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.

Being A Female Pilot

I’ve dealt with sexism a lot in the line of work I’ve been in for the last 9 years. That being technical support over the phone. I’m good at what I do. I get higher than average customer service scores, but I still get little old ladies that I overhear whispering to their spouses that “The boys do seem to know a little better than the women when it comes to these things” while I’m troubleshooting something with them. I’ve had women get on the phone and tell me without me saying anything but “Thank you for calling, my name is Lindsay, how may I help you?” that they didn’t want to speak to me, they wanted to speak to a man. And it’s always women saying these things. I’m sure the men think it, and it’s probably the reason I get more resistance from men as well as women than do my male colleagues, but they won’t say it out loud. I get called “Honey” and “Sweetie” by men on the phone. I think I got a marriage proposal once, or he might have just promised to come to my wedding, I can’t remember. That was when I fixed his TV after he swore at me for a half an hour.

Anyway, I’ve had a request for thoughts on my experiences being a female pilot. Well so far it’s not near so bad as being a female in tech support. But then, so far, I’m not dealing with the public. Like in tech support, my fellow pilots don’t doubt my abilities. Or, well, if they do, it’s legitimate because I’m still pretty new to it. I may have my licence, but I’m about as skilled a pilot as a kid that just got their drivers licence. They’re fine to drive as long as they’re careful and pay attention to what they’re doing, but you don’t so much want to see them headed straight for downtown in the big city the moment the papers are signed. They joke that you have a “license to learn” but it’s not really a joke. But that’s not sexism.

But fellow pilots have not treated me with any disrespect. In fact, it seems like once you get into aviation, fellow pilots crawl out of the woodwork, almost – people you knew a long time, but didn’t know they’d had their private licence at one point. And they’re all automatically your friend. One of the first people to encourage me to pursue it was one of the guys at work. When he mentioned he’d done a private license, and I wistfully commented how much I’d love to learn to fly, he said, well there’s a school I hear is good, you should go check it out, and suddenly it was a real thing, not abstract wishing anymore. There was a place, and a name of a school, and a person who it didn’t occur to him to think I couldn’t do it.

And then there was my dad, with his worrying that no one would hire me because I’m a woman. This is a man, keep in mind, who has been self employed his entire life, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what the phrase “affirmative action” means. He did agree to help me with co-signing student loans, though, so I like to think that his little outburst was a panicked oh-god-my-little-girl-is-going-out-to-do-something-dangerous-but-I-can’t-admit-I’m-worried-for-her-safety thing.

So, among people who know aeroplanes, things have been pretty amicable, short of one of the newer dispatchers asking me what he could do for me, in a way that made me think he thought I must be lost despite me walking confidently and purposefully toward the plane I was about to check out and take flying. But he might have said that to anyone he didn’t recognize – I can’t say, so I give people the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, my experiences so far are going to be coloured by two main things.

First, that I’m still in flight school and 99% of my interactions are with people getting paid to be nice to me. Not that I think any of them don’t believe in me as much as they do my fellow male students. It’s just when someone says, “Well obviously they’ll say that, they’re making money off of you,” I can’t deny that’s true.

The other thing I have to keep in mind is that St. Andrews recently won the title of “most female friendly airport”. It would be kind of sad if I were to be training at an airport with a title like that (and I understand Harv’s air was very much involved in that) and got slammed with sexism at every turn. So I also have to recognise that my experiences at St. Andrews may very well be more welcoming than at other airports.

So a lot of the anecdotes of sexism I know of come from other pilots. One, Cessna Chick, had a post one day about the reaction she got from some friends when she told them she was taking flight training. She’s dating a pilot, and these were the girlfriends and wives of his pilot friends, and their reaction was to smile and say “Oh, I went through that phase too.” Ugh.

The female instructors I’ve talked to all laugh about older male student who, the first time they showed up for lessons with them asked, “So where’s the instructor?” Sandra also told me about people asking her what she does for a living. When she says “I fly aeroplanes,” they have a tendency to answer “Oh, that must be exciting. What does your husband think of that?”

I’m sure I’ll get more of this stuff in the future. When I do, I’ll know how to deal with it – I’ve dealt with it before in tech support. But so far it’s been great. I’ve never been in such a supportive environment in my life.

PSA: Sexism and Women in Tech Support

*sigh* I was discriminated against today.

This post is not at all writing related, but it’s about sexism and the ridiculous places it comes from sometimes.

I work in internet, TV and cell phone tech support, and sadly, today was not by a long shot the first time I’ve had such a call: Lady gets on the line, has already worked herself up into a tizzy, and when I answer, and give my name, she says she wants to speak to a technician.

I’m a technician, I say, I can help you.

And then she says “No offense” but she wants to speak to a man.

In the past I’ve argued with these people, and eventually got them to hang up, but I figured I’d try something different. After failing to assure this woman that I could help her as well as any man, I let her rant hoping I could get enough information to help her anyway (at my company, we’re often nice that way, even if you’re being a douche – our bosses like to see it, it’s a job — we’re professionals).

Then when I got a chance to talk, I told her I was sorry she’d had so much difficulty with her service, but (in a very firm and level voice, not my nicey nice voice) that I was indeed very much offended that she didn’t believe that I could help her because I was a woman.

It can be really fun calling people on bullshit – she backpedaled then and said she was sorry, she shouldn’t have said that. We’re Canadians, and if there’s anything we can’t abide, it’s offending people.

Again, it’s sad that I get this “I want to talk to a man” as often as I do. And I honestly don’t recall ever getting it from a man. That’s the screwy thing, it’s always women who will come out with that. I’ve talked to men who didn’t think I could help them, and I could tell they had been expecting and hoping to talk to a man, but they won’t say it out loud. Women will. We’re shooting ourselves in the female empowering foot, ladies, come on.

And I’ll let you in on a secret. Those ladies may think that the girl doing tech support isn’t as capable as the guy, but it’s actually likely to be the opposite, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because women are smarter than men. No, it’s because of those closed minded individuals who give women such a hard time working in the industry (not my coworkers, not my supervisors – they know I know my shit – it’s the customers on the phone who lack faith in the XX chromosome). It’s because there is so much more tolerance from customers for a man who hasn’t a clue what he’s doing, than there is for a woman. Which means, the only women who stick around are the ones who *really* know what they’re doing. They’re typically above average in know-how in the call center, just because if they weren’t, they’d get twice the abuse a man would take.

And this is why it’s still hard to be a woman these days, with all the laws made to protect us from discrimination, there’s still the asshattery that laws can’t stop people from committing, and other women are just as guilty of holding us down as men.

*sigh* Going back to writing now.  Gonna type out the edits on that chapter where the brothel madam complains about how men oppress her.