Are you sick about hearing about feminism in fiction?

Women, right? They’re always prattling on about something. Wanting something. A Black Widow movie. Equal rights. The ability to express an opinion online without getting death threats. So needy, amiright? Everyone knows once you’ve declared something has happened (gender equality), you’ve done all the heavy lifting and everyone should just carry on the way they’re going, with no further inconvenience. So what’s with the constant barrage of people tweeting/blogging/otherwise ranting about female characters in fiction? THIS IS SETTLED ALREADY. EVERYTHING’S FINE NOW.

Buffy-Willow-season-4-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-1272084-1859-2560Sarcasm aside, I’m a feminist but even I sometimes feel tired when I see yet another blog dissecting female characters in a book or film and bemoaning the state of the industry. Sure, you’ve got female characters, but are they strong enough? How’s their agency? Are they TOO strong – caricatures, or just men with tits? Sufficiently and realistically flawed? How about Joss Whedon, is he an ally or part of the problem? I mean, I googled something about Frozen the other day* and ended up reading dozens of opposing articles about whether it’s a good feminist movie or a bad one, whether the characters are good for women or not, whether it subverts tropes or reinforces them. It’s exhausting.** As a writer, it seems terrifying – so many chances to get it wrong.

But never fear, dear readers. I have a solution to all this agonising.

Just put more women in.

Seriously. It’s not that hard. Forget about obsessing over your female characters, trying to work out if they meet all the criteria. Spoiler alert: there’s no settled criteria and you’ll never please everyone.

I mean yes, your women should have agency (by which I mean, they should not be passive little lilypads bobbing on the sea of your plot – they should make decisions and take actions which drive the plot), but that’s about your writing, not about your women – ALL interesting characters have agency. No, they shouldn’t be clichés; but again, that’s because clichés are boring writing. If you’re writing stories where your characters have no agency and/or they’re all clichés, you might just be a shit writer, not a bad feminist.

If you can look at your own work and see common traits in most of your female characters that isn’t just the shape of their genitals, you’ve probably got a problem, and that problem is you’re being thoughtless and lazy. This is true whether that trait is submissiveness, red hair, sarcasm, massive upper body strength or bad BO. If you only write ‘strong women’ and you think that means ‘women who aren’t like those other crappy women – hey, I hate sewing!’ you’re contributing to the problem as much as someone who only writes women as props for men. You don’t beat this problem by writing women who epitomise traditional femininity or tear it down – you beat it by writing BOTH. ALL.  Gender isn’t the most important or interesting thing about a character – it’s not even up there in the top 10.

Just put more women in.

Write women into a bunch of roles in your story – God, maybe lash out and make it something like half the roles, since, I dunno, that’s the reality of the world we live in?***

Cos here’s the magic of my solution – you don’t need to panic that your female characters don’t perfectly embody the right amount of strength and the right number of flaws and are likeable but not too likeable!! and are sex positive but not all about the boobies if you don’t make all of this crazy difficult juggling act rest on the shoulders of only a couple of ladies. Spread the load! Write women in powerful and powerless and power-indifferent positions. Make them nice and naughty and jerks and generous and spoilt and clever and clueless and every other character trait that people routinely, without thought, apply to male characters. Write them young and old and fat and hot and thuggish and graceful.  Write them all over the gender spectrum. Write them from different backgrounds and cultures and with different priorities. Because the thing is, women are just people, and people are not all interesting in the same ways. They don’t have to each of them be perfectly imperfect if there are only enough of them.

Just put more women in.

We wouldn’t need to scrutinise every word Black Widow says if there were dozens of female superheroes on screen. We wouldn’t have to worry about Bechdel and Mako Mori and teeth gnashing about writing strong women if women were just routinely given as much screen/page time as men. Every woman in Buffy didn’t need to be free of problematic traits from a feminist perspective, simply because there were plenty of them in there, and they were all different. If you’re sick of all the constant analysis, know this: we all have the power to actually make this issue retreat, not by getting every female character ‘right’ but by having enough of them that it’s absurd to even lump them together just because they’re women. The discussion would just go away.

