb blonde. There was never anything wrong with any of them.

It's worth it to recognise that we're all okay. We were always okay.

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animeartistjo
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:37 am (UTC)
But what about the UST between Kirk and Spock? They're the great-grandaddies (aside from Holmes and Watson) of slash!
sarahtales
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
The oldtimes Kirk and Spock are very welcome to each other: elderly Spock in the movie seemed to like Kirk a lot. But I don't really care what gender the people in a romance are, so long as the romance is awesome and interesting, which I felt newtimes Uhura and Spock really were. And I would be exceedingly unhappy if Kirk were to get in the way of it! I loved Spock and Uhura the best.

... And if you were being ironic I am sorry. ;)
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(Anonymous)
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:39 am (UTC)
Never really thought about the Harry/Harriet thing before, but it's a brilliant point and I totally agree. I really don't think I would like it if HP was written as a girl. Which then actually makes me feel bad, because, being a girl myself, I feel like I'm letting the side down by mentally rebelling at the idea of HP as a kickass heroine.
flaviarassen
Aug. 25th, 2009 03:39 am (UTC)
There are those of us who would read it just as happily - or possibly even more happily - if Harry had been a girl - but yes, Society in general would consider Harriet Potter to be whiny and full of herself (which I have heard leveled at Harry by a minority). Society would decree that Harriet Potter should be satisfied with just getting out from under the stairs and getting some friends. And, probably, Society would have been more content to have her sacrifice herself without getting to live afterwards.
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vito_excalibur
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
Most of us are okay. You are awesome as always. :)
coach_bag
Jun. 26th, 2010 02:50 am (UTC)
You are the few people who wrote something about that, I like it.
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teenygozer
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:42 am (UTC)
Actually? Speaking as a long-time Star Trek fan, there were actual occurrences on the show that suggested the romance you mentioned. They flirt like crazy on the bridge and while she sings and he plays an instrument, and she's pretty much the only person he outright compliments to her face in one scene where she's getting frustrated at a very complicated rewiring job she's working on to save the ship. Sadly, these little scenes are usually edited out for length when it's been rerun over the years as they are not directly related to the plot (they're just there for character-building of the two people in question.)
sarahtales
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
I shake my fist at the people who edited out my Pairing of Choice! But I am very pleased that the hints blossomed into the romance of awesome in the movie.
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hanelissar
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
This essay brings me joy of a great and immense kind. Women are always getting bashed in fiction for being one thing or another which nobody would think of twice had the character the fortune to have been born with one less 'X' chromosome.

Your Harry Potter parallel is most definitely food for thought - I never would have thought of it like that. Because you're absolutely right. Had Harry been Harriet he'd have been roundly hated on. I have a small pet theory this is because women have more of a tendency to be jealous (alas for us! And apologies my fellow females for the sweeping generalisation!) so therefore pick up more on positive attributes in female characters as they are making comparisons between themselves and the character. Maybe.

But it does make me very sad. And I was very sad when I read reviews of your book and found people not liking your lovely and fantastic female character. Who I always found to be really well written (even I found it hard to identify with her. Through the entire fault of my parents for giving me a life that is in no way like hers and so I grew up to be in no way like her. But I still think she's great.) and was confused and saddened by the people who said she wasn't.

I wish I had something smarter and more eloquent to add but right now all I can do is say 'Yes. Thank you.' As characters we are put-upon far too much. I think the world would be a much happier place had that vile and ridiculous and sweeping term for 'bad' female characters (which I think I cannot bring myself to write) never been created. You know the one I mean.
psychopeg
Aug. 25th, 2009 10:34 am (UTC)
I think we're encouraged to bash on each other IRL, too! I mean, I have the good fortune to be weird (having gone to an all-girls' school where we were all encouraged to be stars, and had no worries about cultural pressure to allow our male classmates to outshine us, since we didn't have any) and be surrounded by a close-knit group of girls who don't engage in that nonsense. More recently, I have met some Girls that are more in line with what I think 20-something women are culturally expected to be, and I cannot handle it. They are INSANE! Constantly sniping at one another and willing to betray one another for dudely attention and... oh my!!

Sort of a rant, but I can actually see in them this behavior that Sarah's describing where they don't like each other very much, don't really have friends (one of them consistently ditches me whenever she has a new boyfriend, then as soon as they break up is all HEY BEST FRIEND! And I'm always like Buwhaaa? Where did you come from?), get crazy jealous, and act like there can only be one Girl Who Is Awesome and they all have to duke it out for that one spot.

