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The Female Power Fantasy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Logos&Eidos, Mar 13, 2014.

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  1. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    TheKillerBsTheKillerBs

    But that’s exactly what I am saying. They had different roles to be sure, but all roles were valued equally; and because of this power was more equally distributed. But the men still tended to be the hunters or warriors. Today there are more male boilermakers than female. That, in my opinion, is more a result of biological preferences rather than gender. It has nothing to do with gender equality.

    My previous examples of pre-Christian Viking and Celtic societies highlights that. Both were patriarchal and warlike but they seemed to value gender equality more than the last few centuries of Western culture. What if there was no Renaissance? What if the Catholic Church had fallen? Sure agriculture appears to favour the formation of patriarchies, but patriarchies and gender equality are not mutually exclusive. The point is that Western culture could have had far a more socially equatable attitude towards gender, and we wouldn’t be discussing topics like this now, in the present day, with people on the other side of the world at the speed of light.
     
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  2. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    How did the pre-Christian Norse societies value gender equality more than their Christian successors if they did not see rape as a personal crime? They saw it as a crime against the household - vandalism against the father or husband, and not* violence against the woman herself. It wasn't until the Christian period that this changed, and it was recognised that it was the woman who was the victim. I'm sorry, but that does not seem like they valued gender equality any more than did their successors.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2019
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    FTR, I was thinking specifically of books. Movies and comic books are their own genre, with their own histories and particular challenges.

    Doesn't have to be 2010; I just picked a date. call it 2000 or even 1990. When you're as old as I am, "modern" spans other people's entire lifetimes!
     
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  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    To the folks arguing historical gender issues: this is an enormously complex and subtle topic. There are scads of books, some of which are very good. People are free to argue based on whatever knowledge they happen to have at hand, of course. It's a free country and an open bar.

    But for those who are following along, please be aware there's a very careful and thoroughly researched conversation about this topic, and there's *still* a range of (good) interpretations of the evidence. I'm speaking specifically of ancient and medieval. After about 1700 I lose interest and can't speak to the literature.
     
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  5. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    Couldn’t think of any but the werewolf thread reminded me that Talulla Demetriou is the heroine in the second book. Don’t know if you would call it ‘female power fantasy’ though. Talulla Rising, by Glen Duncan, 2012.

    TheKillerBsTheKillerBs
    Well, yes. I am sure there were inequalities. Idk, maybe I’m misremembering some things or I just provided a poor example.
    I have no facts (something I’m not overly comfortable with), just conjecture and supposition. I feel (ugh, that was hard) that gender equality is an issue that could have been resolved long ago, and since the value of the roles we take on would be acknowledged and validated, then the whole debate of how they are represented in media wouldn’t even come up.
     
  6. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    Theyre shown to be more skilled, so have more skill. Reason enough. Asking for standards of realism that aren't present in male fantasies is problematic.

    Fact is, there's negative tropes that exist to denigrate a female power fantasy that do not exist for male. If it's romanced based, it gets dismissed as "Chick flick" or "Twilight crap". If it's action based, they have that covered with "Man with boobs", "Strong Female Character" and "Mary Sue". Some of which are applied in combinaton. Do writers all of a sudden lose their skills when they write a female character? No. The answer is the bias of the "critic." And I say that in quotes, because these tropes are insults, not critique. They are not made in a good faith attempt to improve the work, but made to defame it and police femininity.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2019
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  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Way too many topics floating around in this thread, heh, but I do find the question in the old OP to be intriguing.

    First, why write a "power fantasy," and do most readers actually look for this? I suspect this itself is something of a very minor sub-genre approach. True, as readers we want the main protagonist in our novels to succeed—to overcome and succeed. This requires some kind of power. (A vague word in this context.) But to have the novel be an expression of "power fantasy"? I think that's maybe something different?

