Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Limitations of Womanhood in Fantasy

The excellent and insightful N.K. Jemisin has posted some thoughts on Womanhood in Fantasy:
Let’s put aside more technical definitions of character strength (like agency) and focus on gender roles. I see a lot of women in fantasy who are power brokers, good fighters, sexually assertive or dominant, technically/scientifically and sometimes magically competent — all good things. All in defiance of the kinds of stereotypes that have plagued women in America*. But I’m beginning to wonder if, along with rejecting the stereotypes imposed on women by society, we haven’t also rejected all characteristics commonly ascribed to womanhood — including those that women might choose for themselves. Why is it hard for a female character to be considered strong if she’s self-effacing or modest, for example? Lots of women who are trailblazers and asskicking heroesare modest. This is all of a piece with America’s ongoing devaluation of traditional women’s gender roles, like being a housewife. (Or a househusband; we also devalue men who chose “women’s work”.) I can’t remember the last American fantasy I read that starred a housewife. I’m hoping there are some out there — recommendations welcome — but offhand, I can’t think of any.But housewives can be great characters, if they’re written right.

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