So Steve posted this lovely thing about women in fantasy plots. It follows on the Jim C. Hines phenomenon of genderswapping fantasy cover art.
There are so many tropes and plotlines that treat their women characters creepily, demeaningly, dismissively, or brutally. Brilliant commenters added to the list (and I hope there will be many more*).
Then I made this comment:
You finish up a great novel on the subway on the way home, watch a trailer for a hotly anticipated new movie, and then thoroughly enjoy an hour or two of the latest video game. You try to talk to your boyfriend about how cool these wildly popular properties are, but he’s all just “blah blah blah there aren’t any MEN in those!” Even when you point out the men that are in them, he just comes up with masculinist crap about how they’re just background abs, don’t have any agency, and don’t get to talk to each other. GAWD, would he just shut up already and enjoy cool things like a NORMAL person?!
And I realized two things, which I want to unpack a bit.
One. Judging by how I banged that out without even thinking about it, hit send, and then teared up a little bit, this has some personal significance to me. I look at various media properties** and think, “nope, demeaning, creepy, don’t wanna.” I’ll watch a trailer for something with a guy and his reaction is about how cool it looked and mine is about how it had three characters plus a pair of tits.
Do you know what usually happens next? I apologize for having that reaction. “Sorry, I know you’re excited about that thing. I don’t mean to always bring up the issue of crappy representation of chicks.” Yep. I constantly apologize for talking about being disappointed by this stuff. (To be clear, I can’t recall anyone ever accepting these kneejerk apologies I offer.)
Fuck it. I am disappointed. This isn’t nitpicking or participating in outrage culture. This is just, you know, wanting to relate to characters in stories. If I can’t, then I don’t want the story.
Two. That comment I wrote doesn’t apply as much to books. I read a lot of books, and there are zillions more books that I want to read, more than I’ll ever possibly have time for. Lots of sexist plot tropes make it out there and some of them get to be bestsellers (lookin’ at you, Dresden, wizardly king of chivalry), but I’m not bombarded with ads and reviews for them all the time. I don’t have to wade through piles of sexist novels just hoping against hope to find one I can enjoy without rolling my eyes and feeling a bit queasy.
I don’t know if novels have less of these problems than other media or if my systems for gathering recommendations and being exposed to books are sufficiently advanced that I don’t notice the problems. Probably some of both.
Anyway, round of applause please for novels in general, for giving me stories and imagination and delicious explorations of being human and being a girl, no matter what sort of person the protagonist happened to be, since I first learned to read chapter books.***
*Someone needs to do Harry Potter, for instance. (edit: nevermind, someone did by the time I posted this)
**There’s some upcoming game, and chaos showed me the trailer for it: a woman is being hung for witchcraft or something, and a dude swoops in and saves her and kills all the danger and she sort of buffs her nails adventurously. The same game has bus ads I keep seeing around the city: His head, facial expression action-worthy. Her head, behind his in sidekick position, simpering at the danger.
I roll my eyes every time I see it because somewhere a bunch of people think it is SO AWESOME that this game has a dude AND A LADY in all the teasers. Yes, I know how fucking videogames work and that someone has to be the sidekick, but COME ON. Gratuitous damseling foul. Also, yes, the airships in it look sweet. No, I don’t want to fucking play it.
***I know that children’s books are A Thing, but when I was tiny, I considered them just what I had to read until I could learn enough to read REAL books. I don’t have nostalgic happy-feelings for anything younger than Little House on the Prairie and the Bobbsey Twins. Sorry, Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon.