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The Female Power Fantasy?

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

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  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >there will never be a one size fits all. But there are some that come closer to the bill than others.
    pmmgpmmg, this was precisely my point. When we speak of "the bill" we are in fact saying there is an ideal. A single ideal. That's what I have heard voiced elsewhere and have seen somewhat on this thread--that there is such a thing as "the" female power fantasy, and discussions of specific works are all about how close or far that work hit from the mark.

    I submit this does an injustice to us all. I prefer the notion--a foolish one, perhaps, but I cling to it--that human beings are marvelously diverse, that despite cultural commonalities we somehow manage each to be unique, even if the differences can be hard to spot. More to the point, when all or most of are spoken of as if we were identical, we miss the unique, and it's the unique and the unusual that I most value.

    I am quite sure I don't have any male power fantasies. The very notion seems silly to me--and only for me, I hasten to add. Someone mentioned Conan, but I've always viewed Conan as an archetypical critic of civilization, and specifically of the decadence of the civilized. This is how Howard wrote him, of course, but it's also how I read him (I was introduced via the great comic run in the 1970s, all kudos to Roy Thomas). I'd go so far as to say that Conan as a male power fantasy is in fact someone else's fantasy about what constitutes male fantasy. A stereotype, in other words.

    It's dreadfully easy to fall into those types. I have done it myself, many times, going all the way back to the Marlboro Man serving as a stereotype for what I imagined a certain type of male to be. It let me be dismissive and superior. It turns out there are lots of different kinds of cowboys, and lots of different kinds of people who admire them. So, I'm not putting anyone down here or, if I am, I'm right there with you.

    Which makes me wonder: what is the difference between a [gender] power fantasy (I note in passing that no one is talking about a power fantasy for anyone on the LBGTQ rainbow) and a [gender] ideal. Can't there be ideals to fantasize about other than power?
     
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  2. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    That's the same logic the rich use to take advantage of the poor. "Oh well if they weren't stupid and/or lazy they wouldn't be poor."
     
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'm not at all certain that "power fantasy" is an idea restricted to action roles in action stories, although it seems to have been sequestered there.

    Isn't that restriction also potentially a male gaze defining power fantasy? I don't know, but this rings an alarm bell for me.

    In fact, I think this would apply to male power fantasy as well. I see the potential of "manipulation" by whatever non-physical means to be a potential power fantasy for some. I'd mentioned Mr. Robot, and I'd add the potential example of Frank Underwood from House of Cards—before the real life scandal arose around that actor. You mentioned Mr. Glass. I haven't watched the new movie, but the original seemed to me to be less of an action movie than a mystery-thriller and played the "super" physical traits of David Dunn in a way that almost parodied the ideal of the He-Man sort of power fantasy. Mr. Glass relied on manipulation. I also think it's interesting that super manipulators in stories are often regulated to the role of villain; I wonder whether this, too, is something that has arisen from a male gaze. Superman must have his most dangerous foe, Lex Luthor, who is bad for what he wants to do, in part, but also bad because he uses his nerdy brain, heh.

    Death Note, the anime, used manipulators on both sides. The ultimately villainous Light used a magical notebook to kill at a distance and manipulate the world's political, legal, social systems, but he was stopped by the combo L and N who were master detectives. For that matter, does Sherlock in his various iterations hit the power fantasy button for some viewers and readers? What about Veronica Mars, for women? Nancy Drew?
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    No?

    Death Note and Veronica Mars are both top ten shows for me. But neither of them are power fantasies. Death Note is a battle of wits, and Veronica Mars is typical detective mystery show. Death Note could easily have been kind of a sick power fantasy if Light just started crossing off anyone who ticked him off, but that's not the way it plays out.

    A pure power fantasy is about having power and just letting it rip. Usually it's more about the end of the story - after everything I had to endure, in the end I punched my boss and stole the money and ran off with the girl. That kind of thing.
     
  5. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I have wondered about this, but my thoughts have been too scattered to address it. I'm gay. I've wondered if my own outlook on the present topic has been colored by that fact.

    Gay men and women are still men and women. I don't speak for all, of course, but for me the fact of being a man is still a strong fact in my life. Whatever biases I inherited having been raised from boy to man in the real world milieu have probably affected my outlook on this topic. I do think I've questioned these issues from very young, too, so...that's probably affected my outlook as well.

