Friday, December 7, 2012

"Sexism" is a literary necessity

What passes for "sexism" in the eyes of the equalitarians is absolutely necessary in the historical genre, even in the historical fantasy genre.  Somehow, Dan Wohl manages to completely miss the vital role that verisimilitude plays in historical fiction at The Mary Sue.
I think Game of Thrones is quite successful when it comes to portraying interesting, complicated female characters, and a good many of them, especially in its second season. You could even say that it’s impressive that George R. R. Martin, not to mention the actresses who play them, have managed to make characters like Lady Catelyn, Arya, Daenerys, and the awesome Brienne of Tarth as compelling as they are considering they’re members of a fictional society that is designed to minimize women’s power over the world and themselves. Plenty of less talented people have designed such societies and ended up with female characters that are accordingly marginalized.

What I question is the purpose of creating an imaginary civilization to be this way in the first place. I agree with Becky Chambers when she says that if female characters are pushed to the sidelines in a video game, “‘that’s just how it is in that world’ is not good enough.” I’d say “that’s just how it was in the real historical setting this is based on” is not good enough either—and I don’t see much beyond that when it comes to most sexism in fantasy.

In my opinion this applies to all historical fantasy, including that which turns the “history” dial up a lot higher than Game of Thrones does.
Being the author of a newly published epic fantasy that relies quite heavily on Roman history, (for those AG readers who don't read VP, my new novel, A THRONE OF BONES is now available on Amazon, so do feel free to support AG by picking up a copy), I have given this matter a bit more thought than most.

In Selenoth, human women have even less power over the world and themselves than they do in Westeros.  This is because in Roman society, women had one primary role, which was to produce heirs for the noble families and soldiers for the legions.  And they benefited greatly from being kept to that role, since Rome became vastly wealthy and featured lifespans that were not again witnessed until the last 50 years of the modern scientific era.

By contrast, elven women have considerable autonomy and their societies are demographically dying as a result.  Their long lives and powerful magic help mitigate this, to a degree, but the historical trend is readily apparent to Man and Elf alike.

The problem with what Wohl advocates is that by putting modern views on sexual roles and intersexual relations into the minds, mouths, and worse, structures of an imaginary historical society, it destroys the very structural foundations that make the society historical and the dramatic storylines credible - in some cases, even possible.  It's problem similar to the one faced by secular writers, who wish to simultaneously eliminate religion from their fictional medieval societies, and yet retain the dramatic conflict created by the divine right of kings.  However, it is more severe because the sexual aspect touches upon the most concrete basis of every society: its ability to sustain itself through the propagation of its members.

The "sexism" of which Wohl and many of his commenters complain isn't cultural, it is simply the logical and inevitable consequences of biological and martial imperatives.  It can't possibly be cultural, because the division of male and female roles has been observed in nearly every historical culture; modern equalitarianism is not only a myth, it is a myth made barely credible only by the combination the illusion of societal wealth, technological advancement, and the imposition of relentless propaganda from an early age.  Even so, the imperatives of reality puncture that myth as soon as one stops to consider it.

Take "the awesome Brienne of Tarth", who I found to be simultaneously one of the saddest and most ridiculous characters in A Song of Ice and Fire.  Setting aside the sheer absurdity of her existence; any woman that big would be so slow that the Kingslayer could chop her into bits wielding his sword with his left foot, never mind his left hand.  (We have to excuse Martin this common blunder; he's clearly no athlete and has probably never flattened a female black belt or even punched one in the face.)  Now suppose that Cersei was cut from the Brienne mode.  Let's make just one simple change in favor of the modern equalitarian perspective.  Instead of being a conniving bitch working within the confines of a traditional female role, she's grown up to be a Strong, Independent Warrior Woman every bit as skilled with the sword as her twin and every bit as uninterested in propagating the species in the customary manner.

First, she doesn't marry Robert.  So, no alliance between Baratheon and Lannister.  With two childless children, Tywin's dynastic ambitions now rest on... Tyrion the Dwarf.  He is now concerned with finding an heir for his House, not seating his grandchildren on the throne.  We also lose all of the plot lines related to Cersei's children, so the sadistic relationship between Prince Joffrey and Sansa Stark is gone, as well as the protective one between Sandor Clegane and Sansa.  So too is the entire storyline in Dorne as well as the Dornese machinations with regards to Tommen.