    Second, for that particular sub-genre, I do suspect that men and women—very generally speaking—have different "fantasies" of what "power" may mean, or at least in how it is expressed and acquired. I doubt we can reasonably claim the vast majority of men or women will share said fantasy respectively. But suppose for sake of argument we could identify a power fantasy for each group. I suspect the fantasies would diverge between the two groups, even if we might say, again very generally speaking, that they share the feature of general dominance within a milieu or within a social context.

    Third, although I've not carefully followed the entire preceding discussion, I'm fascinated by the examples already given, for this reason: the "powerful women" are said to be powerful because they have physical prowess, whether via their use of their bodies or through physical expressions of power like guns and the exo suit Ripley wore or both. In other words, this is mere donning of what might represent part of the power fantasy for men. Surely some women might have a strong fantasy of possessing physical powers like those men are thought to possess—but is this the "power fantasy" for most women? I very much doubt it; having no proof however, I'm going out on a limb.

    Fourth, what is the male power fantasy? Do I know? Heh. I do suspect physical prowess, particularly strength but perhaps not strength alone, is a part of it. Even if the body is not of Arnold Schwarzenegger proportions, skill in martial arts and/or weaponry and/or stealth give physical prowess. This is for both, offense and defense. Defense is of particular importance, because there are other males out there, heh. So even if the best defense is a good offense...well. Flowing from this strength are two things: Rewards/recognition and reaching the top of the hierarchy. Hierarchy in this case may simply be within a particular context, for instance business in a particular industry or the top of a thieving guild if not the whole world. "Top of his game." I think there have been studies regarding men and hierarchical organization, so I'm cribbing a bit. Again, I'm assuming a small sub-genre, or a story meant to hit all the major buttons of a male power fantasy.

    Fifth, what is the female power fantasy? I don't know. I would need to ask women what they want to read vis-a-vis a good power fantasy—and I'd need a good, large sampling. I am not a woman. Were I to guess (really out on a long, thin limb) I'd default to something I've already written. The end goal of either a male or a female power fantasy might be "general dominance within a milieu or within a social context," but the methods of reaching that point might diverge in "how it is expressed and acquired." Forgive me for my male gaze, but I only have my own viewing experiences to mine for clues. What first came to mind were various legal dramas like Damages and The Good Wife which feature women using their intelligence, wits, education, and so forth to dominate a field. Brawn won't suffice; nor will social hierarchy, not quite. Sometimes included in this expression of power is their ability to subvert male expectations and blind spots. Another example might be in product advertisements targeted at women which feature bumbling men and the women who are insightful and clever in comparison. Should I take these examples as a clue, given how product advertisements have a very real material consequence and so are probably targeting that way for a reason? I don't know, but think I might be on to something. In the high school dramas, the female hero is often not at the top of the social hierarchy but is quite intelligent, resourceful, and has a grounded personality unlike the head cheerleaders and student council members—and what's more, is often able to play various elements of the school's hierarchy and social groups like a fiddle. These types of stories may or may not result in the character reaching the top of some established, publicly acknowledged hierarchy, but if not, the character has carved a good niche and is left free to operate according to her will.

    Sixth—I don't often go beyond the fifth view, heh—a caveat. Or two. I think our field of speculative fiction throws a wrench into things, because both magic and advanced technology blur the lines between what is physical strength and what is some other kind of prowess. A male power fantasy might feature an expert hacker, maybe something like the show Mr. Robot, who never comes out of the shadows, has thin reward and recognition. Or extreme powers of divination like Paul Muad'Dib that lead to both reward and recognition. Well but so might a female power fantasy? Is offensive magic a physical power or the mind's ability to suss out and manipulate the milieu, playing others like a fiddle? Are examples of these things power fantasies for either sex or gender, or just...fantasies, stories, and not in the sub-genre of power fantasy? Keeping in mind, most of the preceding five points are just food for thought for me, not absolute certainties, heh.