    I can't speak for anyone who is trans or non-binary or...(long list here?) I do suspect that this simultaneous nature vs nurture effect has led to similar questioning and exploration of the issues.
     
  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    They're favorites of mine as well. I used them as examples of non-action heroes and their powers to point at potential different types of power fantasy. I'm not sure that letting it rip is a defining characteristic of a power fantasy. That said, I do think that Light and L are exuberant in their use of their genius level minds, take great pleasure in the use of their intellects, and that seems like a power trip to me. Whether any given viewer will identify with that and feel some of the same exuberance, I don't know; but I do think this sort of transference between character and reader/viewer probably does point at "power fantasy."

    Edit: On second thought, perhaps for the story itself to be a power fantasy, one key feature is...success? In which case, Light and L both lost. Nonetheless, the potential to turn the story into a power fantasy existed. I was thinking that manipulation (via whatever means) to control a situation might be a different sort of power to physical prowess that could be exploited for creating a power fantasy.

    Edit #2: The manipulative power of the detective is the detective's ability to uncover and expose the truth. A different sort of manipulation but manipulation of the contexts within the story. Sherlock is a super-detective, i.e. amped up, but Veronica Mars is super merely in relation to whatever or whoever else falls within that milieu. I actually don't remember specifics of the shows in that series well; her named popped into mind as a type of archetype.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2019
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    FifthViewFifthView, maybe if you consider a good heist film, where the schemes all come together in the end with a big power trip, there may definitely be a power fantasy in play. And I'm sure specific episodes of Death Note or Veronica Mars play into the power fantasy in a similar way, although on a more micro/nuanced way. I think we're getting more diluted with the term here though. There can be "elements of" without being a "pure and simple" power fantasy. I wouldn't put them on a list of power fantasies.

    To me, though, I feel like the term has some baggage, and implies kind of a simple "I just want to p'wn these guys and score with the chicks" selfishness that makes me hesitant to carry it forward this way. That might be unfair of me, or maybe it warrants a jargon shift, but the more I think about it I do see the point you're making.
     
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  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    DevorDevor I've realized that for most of this discussion, I've been thinking in terms of characters—which characters might embody a "power fantasy" for readers/viewers. I somewhat neglected to consider fully whether it's the story that is labeled a power fantasy. Obviously, it could be both. Maybe my approach to the topic has been confusing for this reason.

    I do wonder whether dilution of the term has occurred, heh. We've ranged between Yes, a simple definition might exist for either sex and No, such a definition is likely to miss the great variety of persons who are potential readers and viewers. I've trended more to the latter in my mind—even while taking a stab in earlier comments at defining a potential simple Yes dichotomy, as a mental exercise.

    Crossing back and forth but landing on No might naturally lead to some dilution.

    I'm not ready to throw out the idea that "power fantasy" has some use as a guiding, thought provoking term. Mostly, I wonder whether the varieties, rather than necessarily diluting the notion, might suggest different avenues for creating power fantasies. We writers might "let it rip," and let our characters do that, while creating something others will want to read for the same reasons we wanted to write it. But if the term is too loaded with baggage, maybe it will be too distracting after all.
     
  9. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    It seems to me that the term ‘power fantasy’ is generally more useful for games, and perhaps in some instances comics and cartoons/anime. The term suggests to me that there is some power trip [– (slang) a self-aggrandizing action undertaken simply for the pleasure of exercising control over other people. Power trip: Synonyms in English -] at play. It allows the player/reader to experience, vicariously, a level of strength, security, invulnerability, or some other agency, that they lack in life.

    For a more serious body of work I for one would be hesitant to label it as a power fantasy, or that alone. Even looking at the basic plots of novels I notice that there are elements of a Hero’s Journey, maybe some Horror, almost always some Mystery, Overcoming the Monster, etc.

    However, that’s just the association I have for the term. Food for thought.

    By the way, I read that slang is slang for slang. Weird huh?
     
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Your typical Schwarzenegger / Rambo -type power fantasy film isn't that heavy on the power, does a good job hitting the right story beats of an action flick, and often has a lot of other redeeming qualities like elements of sci fi and humor. You can absolutely have that kind of an action flick with a female lead. They tend to still target guys, though, because "action," and I'm not sure they would really be a female "power fantasy," though I'm not really the right person to make that call.