No one cares about the nature of unmarried cat lady Cersei's unusual closeness with her twin anymore, so Jaimie needn't bother throwing Bran Stark from the window.  The conflict between Lannister and Stark doesn't ever erupt; in fact, since no one thinks Jamie's bastard is Robert's heir, no one poisons Jon Arryn, Ned Stark never goes south to King's Landing to serve as Robert's Hand, and neither King Robert nor Jamie and Cersei's incestuous escapades ever come within a hundred miles of Winterfell.

Notice how just changing a single woman from a medieval mother to a modern warrior woman would totally eviscerate the entire series and eliminate its raison d'etre.  Cersei would have to be one astonishingly compelling warrior woman to provide a storyline capable of compensating for all of the intertwining storylines that her equalitarian independence requires sacrificing.  And this specific example serves as a sound analogy for what attempting to remove the historical roles from women will do to most of the drama presently found in literature.

Do you want massive battles between civilized cultures?  Then most women had better be at home raising large families capable of providing the men for the armies and the societal wealth to support them.  Do you want dynastic conflict?  Then you need mothers married to powerful men producing those dynasties.  Do you seek the dramatic tension of forbidden love?  Then someone had better possess the authority to credibly forbid it.

The assertion may seem a little extreme at first, but if you contemplate the matter, it should rapidly become obvious that the insertion of modern equalitarianism into quasi-medieval fantasy is less credible and more dramatically devastating than giving the occasional knight an M16A4 assault rifle.  The assault rifle is merely ridiculous whereas the equalitarianism undermines the logical basis for the vast majority of most historical conflict.  And while there are ways to work around these issues, (the knight with the assault rifle is a time traveler, strong independent warrior women drop large litters of children by the roadside that are gathered by good-hearted monks and mature in six months), the point is that if they are not addressed in an intellectually competent matter - and they usually aren't - the result is doomed to be an incoherent, illogical mess that will have to be very well-written to even pass for mediocre.

One commenter, seemingly reasonable, states: "The way I see it – if I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief enough to believe in dragons, then I’m pretty sure it can extend to equal positions for female characters."

That sounds superficially credible, but it really isn't.  The absence of dragons is not significant to our lives today.  If they appeared tomorrow in their conventional fantasy form, most of our lives would be little different.  Intersexual relations are central, on the other hand, hence the interest in this and other Game blogs.  The difference can be seen in the way in which those inferior writers who blithely ignore the unavoidable consequences of "equal positions for female characters" refuse to address them in anything approaching a sensible way.  If an author wants warrior women and sizable societies, why not have her women simply drop children like puppies who can fend for themselves after a month?  Because that small change from observable biological norms would too severely violate the necessary suspension of disbelief, even for readers who are observably stupid enough to fail to realize that a medieval-era society featuring strong, independent, and equal women is unsustainable and would be wiped out in less than three generations.

60 comments:

Michael Maier said...

The problem with your thinking here is that many, if not most, of the readers will just shrug it off saying "Well it makes for a good story!" which covers all manner of drek from Transformers 2 to Lincoln.

Well, if it doesn't make simple sense then, NO, it doesn't.

MPAI.

Jeigh Di said...

I haven't seen Brave, but from the few examples I've seen of its ilk it has occurred to me to note that they never show scarred middle aged women enviously watching their peers with children...

JP (real one) said...

Speaking of "sexism," here's another example of PCism/feminism gone wild:

http://www.aei-ideas.org/2012/11/the-bad-news-is-that-gentlemanly-behavior-makes-people-happy/#.ULjGCZzmLiU.twitter

Kyle In Japan said...

This is probably one of the top ten posts on Alpha Game, IMO.

"I have a hard time thinking of a fictional world that I would less like to actually live in."

Hah! Try Berserk. Now there's a world where being a woman really sucks. (There's one strong female character who checks all the standard PC propaganda boxes, but becomes infinitely more likeable after she loses her mind and is reduced to the mental state of a two year-old and grows her hair out. It's almost enough to make me think the author is subverting the whole badass-girl-warrior thing.)

I've never liked Brienne much, but at last Martin makes her somewhat credible by basically admitting that she's a freak of nature, instead of a beautiful babe in a chain-mail bikini who cuts through 300-pound warriors with her six-foot sword. Since she's butt-ugly and obsessed with Renly, she has a decent rationale for wanting to become a knight. Still, she's the least interesting of ASOIAF's female characters, especially after she spends all of Feast For Crows doing a whole bunch of nothing.

