mysticalchild_isis: (xena rawr)
[personal profile] mysticalchild_isis
At my book club last night, we got off topic a bit (as we so often do), and one of the librarians who works in a high school was mentioning that she's been reading The Odyssey with a class. She was rather disturbed to find that all the girls disliked Penelope, and thought that she was useless, weak, and did nothing.

This led to a discussion about how it's unfortunate that a lot of girls only see Strong Female CharactersTM as having their own agency, and how very problematic that is.

Don't get me wrong; I love BAMFy women who kick ass (Buffy and Xena being two of my favorites), especially if the actress playing them is even halfway decent at martial arts. I savor a well-executed roundhouse kick like a glass of fine wine. However, too often, Xenafication stands in for actual character development... and makes it so that people like the girls mentioned above think that the only defining characteristic of a strong woman is her ability to kick ass. With a corollary of the fact that many people then think that if a woman is bad-ass, she must be strong, and don't see the problems (and sexism) that so often pop up in these types of characters.

I'm reminded of the version of Irene Adler that popped up in this season of Sherlock. I found her extremely problematic for a number of reasons. But because she was smart, beautiful, and had a certain amount of power (largely sexual) and control, the underlying issues were slightly masked. I'm not trying to dictate which characters one should or should not like, or identify with. We like who we like, and we see characters in different ways. But when there is a widespread epidemic of characters who on the surface seem strong, but underneath are teeming with poisonous ideas (you know, like "oh look, this woman's backstory is rape and torture porn, but since she is a BAMF, it is totally fine that her only character development is rape-as-backstory"), I feel like it is an issue that needs to be addressed and discussed.

Especially because characters who might not be able to swing a sword or shoot a gun are no longer seen as "strong", no matter how well-rounded they are or how much agency they have.

Date: 2012-06-05 01:31 am (UTC)
rassaku: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rassaku
Yessssss, a thousand times this. I've been trying to pinpoint recently why "strong female character" is something that I require in the stories I read, but at the same time a phrase that I'm starting to develop an aversion to. It's because of this -- how "strong" has become a shorthand for "sexy like a lady, kick butt like a man." To the point where "sexy BAMF" has been allowed to replace any other sort of character development. (Mountain of shitty urban fantasy fiction, I am LOOKING AT YOU.)

Not to mention that for so many of the Action Grrrls in movies and TV, I just don't buy it. Lady, your pants are so tight you can barely walk, much less do a roundhouse without splitting the seam down your crotch, and your long and silky hair needs to get TIED THE FUCK OUT OF YOUR FACE if you intend to fight. If we ever, ever got a female BAMF who wasn't engineered for the male gaze, people would be utterly bewildered. They'd be like, Durr, why does she seem different from all the other action ladies, I don't understand.

Guy Gavriel Kay [is pretty much the author I will bring up in these discussions EVERY TIME] writes historical fantasy, and his female characters knock the socks off every other male writer I've ever read. Not because his Byzantine ladies hitch their stolas up to do some kung fu punchin', but because they have enormous amounts of agency no matter how circumscribed their lives seem to be. It's like, they know the ropes -- they don't spend their time trying to be men, or trying to access male channels to power, or whining about how oppressed they are; they take for granted what society's allowed them, and they fucking run with it.

There's been a wave of recent authors that I've taken to calling Writers That Straight White Guys Think Are Awesome -- that's my only explanation, because they get universally rave reviews even though their handling of anything other than Straight White Guy things is a fucking embarrassment. (Jim Butcher, Brent Weeks, Joe Abercrombie, who else, I must be blocking them out.) And female agency is one thing that they simply do not get. Women can be femme fatales who use their sexybits to manipulate men, they can be BAMFs, or they can be damsels in distress. No other options.

And all I can think is, Christ, and you're married? Does your wife realize that you have absolutely no idea who she is, because you're incapable of seeing women as anything other than stereotypes?

The end.

Date: 2012-06-05 04:16 am (UTC)
rassaku: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rassaku
LOLS. With so many culprits to choose from, it's funny to hear that he was the last straw. Had you been reading the Dresden Files or his other series? (Not that it matters, I expect he's pretty fail in both.)

I picked up the Dresden Files once, ages ago, and was like, "Man, this is not very good!" and only got into it again through fandom. Found some fics, liked 'em a bunch, thought, "Okay fine I'll read more canon so I understand them better" and.... ended up writing an epic of my own. >_<

The thing is though, I never write fic of stuff that I'm actually a fan of -- I write fic when a story has a kernel of potential but piss-poor execution. And when I got to talking with other readers of Dresden Files slashfic (won't go so far as to call them "fans" either), it turned out I wasn't alone. A lot of people said that they'd been seriously turned off by the sexism in that series, that they'd read the first couple books so they could follow the fics, and then never touched canon again.

And being a feminist and a comic book fan is such a very hard tightrope to walk...

Ugh, I can imagine. I'm sure you've seen the fridged-female list that Gail Simone put together -- it's like watching a genocide on the news, the atrocities just go on, and on, and on. I believe someone put together a similar list of what happens to gay male characters in comic books, and it was largely the same, except that one hits closer to home for me. Treatment of gays in fantasy has been driving me up a fucking wall lately -- if I read about ONE MORE sadistic gay villain, I will not be responsible for my actions.

And it's funny how that failtastic stereotyping of gays so often comes hand-in-hand with equally awful stereotyping of women. Brings me to a theory I'm still chewing on: that when we say an author isn't good at writing women, I'm coming to suspect that they're not good at writing men either -- they just have a wider palette of archetypes to choose from.

Date: 2012-06-05 03:56 pm (UTC)
rassaku: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rassaku
Leslie Feinberg wrote something similar -- that the societies that punish homosexuality and transsexuality the most also tend to be the most sexist, because any sort of gender variance threatens to undermine that all-important dichotomy.

Whipping Girl looks fascinating, and I think I remember seeing a copy at Half Price Books near my house; I'll check that out next time I'm there. Transwomen get so much shit from all quarters...

But now I'm curious -- if Jim Butcher's not that bad, then who IS that bad? :O

Date: 2012-06-05 04:27 pm (UTC)
rassaku: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rassaku
Haaaaaaah I'd not seen that one before. I love how horrendously uncomfortable they all look, with the exception of that guy in the middle, who seems to enjoy the breeze.

What I think is the most interesting about the Totally Appropriate Covers post is how she obviously did it by colorizing gay porn pinups -- and what do gay porn and straight comics have in common? Male gaze. It's not about the sex of the model, it's about how they've been -- as the OP put it -- distilled to their sexual attributes, and the only place to go to see the male gaze applied to men is gay porn.


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