So I feel like this tenancy toward jealousy that you note is real, and a tragic offshoot of that is people hating on strong female characters like Mae and imaginary-Harriet (how many people still ship Harry/Hermione, even though it was clear for ages that she and Ron were a better match, just because He's The Hero So He Gets The Girl?!?).

However, on the issue of The Bad Female Character That Must Not Be Named, I *do* think those exist, just as does The Gary Stu Wesley. Just maybe not as often as woman-critical readers claim?
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eternal_vows
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
Hm. That's true.

In a fictional story that takes place in school, somehow the troublemaker person is "cool" if it's a boy. Now, if it were a girl, that girl would be "weird," "craving attention," and would have absolutely no friends except maybe another "weirdo." I would also like to point out that if a boy breaks many girls' hearts, he is referred to as a playboy, and somehow his terrible deeds are *accomplishments*! Once again, if it were a girl, then...(cue buzzer noise).

In a place like the Victorian era, or just sometime that women were pratically cattle, if a girl were trying to escape a marriage to a man 4 times her age, then she would be, once again, the rebellious princess who, even though all her needs are provided, can't be grateful for what she has. (This even applies to modern life. It's as if girls have to adhere to a tigher set of rules or suffer greater consequences.)

If it were a boy trying to escape the marriage (Maybe it's a politic thing, okay? OKAY?), then somehow--I'm overrusing that word--the girl ends up as this manipulative witch, and everyone is rooting for the boy.

Yup. It's all very sexist.

And. Apparently, a "broken boy" (you know, the angst-y boy who is all messed up and alone and antisocial) is very popular, but the "broken girl" is...suffering from PMS, or weird, or etc.

This brings up the whole "If a girl acts like a boy, then she's ungrateful, etc, and also, she is a tomboy" and "If a boy acts like a girl, then he's, you know..." This--*pokes*--is another thing that you can look into.

*takes a bow* Oh, wait, that's more of the whole gender issue thing. But if I curstied, then that would be another thing that girls are expected to do, and boys are not expected to do...and if I bow, then it's like being a boy is cooler. Hm...*smiles and waves* is much better...

*hurriedly backs away before I can be mobbed*

(P.S. Pardon the typos.)
swan_tower
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
If it were a boy trying to escape the marriage (Maybe it's a politic thing, okay? OKAY?), then somehow--I'm overrusing that word--the girl ends up as this manipulative witch, and everyone is rooting for the boy.

I'm attempting to create at least one data point against this: the protagonist of my next book is being sold off into marriage for cash, and both he and his intended wife are trying their best to be very clear-eyed and sane and kind to each other about it.

But it's swimming against the tide, sadly.
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carolinecrane
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
I think about this very issue quite a bit, particularly with respect to Sara from CSI, who is fairly universally loathed by the slash portion of the fandom, it seems. It's frustrating that women are so hard on other women just *because* they're women. I find it very disappointing.

And I say that as someone who writes very few female characters in fandom, but writes what I hope are strong female characters in my trashy romance novels.

(Though old school Kirk/Spock does work in a way that new school Kirk/Spock can't, but Uhura rocks in all her incarnations.)
sarahtales
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
Well like I said, I turned to romance novels to wash some anti-feminism out of my mouth. I have grown over the past year to dearly love a romance novel.
sequinedfairy
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
HOW ARE YOU EVEN SO TRUE AND COOL.

it honestly boggles my mind, and you have hit on a LOT of the things that bother me while i'm reading fic or books (but esp. fic, for some reason. possibly because a lot of it has gay romances, so they don't even have to TRY to make ONE women awesome). as soon as the author starts ragging on girls (exes, or girls who have romantic interest in the guys, or ANYTHING) i immediately stop reading it, because it drives me INSANE when people do that.

ladies need to represent! they rock, most of the time!
fools_game
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
You make some excellent and interesting points. The Uhura thing is super-frustrating to me, because I have seen some people criticising the character for being unprofessional, bratty, and a host of other things in the film, and totally ignoring or applauding it when other (white, male) characters display the same behaviours they are attacking. And they continue to argue that they just don't like the character even when it's pointed out to them.
karenhealey
Aug. 25th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
I think the worst thing I ever saw was a reference to her being uppity. Seriously random commenter did you even see what you just did right there oh my god.
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empresstria
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Thank you Sarah! I often reflect on women's roles in fiction, and I really love reading your reflections as well.