Athor Pel said...

Here's one possible reason for people giving a pass to biologically and demographically impossible societies in fiction, they don't think across generations. We humans think within our lifetimes and many times fail to even do that.

To imagine a future one, two or three generations down the line is not likely to happen. We've seen it play out in history. The whole time the western Roman empire was failing the Romans themselves couldn't quite put their fingers on why it was failing to a degree that would stop much less retard that failure. They were captives to choices made in a past not of their making therefore not in their minds.

Not an excuse, just a possible explanation.

Kyle In Japan said...

I think you're on to something, Athor. But I'd go a step farther and say that many of the problems facing western society today are the direct result of the 99%'s crippling shortsightedness. This explains a lot, from feminism to debt to irresponsible immigration.

Rollo Tomassi said...

In fantasy and sci-fi there's been a cultural push to demasculinize it for almost 60 years now. For every super-man there has to be a super-woman inserted into the arch or it's inherently sexist.

Star Trek is probably the easiest illustration of this when you look at how the character and story development has evolved from the mid 60s to the upcoming 2013 Star Trek movie. When you look at Trek in its totality it's like watching a timeline of real life social feminization. Masculine Captain Kirk to feminized Picard to a woman Janeway is the progression to an idealized future.

However, all that push to make Disney Princesses tough and capable women, and pairing Red Sonja next to Conan, and making Wonder Woman the only appropriate match for Superman over the past 60 years has had the effect of making the "strong woman®" a cliché in 2012. "Strong woman®" is an archetype now, and a boring one at that. She's become the caricature of a woman in the same way masculine male characters of the 50s-60s were viewed when feminization started.

Feminization saturated into our fiction and fantasy to the point that it's now 'shocking' to see women portrayed as vulnerable and less than men. What ever will our young women aspire to if we don't treat every female character based on the "strong woman®" template? The reason Game of Thrones is popular is because of Martin's character development of his lesser female characters.

VD said...

The reason Game of Thrones is popular is because of Martin's character development of his lesser female characters.

Oh, I think we could argue THAT one for hours... speaking of which, I wanted to send you a review copy but I don't have your email. If you'd like one, email me.

Koanic said...

"Do you want massive battles between civilized cultures? Then most women had better be at home raising large families capable of providing the men for the armies and the societal wealth to support them. Do you want dynastic conflict? Then you need mothers married to powerful men producing those dynasties. Do you seek the dramatic tension of forbidden love? Then someone had better possess the authority to credibly forbid it."

That's why it is impossible to write interesting fiction about modern social life. There are no women left, and therefore no men.

Anonymous said...

Female fantasy heroines* are popular for the same reason that male sports are popular.

Male sports star = Many men want to be like them, and many women want to fuck them.

Female fantasy heroine* = Many women want to be like them, and many men want to fuck them.

The mass-market writing and publishing business is all about increasing market share, and most people live in a fantasy world anyway.


*: Disneyesque strong but still femininely attractive type heroines. See also: comic book heroines in spandex outfits.

Feh said...

It is amusing that Wohl describes himself as "a lover of history" -- and then proceeds to argue that history should be ignored in the construction of historical fantasy, and also to scoff at the History Channel for producing history that is based on the actual reality of male domination.

The stupidity of the comments to the Wohl article is beyond belief.

Cail Corishev said...

I haven't watched the TV show, but as far as the books are concerned, you're right: there's nothing awesome about Brienne. She's portrayed as pathetic, stubborn, and not terribly bright. Everyone looks down on her, including herself.

As Kyle said, Martin makes her out to be a freak, basically a man with female genitalia, maybe an extra chromosome or something. The only other female fighter (in the first four books) is Arya, and she survives on quickness and surprise.

Daniel said...

I know absolutely nothing about the television version of Game of Thrones. What sort of person did they cast for Brienne?

I actually assumed that it would be revealed in the books that she possessed her (what seemed obvious to me, quite obvious) supernatural powers from some sort of occult source or heritage. Honestly - that first fight at Bitterbridge, when she didn't tear her ACL and get curbstomped, but instead beat a dozen or whatever that ridiculous number was - I simply thought it was a foreshadowing of the revelation that she was a hermaphrodite (leaning male) or a cultist.

