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Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true ** probably true

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fantasy & Feminism, a few personal thoughts

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.


expat@large said...

Well there's not much need for genderized roles if there is not much sexual stuff going on, is there? Or is it that (speaking of your powers of subtlety) I have missed all the sex scenes?

Michael McClung said...

Ah, but we're not talking about genderized *roles*, or sex scenes. We're talking about how gender affects the perceptions, actions and reactions of characters, and not just in a sexual context.

Let me try and give you an example: Amra sees a child begging in the street, stick-thin and obviously ill. One of the things I must consider when I sit down to write her reaction is whether any maternal instinct kicks in.

To me this is a valid question. To reader A, if she does, if I couch her reaction in those terms, I might be writing her as a stereoype. For reader B, if I do not have her react as a stereotype, I could be accused of writing a 'man with breasts'.

Of course, in that particular situation Amra would react as someone who was a street kid, and survived, which makes this particular point moot. Personal trauma trumps gender type.

But what about some other situation? In the first book, she goes to the public baths and other female patrons talk about her scarred face, short hair, (lack of) figure. She reacts in a typical Amra way -what do they know of the world beyond their familial villas and making babies?- and then robs them on the way out. I got some flack for that, commenters saying I was writing a stereotypical chauvanist male response. I considered it, and disagreed. And left it in. It was the character's response, informed by her particular experiences. Not having had any sort of normal upbringing, she really doesn't know what those women's lives were like, and so she reacts as she does.

Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying a female POV matters, and not just when it comes to sex or sexual attraction.