    This, to me, is kind of the egregious example of what I think of when I hear "power fantasy," especially if you slap the world "Male" in front of it. I'm sorry in advance for making you watch this.



    But looking at the above Beowulf clip as kind of a pure power fantasy, I wouldn't dare try and speculate about a "female" power fantasy with this crap in mind.
     
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  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Hondshew Screaming is a pretty good name for a band.
     
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  12. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Sorry Skip, I beleive you are arguing that there is no such thing as a female power fantasy (or actualy any gender power fantasy), and yeah, I suppose if I take any defined term, and undefine it, and ultimately make anything have no meaning. One of the reasons I often say language is insufficient. I do think there is such a thing as a power fantasy, even it holds to a fuzzy definition. BUT....

    Given the number of posts above that maybe 'power fantasy' was something different than I assumed, I went and looked it up. Hard to find a definition that does not end up being about masculinity vs femininity in some way, and quickly these devolve into something other than definitions, but the first definition I found would change things a little for me.

    "A power fantasy is a character the audience is presumed to want to be. They are often sexy, but their main appeal isn't relegated to their sexuality. Male characters are often talented, respected, and otherwise powerful before their physical appeal is evaluated."

    Given that as a definition, I would call the girl from 50 Shades of Grey (Anastasia Steele) a female power fantasy character. She is not actiony, so...

    Maybe that definition does not fit either, but I will say a theme seemed to be a character the reader (or author) wanted to be. Which is great, cause my most prominent female character, while wicked and dangerous sometimes, is someone I am sure no one would want to be.

    (As an aside, that is not at all how I would have defined it. I will plead that I would have defined it differently if this were romance writers site ;))
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2019
  13. FatCat

    FatCat Maester

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    I think there's a major oversight here. What makes a protagonist powerful. How is that defined? What are we willing, as readers, to expect power from and how does that differ from a female/male lead. If you focus entirely on gender, then I suppose these kind of pitfalls will happen, and yet it's just as simple to not rely on them and create a character YOU feel is strong. The debate of masculine and feminine hierarchy is tiresome, everybody loves well written characters. If you must ask society permission upon their creation, I view that as a total negative.
     
  14. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    If someone had power fantasy level smarts, they really wouldn't be poor. Unless literally everybody was poor and there was no way to be well off. Like a post apocalyptic setting. But even then, poor is relative.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
  15. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    I made a list of all the things that all the trendy writing forums stated you should not do when you create a female character. By the time I got to the end of that list I came to the conclusion that the people who drew up those lists are the reason why many (if not most) writers would rather just stick with white males. No one gives a toss how they get portrayed so they are the easiest to create and work with.

    The problem with the topic of female power fantasy and others of a similar vein is that they get bogged down in gender politics. Lots of words are wasted in debating how females should or should not be portrayed in fiction.

    In my view female characters should be portrayed in whatever way the writer feels fit. In other words there should be no bloody check lists to determine if your female character is suitably family friendly, politically correct, socially acceptable or whatever. Create the female character you want to read and write about! If you want her to be a man with boobs who can punch an orc out with a single punch then so be it. I'm sure there will be plenty of readers who'll love to read about a kickass lass who has orcs cowering in the corner of their longhouse when she rides past on her horse drawn cart.

    I personally love kickass female characters who defy conventional notions of beauty, kick serious butt physically and isn't afraid to be her own person even if it upsets and offends others.

    Finally why are we allowing such constraints like patriarchy or matriarchy based power structures or how females should (or shouldn't) be portrayed shape our worlds and writing anyway? Fantasy writers have the power to do away with these power structures and social restraints in the worlds we create if we choose.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
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  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    In theory, we should write however we please. Scratch that--in fact we can write as we please, but that doesn't mean we ought to expect everyone will receive it the way we intended, or even that we won't be roundly criticized.

    Every writer, as has been pointed out on this thread, comes to a blank page, but we do not come to it with a blank mind. We are all culturally conditioned. We may sincerely believe we are writing without prejudice (pre-judging), without cultural bias. We may even believe we are breaking barriers, doing something radically different.

    That doesn't mean we are, nor does it mean we're doing so well or successfully. It just means that's how we see it. When others come along and say the story is sexist or racist or culturally biased or ignorant, it can hurt, but we ought not climb onto our high horse and claim it was no such thing. We as writers are not unfettered, no matter how free we think we are. It's probably worth at least listening to the criticism from others, just as we would listen to the criticism of our grammar or word choice.
     