I'm kind of hanging onto hope that the obvious "unnatural" thing that explains her prowess comes into play (hurt feelings, idealism, and victimhood simply aren't enough) has something to with the thing she said to not be hanged, but I doubt it, after DWD was DOA, and basically inserted what virtually amounts to a bunch of plausibly deniable "it was all a dream" coverage.

In any case, she's not a chick. She's an earnest, sort of boring...something else. If the thing ends and it turns out she was just a fat dull, ugly warrior chick with a good heart, it will be because she was an outlier, disposable character useful to the narrative, not a crucial example of egalitarianism in literature.

Cail Corishev said...

Your example of Cersei is a good one for another reason: if she weren't a woman in a traditional society, she wouldn't need or be able to do all the scheming that makes her interesting. She even says in the books that she should have been the man instead of Jamie, so she wouldn't have to depend on men to do the fighting for her. But that misses the point -- if she were out fighting in Jamie's shoes, who would be back at the castle using her wiles to keep all the men following her schemes? Her womanhood is what makes her powerful.

In short, a femme fatale has to be a femme.

Funny that Rollo mentions Star Trek, because I've just been watching the original series for the first time (I'd seen many of the episodes here and there over the years, but never watched the series through). There's a lot of red pill there, as there is with other old shows. I knew that Kirk was a lady-killer, and he really is a master, but even Spock and Bones know how to seduce a woman when they need to. It's kind of amazing to watch, knowing that just a few years later feminism would start to spoil everything.

happycrow said...

The second-wave feminist, karateka, and skilled fantasy author Barbara Hambly did a good job with this with her female fighters, by making it very, very clear that if women were going to be adept warriors, then they had to fight very differently from the men.

Brienne types actually did exist in the medieval world; they were very, very rare and apparently kicked an egregious amount of ass as abnormal genetic outliers. Sigismund of Luxembourg's mother, on the other hand, a veritable Daughter of Anak who could tear mail with her bare hands (!!) never got anywhere near a tourney, and wielded vast power from solidly within the feminine world. It's a pity that so many egalitarians don't realize just how potent those traditional women actually were (substitue a dynastic family tree for national names, and it becomes apparent that many medieval wars were essentially catfights with men in armor as the weapon of choice).

Daniel said...

Name one such outlier, happycrow, keeping in mind that Brienne fought successive elites on her way to the top of the heap.

Daniel said...

The physics simply don't work, and it doesn't take much looking around to realize it.

Go to a div. I women's volleyball or basketball team and find their biggest, strongest woman.

Brienne's corollary can be found in Britney Griner. The punch she threw at that Texas Tech player broke her nose. Jordan Barncastle, her opponent, was a 6'2 woman...and she didn't fall down. A man of that size throwing a sucker punch at a woman that size would have dropped her to the floor.

Take it a step further, Griner's been training her life towards physical, punching, elbowing, dunking fighting on the inside, and she dominates the game. She can outplay non div. I men on practice squads...but not to the degree that she beats women starters.

If Britney Griner can't start on a men's college team, in this day and age where the ceiling is over the male athletes in "unpopular" sports such as baseball, wrestling or swimming (the most likely sports to be cut in favor of girls soccer, girls field hockey, or girls' ice hockey) and the media goes crazy when a female horse wins a horse race...

then it's as good as proven. The natural, outlier, giant amazon woman who fights as well as elite men, is no less a fantasy trope than a goblin.

Jimmy said...

There's always Xena, the Warrior Princess, that fights battles for others as mercenaries. She is a gypsy that moves from place to place and never finding a husband, and perhaps is having a lesbian affair with her assistant.

It is odd that a Dragon is an excuse to suspend disbelief for independent warrior women. Wasn't it true that in these types of fiction, boys are encouraged by men to fight wars and dragons. Who would be encouraging the women to go to battle? I just don't see it as a plausible storyline unless it is an act of desperation.

In "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", the king's daughter, Eowyn, disguise herself as a man to fight in battle. The last stand.

Boogeyman said...

