3 hours ago
Friday, February 06, 2015
This post, by Marie Brennan, on the relative absence of women as characters in Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of The Wind, is well worth reading: The Absence of Women.
(H/t The Radish, where you will find many similar and equally excellent links.)
Brennan is by no means attacking Rothfuss or his novel. Rothfuss is by all accounts a pretty good guy (I've never met him); I like the book well enough, and so did she.
But the problem she describes in her post is one we encounter, often, in SF/F novels; it's also one many of us are guilty of. I know this because it's a problem I struggle with.
We've all been raised in a heteronormative culture, after all, those of us raised in the Western world. We've all been raised in a deeply racist, deeply kyriarchial culture. We've been fed a steady diet of media that shows us that one true story: only men matter. The one true hero matters. That one true hero is always male, always straight, always a white guy, always handsome.
And overwhelmingly, our hero is engaged in his one true hero quest: that's the story we get told, over and over, until we come to think it is the only story there is.
So when it comes to write our own stories, we have heads filled with this story, these tropes. Small wonder that these are the tropes, or that is the story, we find ourselves telling.
But we aren't, after all, just programmed creatures. We can tell new stories. We can ask ourselves if that trope or that story makes sense. And this is what Brennan points out, in her post; and this is what I have begun to do, over the past ten years, in my fiction. (Mainly thanks to my writing friends and family and to writing group members who have patiently called me out, over and over: Thanks, y'all!)
Ask yourself this, when you are writing your story, when you are working through the draft: Why is this character male? Why is he straight? Why is he white? Is there a reason?
Because if you don't ask this, most of your characters (unless you're very different from most of us) are going to be straight white males.
And then you're going to say, as many writers who do not examine their work say, "But I don't put people in my work based on sex! I just write characters! I'm not creating to a political quota! I'm writing stories!"
Only, of course, you are creating a political quota. It's just the one that got programmed into you when you weren't paying attention. It's the one that says only straight white kyriarchial men matter, and then everyone else matters only as a supporting character. Women are only barmaids and prizes. Gay people are only sassy best friends, to die in the second act. Black astronauts are there to be red-shirted. Disabled people don't even exist.
And you are also creating a lie.
Of course, all fiction is a lie; but fiction should be a lie that teaches us a truth. If your fiction is a lie that supports the notion that 80% of the world is straight white men, and that all the really important stories are about them, then you're writing about a world that doesn't exist, and isn't real.
Write about the world that is real* -- Write a world with women in it. Brown women. Brown men. Gay and bisexual and trans people. Disabled people. People who aren't from Ohio, for fuck's sake. Make some of these your main characters. Tell their stories.
You can also write about white straight men. Honest. (Despite wild claims to the contrary, no one wants to kill all the cisgendered white guys.) Just write the world in which the white guy is one of the people in the world, not the only guy (a la Mad Max!) in the landscape, standing there with all the fevered lights of your narrative focused on him.
That's all we're saying.
*SF/F about the real world -- what! But yes. All fiction, even SF/F, is ultimately about this world. I know, crazy talk, right?