Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice, not . . .
I’m thrilled to be contributing to these brilliant conversations about strong women, and celebrating the launch of Mary Victoria’s ‘Samiha’s Song’. This is such a hot topic – how do we write strong women. The most interesting thing is, we have to ask the question at all.
Back in the day, strong women, (where strong equals powerful/autonomous) were evil. Insert social subtext: It’s bad for women to be powerful, or worse perhaps, only bad women can be powerful). Snow White’s step mother was very strong but not many girls wanted to be like her. Macbeth’s three ‘hags’ had it all going on, brewing their ‘Charm of powerful trouble,’ but they were feared at best, despised at worst. Certainly they were not venerated. This social subtext might read – a woman’s intuition is a source of power but she has to get down, dirty and ugly to use it.
Then there is the Femme Fatale. She is hot hot hot, and bad to the core. Dangerous. Spellbinding. The new subtext? Powerful women are evil and also sexy. Makes sense; we all know sexy women are ‘bad’. I’m not sure if this is a step up from Macbeth but it’s not too hard to see who is doing the defining. Hint. It’s not women.
Finally we have the wo-man, which are male characters with breasts. Nicole Murphy mentions this in her post. The wo-man is written exactly as a man with all his interests, attributes, entanglements and characteristics except he/she has sex with male characters. Interesting. Starbuck, in BSG, the gods love her, is a good example. Wo-man to the soul. Is she a strong female character? Not really. The subtext here is, to be strong you have to be a man.
It seems our society lacks the language and conceptual insights, given the patriarchal inheritance, to write strong autonomous women without props. Usually female roles fall into four categories—powerful rulers who need a man to tame them/make them complete, helpless rulers that need to be rescued and fall in love with a man, wo-man who don’t need anything and women who are simply invisible. George Lucas stepped outside of these limitations (the scene where Princess Leia rolls her eyes, takes the gun off of fumbling Harrison Ford, AKA male rescuer, and shoots her way out) but viewers weren’t ready for it. By the third film he has her in a gold filigree bikini chained to a giant phallus. Hmmmmm.
Marshall McLuhan said ‘Art is what you can get away with.’ I think what he means is ‘Art is what you can get away with in the current social paradigm.’ Like Mr. Lucas, you can write a strong woman authentically but if the social climate isn’t ready, she won’t fly. So how do we write strong women minus the subtext and props? As long as we have to ask, we don’t. But as writers, we can keep pushing the social limits, ‘getting away with’ more and more until the question is void and we have true equality, in art and in life. Viva la evolution of our female characters!
With the second book in her latest trilogy out March 1, 2011, bestselling author Kim Falconer delivers another searing and imaginative journey of intimacy and adventure, magic and technology. Road to the Soul returns to the hidden world of Gaela, an agrarian based magical world where all things — animal, tree, stone, river and storm — are considered equal. Grounded in heavy research in occult magic and astrology, her novels are fast making her a leading name in local fantasy.