The one, and perhaps only, excuse to have women warriors in a fantasy setting is the Amazon culture. Have a somewhat distant culture/kingdom(queendom?)where the women are larger, stronger, and more aggressive, while the men are smaller, weaker, and overall more feminine and given to fullfilling the traditonal female role while the Amazons are out fighting.
Of course for this to be true the Amazon culture/race would have to be a seperate branch of humanity with signifigant genetic differences. Ultimately this means that biology plays a key role in shaping the fantasy culture, just as it does in the real world.
It might be interesting to have such an Amazon warrior woman travel abroad, only to have other, 'normal' women react to her as many men act towards homosexuals. That is, with confusion and a bit of disgust. Another angle might be to have a borderline bi-sexual woman, or a woman whos been abused, who runs away to Amazon land to find liberation/female paradise only to find she likes the alien culture even less than the one she left. Perhaps being a woman isn't such a bad thing after all. These days the greatest subversion is to reaffirm traditional roles and values.

Wendy said...

Wohl probably thinks Arwen is a weak character.

(Eowyn was Theoden's niece.)

Stephen J. said...

I do have one scene in a book I'm working on right now where a trained swordswoman takes on four men and (almost) wins, but it emphasizes very strongly two big tactical factors which she exploits: 1) her opponents are criminal thugs who only have the bare minimum of fight experience necessary to intimidate civilians who don't have any, and have neither armour nor blades; and 2) men tend instinctively to underestimate women in a fight. Even so, she almost loses by sheer bad luck and has to get her ass saved by the city guard.

That said, it should probably be pointed out that while it is certainly true that a Cersei unbound by Westeros' sociopolitical strictures on women would have obviated GoT's whole plot, the whole point of the complainers is that *that's what they want*. They want writers to come up with ways to allow women to participate in the plots in different ways. For example:

"Do you want massive battles between civilized cultures? Then most women had better be at home raising large families capable of providing the men for the armies and the societal wealth to support them." Absolutely - but is the only way to bring about this situation to create a society where those roles are bound by law and force? That this is how it was done historically does not mean there couldn't be other incentives which still keep the majority of women at home (maybe there's a valued and respected order of magical ability which admits only wives and mothers?) but allow those who really don't want it to take up other roles.

"Do you want dynastic conflict? Then you need mothers married to powerful men producing those dynasties." Or fathers (perhaps in a world or society where men are outnumbered by women by a 10-1 ratio, say; see Wen Spencer's A BROTHER'S PRICE) married to powerful *women* producing those dynasties... if women were raised from birth to think of themselves as rulers, were trained to identify with a feudal demesne as if it were their home, and men were the ones socially constricted by biological importance, what would change? What wouldn't?

"Do you seek the dramatic tension of forbidden love? Then someone had better possess the authority to credibly forbid it." The "someone" needn't be a man. Often it *was* a woman. (She simply had lots of male armsmen to back it up... but then, your average doddering malicious nobleman father doesn't hold *his* authority by virtue of personal asskicking ability, either.) What falls down here is not so much where the authority rests to forbid the love, but *why* you would *want* to: if your family's economic welfare doesn't depend on getting rid of a daughter or acquiring a bride's dowry, or its political welfare doesn't depend on forging a marriage-alliance, does it really matter if your daughter's choice of husband doesn't match your own?

It is correct to point out that, "Historically, events like A, B, and C only arose because of sexist (insert here "racist" / "heterosexist" / "religious" as desired) social conditions X, Y and Z; therefore the closer a narrative is to history the less plausible it is to describe A-B-C happening when X-Y-Z are not present." But if the challenge to writers is, "All right -- think of how A-B-C could plausibly happen *without* X-Y-Z being present," then that's not an unreasonable thing to wish for, I think.

(The answer may well be, "I'm sorry, I can't, not without turning my story into something I have no interest in finishing," but that's a practical answer to a practical challenge, and needn't involve real-life political positions at all -- one hopes.)

VD said...

But if the challenge to writers is, "All right -- think of how A-B-C could plausibly happen *without* X-Y-Z being present," then that's not an unreasonable thing to wish for, I think.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's even interesting. But that's not what is being expressed, for the most part. They want the trappings and consequences of historical conditions without the "sexism" that is in part responsible for them. And that's just stupid.

papabear said...

Just a heads up - today I read that good reviews for books by indie authors are being deleted by Amazon.

Stephen J. said...

