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Thread: Gender & Fiction Soap Box Time!
August 16th, 2014, 12:34 AM #1
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Gender & Fiction Soap Box Time!
If one were to look through the various fantasy or speculative fiction in general, most heroes will likely be male. Most of these will probably be noble warriors, virtuous outlaw brooding barbarians, morally questionable sell swords, the occasional noir-esque occult detective ala Harry Dresden or erudite scientist in science fiction, the snarky hacker, space marines, cunning assassins, and the occasional boy wizard. It may no longer be absolutely required that all male characters fit this stereotypical view of maleness, but this general way of portraying men is still present whether it's horror, science fiction, or fantasy, they generally fall into one of these. Among all these images I can find traces of my maleness, but never the whole thing. I can see my bookishness in the wizard, the scientist, and the occult detective. I can see my death before dishonor attitude and hatred of injustice with the noble warrior and outlaw but not much else. It seems to me that the variety of maleness still shown in these stories is fairly limited.
I love to put on make up, lacy garments, and other things people might consider "feminine" when the mood so strikes me. I like elegant things as much as I adore the brooding and Gothic. I'm not the type of man that society considers the default. Whenever someone like this shows up, they're usually used as a punch line if they are shown at all or assumed gay. I'm not talking about transwomen either(the issues with the portrayal of tran* people deserves their own thread.) Deeply sensitive men or other sorts that the society we live in does not consider "masculine" are seldom if ever the heroes. I don't often see many stories with heroic males who do not fit the "macho" aesthetic. They are assumed bereft of qualities that lend them to world saving or doing anything heroic for the most part. When was the lost time you read about a crossdressing dandy battling warlocks, devils, and other monsters and it wasn't meant to be comedic when it shows up at all? Better question, why do writers assume the only way a man can usually solve a problem is by killing or fighting? I'll admit, I love a good action movie. Some of my favorite stories feature male heroes who get into epic battles. I love the ancient stories that are the source of the archetypes. One of my characters is even loosely inspired Cuchulain. I am a neo-pagan so the warrior God does have a sacred value, but not all male Divinities are relentless Lords of battle. In ancient Egyptian religion, a nurturing male Deity by the name of Bes is revered and they also worshiped the furious lion headed Queen Sekhmet. In fact, if you look at the Deities alone, you'll see a great variance in gender expression.
I know that women get an even worse treatment in fiction. Society tries to confine female characters much more than male ones. They are given abuse back stories far more than male ones. They are still more likely to be shown as a damsel in distress. The number of stories that pass the Bechdel test with flying colors are well below where they should be. This could also fill another thread. The systemic sexism expressed in our pop culture is staggering and more sinister than the overt kind. I'm still having horrifying revelations about how women are treated in the social consciousness. It's worse than I had ever imagined. So you may be wondering what the hell I'm complaining about.
Well part of undoing the patriarchy has to do with how we view these stereotypes but also dealing with definitions of masculinity and femininity. Rethinking how we see and think of maleness. It means redefining what we consider male and how men think of themselves and examining other varieties. Undoing the urban legends and farcical notions men have about being men. Part of this is showing various expressions that society would consider "alternatives" to the "macho" man. This will cause men to rethink their relationships with women and the social paradigms that encourage this stereotypical behavior. Showing these different forms of gender expression in fiction will not erase sexism alone. It won't fix the world over night. But what it can do is facilitate thought. It can encourage people to envision different forms of expression for all manner of gender identities. It will take more than this to end the stereotypes of men and women in pop culture and fixing the issue of sexism and rigid definitions of gender expression in society, but it can help.
I'm not certain if there is one question here. There are probably very many. So all I can say is this...Discuss. Discussion is a primary mode by which analysis occurs, so really, all I can say is discuss.
Last edited by Riothamus; August 19th, 2014 at 07:05 PM.
August 17th, 2014, 08:49 AM #2
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This is one of those controversial topics that can derail quickly, so I'll just put a generic caution: Don't be mean.
With that said, don't be afraid to express your (respectful) opinion.
I think if we want to see more diverse representation, we need to search for it, read it, then tell all our friends. If that doesn't work, then write it, too.
I also think there is fiction out there that represents all our shades more fully (Hobb's Tawny Man, for example, and much more I can't look up easily because I'm on my Kindle).
As to whether it will change society...well...yes, in small part it can start that, but ultimately, that is up to the individual (or not).
And I think it has changed. For my own part, as a manly woman, I know I've been lucky enough to live in a time when it wasn't demanded of me to birth a dozen kids.
*I reserve the right to change my opinion as the mood strikes.
August 18th, 2014, 01:21 AM #3
I have my own soapbox. Suffice to say, it probably does not stand next to the OP's.
If you want things to change (or not change), you have a viable option here: write it. Do not expect other authors to submit their stories under whatever viewpoint you consider appropriate. They have their own stories to tell, with characters that may or may not live up to whatever standards you may have.
My take: if you don't see the diversity you want, if you feel that female characters don't get their share, you change that by writing them. I see a whole lot of clamoring for diversity, and just as much hypocrisy. And, really, write good characters. I care not a wit if they are women or men, as long as they work in the context of the story.
