Monday, August 20, 2012

Women in Fantasy

Sorry all, I hate to bring up politics, but my inspiration for posts this week comes from two sources: a lively FB topic and ongoing media installments demonstrating a massive misunderstanding of female biology.

Growing up, reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, Andre Norton's Witchworld books, and watching the ever increasing roles of women in TV: Scully, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Kira and Jedzia-Dax on DS9, Xena, Capt. Janeway, Aaryn Sun and Zahn on Farscape...

I felt that women were being given ever stronger and more complex roles.  Characters that were initially sexualized could transcend their beginnings: 7 of 9: Voyager, Six: Battlestar Gallactica, Kate on Castle--character was introduced with sex appeal, but certainly didn't stay there, same for Grace Park's role on Hawaii 50.

But I can name a bunch of non-sexulaized roles women have played in some of these shows, beginning with Laura Roslyn in Battlestar, and Gina Torres' current role as Jessica Pearson on Suits. Meaning that while strong women, I believe, first appeared in many roles in SciFi and Fantasy shows and movies, they have graduated to mainstream shows.

I feel that it started in this genre (more recent movements, because Katherine Hepburn did wonders prior to the modern feminist movement, in mainstream movies), because of what I thought of a s a feminist movement within the genre.  Marion Zimmer Bradley had written about the faults of the genre around the seventies and earlier. Much of this revolved around some of the issues she had wrestled with when starting to publish in the 50's (I believe, but if she published anything earlier, feel free to correct me).  But in the 80's and 90's we saw an onslaught of female characters in the genre.  Especially women warriors.

Mercedes Lackey gained bestseller-dom and keeps plugging on. Say what you will about the quality of her writing, but when she came out with the first few trilogies of the Valdemar series, she was building on the foundation provided by Marion Zimmer Braddley, and grew the Sword and Sorcery sub genre.  While it might be cliche now, it wasn't in the mid-90's.

As a teen in the 90's I loved seeing strong women.  I loved male writers writing strong women, because it meant that the character "type" had grown beyond its activist-inspired beginning, to become not only stories loved by geek girls, but by guys as well.

At the time I took this as a big sign that our attitudes to women were changing. I, as a girl who came into adulthood around the turn of the century, had plenty of positive role models to look up to.

Then came the era of Reality TV, of Twilight, and the battle over women reproductive rights was unleashed again.

Maybe many people will think that things things are unrelated, but to me they are symptoms of the same thing: a degradation of our cultural view of a woman's place. When we think we can legislate morality, there has to be social support if the idea first.  The social support would then be a response to other aspects of our society---

Perhaps it is even a reaction to the trend that I saw in SFF in the 90's.  Trends like that are generally not merely limited to literature.  Rather, art reflects a changing consciousness in our society.  So if the accept roles were changing, it stands to reason that a backlash was due.

The problem then becomes what literature and art will we leave girls, literature that leads them to think for themselves or permit men to legislate on their behalf? Do we teach girls to become their own individuals, or do we stress their need to reinforce patriarchy?

Have women's roles in media backslid?  Are we depicting weaker, more old-fashioned women in  literature, TV and other sources?  Or are we going to continue the trend toward complex female characters?

One of the other questions raised in the FB discussion was can women be strong without being violent?



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