Another question this issue brings to mind, of course, is something that characterizes a lot of what its members call "social justice" fandom: i.e. the assumption that to depict a negative situation in a story, without actively condemning or criticizing it either in the narrative or through the dialogue of audience-sympathetic characters, is effectively to endorse that situation in reality.

If it was simply a matter of not liking certain types of settings and therefore refusing to read or watch them, that would be one thing. It's the critique of those writers who won't disdain such settings as somehow contributing to a greater problem that is the objectionable assertion.

happycrow said...

Daniel: there is one chick in particular who's almost a dead flipping ringer for Brienne's character (to the point I suspect the author of ripping her off), but I'm having a brain fart on the subject at the moment (don't have my references handy).

Otherwise, while ALWAYS a tiny minority for fairly obvious reasons (which the OP is dead right about -- the Amazons are extinct for good reason), they definitely existed. Tomoe Gozen, Richilde of Hainault, Lathgertha (possibly fictional), Aethelflaed of Essex, Nicola de la Haye, Gidinild of Catalonia, Isabel of Conches, Sichelgaita of Lombardy/Salerno (this one's fun, look her up), Joan of Brittany, etc. Also, significant numbers of women were known to campaign and fight during the Hussite Revolution.

Those very few women (and they are very, very few) who make this jump can be very dangerous, b/c they don't have the male built in step-it-down dominance limiters - ask any cop. Unlike a guy you can knock around a bit until he comes to his senses, when a woman gets REALLY violent you basically have to drop them to stop them.

happycrow said...

Oh. Matilda of Tuscany is fun, too.

And whatever modern English scholars may say about Joan of Arc, their ancestors took her DEAD seriously, and attributed their defeats at the time to her DIRECTLY, rather than to any of the captains among the French.

//I'm a medieval milhist guy. Still can't remember the chick's name, but if I can find the chronicle reference, you'll see what I'm talking about instantly.

happycrow said...

Remembered it!

Google Maria of Pozzuole. An unlovely woman, but nobody you'd want to dick with. Pun intentional.

Jack Amok said...

I simply thought it was a foreshadowing of the revelation that she was a hermaphrodite (leaning male) or a cultist.

Daniel, it seems we're thinking the same thoughts. Though I've never read the books (didn't spark any interest, I'm getting picky these days), the description from Vox made me think "not quite all woman..." Olympic scandals come to mind (early ones = hermaphrodites or frauds, later ones = East German Steroid Experiments, said experiments being people I genuinely feel compassion for as they had no choice in being made freaks).

Go to a div. I women's volleyball or basketball team and find their biggest, strongest woman.

I did that once, sort of. Wasn't college, it was the pro Beach VB tour, where I met and hung out for a while with Gabrielle Reece. Now, Pro Beach VB has a bit of "lookism" to it what with the advertising and all, so the women are not beasts. Gabby certainly was no beast, but damn was she big! Biggest, strongest, good-looking woman I've ever met. The grip on her handshake was quite impressive. Sadly, the relationship didn't develop into one where I could, shall we say, evaluate her strength and agility in cetain, ah, closer interpersonal activites. Still, though she was my height (6'4"), I still outweighed her by 100 lbs and she wouldn't have lasted 30 seconds in a real fight with me. Highest I ever made it was Div III Basketball, and not a starter at that.

Daniel said...

happycrow, you are confusing leadership with combat skills, including Maria of Pozzuole. It is notable that the contests she was noted for were feats of strength, not combat arts.

I don't doubt that there have been a rarity of historic military leaders and occasional infantry that were women. But those aren't exemplary of the "warrior woman" trope that is in question.

Give me one, any one in the same class as:

Nai Khanom Tom
Audie Murphy
Musashi
Leonidas
Spartacus
Skanderbeg
Samson, the Judge

Because that's the archetype that we are talking about. Matilda of Tuscany is not comparable to the trope.

Johnny Caustic said...

If equalitarianism sucks all the drama out of fantasy, the corollary is that it sucks all the drama out of reality too. Probably the reason Americans are so obsessed with politics is that as we've become more atomized, all the things that were really worth fussing about have disappeared.

VD said...

Just a heads up - today I read that good reviews for books by indie authors are being deleted by Amazon.

Only those reviews written by other authors. They're trying to get rid of the ridiculous backscratching that goes on. "You give my book five stars and I'll give yours five stars".

