Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The System

I want to talk to you about women in Fantasy. From the Kick-Ass Heroine of Urban Fantasy to the Strong-Minded Woman of Epic Fantasy there seems to be a vogue on for women that are Taking Names and Bucking The System. And it's kind of annoying me.

Don't get me wrong. There's some really great stuff out there of that exact variety. I, for one, love Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson novels. And Steampunk pirate chicks are just plain cool. 

But sometimes it seems like authors create social systems just so their female character/s can tromp on it. Or, worse, they've stuck their characters into a world with the gender roles we've come to expect for no other reason than the fact that its normal for fantasy and have their female characters prance about high-kicking the established system with barely a nod to the fact that this is going on. If you want to have a world where women use swords and curse and do all sorts of what-have-you then do it. It's fantasy. You can make it that way. Really. And if you don't want that to be your world, then how about seeing some consequences. 

I'd like to see some strong voices from female characters who are living in The System. Dealing with it. Hell, even using it. Because, quite frankly, even in our days of Womens Lib and Feminist ideals, that's what most of us do. The System is different for us than it was, say, 100 years ago but that doesn't change the fact that we're still living in it, and, on a day to day basis, doing very little to challenge it. 

There are some examples in this in contemporary fiction, mostly, I think from the epic/machinations-of-power sub genre. But a lot of these women are either appendages to men or, quite frankly, manipulative bitches. I'd like to see a woman of the straight up heroine variety deal with living in The System. I'd like to see what that means for her. And, okay, so maybe she's gonna have to high-kick it a little. After all, isn't that what heroes do?


  1. IMO Mercy does operate within the system. I mean, she kick's butt (yes) and gets in over her head (yes) but anyone familiar with Coyote would expect no less. The mythology that informs the story is "part of the system," as it informs the world :D I think the challenges the character makes to the world need to be consistent with character and world. A good example (I think) of this having class-based reasons rather than gender ones is Sanderson's Mistborn series. But...gender aside, I think this is a marker of American storytelling. We like the underdog who changes the world. No, it isn't realistic. Do I want to see heroines who change the system from within? Hell yes. But I think we see as many heroes "bucking the system" as we do Heroines. It's just that statistically, right now, more women are "readers" than are men. So it's wiser to write more female main characters. But Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, Deckard from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," and so many others seem to indicate that this characteristic predates the gender thingie :( so (crossing fingers) the fact that we're looking for characters that operate differently can mean that we are undergoing a very significant shift (or I'm just hoping for it :P )

  2. I would agree that for the most part Mercy works within the system of her world. And we do get to see consequences for some of her more spectacular feats of decision making. Which is probably why I like the series so much ;)

  3. :D oh-- and I noticed the double up, lol ;) good going hehe