Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Women in fantasy

I am, on occasion, plunking away at a fantasy novel. The main character (who was originally one of three, but I've since edited my notes) is a woman. I didn't really go "I WILL MAKE A FEMALE CHARACTER THE FOCUS BECAUSE FEMINISM", but just organically decided "I'd like to try writing a female character in a fantasy setting". A lot of it is because I've explored a lot of fantasy, in roleplay and novel form, but never really saw many women at all.

A part of me did go "shit am I going to be put on the rack for trying to push this as if it was an agenda" (which, considering that male fantasy fans seem to get spontaneous orgasms whenever they engage in sexist behaviour against female authors and characters, is not really what you'd call a slim chance), then decided "fuck it, it doesn't matter. This character is forming in my mind, her adventures are growing, and I want to write this. Not because she's a woman, but because she is the main character in the story I want to write. And if anyone decides to bitch me out about it, I will devour their faces".

As a (self identified and generally cis) male, I don't have that big of an idea of what a woman goes through in life, or how their thoughts go. Thankfully, as a generally smart person who is a strong feminist, I tend to imagine that women are basically the same as men in most ways (some physiological differences aside). And, since it's a fantasy world I've made up, I can neatly avoid a lot of the social constructs that generally plague women in our world (and in many fantasy universes that are based off of reality, like G.R.R. Martins A Song of Ice and Fire, which keeps a lot of the European christian based sexism while in a polytheistic world).

There is still a lot of things I have to struggle with when trying to write her (Lyssa is her name, so I'll just use that whenever I need to refer to her). I distinctly remember one specific point, near the beginning of the story, where Lyssa was faced with escapping from a group of thugs sent after her for nefarious purposes. My original concept was to have the underlying threat of rape happening at one point, where she was cornered and near caught. At the time, it felt appropriate, cause after all these are thugs right? and that's what they do with women they're cornering, right?

Then I paused and considered the thought process that brought me to this idea. In a society where there isn't a clear Patriarchal world order following a regressive and mysogynistic form of religion and order, *would* rape be used like this? I honestly don't know. Our culture has been run from that point of view for so long, and any other social structure has been destroyed, dismantled, erased and stricken from history so that there isn't much at all to go on.

In a world with actual, functioning and intersceding Gods, of which half are female or ambiguous gender, would our understanding of sexual violence exist? In a world that was, originally, based off of a D&D campaign I wanted to run where either (and all, though I've rarely seen, run or played in a game with somebody playing a *trans or other gender) can be exactly as capable and society aknowledges it, would the male domination of power still be the same, and engender the same sort of perils for women?

The short answer is "probably not". The long answer is... Complicated. At the end of the day, I just took that entire idea out of the story because I didn't think it was relevant, it would add in a horrible little bit of possibly triggering text for people just wanting to read a silly little escapist fantasy story, and honestly the scope of the story (and my skills as a storyteller) just aren't up to addressing those kinds of questions. And, instead of trying to address it and doing it poorly and just making a mess, and fucking up the *actual* themes I want to address, I'm just going to not go into it. It's easier for me, easier for anyone who would want to read it, and just honestly better off in general.

There was another aspect that I changed heavily, as well. Originally, Lyssa had a love interest. He was a poor, simple son of an apothecary. Simple, kind, caring, etc etc etc and just about every generic "nice guy" attribute my fifteen year old (at the time I was drafting) self could put into a character. She was to fall in love with him, and have him dramatically taken away and break her heart and fuel her anger and magic to almost kill her while she took revenge for his death.

I have since grown up and calmly decided that this idea was stupid. It was fueled by basically every regressive and fairly sexist stereotype I had growing up, and was a bit of a gender-swap wish fulfillment fantasy. I got rid of the idea so entirely that Lyssa, in fact, has no love interest at *all* in the book!

As of right now, the only actual people *with* a love interest are those with whom that love interest is a part of the setting and plot of the work. Outside of them, everyone else is too fucking busy being big damn fantasy adventurers to bother with finding twue wuv. And, I honestly think it'll work out better this way.

I'm still a bit worried at times, though. Then I pause and consider the state of women in the world, and in fiction, and I tell myself "fuck it". It may be seen as me pushing an agenda, it may be seen as me being some sort of gelded-feminist-lapdog, but I'm going to do it anyway. Because, in the end, the fact that this kind of thing is so rare, and gives me such pause, is fucking attrocious. And if my one silly little book can help to make the world of fantasy fiction (or fiction in general) characters slightly less male-dominated, then it's a win.

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