scribal_goddess: (scribbles)
I really should be working on Thesis or Poor Unfortunate Souls, but... it's been so long since I've played "Spot the Fallacy." So you get an educated rant/freeform essay/rebuttal.

Sexism and Wish-Fulfillment:

I found this quoted recently.

"A smoking .45 and six corpses at his feet is a male fantasy. A woman will settle for one live hero at hers.

I’m sorry, but no.
I read that on a usually intelligent, pro-feminist blog. Granted, it was:

1. A quote from elsewhere, specifically a piece by Daphne Clair in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women.

2. An interview on a blog about good and bad romance novels, and they were using it in context as a way to explain why so many romance novels and romantic plotlines feature “bad boys,” or at least a subplot of a man finally “settling down” with a woman, treated as a contest between the genders wherein the woman ‘wins’ by causing the man to realize that he wants monogamy with her.

3. Otherwise a pretty good interview that can be accessed here. (It’s about the prevalence of virgin heroines in romance, and hits both the “lazy writing” and “society’s fetishization of good sex as the only indicator of a truly worthwhile romantic relationship” angles.(1))

It still strikes me as a mode of thought that needs correcting, since assigning gender to wish fulfillment or escapism in literature is a generalization wrapped in a stereotype stuffed in a fallacy.

The first point is that this false dichotomy is traditionally heteronormative to the point of being a caricature, along the lines of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” I’m not even going to go into gender identity here – I’m not qualified to do a deep analysis – but the primary fallacy of categorizing broad swathes of the population and saying that they all want the same thing. There are plenty of people, including men, who don’t necessarily like James Bond type violent thrillers, and women who don’t like romance novels. The assumption here seems to be that people’s literary tastes are primarily influenced by their gender above all else, and that women’s reading in particular is mostly influenced by their (presumably hetero) sexuality. The idea that it paints the typical male reader as stereotypically bloodthirsty and violent, at least in his paperback wish-fulfillment fantasies, is just as bad, but I’ll save that for later in my rant. What about people who *gasp* don’t give a damn about sex, a relationship (or monogamy), or “taming” anyone? Granted, you could say that those people are in the minority and don’t fit the standard romance novel demographic, given that they’re not all heterosexual middle class females with somewhat sheltered upbringings and romantic aspirations, so romance novelists and those discussing romance novels can safely ignore them. That seems a bit exclusionary to me, because it should be pretty clear to anyone connected with reading, writing, media or fandom that people don’t have to be able to project their whole selves into a character to enjoy them. Plus, what people want for their favorite characters isn’t necessarily what they want for themselves.

Secondly, I’d like to point out the huge popularity of action-oriented fandoms among the female population. Works like Lord of the Rings and Star Trek and Sherlock, starring primarily male main characters(2), varying degrees of sausagefest-ness in their supporting roles, and plotlines that feature fighting, exploration, and crime, have plenty of fangirls. In fact, fanfiction for all of the above is overwhelmingly written by girls and women. And while there is a lot of shipping going on in this fanfiction, there’s also a lot of the original action and adventure premises. In fact, since very few shipping fics that don’t exist solely to have two characters do the deed can avoid including these elements, I’d say that there’s an overwhelming presence of action and adventure plotlines. Female authors writing about female characters and focusing on adventure, exploration, intrigue, and action are also very common – see any of Tamora Pierce’s books, approximately half the works of Diana Wynne Jones, and Anne Mc. Caffery’s works outside of Pern. Check out Ursula K. Le Guin’s more recent books, especially the Gifted universe, or Madeline L’Engle’s heroines, for whom coming unstuck in time, or rescuing their family members from diabolically conformist planets most definitely does not take a backseat to romance.

Making the same point, but in reverse, how many male authors have written romantic plotlines as significant chunks of their series? Taking the examples above, J.R.R. Tolkien may not have written much romance into the final draft of Lord of the Rings, given that the only romance that we witness during the plot is that of Eowyn and Faramir, but had romances – Beren and Luthien, Elwing and  Eärendil the Mariner, Arwen and Aragorn – play an enormous role in the backstory and future of his world. As far as Star Trek goes, how many points during the original series alone were potential or past love interests brought in for Kirk, Spock, or McCoy? Sherlock, being an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, which contains one of the few authorially confirmed asexual characters in literature, is also a little bit low on main character romance, unless you happen to ship Sherlock and John. Still, several attempts are made by Moffat and Gatiss to bring in competent female characters as love interests: Molly Hooper and Sarah Sawyer stand out, though John’s string of easily-dismissed temporary girlfriends serve very little narrative function except to show the passing of time. The third season will supposedly see John married, as he was in the original stories, to Mary Morstan. And there are plenty more male authors who devote a significant amount of their male protagonists’ time to romance, successful or not. Poe is perhaps the most famous for his protagonists’ borderline obsession with the women in their lives: read Ligea, Annabel Lee, Berenice, Eleonora… anything he wrote that’s named after a woman, actually. Alexandre Dumas had romance at the heart of his “historical romances,” relying on it to provide motivation for his protagonists and pathos to their opponents. D.J. Mac Hale, Timothy Zahn, and Jim Butcher all have significant romantic plotlines in their series, and they all take care to have their female characters competent and plot-relavant.

