Feminism. Never mind that the word conjures up images of women burning bras or screaming their support for Hillary Clinton. Never mind that some people think of feminists as “man-haters” who promote only women and therefore, have to be lesbians. Forget all of that and instead, regard the word for what it truly represents: addressing issues of gender difference and equality.
Why do I bring this up and how does it relate to writing genre or gaming fiction?
If you remember when I first signed up for the WisCon convention, I was a little unclear what my experience might be because I had never been to a “feminist” convention before. Reading through the really well-designed materials that were mailed to me, I came across two items that stood out. One is the James Tiptree Jr. Award according to the program which, every year, is given to the work(s) of science fiction and fantasy that best “explore and expand gender roles.” The other is a site called Broad Universe, dubbed the ‘voice’ for women writing science fiction, fantasy and horror.
At first, I wondered why I had never heard of these sites or awards. Then, I realized how important they just might be.
I’ve talked about tropes before when I covered posts like, “How to infuse your Creativity by Researching Myths, Tropes and Beliefs.”. In that post, I talk about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (LoTR) and its treatment of race, but we can also look at his female characters. On the one hand, we have Arwen (who went through quite a bit of suffering in the book) and on the other we have Eowyn (who’s definitely a heroine). Finished in 1949 but published in 1954, to some the tome represents the “birth” of modern fantasy. It’s easy to see how feminism can fit into fantasy, because there are often dozens of tropes that come into play, like the large-breasted, beautiful female who needs to be rescued or the virgin princess who has to be sacrificed. In science fiction and horror, popular culture offers different treatments of the “feminine ideal” as well, and I’m sure you can come up with several examples of your own.
As a female who writes genre and gaming fiction, my direct intent is not to analyze every character, scene or setting to explore gender, racism, religion or any other form of discrimination but I do consider these things in the back of my mind, provided it is an integral part of my story. If it makes sense for a character to be a jerk, then he (or she) is a jerk. If it fits the setting that this particular group of people, who lives around a mysterious artifact, are extremely close-minded with their beliefs, then they will be.
I’m not sure if it’s a function of the type of writer that I am or not, but I often do a lot of research, reading and theorizing before I put words together on a page. If I have a “goal” with my work, it’s to explore three-dimensional characters who may or may not understand the “whys” behind what they do but you, as a reader, might see it for yourself. Frankly, I’m not sure how my writing would evolve if I put a concept like “feminism” at the forefront of my work, but I recognize and appreciate that it needs to be there to provide writers (and readers) with a vehicle to address hefty topics that influence us as people every day.
My biggest take-a-way from thinking about feminism in science fiction, fantasy and horror is that I recognize there’s a lot I don’t know about it. I plan on seeking out some of the writers on the Broad Universe site to review their books as time allows, and hope that will give me a better understanding of what these authors do.
What are some of your experiences with feminism in science fiction, fantasy and horror? Is this something that you feel is an issue? Not an issue? Why?