    Seventh, at the end of the day, if our goal is to write a book, we probably shouldn't worry overmuch about hitting all the right notes for all potential audience members. We shouldn't worry overmuch about turning this or that audience member away. If you have a power fantasy of your own, and you want to write a power fantasy, there are sure to be others out there who share it and others out there who don't. A lot of these questions and concerns about what constitutes a power fantasy are...not germane?
     
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  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Eighth, a point I forgot to include but might as well now. IF the goal is to write a power fantasy for men or for women who are alive now, then I'd suppose that looking at current social contexts, memes, ideas about power probably would be more germane than trying to look at historical contexts alone. I mean, if you want to hit buttons, make sure the buttons aren't buried under centuries of rubble. This would make determining what the actual history was like, the relations of men to women 1200 years ago, rather pointless to the pursuit or at least not as important as looking at relations now. Dunno. I don't wish to invalidate historical realism from novels, obviously, nor how a historical view might deepen our world building.
     
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  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    What IS even a power fantasy?

    Is there such a thing as a universal male/female power fantasy?
    I don't think so.

    The first time I came across the term power fantasy was when watching a talk about game design, and the developers tried to identify what the power fantasy was for the barbarian class in their game. I think it's probably easier to identify a power fantasy for something if you narrow down the scope a lot.

    The power fantasy for barbarian warrior is a lot easier to identify than the power fantasy for person.
    It may not necessarily be easy, but it's definitely easier.

    From the game dev talk, the focus went on to expectations, and how that shaped the power fantasy.
    When you play a barbarian warrior in a video game, you expect to be playing a big muscular brute, dressed in furs, and armed with close combat weapons. They're loud and aggressive and they plow into hordes of enemies without fear.

    Can we apply anything like that to writing a character that's meant to be the power fantasy of a person?
    I don't think so.

    Can you apply it to a person who's a bullied orphan, and who discovers they have superior magical powers that they have to keep hidden?
    Yes, I think so.
     
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  10. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    The answers yes. I mean what woman wouldn't want sexual assault or physical assault to no longer be a concern.

    Another would be their words taken much more seriously by men.
    The ability to be highly competent without threatening dude's masculinity.
    Another would be the ability to be attractive and express beauty without receiving creepiness back.

    I could go on. Basically just look at the issues that affect women today, and you'll get a clear idea of what women want to see in a power fantasy.

    To me, the previous discussion had nothing to do with female characters with physical prowess only. No one was discussing characters who are physically strong but low on wits.

    As an aside, I really want to see an end to the use of the "Man with Boobs" trope, as it's transphobic. There are real life men with breasts who are real people, not tropes, or insults who truly identify as men and who do not want to be considered women. So using that term to label gender non conforming women, is a problem, as it is saying in a mocking way that trans men = masculine women. That's misgendering.
     
  11. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    Calling people creepy is rude/bulling.
    I don’t think you understand the average fantasy reader/fan. Most of us are either weird nerdy kids or nerdy grownups who were weird nerds as kids. Shaming people for their social skills is generally something that fantasy writers should never do.
     
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  12. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I don't think the comment was aimed at fantasy readers as such, but at people of the world in general.
     
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  13. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Not respecting boundaries is creepy. Objectifying people is creepy. Reducing women in particular to the sum of their sexualized parts is creepy. I think we can agree about this. Calling out these behaviors and others like them is not bullying, it's standing up.

    I think we can also agree, given the statements in this thread, that a woman's basic "power fantasy" is being recognized as a whole person with agency and not a sexy lamp. Women are also people, individuals with their own desires and hopes and dreams. Women are not a monolith.
     
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  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I agree, but I'm not sure that physical fighting ability, or masterful fighting ability, is the defense that comes to mind first. Maybe yes, maybe no. As mentioned, our particular niche of speculative fiction enables all sorts of magical and/or technological mechanisms that would enable this surefire defense against such attacks, and I'm ambivalent on whether these can be characterized as analogues to physical fighting ability.