I just finished reading Havemercy, which I remember you telling me at Comic-Con that you hadn't liked because of the extreme dearth of Awesome Ladies. I much agreed--I had fun reading it, and parts made me giggle, but. I don't think any of the POV characters would have worked as women, at least not in the roles they were presented with in that society without radically changing the book, but there definitely could have been more prominent secondary characters.

My personal tendency in stories is to have too many females, actually. I have to consciously think about keeping a healthy ratio of males. But I have found that, with major characters, I want more to make them female, and with minor characters, I want more to make them male. I think it's because I want to give my females more depth of motivation and backstory, and I want them to have a large enough role that I can show that. As I write, though, those minor male characters tend to gradually rise in importance until they've got more depth too, so I guess it works out all right in the end.
sarahtales
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
Oh, no, I see I have exaggerated again and/or made with the generalisations: I did like Havemercy, and I think it is excellently well written! (Plus I laughed out loud at the role-playing scene, which is my favourite scene in the book.) But yes, I would have loved for there to be some more awesome ladies. I am hoping for awesome ladies in Shadow Magic.

I think that having too many girls is a fault on the right side, myself. ;) And yes, some characters come banging onto a page, and some come creeping. This is their way!
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katzell
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Great essay! I particularly loved the role reversals. Very entertaining and interesting. I'm going back to reading my favorite parts out loud, in a scholarly voice, to my roommates.
anarianothren
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)
Wow. What an interesting example of food for thought. I was considering this a while ago, actually, but more in the face of society's response to homosexuality, and how particularly femme-slash isn't as popular because of a severe lack of strong female roles.

It's a difficult issue to solve-- besides one's efforts at writing the correct form of female-- because it all depends on a change of mindset, and particularly how one reads into perspective.

The very most I can say I've achieved is the maturity to be able to look at the female role and think whether she could survive in the story without being a love interest, without being the temptress, or without being the mother figure.

The most excellent news to add to that, though, is that I'd really like to go back through all my favourite books and do some mental gender-switching. For instance, what, really, would female!Lestat be like, and would I like her so much for being spoiled, narcissistic, melodramatic, and just plain mean? It would be a proper exercise. Thanks so much for contemplating this out loud (so to speak), and sharing it. It gave me some very interesting introspective time.

~*Anaria*~
swan_tower
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
femme-slash isn't as popular because of a severe lack of strong female roles.

Which correlates with something else I heard suggested once: that the slashiest (in the m/m sense) texts tend to be the ones with a dearth of interesting female characters in general, so that all the strong emotional bonds between characters are between guys to begin with. Stories overrun with women and only a few token men aren't real common in the sf/f neck of the woods.
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belmanoir
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
For me I think a lot of it comes down to confidence. I, and I think this is LARGELY because I am a girl, have a lot of trouble identifying with a very self-confident and/or very admired character. With guys, I can choose: either identify with them, or have a crush on them. But as a straight girl, I tend to want to identify with female characters, at least on some level. And a girl/woman who is beautiful and talented and everyone loves her and guys fall all over themselves for her--I just can't imagine myself as that person. I can't feel comfortable imagining myself as that person. Even in a wish-fulfillment fantasy no one knows about but me.

Which is really fucked up.
hanelissar
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
Yes. Exactly. This is what I tried and totally failed to say in my comment. Although it does make me wonder what guys think when they read. Do they get frustrated with male characters which they can't identify with? If so then why don't we hear about it? And if they don't identify with them then how to they immerse themselves in the story and find their way to caring about what happens?

I think I am going to have to interrogate every guy I know tomorrow to satisfy my curiosity. Because it is really, really weird. And messed up.
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swan_tower
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
if there are a lot of awesome girls around, if they're smart and funny and great, and the hero still picks the heroine, if he thinks she shines the brightest, is the awesomest of the awesome...

Well I think that's pretty romantic.


This is like my thought on villains: the hero overcoming the villain's scheme is much more impressive if the scheme is not defeatable by your average six-year-old child.

Beyond that, I got nothing much to say except "word." I've been thinking about this a lot lately because of the book-in-progress, which puts the male protagonist at the crossroads of three ladies. I'm trying very hard to make sure the ladies all earn their roles in that situation, rather than just playing passive parts in his story.

(For the record, the general lack of characters who stick around for a while on Supernatural has always been one of the regrettable flaws of the premise. You may be cheered to know, however, that S4 introduced an ongoing female character I liked, as opposed to the strident bitches of S3.)

Anyway: word. People do judge female characters by metrics they would never dream of applying to the men. And it gets up my nose something fierce.
rosefox
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
I'm friending you solely on the basis of this post; hope you don't mind!
sarahtales
Aug. 25th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)
Delighted!
visceralvamp
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
I loved Uhura, and it frustrates me that people don't see how awesome she is.

