The Problem With The Warrior Woman

I’ve been thinking about this the last couple of days, and it’s because of one of the last main characters I was working with, and the new one that I’ll be working with for NaNoWriMo in November. They’re female characters with dreams, and their stories are about them chasing those dreams and the obstacles they run into, and what they’re willing to do to achieve their dreams.

A lot lately, I’ve seen agents and readers alike saying they want to see “fully fleshed out characters with dreams and goals.” Whether they say it or not, they usually mean that those dreams and goals should be more than getting married and having children.

I’m gonna grab some examples: Hiccup from “How To Train Your Dragon”: at the opening of the story, he wants more than anything to be a dragonslayer like all the rest of his tribe. Taran, from the Prydain Chronicals, in the opening scene of the series is complaining about making horseshoes because he wants so badly to make a sword and learn to fight like his hero Prince Gwydion. It’s fairly common for a young main character to dream of heroism. Sure, they almost always regret it later when they realize how much they’ve bitten off, but that’s beside the point.

If they’re male.

But female characters? Look at a couple: Katniss – she’s a warrior – did she choose it? Hells no. How about Xena, Princess Warrior? She was driven to it after being shattered by the destruction of her village.

And someone’s going to point out “But male characters are often forced or driven to become warriors too!” But that’s not actually the problem. See, there seems to be some equality in the cases where characters are forced into the warrior role – at least it’s commonly done with both male and female characters. Where the inequality appears is in the former case – when it comes to hopes and dreams. Can anyone even think of a story where a female character dreamed of being a hero and went off to chase that dream?

If fact, can anyone think of any story where a female character dreams of taking on a role that is typically filled by a man, and goes on to chase her dreams? And again, I’m not talking about cases where she’s either forced to, or driven to by a negative experience – for example, a woman’s police officer father is killed in action, and she feels driven to take his place or finish his unfinished business in some way. I’m talking about a young woman who idolizes her police officer father and wants to be like him.

I’m not saying there’s a problem with the stories being told. I’m saying there’s a problem with the stories that are not being told. We’re flooded with stories of women making desperate choices to protect those they love, fighting for the tiny shreds of happiness the world offers and then rips away. Women’s dreams in fiction are the simple humble dreams – they just want to live a simple, peaceful life and the events of the story tear that away from them. And yes, there are male characters with those simple, humble dreams too, but that’s not the problem. The problem is we so seldom see stories with female characters who walk onto the set and say I want something, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get it.

Well, not unless what she wants has something to do with a man, of course. Belle from Beauty and the Beast wants so much more than this provincial life, but it turns out what she was looking for was just a different man than the one she was first presented. Ariel? Part of that world means specifically part of Prince Eric’s world.

I think in the near future, there might be some shift in the popularity of this sort of thing. Dystopias are hot right now, and I think that reflects the hopelessness that my generation feels. But I think, or at least I hope, that things will shift towards something more positive, and we’ll see more characters who dream about a life that’s better than what they have. Characters who dare to dream of making the world a better place, or just dream of something more for themselves than get married and pop out kids.

In any case, I’m crossing my fingers that it’s going to spark something in the hearts of my readers, because that’s what I write, and I can’t help it.

Thoughts On Women In Geekdom, Cosplay, And Steampunk (and Dieselpunk) As A Response

Ok, so a dickhead made a dick move the other day, and made a dick post on facebook.

Ok, I don’t need to reiterate everything that’s being said all over the internet, but John Scalzi had some great snarky tweets about it. He’s awesome for defending women in geekdom and women in general. My husband has the same feelings, and it’s one of the many reasons I love him, of course. And anyway, the internet is kinda coming down on this poor dipshit’s head anyway, so I don’t think I even need to. The internet’s good that way.

But it got me thinking about women, and how women are wedging their way into the world of geekdom that has traditionally been a haven for white males. I recall friends in my D&D group walking into 7-11 with PHBs in their bags and one of the other customers going “Hey, you guys play D&D? You should come play with us, we have a girl in our group.” And my friends, who are a bit more mature than the typical geek crowd, perhaps, going, “Good for you, we have three of them.”

I’ve never been in cosplay. I love dressing up in costumes, but never saw myself as a character in a book, or comic or movie. So when I started going to cons, I made costumes like a medieval princess, and when I wore my wedding dress with the white cloak, I called myself The Snow Queen.

Last week I went to Comic con for the first time ever. Won’t go again – lineups were far too long, and it was far to crowded for me to enjoy it. But there were some awesome costumes, and yeah, there were some attractive girls dressed in some revealing stuff. Those are the brave ones who are comfortable enough with their bodies to do that.

But there was also something else, that I wasn’t expecting. There were multiple women dressed as Batman. Women dressed as Robin. Women dressed as Superman. I didn’t see one single Princess Leia in her metal bikini, I swear to all the gods, but I did see one woman dressed as Han Solo.

A few months ago, I discovered that one of my cousins, who I live too far away from to know very well, is into cosplay. She has an amazing FFVII cosplay costume. She cosplays Cloud.

I think what this is saying is that we women are trying to tell the comic book and gaming industry that we’re not happy with the female characters they’re creating. We don’t want to dress up like sluts in order to conform to your fantasies, but look what you’re giving us to work with.

Then there’s Steampunk. There were a couple of Steampunk tables, and they were dressed up. But with Steampunk, there isn’t as much material where there’s definite images of the characters to cosplay. And within the Steampunk community, it seems to be more the norm to make up your own character or alter ego. Which results in something far, far more friendly to women. A woman going Steampunk can go anywhere from a corset an bustle, to a lab coat and safety goggles, to a geisha kimono with a clockwork fan, to coveralls, flight jacket and flight goggles. And none of it needs to look slutty. In fact, the victorian and edwardian times that the look intends to anachronize (if that’s not a word, it is now), is all about the prim and proper, girl’s-got-to-protect-her-reputation sort of feel.

That and the Steampunk and Dieselpunk communities have never, to my knowledge, been the exclusively male community that geekdom at large has been. There’s never been that attitude that we have to keep the girls from taking over what he have here.

I’ve seen lots of women into Steampunk these days, but it’s not a girl’s thing either. I’m not sure what the numbers would be, but I’d bet the involvement rates of both genders to be fairly close to 50/50, and that’s something you don’t see in a lot of communities.

Which is really cool.