Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Female Characters in SF & Fantasy

The negative review I did for Iron Kissed and the subsequent response from the author's husband prompted me to (again) think about why I was so disturbed by the ending of that novel. What I've come up with is this. Mercedes Thompson is a smart, capable woman. She isn't needy. She doesn't feel she has to compete with the men (werewolves) around her in order to 'prove her worth'. While she doesn't like asking for help she can accept it without rancor. She also accepts that she may not be the best person to do a job (though she also may not appreciate that knowledge). But when push comes to shove, even if she's afraid of the consequences, she'll act.

In other words, she's a realistic woman. With strong points and weak points.

What she's not is the kind of 'don't help me I can solve everything on my own and if I do get in over my head and need rescuing I'll simply resent you later for it' female character that's become so common nowadays. The problem (or, I should say, one of the problems) is that after one or two books this attitude is extremely irritating to read (or watch on TV since, let's face it, it's there too). I don't understand how 'feminism' (meaning women are as capable as men in dealing with life) turned into 'I'm a b***h' but that seems to be the way popular culture is taking things. If a female character needs help she's 'weak' (and why is that by the way? Why should having friends and a caring community be negative?). And yet, instead of painting female characters as 'strong' if they don't need help, things are shifting to the opposite extreme. Maybe it's a case of the characteristics that made someone attractive when you first meet them (strength, planning, thrift) turn negative with familiarity (overbearing, rigid, stingy) or maybe it's something else.

At any rate, there seems to be a rise in recent female 'kick ass' characters who run roughshod through life, not expecting to have to deal with the consequences of choices they make and resenting any interference in their lives, whether it was positive or not. And I personally find this disturbing.

Maybe it's Mercy's acknowledgment that there are consequences and her ability to take them into consideration BEFORE acting that drew me to her. Too many of the female characters never stop to think first (though everyone goes through instances where this is the case the fact that these characters never seem to learn from their mistakes and become more cautious speaks against them).

Added to this, the thought that Mercy might become a 'weak' character (losing her self-confidence, being afraid to do anything on her own) due to the rape, when I saw her in such a positive light is more than likely the reason for my strong reaction to the ending of Iron Kissed. Don't get me wrong, I understand that rape is traumatic and does affect how you view yourself and the world. For this reason I wanted the story to continue, showing how she worked out her fears and anxieties and regained her strength. Apparently book 4 takes up directly where book 3 ended, so it's likely I'll get my wish. I hope so. Mercy is a great character, and I for one would like to see more characters like her.

No comments: