“Strong” female characters, and why they’re bad for women

Paul Raven @ 03-03-2010

For all the writers reading along (and anyone else with an interest in the mechanics of modern storytelling), here’s a post at Overthinking It which cuts into the cardboard portrayals of “strong” women in modern film and television (and, by extension, in books). In a nutshell, a half-hearted accommodation of feminist demands has led to the “hottie with manskills” stereotype – which is a step up from the Damsel In Distress, but still massively unrepresentative of the spectrum of real people in the world.

… the feminists shouldn’t have said “we want more strong female characters.”  They should have said “we want more WEAK female characters.”  Not “weak” meaning “Damsel in Distress.”  “Weak” meaning “flawed.”

Good characters, male or female, have goals, and they have flaws.  Any character without flaws will be a cardboard cutout.  Perhaps a sexy cardboard cutout, but two-dimensional nonetheless.  And no, “Always goes for douchebags instead of the Nice Guy” (the flaw of Megan Fox’s character in Transformers) is not a real flaw.  Men think women have that flaw, but most women avoid “Nice Guys” because they just aren’t that nice.  So that doesn’t count.

So what flaws can female characters have?  Uh, I don’t know.  How about the same flaws a male character would have?

Written with plenty of snark, but that’s why it works. Essential reading for any writer, I’d say, if not for everyone. [via GeekFeminism]


Battered avatars – feminist statement or misogynist pandering?

Paul Raven @ 26-11-2009

"Battle Royale" Second Life avatar skinWith its ability to allow us to take on new forms, appearances and identities, the metaverse is opening up as a whole new arena for discussions about cultural perceptions. Here’s a fresh example: a Second Life avatar skin designer released a collection of skins named “Battle Royale” on to the market, which would make the female avatar wearing them look like they’d been in a pretty serious brawl – black eyes, bruises and grazes, that sort of thing. Cue angry protest from commentators decrying the skins as a potential glorification of domestic violence. [image borrowed from JuicyBomb]

As the designer made plain, there was no such intent – but offence is in the eye of the beholder in such incidents, and domestic abuse is a deservedly sensitive topic. SL fashionista Iris Ophelia makes the point that hardly anyone would consider making a fuss about the already numerous male avatar skins that portray a similarly battered appearance, despite the largely unreported incidences of male-victim domestic violence, and hypothesises that the incident actually underlines a less-observed double standard in our attitudes to abuse. She also sees battered avatars as a potentially feminist statement, a subversion of the perfect and unruffled female characters from combat-based computer games, for example.

Whichever side of that debate you favour, it’s interesting to consider the potential of the metaverse as a place where this sort if discussion can be had slightly more safely and comfortably than in “reality”; given the theoretical anonymity of each avatar, it may be easier to speak out as a victim of real-world abuse while spending time in a virtual space. But of course, anonymity works both ways[nsfw], as anyone who’s spent more than five minutes on the web already knows…


The Future Fire webzine announces feminist SF issue

Paul Raven @ 13-04-2009

Heads up, writer and readers alike – post-cyberpunk webzine The Future Fire has just started reading submissions for an issue dedicated to feminist science fiction, which will be published some time around the turn of the year. From their editorial:

An old slogan defines feminism as “the radical idea that women are human beings”. This is an important statement, the more so because it has to be explained in what sense this idea is radical. If we merely said that “women are human beings,” nobody would disagree; it’s an easy platitude. But that isn’t enough: feminism is the recognition that true equality, true freedom for both sexes requires the more radical idea that full human rights still need to be fought for. The rights of women are up there with the rights of minority religions, the rights of disadvantaged ethnicities, the rights of the poor, the rights of queer and transexual and polyamorous people, the rights of unbelievers, the rights of those who disagree with you. And the rights of men. And they all need to be fought for. (Just see the recent “Race Fail” controversy to see how wide some of the misunderstandings still are.)

Partly as a result of these thoughts, and partly because it’s something that has always been close to our hearts, we have decided to run a themed “feminist science fiction” issue of TFF toward the end of this year or the beginning of 2010 (as long as it takes us to acquire the requisite number of stories). By “feminist” we do not mean stories necessarily written by women or featuring female protagonists; what we are interested in are science fiction (or speculative) stories that address issues of gender, sexual identity and sexuality; stories that take the “radical idea” and do something about it; stories that can engage, empower, educate, and inspire men and women alike. And of course stories that challenge our expectations, that avoid cliché, that are beautiful and useful, that are social, political, and speculative cyberfiction.

Be sure to check out The Future Fire‘s regular submission guidelines before sending anything off… but otherwise, break a leg! TFF picks some pretty strong stories at the best of times, so this should turn out to be an issue of considerable interest. [via Feminist-SF]


Feminist SF blog carnival at SpaceWesterns – call for submissions

Paul Raven @ 02-10-2008

Attention, SF bloggers! We got an email from Nathan Lilly at SpaceWesterns:

I’m hosting the 22nd Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction on the topic of “Women in Space Westerns” and I was wondering if you (or anyone else at Futurismic) would care to submit a blog post to it. Check out the submission guidelines for more details.

I’m afraid my busy schedule precludes me participating, much as I’d like to get involved, but I thought I’d throw it open to Futurismic‘s readership – if you’re a blogger on subjects sf-nal, here’s a chance to get you writing in front of a wider audience!