Like magic.

Now go forth and populate your stories with so many ladies I never have to think seriously about whether Elsa is a triumph or a disaster.


 

  • Don’t ask me why. I have 2 small boys and Frozen is part of parenting now.

** Yes, I know, I could have NOT kept reading. Shut up, I have poor impulse control and the internet has a hold on me, all right?

*** I too am a fantasy writer so yes, you could make up a world that has a different gender balance – but you should probably only do that if it’s a genuine part of the ‘what if’ associated with your story. Don’t just do it because your default position is ‘white man’. There shouldn’t be a default position. (But that’s a rant for another time).

 

Sam Hawke

 

Sam Hawke is a Canberra-based author who has recently been signed with agent Julie Crisp, formerly of Tor UK.

This piece was originally published on her blog, samhawkewrites.com

Sir P Speaks: A few of my least favourite things

regular_3110350_0001Hello bloggards,

Since my debut last month, the Cringe’s cyber mailroom has been overwhelmed by pleas for guidance. The following is but one:

Sir Partridge

I can’t decide who to hate. I want cyclists banned from dual walking/cycling tracks because of the sarcastic comments they make as they zip past me. I also want drivers of grey or silver cars sent to re-education camps on the excellent basis that their vehicles are invisible in bad weather. Nor do I like iPhones for reasons I’m a bit unclear about; it’s more an instinctual thing, I think. These are just three examples of the kind of people who would be first against the wall in an ideal world. Oh, and people who get into social media too much, which is everyone, basically.

Also, I would like to see more human-animal hybrids about.

Oh, and why haven’t I been awarded the Order of Australia when I am so inherently decent?

You might like to know that I have invented Birthday Bellows, which children can use to blow out their candles without contaminating the birthday cake with their virulent spittle. Why is the Patent Office so indifferent? I have also invented the human nosebag for people who are too busy to use their hands while eating lunch and so on.

Yours in rage and adoration

Finbarr S

Frankly, Finbarr, I am worried about your brain. And yet the epistolary dead mouse you have laid on my doorstep isn’t entirely devoid of life. In fact, your veritable slew of pet hates perfectly mirrors my own.

What I call hate management is a delicate art. There are so many hateful things in the world that one has to choose carefully where to direct one’s ire. One mustn’t overdo these things …

Humans’ dislike for cyclists, iPhoners and social media nutters is well-worn territory but I think you’re onto something when you ramble on about grey cars on overcast days. They do seem to wilfully lurk in your blindspot, headlights off, blending in perfectly with leaden sky and asphalt like some foul wraith or secret government stealth vehicle. I’m sure I’ve seen a study somewhere showing that they’re slightly more likely to be involved in an accident. I for one drive a canary yellow MG for just that reason and I can safely say that of all the many, many accidents I’ve been involved in, not one of them was because I couldn’t be seen.

I can well sympathise with your views on the Order of Australia. Were it not for Australia’s harsh libel laws I would only too willingly list an easy 100 undeserving recipients. I’m sure you are decent, Figmarr, but that is not enough. It is about being seen to ‘contribute’ to society, however you choose to interpret that word. Most people think I have a knighthood but I don’t. I am but a baronet, a title passed down the Gormley line for generations after it was bestowed on my ancestor by James IV as a sop for sleeping with his wife.

Animal-human hybrids are rare, Figment, because we don’t live on the Island of Dr Moreau. If we did, then it might be fun to have antlers, like those of a moose. You might want to lacquer them, or better still employ someone to lacquer them for you. You might also festoon them with ribbons and so forth.

As for your inventions, they are ludicrous. Except the Birthday Bellows (pure genius). And the human nosebag – in fact, I’m wearing a prototype right now! It is remarkably convenient and dignified. Why the Patent Office hates you and singles you out for special treatment is beyond me. Perhaps they ought to get their hate management procedures in order too.

Sir P

 

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.