Sunday, December 5, 2010

9 Bad Excuses to Not Write Women: Excuse #4

4) Women with “feminist” ideas did not exist in history, but women written into genre fiction often turn into them.

Gender politics didn't spring up fully grown into the modern world; it is an issue which is deeply rooted in history. In fact, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, dating back to around 190 AD, is widely considered one of the first feminist works. In it, Thecla follows Paul, doing good works, but trouble seems to spring up whenever she's near. It is other women, and Thecla herself, who get her out of these jams. At one point, Thecla is to be fed to a shark. Before she enters the tank, the shark is struck by lightning and dies. Thecla than uses the pool to baptize herself, after Paul's refusal to do so. Tell me that wouldn't make an excellent fantasy novel!

The Acts of Thecla is also about the sexual freedom of women. Women of the time could choose the church, and chastity, as an alternative to marriage and being limited to the role of child bearer. In those days, chastity was a way for women to claim ownership of themselves, to become scholars, leaders and teachers. This didn't start with the advent of Christianity. In Rome, the Vestal Virgins also filled this role, although many Roman women were often educated as well as expected to educate their children. Still, the very concept of these women having to give up their sexuality (to varying degrees) in order to pursue a different life is an easy way to provide tension and conflict in genre fiction.

You don't have to stick to historical examples, of course, and created worlds should always be internally consistent, but you should be aware that these things can be part of the story. Especially in societies where the roles of men and women are different, in such climates, there will be gender politics. If one gender is not in power, they will find a way to make their voices heard--even if only in a limited way. Even systems which discriminate cannot totally control their citizenry and outlets must be provided or revolution will ensue.

Most cultures are not homogeneous, and this is true of their political and ideological makeup as well. Whenever a stance is taken in one direction, there will always be people who are driven to disagree, regardless of what that stance is. While the gender politics of a created world may bear little resemblance to those in our own history and culture, they should be considered as a factor and can be used to create conflict and dimensions within stories and characters.

Don't be afraid to write women because of the ideas you might find them expressing. Write women who fit into your culture, and the more of them you write, the more of these different cultural viewpoints you can express.

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2 comments:

Merc said...

Another good installment. B-) Thanks!

Marion Sipe said...

Thanks! Glad you're enjoying it!