I don't think my post is mean, but I freely admit I have some strong objections, so my apologies if it comes across that way.
August 18th, 2014, 10:54 PM #4
I vacationed in Eastern Canada this year and spent a day at Louisburg - a rebuilt eighteenth century fortress complete with period actors as guides. Something that struck me during my visit was the picture of the "ideal" male.
At the time, the "in" thing was to appear as aristocratic as possible. The ideal man was a gentleman of means. He had a slight upper body, because a hefty frame meant that he had to do manual labour for his profession. He wore fashionable, filly clothes, because that was a way to display wealth (even if much of the lace and embroidery was home made). He had a lean, muscular lower body with well-defined calves, because that meant he had a lot of leisure time for dancing. In fact, if you look at a lot of the portraits of the time, you'll see men with one leg forward, the toe pointed so as to display the calf.
Even into the late nineteenth century, if you look at Jules Verne, you typically have some kind of aristocrat-type character aided by an assistant who ends up engaging in most of the action (Passepartout in Around the World in 80 Days, Conseil in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Axel in Journey to the Centre of the Earth...)
It wasn't really until American fiction broke onto the scene that I think this image changed. With the opening of the new frontier, all of a sudden you had a class of hero that wasn't defined by an ability to navigate a social hierarchy. Rather, he was defined by self-sufficiency, robustness, and the ability to survive in an atmosphere where the common man could either win fortune or perish. So I see a lot of science fiction and fantasy where the main character is very much the focus of a western drama - a hero venturing into the unknown who needs those same characteristics to accomplish his goals.
The thing is, now with the internet coupled with a population explosion, we're seeing these long-standing images of the ideal hero challenged. There is all sorts of fiction that challenges the stereotypical male hero out there these days (I'm sure some of the regular posters around here can come up with rather long lists). If you haven't found what you're looking for... keep looking.
And of course, as Wilson said: write it.
August 19th, 2014, 03:11 AM #5
In spite of the thread title, and the OP instruction to discuss, I'm not sure what the topic really is. So, at risk of being tangential, I just finished reading China Mountain Zhang, which features a non-action hero protagonist who happens to be gay. It was excellent, character-driven fiction (and happened to take a passing interest in fashion at times), the hero solves his problems not via violence, etc. It was first published in 1992.
There are things out there to suit every interest, I suspect, and/or which use them to attract interest of their own. The Internet is probably the place to find them. ;-)
August 19th, 2014, 10:05 AM #6
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Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, which has just won the 2014 Hugo, is an interesting rip-roaring Banks-ish (maybe?) space opera that plays very interesting games with pronouns. I really enjoyed it, though I know it has its detractors. It's not Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, by any means, but then Le Guin has never written a Banksean space opera!
August 19th, 2014, 10:18 AM #7
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Ann Lyle's series (put out by Angry Robot) is probably one you might want to read, if you haven't already. I liked how the protag was so...casual? is that the right word?...about his bi-sexuality. And it seemed that many of the characters' sexuality was fairly fluid. I only read the first book, but I do plan to read the rest of the series to see how it all plays out with the main dude and the girl who's playing the boy (I'm terrible with names).
Anyway, I feel like we are all saying that you have nothing to worry about. And I think one of the things that you are complaining about is that there is still a ponderous amount of mainstream fiction that mostly gets talked about. Yeah, there's plenty of diverse fiction, but it's marginalized. Is that what you mean, Riothamus?
Of course, Ann Leckie's recent Hugo win does challenge that notion.
August 20th, 2014, 01:30 PM #8
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First Iíd like to say I havenít read a broad survey of current SFF to get any sense of the nature of male protagonists. Thereís a general perception one has based on observations and often issues weíre sensitive about. That being said I donít disagree too much on your perception, just hard to tell if itís a reality.
That being said I find that fiction is quite broad these days and you can probably find anything under the sun if you look hard enough. I understand the feeling of under-representation. To some extent Iíd say itís due to individuality. I only identify with a portion of any POV characters Iíve read. Iím a white male, mellow, peacemaking, shy, comic nerd, kung fu movie/MMA loving, Gen X, anarcho-socialist, amateur comic artist getting by with a non-art job who dresses kinda skater-ish but never skated. Iím not very snarky but more silly/absurd in my sense of humor. I donít think that shouts typical hero either.
Everyone but white males gets the shaft generally in SFF, except females in UF from what I can tell.
I think itís a product of the market (what people will by), writers (writing what they know), and probably the book industry culture (which I know very little about).
I too think if you see a gap in the market and youíre a writer/artist of some kind, you should probably try to fill that void. 1. Itíll probably feel fulfilling. 2. There may be an unserved market there.
I know this is another medium but there is really a crapload of manga with varying senses of maleness at least appearance-wise. But itís manga so that may not be your thing.
Am I interested in the Adventures of the Avenging Goth Dandy, probably not, but if itís compelling enough you never know.
August 20th, 2014, 04:58 PM #9
I've a series with a strong female protagonist that continues to sell over the years, so yeah, don't fret.