It's really bad in the SFWA. The same women nominate every book published by their friends for the Nebula. That's how Catherine Asaro won one year for her terrible space romance and it's why I quit sitting on the juries.

It's not unreasonable. But they should do it to the writers published by the readers too.

VD said...

It's the critique of those writers who won't disdain such settings as somehow contributing to a greater problem that is the objectionable assertion.

That too.

Jim C. said...

The Amazons never existed. They were Greek myths, and were no more real than Scylla and Charybdis. Trying to use a fairy tale to support the warrior woman myth is as sad as it is ridiculous.

As for the other "historical" examples, let's just say that it's very telling that feminists have to dig through the footnotes of history to find support of women's martial equality. How come they can't find a single contemporary example, eh? Something that's more than just an empty claim with no measurable evidence to back it up?

Jack Amok said...

The one, and perhaps only, excuse to have women warriors in a fantasy setting is the Amazon culture. Have a somewhat distant culture/kingdom(queendom?)where the women are larger, stronger, and more aggressive, while the men are smaller, weaker, and overall more feminine and given to fullfilling the traditonal female role while the Amazons are out fighting.

Boogeyman, the problem with that culture is, how do they have any kids? All the wombs are out getting hacked up, speared, and mutilated on the battlefield. One man can impregnate many women, but one woman can only carry one pregnancy to term at a time, no matter how many men are around.

And during pregnancy, a woman isn't going to be able to do a whole lot of training, let alone campaigning. So, the only real possibility for such a society would be that the warriorettes first pop out three or four kids, then at the age of, say, 22, leave the whelps with the gammaboys and start their real martial training. By the time they've acquired much in the way of skills, they would be well past their physical prime.

Also, it runs counter to some fundamental human biology. High testosterone levels are necessary for significant muscle mass in humans, but are detrimental to pregnancy.

Sure, you can create a biology that has larger, more aggressive females - such species do exist on Earth - but they would not be human. Unlikely to even be a mammal, as they're almost required to be egg-layers.

A said...

I like me a thick muscular woman lathered up in sweat pinning me to the mat as much as the next guy, but athletic women are still highly prone to injury, especially to the knees because of the angle of the hip. And like Vox said, even physically superior specimens of women are vastly slower than their male counterparts. I think guys with fetishes and superiority complexes get a turn on from dominant women, and it doesn't surprise me that a lot of guys in the fantasy/sci fi genre fit into that category.

For example, I was a scrawny guy growing up and developed an attraction to athletic girls who were bigger than me. My own insecurity led me to lift, but I never really got strapping until a few years ago, and I've noticed that the bigger and stronger I've gotten, the less powerful my fetish has gotten, weird yeah? So that's my theory about SF/F guys and how they write their feminist/brawny women.

happycrow said...

@Daniel: Apex Fallacy, is fallacious.

JHJ said...

"Do you want massive battles between civilized cultures? Then most women had better be at home raising large families capable of providing the men for the armies and the societal wealth to support them. Do you want dynastic conflict? Then you need mothers married to powerful men producing those dynasties. Do you seek the dramatic tension of forbidden love? Then someone had better possess the authority to credibly forbid it."

Funny data point. In Bujold's very enjoyable space opera series the heroine escapes supersophisticated free sex, free morals, free everything Beta Colony (Freudan name?)and goes to primitive, backwater Barrayar for the adventures and the action. Then she complains to all and sundry about Barrayaran sexism for the rest of the series.

But the story would be deader than dead if she had stayed in super-late-60s-California-with-spaceships.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I think these woman-warrior types should have to train with men for at least 5 classes in the contact martial art of their choice. If nothing else, they'd learn how to write better fight scenes, and they'd also learn a few inconvenient truths about male strength. I have been holding the square padded target and had a man's blow to same turn me completely around. Now imagine that same guy, not your gentlemanly training partner, but filled up with adrenaline and intent on killing you.

Daniel said...

happycrow, irrelevant. The point stands: there are no warrior women (per the trope) in history. You couldn't name one. If they appear in fantasy, they should have a reasonable unnatural reason for the formidable and otherwise impossible skills.

After all, even a unicorn has rules.

Boogeyman said...

Jack Amok

My point was that in order to make the idea of warrior women even close to believable, the writer would have to create not just a new culture, but a new species. And no, there probably was never a real Amazon kingdom, but I wasn't saying there was. I was just trying to imagine how far one would have to go to make such a thing as a warrior woman believable in a fantasy story. Guess I didn't do as well as I thought. Had a stroke back in Sept. and am working on a jury rigged laptop. Both suck. Hopefully both conditions will improve with time.