    In two different threads recently I've mentioned the term "offensive magic," and I've cringed every time, heh. Magic is potentially so varied, I'm not altogether sure if the term says much, given what might pop into mind. Is it shooting fireballs? Or is it telekinetic powers? Or is it being able to summon poisonous spiders? Or is it ... casting a curse? Having a spirit companion that can freeze an opponent's muscles? Having magical hypnotizing powers, or secretions that cause an opponent to run in fear when he grabs her? I can see all of these playing a role in establishing a character who embodies a female power fantasy, but I'm not sure they can all be characterized as being, essentially, a reimagined type of physical prowess. (Keeping in mind also SvrtnsseSvrtnsse's observation, "Is there such a thing as a universal male/female power fantasy? I don't think so." I've posted some thoughts about this topic, exploring the possibility of a Yes, but I'm doubtful.)

    I was addressing that short interlude when people were discussing Sarah Conner and Ripley. And Buffy. Buffy's an interesting case because she's a Chosen One who received her powers thanks to a magical source; but that magic translated into physical prowess.

    Also, I was not implying that any of these, nor male characters who trigger a male power fantasy for that matter, are low on wits while being strong physically. I do question the assumption—in certain stories—that wit alone will not be enough to overcome antagonists. Wit is great to have, and readers or viewers will like intelligent, mentally resourceful characters most, regardless of the story. But then why did Buffy need to be able to kick ass? Well, perhaps some antagonists can't be defeated in other ways; so maybe the action genre requires that? But is the action genre the one most women seek to read when they desire a power fantasy? (Again: It's possibly pointless to try characterizing a whole group this way, except as part of a mental exercise?)

    As a side note, I'm curious about the continuum of wit-physical prowess, when these are applied to story resolution. James Bond is extremely clever, but he seems to rely most on physical ability for getting through the toughest spots.
     
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  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Agency. Yes.

    How is it expressed in the story? How is it validated in the story—via the character's efforts and actions and the results of those?

    I think you have a great nutshell summary here. But as is the case, thinking of these things in terms of the real world is problematic if we don't also move to the literary realm, i.e., how to embody these things within a particular story.
     
  16. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    In fantasy, how can a weak character be smart, if it's not smart to be weak.
     
  17. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Maybe I'm the only woman on here that doesn't mind being sexually objectified. Sex is power. Beauty is power. Beauty + brains is amazing power. My books have beautiful heroines who also have smarts, wits, and are willing to reflect on their own personality defects. The females in the fantasy books I have written (yes, I've written those, lol) tend to have power via magic. It's their magnetic beauty and intelligence that makes them feared. But why do I write them beautiful? Typically because I also write romance and physical attraction is huge in that plot line. But they aren't hoes, they aren't seen as such. The characters who take advantage/try to abuse them usually end up scarred physically somehow, often dead. Honestly, female power fantasy comes down to what the author believes that to be, imo.
     
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  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    It feels wrong to be talking about "female power fantasy" as if there was only one such fantasy, shared by all females. Same goes for men, but we aren't talking about us, for once.

    Historically, one could make the case that there never has been a female power fantasy, at least not one culture-wide and openly expressed. It's sort of a modern invention. And if it is an invention, I'd very much like to see something like "top twenty female power fantasies" or the like. That is, plenty of different ideas about what constitutes power among women. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
     
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  19. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    So...we have reduced female power fantasy down to this? Just sayin...that's not what I see when I see female power fantasy. I am not sure I even want to read that story. Power fantasy, to me, at least suggests some type of action hero aspect, and sexy is not a bad thing to be. Maybe that is more along the lines of how women (readers?) want to feel in general, but there are so many types of different people and so many types of characters, none of them would be every 100% of anything. And some of them are powerful because they are sexy.

