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Women in fantasy

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Chilari, Mar 10, 2013.

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  1. Chime85

    Chime85 Sage

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    Does that not prove the point of this thread?!

    How much of an uproar would it be if a male character was raped like that?!
     
  2. Chime85

    Chime85 Sage

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    A relative mistake. Why should the D.I.D be a coward? By all means, she does not fight, but neither does the farmer who wants the best for his family.
     
  3. saellys

    saellys Inkling

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    Yup, the damsel in distress is passive, not cowardly. As for that not being seen as a vice among women, that ties in with Nihal's excellent post.
     
  4. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    I would disagree. The damsel in distress often is not cowardly, but rather simply not strong enough to defeat the bad guy or escape. Often, especially in more recent stuff, damsels in distress get into distress precisely because their bravery outweighs their power and influence.

    The above example of Benni from the Mummy, who is a true coward, is a good one. He acts always in self-interest, whether for gold or survival, and if there's danger he won't stick around long enough to get caught by it, if he can help it. He's the first to run; and when running isn't an option, he'll bargain. You don't see that in female characters. You see female characters who are frightened, sure, but being frightened doesn't make them cowardly; and usually they're frightened just in time for the hero to come along and get rid of whatever frightens them.

    As for cowardly characters in general, I don't see them as good MCs. Rincewind aside, as that's played for laughs. Generally the coward character is a sidekick to the hero or a minor antagonist. But always male.
     
  5. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

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    Cowardly females are common, they are regular townspeople, or the damsel in distress. They usually aren't a main character.

    I think the average female mc in a fantasy setting is pretty much one or two characteristics, sheena-female muscle bound barbarian, and the tough, trying to prove herself equal to men to the world female.

    I like Game of Thrones array of female characters, some control men to kill, some actually do their own killing. A few fighting the stereotypical noble female role.
     
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  6. WarriorPrincess

    WarriorPrincess Minstrel

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    I must be breaking all traditions in the novel I'm writing, as my my main character is a female who is neither "muscle bound" or trys to out-do the males in the story. Ive created her with personal goals but also everyone is not perect so she has flaws like the rest of us.
     
  7. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    I'm not so sure of your assessment of female main characters. I think there are some different types of female main characters besides the warrior queen/Xena type and the defiant, as-good-as-the-men type. Sophie Hatter of Howl's Moving Castle, for example, never compares herself to men or male characters, and neither can she be described as a warrior types. Really she's a well meaning busybody. But it is true that a lot of female main/major characters in fantasy works are along those lines. I'd like to see more of different female character types in fantasy. Female characters who either deliberately or accidentally end up fitting into a male context, like the Xena and as-good-as-the-men types, still fail to represent female characters who can be simultaneously rounded and feminine.

    If anyone is familiar with the Lauren Faust led My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series, I think Faust's intent there is what I'm going for. Faust stated that she was motivated to show different ways to be a girl thorugh the characters she presented. The characters achieve goals, including fairly adventurous ones like defeating a dragon, while still being feminine and while still being true to their characters.

    What I've seen a lot of is female characters who are strong because they've rejected feminity. A lot of Tamora Pierce's female leads (from back when I was reading them anyway - Alanna, Daine, Keladry) were female but masculine, for example. They operated in a male world and to male standards.

    Perhaps the answer is to write stories which aren't about war. A lot of fantasy is war-centric, and a lot of characters are warriors of some description. In that context, male protagonists and masculine female protagonists are to be expected. But there are fantasy settings that could easily have characters that aren't required to be fighters. I think Terry Pratchett tends to achieve this well with his female characters - the challenges they face don't require swords most of the time, but rather brains, bravery and imagination. Non-warrior stories also give the opportunity to have a range of different characters types, male or female, in all sorts of contexts. Warrior or soldier settings only have a very small scope for non-warrior or soldier character types.
     
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  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yeah, I think that's a good point. It is also an option, though, to pull females into the war/soldiering aspect of the story (assuming you want to write a fantasy that deals with war and fighting; as you point out we could use more stories that get away from this). You can see female characters incorporated right along men in war, and as effectively, in Steven Erikson's Malazan books. Another example is Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter, which Saellys pointed out in the last thread. So even if you do want to write a fantasy that has lots of war and fighting, I think there are good ways of pulling female characters into that milieu and having them stand alongside the men as well-done characters.
     
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I don't think the "soldier" character type is particularly variable while in combat, since soldiers are supposed to follow orders efficiently and not question the system. With that said, they can display all sorts of masculine or feminine personalities when not engaged in battle. (I'm not personally familiar with it, but I've been told Valkyria Chronicles did this pretty well.)
     
  10. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Thing is, a lot of young guys like me prefer action-packed, thrilling adventures in which characters confront life-threatening situations and must defend themselves and the ones they care about. Of course there probably exist ways to write this without making the characters all sword-swinging warriors, but warriors are the professionals that first come to mind when you think of action heroes.

    I don't necessarily think the warrior profession and femininity are mutually exclusive, as if there were no "feminine" way to fight. I've always thought fighting styles which emphasized agility, stealth, and cunning had a more "feminine" vibe than simple head-on bruising.
     
  11. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    But fighting is still traditionally a male world, even if certain fighting styles lend themselves more to female ability or feminine traits. Many armies around the world don't allow women to serve on the front lines now, in the 21st century; some don't let women serve at all. So women in fighting roles are still seen as occupying a male sphere.

    And action isn't exclusively about fighting. There are many different types of exciting action that don't involve punches being thrown. Chases, for example, have both urgency and conflict, without requiring violence, and can be very exciting and action packed, whichever side of the chase the protagonist is on.

    Magical battle can be construed as being feminine or neutral in the context of the world a story is set in, and so can present conflict without physical violence or warrior-based tropes, in a feminine context, and still be action packed.

