Friday, December 5, 2008

When The Plot Is A Philosophical Catfight

This was not originally going to be a post. But once I attempted to get it down to 140 characters I realized I did actually have more to say; The main thrust of which is that I'm sick and tired of white female authors writing fantasy books set in 'ethnic' fantasy lands where those ethnic societies believe a woman can't handle magic/can't handle power but now comes their heroine who will break the mold and prove them wrong.

It's patronizing.

It's not just the fantasy ghetto, where People(Characters) of Colour are limited to fantasy worlds that resemble their real world culture/analog. It's also a certain conceit about who is writing and what they're writing about. I get that there's a movement to get more female heroes, character role models in the world. But I think what jars the process for me is that the society's reasoning, no matter the fantasy cultural ghetto, is usually so damn WESTERN in origin.

Western and financially privileged.

The latest book and paragraphs to set me off are Eon by Alison Goodman. There's an exerpt up on the flash website here:; There is also a first chapter up here in PDF.

Now I haven't read the book and I'm not panning Alison Goodman. I'm being honest about what set me off; what felt like a straw on an overloaded camel.

Women have no place in the world of the dragon magic. It is said they bring corruption to the art and do not have the physical strength or depth of character needed to commune with an energy dragon. It is also thought that the female eye, too practiced in gazing at itself, cannot see the truth of the energy world.

I just...

Am I the only one who sees something like that and gets a mental image of strong, broad backed women of colour who tend their gardens (farmland) and do hard working chores and are strong family matriarchs and the backbone of their family? And then go WTF?

An I the only one who ends up thinking, sure there were some rich white women somewhere who had servants doing the cooking and cleaning and child minding and spent their days buying material for dresses and giving teas and socializing, gossiping, gathering information on the moods of the circuits and whose family was having a weakness their husband could then exploit in business? Actually, that last bit might be giving those women a bit more agency than is often implied - what with the 'Treat a woman like a spoilt, rich, child' thing that tends to be the undercurrent in these kinds of fictions.

I'm not sure what angers me more, actually - the premise itself, or the fact that the premise tends to always want to put up one singular woman as an example that an entire society's way of thinking is wrong. It's... do they really mean to have the whole 'prove yourself' rigmarole intentionally mimicked in fiction?

The world just seems messed up to me when I'm looking at gender biased Anne McCaffrey and thinking that she at least had women doing dangerous jobs alongside men as a matter of course. Yes, one woman might be special because her dragon was a Queen - but she wasn't the exception showing what women could really do if they could just all be as brave and daring. There were women a dragback risking their lives and women in the fields in the ground crews risking their lives. And even Menolly's story revolved around music being deemed useless in a fishing village where there were women, like men, doing things to keep body and home together.

Anne McCaffrey!

Ms. Tent Peg Rape Can Make A Male Gay! (it's all about hormones in the anus - google it)

Anne McCaffrey brings to mind heroines who excel in a world where other women are already successful in their day to day lives.

I think perhaps that others have mentioned this before in variations - Anita Blake Syndrome, for example. Where the character is tougher than a guy, a better shot than a guy, has a stronger stomach and nerves of steel than a guy and earns their respect just by breathing.

But that's not quite the same as seeing what I saw and just knowing the author had to be white. Twelve mystical energy dragons kind of sealed it but the One Woman Who'll Risk It All, just put the neon sparkles on. One Women Capable Of Overcoming Innate Female Vanity & Selfishness.

Does anyone ever call these writers on internalized misogyny?

Then again maybe I'm missing something. Maybe I'm just too whacked in the head to understand how momentous the triumph of one female protagonist against a world that expects her to never dare or try or to fail if she does. Maybe I'm too busy thinking about books where the protagonist's sex doesn't have to be oppressed in order for her to excel. And where the authors aren't trying to say that Western Civilization is the end all and be all and look how well it's doing. Cause really? Someone needs to hold up a mirror.

(Cnt here)

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