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  17. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    I find the idea that it's going to be criticized whatever, to be liberating. The criticism of the character becomes nothing but noise from the eternally unsatisfied. So I can write whatever I want without concern for it. Basically any female that leads a power fantasy, is considered a Mary Sue anyway. As a writer, there's nothing you can say to that. Any response or capitulation legitimizes it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2019
  18. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    This bears repeating at this point, I think.
     
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  19. Solusandra

    Solusandra Dreamer

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    Geeze, leave the internet for one little funeral and the world runs away with your necromancy.

    :facepalm::banghead::stop:No. Girlpower being derogatory is not an issue of double standards. This is you once again missing the point. Girl power is a slogan. Its one constantly rubbed in peoples faces. Typically accompanied with the singsong attitude "anything you can do, I can do better...in heels". This naturally engenders a negative reaction and sticks well in the mind. THAT is why girlpower is more or less universally derogatory among men. They apin disgust to what our mothers tried to push pride and superiority.

    A man with boobs also does not apply to women whose only non-female characteristic is that they can outfight men and take on giant monsters. THAT is Femme-Fatale. A man with boobs is a different monster. Women in the 70's accurately noted that "men act like pigs" But because men and women are equal, instead of insisting that women rise above that, they decided that women should also act like pigs. And this infected hollywood. A man with boobs is exactly what it sounds like. The characters physical form is a woman, but instead of being written as a woman, the author writes a man and then adds sexy descriptors everywhere because politics. People noticed because the characters suck ass, like the current Captain Marvel movie, and people wanted to look into it an know why the characters sucked ass. So Man With Boobs became a meme.
    No. It. Would. Not. Wonder Woman. It was feared that it would be feminist sjw probaganda, but it wasn't and made a billion dollars because of it. The only reviewers who didn't love wonder woman were Ironically the feminist journo's who were pushing it as a triumph for women. The same journos who insisted that Captain Marvel was the first female led superhero movie and that Kamala Khan was the first muslim superhero in comics.
    Your own words betray you. I again point to the range of your experience discussing this issue. That the men you talk with only mention Sarah Conner and Ellen Rippley is a shame, but again, neither I nor many of my con friends have had this issue. Both were mentioned in many of the conversations, but they were NEVER the only ones mentioned. LOTS of female leads, actual leads, were well received by men. So your quote ("Neither character took a lead with the action. A female character that does take the lead in action as the main character tends to get a very different response. That's the problem.") is wholly in error. This is not a generalization you can make honestly.
     
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  20. Solusandra

    Solusandra Dreamer

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    Thanks, Futhark, though I disagree with your initial statement this article and the next quote were useful. The articles featured quote goes well with mine. Both about men with boobs, and why people, men and women, still liked Wonder Woman. IE because she was still written as a woman.
    “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”–William Moulton-Marston
    THIS. With the major issue being that far too many female power fantasies fall into this trap, while it's not nearly as common in male power fantasies. Still common, yes, but nearly so.
    Anikin had already distinguished himself early in the movie by winning a pod race that was well known for killing aliens with much higher reaction times than humans. All of the fighters in the Naboo airforce were human. It also didn't break story logic or cannon because by the time the prequel trillogy was filmed, Starwars already had a MASSIVE expanded universe where Lukes story of a trainee being brought along for the ride on the masters adventures was a core trope. This is also not uncommon in general fantasy, though typically the age of the new hero is 14, not 11.
    The issue with Ray is not her age, gender or experience, force users, even untrained, are simply bullshit, massively established cannon and authorized marketed fannon, material. The problem with her was that EVERYTHING came easy to her. Her story trod all over dozen main characters. Everybody instantly loved her and forgave her doing things that would get any other character shot. She was wooden in her acting and characterization.
    And the propaganda surrounding the series certainly did nothing to help.
    The recent Wonder Woman movie. MCU's Black Widow. I...can't really think of any others. Most movies and books of the last decade only deepen my antipathy for female characters rather than redeeming it like Gal Gadot and older modern scyfy.
    I'd generally agree on ms Everdeen, but her acting was a bit wooden. The book was better. Moana was good though.
    Suicide squad and Mad Maxine fury road were just crap. Sorry. IMO.
     
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