Today, kids, I’m going to complain.
Specifically (and I do try, though often I fail, to be specific), I’m going to complain about the terrible sexist tropes that leech into otherwise fairly feminist writing. I know some people have issues with the word, so I’m going to use an actual dictionary definition so things don’t get sidetracked1.
The definition I mean when I refer to feminism, or a feminist piece of writing/character development is the lovely gender-neutral definition given in this Brittanica article:
“Feminism, the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.”
See there? Equality. That’s all I’m asking for—characters that get described and created with the same amount of respect and complexity, regardless of gender2.
Which is why I get so annoyed when urban fantasy—a genre marvellously filled with badass, get-shit-done ladies—reduces women to a stereotype that’s been outdated for at least sixty years now.
That’s right—I’m bitching about babies. Buckle up!
This post was actually inspired by my recent review of Fury by Rachel Vincent (no disrespect intended to the book, I enjoyed it, go read the whole Menagerie series right now!); I had to stop myself from getting really critical of a subplot of the book, and I realised why. Get enough books in a series with a female main character, and there will almost definitely be a pregnancy scare, a marriage that needs planning (in direct competition with the leading lady’s job) or—worst of all—a sexual assault. ‘Cause if a woman isn’t making a home, she’s being punished for it.
It’s gross, and I’m sick of it.
Jane Austen’s famous quote from Pride and Prejudice “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” always annoyed me; mainly in the way the woman was relegated to a non-entity in the marriage decision.
I’m not going to debate Pride and Prejudice, I haven’t read the book in years, I know a lot of people like it, and I will willingly admit that I haven’t studied Jane Austen or the book enough to comment on the themes. But! I would argue that modern media tends to flip right back to the idea of home, husband and baby as the key factors that a woman must require to be a complete and content human being.
I may have cured cancer, but will that cute guy at the coffee shop call me back? That’s all I’m thinking about! Maybe my mother will call to ask about grandchildren for no discernable reason³!
I’m not saying that female characters aren’t allowed to want kids, or a husband, or to work or sacrifice for those goals. Plenty of women do, and more power to them. I’m not saying pregnancy and the compromises and considerations it necessitates aren’t compelling, relatable plot points for a character to face. I’m just annoyed that a woman’s character arc seems to require a pregnancy, a (male) love interest, and a sacrifice of more than a little of the protagonist’s defining traits to be valid.
I don’t know how much of this rant will make it to the post I show the world, and I don’t know how I expect this trend to be stopped. I’m certainly not going to boycott the publishing industry, books are my favourite things, hell, some of these things happen in my favourite series! I suppose all I want is for authors, tv show writers, and all other sorts of creative people to stop shoehorning ‘lady problems’ into a character arc because the main character is a woman, despite it not being consistent with previous character development.
That seems like a small enough ask.
1I’m the only one that sidetracks on my blog!
2Yes, I’m including non-binary people in this definition, brief sidenote: if anyone has recommendations for good sci fi or fantasy with non-binary characters, share them with me! I’d love to read books with more diverse characters
³Pro tip! Offensive plot developments and dialogue is still offensive when it comes from the a character that’s a part of the less powerful group you’re demeaning with said developments/dialogue! (This goes for biased crap about race, sexuality, religion etc too)