Been thinking a lot lately about feminism, misogyny, chauvinism, and just what it is that differentiates men from women, literarily speaking. Part of this springs from writing a female point of view character, part of it from my personal life, and part from various dust ups on the internet, savaging male fantasy writers as all kinds of bad when it comes to portraying women in a realistic light.
When I first wrote Thagoth, ten years ago now, making the POV character female was not a conscious decision. I mean, I've always been contrarian to a certain degree with my writing; I would be miserable if I had to write like Salvatore or Brooks. But that book started with just an image: a thief trapped in a ruined city in a rainstorm. She was starving. Why? That's it, that's how it began. The thief was a she, and that was that.
Now I admit to naming her Amra knowing it was a name, an alias, that Conan the Barbarian had used for a time. That was both as a nod to my sword & sorcery roots and a sort of dig- my hero was a heroine, not muscular, not a sword master, but just as tough and stubborn in her way as Howard's Conan was in his. Only one or two people have ever picked up on the name, which I attribute to my awesome powers of subtlety. Or something.
Anyway, I wish I could say I have labored mightily to ensure Amra is not just a male fantasy hero with lady parts, so to speak, but the truth is I haven't labored all that much. Amra is Amra. Her history has informed her personality much more, by and large, than her gender. Poverty, domestic violence, murder, homelessness- all before her teens. In Amra's world, gender equality doesn't exist, generally speaking, except interstitially. Her fence doesn't care if she has breasts; he cares if she brings him a profit. Only the very rich and those who operate outside the law can ignore the social mores regarding gender in her world. So Amra operates generally free of much of the patriarchal nonsense other women deal with by virtue of not being fully immersed in that society.
Am I avoiding gender roles and issues by having Amra hold a special, 'other' place in a male-dominated society? Yes, in part. But I'm not avoiding it because I'm afraid to discuss or explore it. I'm avoiding it because these books are not about that, except in a very tangential way.
If you want to know the truth, I'm much more interested in exploring what poverty, privation, domestic abuse and class oppression does to those who labor under these disadvantages. Whether that person is female is a factor, of course, but as a writer I feel I have far bigger fish to fry in my small, genre way than to explore the patriarchal oppression of females.
I leave that to those who are more passionate about the subject. As for my female POV character, she is an individual with strengths and weaknesses, faults and foibles, aspirations and morals (however tarnished, however dented). That's enough for me to try and write convincingly without worrying whether some contributor to Jezebel one day accuses me of being a creep/neckbeard/man'splainer.