Monday, March 17, 2014

Let's have more than just "kickass," please!

My son has started reading a book where the protagonist is a young girl who is a pirate. And boy, is she tough. She can fight, drink, swear, etc. etc. and he finds her delightful. This is all well and good. But we see so many kickass girls these days. And while they represent progress in the fight against entirely male-centered stories, they are only one part of the picture.

I have spoken before about how a strong character is not necessarily a violent one. I firmly believe that the battle has not been won when we allow women to take on "male characteristics"* - because until "female characteristics"* are also valued in all kinds of characters, feminism still has an important job to do.

*These are stereotypes, of course. It's shorthand, and highly inaccurate, to call toughness/roughness "male" etc. These views are nonetheless common.

In my writing right now I am exploring some female characters who fall in different places relative to these stereotypical views.

Kitano Naoko, from "Suteta Mono de wa Nai (Not Easily Thrown Away)," (Clarkesworld 90) is a Gothic Girl cosplayer. She's not kickass, though - that's not what her story is about. Kicking butt won't solve her problem - just as it won't solve a lot of tough real world problems like the one she's facing. She needs patience, self-knowledge, a trust in her ability to make good decisions, and the ability to accept the possibility of failure without being destroyed by it. I'm convinced, though, that she finds strength by the end of her story, and a greater understanding of her relationships with the people around her.

Hub Girl, from the forthcoming "Mind Locker," (Analog July/Aug 2014) is a slum kid and hacker in a world where the internet is in your head. She's got a lot of attitude, swears a lot, and has to put on a brave face because she's surrounded by people she can't trust. She's not a big person, though, and when she fights physically she tends to lose. She protects herself with her ability to hack into other people's systems if they threaten her. She also leads and coordinates a large gang of kids. I suppose you could call her kickass in that she has the ability to take care of herself. What makes her story compelling to me, though, is when she feels softness toward particular characters, like her father, or her friend Fisher - that's when you understand what is most important to her, because that softness shows what she really cares about, even when she's disguising it to protect her reputation.

Pelisma, from a work in progress called "Soul's Bargain," is a woman who has always defined herself by her work as a cave engineer, who values herself for what she's able to accomplish for the people of her underground city. In the twilight of her life, she's questioning her faith, and questioning her own abilities, trying to determine what is most important to her as she goes blind and becomes more vulnerable. In the end, though, her determination is going to take her to a place she didn't expect. She'll have a decision to make, to fight or yield, and she'll discover that yielding accomplishes things that fighting won't.

What are you working on? What are your female characters like? Do they have goals? Where do they find their strength? There are so many possibilities here, and we need to keep exploring them. I also want to see more male characters who don't deny their softer strengths (and of course, everything in between).

It's something to think about.