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Feminist Rage Page
Equality never looked so pissed.
I am a bitter Fantasy fan (now with recs) 
26th-Dec-2009 01:05 pm
I have been reading Fantasy written by English and American authors ever since I was fourteen. It is my favourite genre, and most of my favourite books are Fantasy books. This genre was my cure for sadness, loneliness, and boredom ever since I discovered it. And even though I love that genre and spend quite an amount of time defending its literary merits, most of the writers who do write Fantasy suck at the same thing, keep on sucking and make pots of money while doing so. Especially male writers are, when it comes to their few female characters, by and large, lazy, unapologetic morons uninterested in any kind of realism.

The only male Fantasy writers I can think of who manages believable female characters are Gregory Maguire and Terry Pratchett (and I'm grateful if any of you can point me towards others who manage to not fail). It never ceases to amaze me that it would be so bloody hard to write about human beings that, given that they easily comprise fifty percent of the population, one is certain to have interacted with at some point. Both do have strong female characters that are strong on their own terms without necessarily being eye-candy or supporters of male characters only. What is more depressing is that many female writers copy those parts of the genre that are hell-bent on turning female characters into brainless, decorative, supportive tokens (Anne McCaffrey ARFFF).

Even readers with a background in feminism seem so depressingly easily pleased and make a point of noting that there are female characters who are not decoration as soon as they are there at all. As long as these characters are there, as long as they do something at all, writers get kudos for including "strong female characters". I think that term has been used so often it has been rendered meaningless. If they do feature "strong female characters", one or two strong female characters that are included for whatever reason are really not enough to tip the balance for the rest of the book. If, throughout the story, female characters are treated as decoration, pieces of flesh or house elves, even the most bad-ass female will not rectify the fail when it comes to the other characters (looking at you again, Anne McCaffrey).

And fandom, which in many cases easily offers a break from canon fails due to the creativeness of readers, is no help here. Judging by a rough look at numbers of fanfiction submissions by pairing especially with regards to Harry Potter, most female readers don't seem to care as long as there are ~* hawt *~ male characters they can write trivial, character-exploring fanfiction about that centres on one taking care of the emotional and sexual needs of the other. Only about male characters, mind, because "the female characters in that fandom are so uninteresting". A baffling excuse, given the creative self-confidence of fandom - fandoms that manage to write novel-length stories about characters that never spoke more than three sentences together in a novel ought not to have a problem with that and welcome the challenge. 

But apparently, characters tainted by femaleness are not worth writing or thinking about, because there are no interesting stories to tell about women that aren't about the fact that they are women in a male world, and because fetishizing male-on-male interaction is just "more interesting"/"my personal preference".

EDIT: You guys are awesome, thank you so much for all the recommendations! 

I'll list them here so we have them in one place.

28th-Dec-2009 08:10 am (UTC)
UGH, Mercedes Lackey. I have to add a caveat for her 500 Kingdoms novels for heterocentrism, 'justified' by the guiding magic of the universe. Also, obnoxiously obvious naming.

Also, definitely trigger warnings for rape on the Arrows trilogy, the Vanyel trilogy, Kethry and Tarma's backstories, et cetera.
[trigger warning]

I mean, Tarma's entire clan is killed, she's raped, tortured, and then gets all vengeance-y and literally turns asexual. And Kethry's rape-as-backstory comes up ONLY for her to have a Confrontation with her rapist, where she figures out he's a worthless piece of trash and instantly gets over it. And of course, all Talia's trauma over being RAPED AND TORTURED is healed by her boyfriend's (and soulmate's!) magic penis.

[end trigger warning]
28th-Dec-2009 09:30 am (UTC)

I'll, er, remove the recommendation until someone recommends a specific book, then, shall I? This sounds just HORRID.
28th-Dec-2009 05:30 pm (UTC)
See, that wasn't even the Tarma episode I was thinking of. I was thinking of the one with the demon (?) and magically changing her outward personality and appearance.

Yeah, I have serious, serious problems with Lackey as a feminist or queer-friendly writer, although I am still sort of fond of Kerowyn and Tarma and Kethry (although not how Lackey treats the later two).

[trigger/spoiler warning]

...honestly, I can't think of a lot of the Valdemar or Gryphon books that don't have rape. It's one of her favorite plot devices All the stuff with the, um, I forget their name--the super-magic Vale people? With the pretty gay wizard and Darkwind's angsty gay father and what happens to them?

[end trigger/spoiler warning]

(Well, The Silver Gryphon was pretty okay, probably because it was mostly a survival story in a jungle, iirc. But some of the other Gryphon books were not so.)

Her more recent Valdemar books may or may not be better, but I gave up on them a while ago. I must confess I am not exactly a fan of soulmates or set-ups with the Perfect Kingdom of Goodness With Magic Horses (Valdemar) versus the Kingdoms of Evil (although she did somewhat subvert that with Karse--by giving them a female ruler, apparently all it takes for a kingdom to go from Evil to Good).

Her non-Valdemar books that I've read have been considerably better and less triggery (with Valdemar, I think she got stuck writing in a poorly constructed world she probably came up with when she was a teenager, with tropes that speak to teenagers), but I'd still call them solidly mediocre and not particularly feminist. I haven't read any of her co-written urban fantasy, though I'm kind of skeeved about appropriating Bloody Mary et al. from real street kids to stick into a fantasy novel.
28th-Dec-2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
I haven't read any of her co-written books, but I have read her Wizards of London series, which has incredibly obnoxiously obvious theme naming (seriously, one book has a Water Master named Marina and an evil Satanist witch named Arachne), and race issues in one of them, with two magical Indian women, one of whom is Miss Evil McBadPerson. But ignoring that one IN ITS ENTIRETY and aside from the theme naming, they're not bad. Retellings of fairy tales with the princesses kicking ass and taking names. Though Phoenix and Ashes, being a Cinderella retelling, needs an abuse trigger warning for the treatment of the main character by her stepmother. And well, 500 Kingdoms I already mentioned ridiculous heterocentrism. x_x

And she keeps getting rec'd to me as a 'feminist fantasy' author! WTF?
28th-Dec-2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
I read a couple of the fairytale retellings...I vaguely recall liking the Swan Lake one okay. But her books really don't blow me away. (The cover artist for most of them, on the other hand, I adore. She does Michelle West's covers, too, and a bunch of others.)

And she keeps getting rec'd to me as a 'feminist fantasy' author! WTF?

I find it baffling for the same reason I find Anne McCaffrey being recommended for her female characters baffling. Oh, god, the gender dynamics and horrible sexual orientation fail of Pern! (Not to mention racefail and sciencefail.) But eh, I guess if you don't think too much about what happens to their female characters and the underlying themes of the books, they do write superficially strong female protagonists.
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