Thirdly, I’ll put the final nail in the coffin, by listing the fondest wishes of some major characters which directly contradict the false dichotomy that female fantasies are romantic or domestic, while male fantasies are adventurous or full of action. Please note that some of these are not the case for the whole plotline, but they’re significantly large chunks.

Keladry Mindelan, from Tamora Pierce’s Tortall Universe: Become the kingdom’s second-ever lady knight. (Alanna of Trebond also counts: she wanted to be a knight, but had to pretend to be a boy throughout her training to get there.)
Vierran, House of Guaranty, from Diana Wynne Jone’s Hexwood, itself a mind-screw wrapped in an unreliable narrator wrapped in a double take: Bring down the corrupt Reigners. Preferably while not getting herself or anyone she knows killed.
Michael Carpenter, from Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: To be able to spend more time with his (enormous) family, hopefully in a world where it’s safe enough for him to do so. Granted, he’s a supporting character, but a very major one.
D’Artagnan, from Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers: He has three major goals throughout the book. The first is to become one of his majesty’s musketeers, the second is to chivalrously protect his queen’s reputation, the third is to woo and later rescue his lady love.

You don’t even have to write characters of your own gender to get it:

Eowyn of Rohan, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Defend her country. It’s seriously that simple – attack Rohan and you’d better believe this lady will be riding to slay you.
Peeta, from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games: Although he’s got a pretty general goal shared by all the tributes (don’t die,) he spends a huge portion of the book being crazy about Katniss, and it’s largely due to that that he can’t accept the idea that she might die in the arena.(3)

In conclusion, I think we can safely throw out the idea that a particular genere or theme inherently appeals to a specific gender. Fiction is meant to be inclusive and, above all, entertaining: if your readers care about the characters and the world you present, they should be pleased to read more whether you send everyone out to sabotage the evil empire or whether you finally get those two characters – you know which ones, don’t play dumb – together. Including action shouldn’t be done halfassedly in order to “widen the fanbase” and neither should adding an irrelevant romance.

(1) I’ll save this – and the rest of the interview - for another rant later. Suffice it to say that I found this a very interesting interview in multiple ways, though I have more rant fuel for later with this quote:

[on virgin heroines] “There are a lot in categories in particular that annoy the shit out of me: usually the ones that have reached the age of 25 or whatever without ever once experiencing the least flutter of sexual desire. It's not so much because I find them unbelievable as immature - are they really in a position to engage in this intense committed long term relationship?

The Interviewee is clearly falsely conflating emotional maturity with sexual desire, as if one cannot be had without the other. While at least one person has acknowledged that romance doesn’t work if both partners aren’t mature enough for the relationship, which is a real problem in romances that I’ve seen, the rest of the quote shows a lack of awareness.

(2) Yes, I know about later seasons of Star Trek featuring significantly more recurring  female characters than the original series, but the fact stands that the most recent non-reboot series, Enterprise, still featured a 70% male bridge crew, wherein females received exactly the same percentage of representation as nonhumans. Janeway’s bridge crew likewise had only three female members at any given time, giving them a 66.6(repeating)% male presence, which ties with Voyager as having the highest female presence in the bridge crew in the whole franchise.  At any given time, at least one of the females on a Star Trek bridge crew, assuming that there are more than one, will be a twofer demographic: female and some species of alien, cyborg, empath, etc.

(3) No, I haven’t read the second or third book of The Hunger Games. I haven’t seen any movies either. I liked the first one okay, but I’m not a major fan of extremely obvious and absurdly powerful dystopian societies in my literature, so I never looked for the next few. In case you were wondering, I didn't finish 1984 either.

TL;DR – Don’t make gender-based generalizations on the internet. Somebody like me might find them and use you as an example. 


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