LP 999/Eliza said...

Fave line: "No one cares about the nature of unmarried cat lady Cersei's unusual closeness with her twin anymore, so Jaimie needn't bother throwing Bran Stark from the window."

Great, great line.

Modernity, feminism and bad writing (endless rapes/silly emo depthless characters) has to some degree dampened epic fantasy writing. But there is hope with other writers like yourself in this genre.

Feh said...

Only those reviews written by other authors. They're trying to get rid of the ridiculous backscratching that goes on. "You give my book five stars and I'll give yours five stars".

You know, I would swear amazon pays some reviewers to give five stars to everything.

CrisisEraDynamo said...

@ Daniel, VD

What about the Dahomey Amazons of western Africa? They were quite real indeed.

Unknown said...

A clip from the movie "As Good As It Gets" you might find it to be appropriate to this discussion

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Y9BukEBI9c

facepalm said...

Wow, this all goes to confirm my suspicion that fantasy fans are from the same mold as star trek and star wars nerds.

Jim C. said...

@ChrisisEraDynamo
What about them? They were girls playing soldier, with about as much success as you'd expect them to have (i.e. not much).

Take that Wikipedia article with a truckload of salt. Note the suspicious lack of citations in the text; particularly for the bolder claims.

In fact, the only citation given is the book 'Amazons of Black Sparta' by Stanley Alpern. A while back I actually checked it out. If the title wasn't a dead give-away, the author clearly has a Gamma hard-on for the warrior woman myth. When not making shit up wholesale, he spends considerable effort trying to reframe the scant little evidence that exists, and desperately trying to reinterpret the handful of witness accounts, to build an image of a deadly force of women soldiers.

He fails.

Angel said...

I think the reason this type of fictional female characters are not as popular with female writers is because only a few of the women will be in a postion that anyone would envy. Most writers don't spend time on the farmer and his wife, but on the Lord of the Manor and his Wife with her servants and household to attend to. If the power and lifestyle comes from the man, then only a few women will ever attain it.
If the power and money can come other ways, then more women have a chance at it. Hence witchcraft, women warriors and other species of females that have some kind of power that makes them equal or more powerful to human male.

Anonymous said...

"So that's my theory about SF/F guys and how they write their feminist/brawny women. "

and because nobody notcies nothing!

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/08/photos-of-athletes-nobody-notices-nuthin.html

for e.g. anna watson college cheerleader

Cail Corishev said...

By the way, a fun entry in the "there aren't enough female writers/characters in sci-fi/fantasy" discussion is the Miles Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. The first book was about Miles's mother Cordelia, who is really too good to be true and therefore boring. By the second book, the crippled but brilliant and maniacally driven Miles completely steals the show, and the rest of the books are about him.

You could never write a book with a female Miles Vorkosigan. No one would buy it -- the only people who would accept the premise wouldn't care for all the plotting and complexity and lack of emotional drama.

Stephen J. said...

Well, that's not quite true. David Weber's "Honor Harrington" is a bestselling SF series about a character who is, essentially, a female Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE! And the series is up to twelve books and counting about the main character, as well as a dozen spin-off anthologies and side-stories set in the same universe, so saying "nobody would buy" a female Miles Vorkosigan has at least one contradictory data point.

(Honor herself has the advantage as an SF character of genetic engineering for a heavy-grav world, which gives her enhanced strength and speed and longevity, and also has the advantage of being a naval officer who, unlike a front-line grunt, very seldom has to engage in personal physical violence - although she is effective at this when she has to be, again usually by virtue of exploiting overconfidence in her foes.)

Anonymous said...

Jaysus fuck, John C. Wright...

Betty said...

I am not sure that it matters to me whether or not an author of any book is male or female. However, for the record, I read a very well written, well researched historical fiction this weekend titled, "Shadow of the Sun" by a female author Merrie P. Wycoff.

Anonymous said...

A woman as strong and able-bodied as Brienne of Tarth is certainly more realistic than giant flying lizards.

Probably all that is needed are some hormonal changes, the female spotted hyena for example outweighs and dominates her male counterpart, which is not the case in other hyena species.

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