I feel similarly about Elizabeth from Pirates. When I start to think about it, she's probably my favorite character in the series, but I know so many people who hate her, sometimes just because she wronged Sparrow.

And it's completely true that Supernatural fails at female characters. There's an awesome one every so often, but she'll just be there for one episode. This season Jo and Ellen are coming back though, so at least there's that. (Ignore this if you don't know who Jo and Ellen are.)
swan_tower
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You just made my day. Jo! Ellen!!! (Ellen especially.)
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jlh
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
This is great.

The one thing I'll note is that I find there to be a huge difference in the audiences of a story with a female lead vs. a story with a male lead. Not in demographics, but in the general attitude in regard to female characters, and I think that's a self-selection thing.

And also? I see this sort of thing floating around the het parts of fandom just as much as the slash parts.
sarahtales
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
It is a LATE BIRTHDAY present for you, then. *beams* I am glad you liked it!

It's sad, as I have loved and indeed written many a male lead story, and loved and indeed written many a female lead story, and I feel the twain should meet more.
(Deleted comment)
visceralvamp
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
HAHAHA oh no your icon. And your username!
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visceralvamp
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
OH AND SOMETHING ELSE.

I know people who are fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but hate Buffy. How in the world does that make sense? Buffy is my favorite character in the series. She's the point of the series. If you're watching the show for all the other characters and hating on Buffy, then you're missing the point.
jain
Aug. 25th, 2009 03:04 am (UTC)
I know people who are fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but hate Buffy. How in the world does that make sense?...She's the point of the series.

The same way people can love Wuthering Heights but dislike Heathcliff or 1984 but dislike Winston Smith, or can be fans of Star Trek but dislike Kirk. If the writing's good and clever and interesting, and there are some characters in whose stories you're invested, then why does it matter that you hate the lead role?
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jawastew
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
Loved this post! I think this is why I didn't like Havemercy or get nitpicky with female characters... They need to be awesome because isn't that what women have been trying to do for like, EVER?
spae
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
I loved Uhura more in your parody than the film. The film was sadly lacking in characterisation, for all its awesome (possibly unintended) humour.

Edwina Rochester would be Loathed By All. The older, not terribly attractive, super rich woman who almost lures the dude into a false marriage? Run, Jim Eyre, people would cry! Never dream of looking back!

I LOL'd ... although to be fair, despite my mother's love for Rochester, I have never bought his attractiveness. I read that book crying, "Run, Jane!" and no amount of Thursday Next can make me like him.

I'll be the girl who never liked Laurie. I blame his name - I could not take any boy seriously with that name, never mind approve of him ending up with Jo!

You bring up valid points ... I think I will have to seriously examine my stance on femininity and roles to ensure I am being fair. I don't think I am too bad, but I feel judged by your words on SPN and my lack of love for some of the female characters we've seen. I'd like to say that it was down to bad characterisation, but this whole post makes me question that ... XD.

I wonder if you've watched any of Joss Whedon's shows and the way he writes women and what you think - I personally think he's awesome (overall vision-wise - some characters are clunky, but hey, no writing team is perfect, right?)

Thanks for the book recs - I love when you share books you adore, it makes me rush out and buy them, after which I read and pass on to a friend who likewise passes them on ... it's like a wee ripple of book love!
(Anonymous)
Aug. 25th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
I'm totally with you on the hating of female characters in SPN! (Excepting Ellen of course, because Ellen is pretty much the definition of awesome with a side of spectacular) but it seems like the writers have always created female characters in the series who split the boys up, and no one wants that! Take a look at Jess first of all. Then Jo (who was just plain annoying, I couldn't stand her). Then they have random women appear periodically who could reasonably be love interests for the boys, but that would require one of them to stay behind. Then comes Ruby, her entire purpose is splitting the boys up! She's constantly on about Dean, and trying to make Sammy hate him. So I think peoples' hatred of female Supernatural characters is mostly a hatred of the thought of the boys apart, rather than a hatred of the ladies themselves.

