The pervasive dumbing down and sexualized view of women in main character roles for science fiction and fantasy has always bothered me. It’s hard to find a main female character that is strong for herself, not because she’s a wife, or a mom, or a sister, but because she’s a woman and women can be strong just like men. It’s also hard to find a woman who isn’t attached to a man romantically in some way. It must be a pre-requisite to hook up before you can save the world.
Take the trilogy I just finished reading by Anne Bishop. The Pillars of the World series starts out looking like a veritable buffet of strong women standing up against an evil patriarchal force bent on wiping out all independent women, and giving complete control over their behavior, lives, and even the ability to enjoy sex, to the men. And this is great. Go women.
But the women fighting back are scary, purposefully scary with their power. The men fear them. The women who don’t have super awesome powers fear them. Nobody thanks them for saving them. Also, there is only one woman in the whole trilogy who actually works on her own, without a man to back her up in some way or sleep with her. And she gets killed, but not before being transformed into a soul-eating creature of nightmares. Even the super-powerful scary women hook up with men by the end of the series, or are already hooked up.
I use the term hook up, because it implies to me an unnecessary plot device meant to make the characters more likable, because, hey look, they’re falling in love with that guy over there that they just met, so they can’t be all bad or scary.
If you’re going to use strong, powerful, sometimes scary women as your main characters, then use them. Make them independent, make them powerful and awe inspiring. But don’t belittle them by making it inevitable that they will fall in love, marry, and have babies and a gentle home-life. Puh-lease! Why can’t they keep on adventuring? Why can’t they keep on searching out the injustices of their worlds, and using their influence and power to change how people think?
This is a sensitive topic for me, and I get angry just thinking about it sometimes. Where are the strong female leads that go it alone? Are there no Lone Rangerettes? There has been an influx lately of supernatural heroines from the scifi/fantasy book community. And a lot of these are powerful women with great magic abilities of some kind or other. But every single one of them (that I can think of off the top of my head) are messed up about men, by men, for men, etc. Romantically, I mean. They always have to be in a relationship. And in a country where the rate of moms raising their kids as single parents is on the rise, and the age women are getting married is getting older, while they go through life and have careers, where are the women who are getting it done their way, without a guy around, helping or hindering.
Not to say, men aren’t necessary. I wouldn’t mind reading about a relationship that was actually equal, where they were working together toward a common goal and happened to be sleeping together or married or whatever. Where they weren’t making kissy-faces at each other every ten seconds in the middle of a dual arcana, or running off to the nearest bedroom to “prove their love for each other”. Why can’t he prove his love by doing the dishes or mopping up the most recent demon goo stain off the hard-wood floors?
Maybe my complaint isn’t entirely about every woman having her man, although that does piss me off. It’s more about every woman and her man showing they care by screwing each other’s brains out every chance they get. What happened to being a helpmate for each other?
To name a few of the newest, most prominent female authors writing about strong female characters, who can’t get things done without a man.
Laurell K. Hamilton has both Anita Blake and Merry Gentry. Both of whom not only have their man, they have several of them. And by several, I mean, double digits. And by double digits, I mean, her books have degenerated into 250 pages of porn with 50 pages of plot. She turned Anita Blake, who started out a woman with a calling and no time for bedroom shenanigans, into a woman whose life depended on her spending 80-90 percent of the story on her back. Or front. Or standing. At least Merry Gentry started at as she was meant to go, as the only sexual release for an entire harem of men. And Merry’s life depends on her ability to get knocked up as soon as possible by one of these guys. Also, the only other female character in the entire series is her aunt, who wants to kill her, or adopt her.
Kim Harrison has Rachel Morgan, who has gone through a couple of boyfriends in the course of five books, all of whom were obviously bad for her. But she never learns. It is her fatal flaw, that she can’t seem to keep the bad things they’ve done in the front of her mind when they’re around, asking her to bend over backwards to help them. But hey, she’s also possibly about to sleep with her female roommate. I’d like to see that actually developed into a relationship.
Kelley Armstrong has the Women of the Otherworld series, which is all about strong female characters. Every one of them is involved with a guy. Take Elena for example. She’s a werewolf. She’s married to the guy who turned her unwillingly into a werewolf, after years of struggle trying to come to terms with him biting her because he wanted a werewolf girlfriend. She finally came to her senses(sarcasm) and decides to marry the guy who changed her life completely, making her a pariah of normal society and impossible for her to live a normal life ever again. It’s sort of like those women who turn around and fall in love with their rapist. Doesn’t make sense.
Then there’s Eve the witch, who is actually a pretty kick-ass lady. Too bad she’s caught up in this cat-mouse romantic thing with Kris, her former lover. She can’t just turn out to be a really cool superhero? She has to have a messy relationship with an on-again, off-again love-interest.
One of the newest main characters is Jaime the ghost whisperer, who is forty years old, and apparently loses all self-control, common sense, and said forty years of life experience when put next to a boy she likes. Her love interest is Jeremy the werewolf, and I actually liked him, until the author dumbed him down to replace intelligence with hormones. They could have been two mature, experienced adults entering into a loving and romantic relationship, both of them know what they were getting into, understand that they each have lives already. But instead it was turned into this raunchy romp where they hop into bed left and right, and dirty talk during life-threatening situations.
These are just a few of the current popular reads. But they are popular, and the authors are female. Now, I understand that real-life relationships are messy and confusing, but these are supposed to be extra-ordinary women. And they appear to never learn from their mistakes. They pick the same kind of men to fall for, or they go back to the men they fell for before, and they spread their legs at the drop of a hat. Where are the relationships ba
sed on mutual respect and understanding, with sex an important but not all-important part?
Next, I’ll post about some of the current popular fantasy books with some strong, unattached women in them. Hopefully I can find some.