    I feel it is important to attack the notion of equality, because things are not equal. Men have wedged shaped bodies and women don’t. They will never be equal. They have different gifts, and different things which can make them powerful. For some it is physical might. For others it is other traits. I think everyone has to capability to rise to the top of something, but I also think the trend would always be to favor males gaining advantage and more often rising to the top of hierarchical systems.

    But that does not make women weaker. It just means that system is not one they excel at, but the skills and gifts they have would apply more strongly in other arenas. Write stories about that, and the women will be more in their element, and look more powerful.

    We can assume some more recent notions of equality. The law looking at people equally, per se, and say wouldn't that society be great if we could just achieve it, but I feel we are just cutting against the grain with all of this. Equal between the genders does not really mean equal. If I could make a law system that maximized male concerns and empowered them to the top of their capabilities, and do the same for women, I would have two different law systems. We imperfect types can try to create a fair system, and correct for inequities, but we can never really achieve it.

    I am not sure it matters that agriculture did this, or some other factor did. I cannot imagine that a new world with similar genders passing through time would not eventually arrive at agriculture, so I stand by the comment the same factors that shaped it once, will shape it again. I am not sure that agriculture makes a lot of difference; I think gender roles would show up long before that. Maybe there is evidence I am unaware of that would have me rethink that.


    Annoying Kid, you and I are too far apart, I feel, to every pull the other one back in, but I do appreciate how studied and well-presented your positions are. I think you are too close to extremes for me though.

    Mr. Glass seemed pretty weak and quite smart at the same time. One can be smart enough to know their weakness is a limitation and still be unable to overcome it.

    Well, of course, there will never be a one size fits all. But there are some that come closer to the bill than others. I think Conan was pretty close to an epitome of a male power fantasy. Was Red Sonja (FPF side of things)? I think she was too. Course she also has the chainmail bikini, so...she'll draw some ire. I think Mrs. Marvel is supposed to be one, but I am not sure if she achieves it.

    Alita Battle Angel more seems to fit the bill on most recent examples.

    I suppose I would make this argument, it seems that power fantasy type character should be in an action hero type role. Women in those roles, tend to have to shift roles a little and take on male qualities to perform well in them. These are not roles women tend to excel at, and so the dis-believability rises higher. Better would be to see women doing well and having more success in things that would be more along the lines of female roles, and play more to skills that they uniquely have. These would less likely be action roles, but how can you have an action hero, and thereby a power fantasy character, without it? Women are in conundrum for that. I can be sold, and I can choose to just go with it, but the very nature of the beast is just going to make it a harder sell. Just cause something is hard is not a reason not to try, so.... I intend to enjoy some power fantasy women in the future. But I also expect there will be more than a few who don’t quite sell.

    For me, I think if I wanted to write a good Female Power Fantasy (and of course I do), I would look to have a good action hero, a reason to explain them that is plausible, and try to hold on to as many female qualities as I could, and avoid the male ones. (I think Wonder Woman did that well in her standalone movie, just as an aside.) But ya know...sometimes there are just women who are bad ass. Looking at you Vasquez. So...We’ll just have to try and see.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2019
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  20. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Yeah, the "Power Fantasy" usually plays out like a 90s Schwarzenegger action flick, with the tough guy being awesome, shooting up the bad guys, capping the villain with some badass line, and getting the girl. It's not supposed to be deep, or make a statement, just tick off all those "masculine" impulses and suppressed inner desires.

    Just the notion behind it is going to tick people off (is this really what guys feel like they want? Which guys?). It's not surprising to me that looking at a "Female Power Fantasy" is going to annoy people. If you just swap the genders and portray the "super-strong woman" with the badass lines, there's a real question if that would be expected to hit the deep emotional impulses of what many woman want, and if you try to speculate about what would, that's extremely shaky territory.

    For myself, I love a good superhero power fantasy movie (a little different than the Schwarzenegger stuff), but I look for something deeper and more personal in my reading. A review of a book as a "power fantasy" is a big turn off to me.
     
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