    And both of these situations - chases and magical battles - can present live-threatening situations for all involved, without needing a warrior/soldier archtype or context.
     
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    That goes a long way towards understanding why you see women fitting into certain archetypes in fantasy. But it also goes back to the basic principle, you write the stories you want to write, and if you want to see something written, you largely have to write it yourself. Warfare is one of fantasy's biggest strengths as a genre, and for many people, one of the biggest draws, especially once you pull out "YA" and "Paranormal Romance," and you see what's left on the shelf. I don't think that's going to change anytime soon.

    To some extent, I think there should be some recognition that damsels in distress, warrior women and the like are going to be present in Fantasy, and that can be okay. I think the bigger priority would be saying, "Hey, there's an opening in the market to create new archetypes for women in fantasy, what can we come up with?" I think that's why so many people feel compelled to respond to the idea of a female coward and wonder, "Can this work as an archetype? Can we expand on the go-to-starting points for what we do with women in fantasy?"

    I think for a lot of starting authors, doing something new with women really means creating a new vehicle, and not refitting the old car. That's a challenge most writers shouldn't need to overcome unless that's connected to the elements they want to focus on when doing something original in their writing. For most things people end up adding their own piece to what's been done before. But with women, there just hasn't been as much to draw on. It's still a segment that's developing, and I think it's okay if someone isn't interested in writing the kind of story that develops it further.

    I think what is useful, for such a person and towards some of the issues raised in this thread, is increasing awareness of the female archetypes available to draw from, and making that list of archetypes as wide and varied as possible.
     
  13. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I'm not sure I get what the whole deal is here. If I may approach this personally, I have one character who's a fairly average teenage girl who happens to be a youth cadet in her country's military. She's disciplined, she's efficient, and she knows how to use a crossbow, but I don't think that makes her particularly "unfeminine."

    Edit: Actually, let's take this one step further. Many great virtues have been coopted as "masculine". What's the problem with someone aspiring to those virtues, whether the aspiring individual is male or female? It doesn't necessarily mean rejecting the "feminine" virtues.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
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  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I suppose it depends on how you approach it, in a fantasy world. Fighting is a traditionally male endeavor in the real world. So if you put females in those roles in your fantasy world, you can either adopt the traditional patriarchal value system, in which case even within the context of your story you are pushing females into a world traditionally dominated by men. This can be done effectively, but it is worth keeping in mind that you are pulling the whole patriarchal world view into the story within it.

    On the other hand, you could approach it by trying to create a fantasy world where the fighting is not a traditionally-male endeavor, and where the patriarchal value system from the real world is thrown out the window entirely. This is the harder route to go, as an author, because you'll have to overcome the baggage that the reader brings to the story (the reader living within the patriarchal value system and bringing a lot of those assumptions with them). I think it can be done, though. You might well end up with a story that includes war and battle, but that looks a lot different from the usual fantasy battles and is more than just inserting women in to men's roles.
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    That's right, because the patriarchal value system is the default assumption. The high-value virtues, activities, or whatever you want to call them are identified with the traditionally-male. It's a good thing to be aware of, and to know when, as an author, you are either implicitly or explicitly ratifying patriarchal values.
     
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  16. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    At risk of getting off-topic, I'm not sure this is entirely correct. Consider the "holy warrior" character type, a priest or monk who wanders the land fighting evil and protecting the innocent. This type has some traditionally "masculine" traits, most obviously combat prowess, but even male examples tend to display a strong sense of compassion, traditionally considered a more "feminine" virtue.
     
  17. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I've tried writing a male MC as the damsel in distress [he looked and sounded like a Hero but needed someone to keep him safe most of the time] but I found it difficult in the world I was using to have a strong female MC [as a counterbalance for him] that would be take seriously by other men and women in the story. I couldn't escape the narrativium that the [DiD] man would be followed because he was the man. There as only so many times you can write variations "Ah, XX was were right" or "If only we'd listened to XX..." before it grates...
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yeah but the traditionally feminine traits in those depictions tend to be shielded and made OK by the stronger, more central masculine traits. In other words, if you have sufficiently strong traditionally-masculine virtues, then its OK to include the traditionally-feminine traits as well (and even to value them as something that tempers the masculine), but in those characters you don't see the traditionally-feminine valued sufficiently to stand on its own. It has to be propped up by the masculine.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  19. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Based on a book I'm reading now that T. Allen Smith recommended 45 Master Characters, it lists several archetypes of male and female characters. I'm sure there can be some overlap, but this is how they stack up (for heroines anyway, there are other inverses of these archetypes for villainous characters):

    1. The Seductive Muse-uses sexuality and creativity as her driving force
    2. The Amazon-a protector of women, strong physically, loves traveling and exploring, competitive
    3. The Father's Daughter-feels she is an exceptional woman that does things others can't, smart and strategic
    4. The Nurturer-has a sense to help others, loves children and motherhood, needs purpose by taking care of others
    5. The Matriarch-a woman that takes charge and commands respect, stands up for those she loves and herself
    6. The Mystic-introspective, loves solitude and simplicity, sometimes attracted to the other-worldly or spiritual
    7. The Female Messiah-the path to love and enlightenment, life is for one purpose, usually a higher one
    8. The Maiden-never worries, playful and carefree, feels invulnerable

    These archetypes are being paraphrased of course. For deeper understanding of them, I highly recommend the book I suggested above. Each of these archetypes has an inverse, or a dark side, so they can be explored further or combined with other archetypes to make richer characters.

    I'm curious if anyone thinks there are any types of women that aren't being represented by the above archetypes? What else could be added?
     
  20. Nihal

    Nihal Vala

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    The most glaring omission I see: The tomboy! Hah!
     
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