And Joss Whedon is a master of writing a female character that people actually like! He's managed to find a recipe that creates a lovely balance of spunk, and sweet, and sexy, and funny, but throwing in massive character flaws and misjudgments that keep his females from getting out of control. I bow to his genius.
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dragovianknight
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:07 am (UTC)
You have read Jim Hines' The Stepsister Scheme, right? It overflows with wonderful women!
dharma_slut
Aug. 26th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
*notes the name*

Thanks for the rec!
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sistermagpie
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
TDL is SUCH a great example of this. ::sigh::

ITA with all of this, especially with the idea that when it comes to women they really do tend to get blamed for people being attracted to them, and for not being attracted to the right guy back. I must say, you know I really disliked Ginny Weasley in books 5 and 6, but I've never gotten the whole thing about how she was wrong to date other people when the guy she had a crush on didn't seem to be interested. That seems more healthy to me than manipulative (even if yeah, I would have liked it more if she hadn't felt the need to reveal that she was hoping he'd come around all along).

And I'm glad you wrote this now as I've been talking to somebody elsewhere about...well, not this issue but something kind of related somewhere.

Did you read that great post that compared Uhura and McCoy basically showing how they serve the same function and why is Uhura so often then accused of being pushy and getting in the way and not being good enough?
swan_tower
Aug. 25th, 2009 05:41 am (UTC)
I've never gotten the whole thing about how she was wrong to date other people when the guy she had a crush on didn't seem to be interested.

I've always read that as "Ron and Harry freak out over it while the rest of us sit here going, dudes, chill out already." I didn't think the narrative itself was saying there was anything wrong with her behavior -- she never suffered negative consequences as a result of it.
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omnipresentdmat
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
I kind of have a love/hate thing for Supernatural myself because I'm not a person who seeks out Attractive Males, but I love the relationship between the brothers and I love the shit out of horror movies and that sort of thing. So mostly YES on the Supernatural thing because it kind of makes me feel guilty that I like it in the first place.

There's also this tendency in fandom to reaaally hate Jo, one of the only reoccurring female characters. She's a badass--she wants to be a demon hunter and she tries pretty damn hard to do so. The reason they don't like her? Her crush on Dean. I just cannot comprehend it. I think she's an adorable little thing myself ♥



Also, re: Uhura: I was totally a Kirk/Spock person before the movie, but OH MY GOD THAT WOMAN WAS AMAZING. SHE WAS BRILLIANT AND SMOKIN' HOT AND NOT AFRAID TO BE A TOTAL BADASS. I've thoroughly seen the Uhura light since the movie.

(I got into a bit of a Thing on the Star Trek kink meme, actually, because there was a girl who requested Kirk/Spock where Uhura was 'Taken Down A Peg', because apparently it's okay for Kirk to have an ego the size of the universe but it's not okay for someone as brilliant as Uhura to know how to be commanding. sjldfjdf I'M STOPPING NOW.)


visceralvamp
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:13 am (UTC)
I'm a Supernatural fan, and I love Jo. I'm ecstatic that she's coming back this season.
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enchantedashes
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
Totally Agree
Your comparison of Harry v Harriet was spot-on - A couple months ago, I felt I had read through most good D/H, and I was in the mood for some good HP femme-slash and just could not find it - the female characters are just not as deep and well-thought-out as the male characters, which is really too bad.

I do want to throw in a cheer for Meg Cabot, who I always felt put really great friendships in both her romance novels (Educating Caroline works as a good example) and her YA.

I think there is also a great deal of a fantasy-of-sorts going on - the "one perfect, special, different girl" that is picked by the boy is a fantasy teen girls have had for years. Just look at the recent Twilight phenomenon - special girl pursued by two special, hot boys.

Unfortunately, one other factor to be taken into account - especially in YA books, the sideline girls often act dumb, using the word "like" every 5 seconds, spazzing about hair and nails, not caring about whatever assignment is happening. There is a fair amount of that on the boy side too, but when a female is the heroine, the focus is on how she is different from girls like that. Too often, readers, real readers who devour books (at least in the U.S.) find themselves frustrated and often isolated by these types of females. I think having the "single, special female" character is the secret revenge/fantasy in their heads.

Anyways, gone on for too long. Well done!
sarahtales
Aug. 25th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)
Re: Totally Agree
Oh, I agree - in fact I remember really loving how in Meg Cabot's Tommy Sullivan Is A Freak there's a best friend character who does act dumb and use the word 'like' - but who is actually perceptive and in the end, extremely loyal and loving.

I think there may well be a wave inspired by Twilight that doesn't reflect on the fact that Bella is new in town: she hasn't really had a chance to make proper friends with other girls before she gets hooked up with a guy, and thus gets into his friend group. Which is reasonable enough. Plus I do like that Edward's not a lone brooding hero - he comes with a group, and Alice and Bella quickly bond, which I enjoy.
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