Guest Post: Sexism in Fantasy

Today’s post is by Andy Peloquin, covering sexism in fantasy.

In case you somehow missed the title.

Take it away, Andy!

~~~~~

One thing I and other male fantasy/sci-fi writers find is that writing female leads is pretty darn tough!

Think about all of the great fantasy books currently floating around in bookstores today. I can honestly say that 90% of them have male main characters, with female characters to support them.

Books with male MCs:

  • Harry Potter
  • The Wheel of Time
  • The Stormlight Archives
  • The Gentlemen Bastards
  • A Song of Ice and Fire

All of these books have strong male leads, though there are strong females to support them or even share the spotlight with them. However, in all of them, it’s the main male characters that move the story forward.

For example, take the Harry Potter series. Hermione is a very important character in the book, but it’s not called the Adventures of Hermione Granger.

Look at the Stormlight Archives books. Book 1 The Way of Kings heavily featured Kaladin Stormblessed and Dalinar Kholin, with the space shared with Shallan Davar. Book 2 places a bit more emphasis on Shallan, but it’s still Kaladin and Dalinar’s story.

All of the greatest books have had male leads, and–this is going to be highly contested, but I have to say it–most of the books with female leads come off almost more Young Adult than hardcore fantasy.

Look at series like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Both the movies and the books tend to be pretty mild when you compare them to books with strong male leads. I did a Google Search for “top fantasy books for women”, and most of the results were books I’ve never heard of.

So why is it that fantasy tends to be such a male-dominated culture?

  • A lot of the writers are male. I’d be willing to venture a guess that upwards of 60% of fantasy writers are men. Men don’t usually write women as well as they write other men.
  • Male leads are easier to write. With a man, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Female leads are harder to write, as there is a lot more complex emotions going on in most cases. (I’m not generalizing, just stating what I’ve found to be true.)
  • It’s easier to make an adventure with men. A man wearing heavy plate mail, holding up a falling gate, or commanding a troop of infantry is much more plausible than a woman doing so. If you want intrigue, female leads are brilliant. For straight-forward epic adventure, women make excellent supporting characters to a man’s lead.
  • Males dominated medieval cultures. If you read most fantasy books, they tend to be male-centric. There is always an exception to every rule, but most fantasy worlds tend to be fairly archaic, medieval, and “male-power”.

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the way fantasy is written, it’s just a trend that I’ve noticed as more and more women in the media harp on equal rights.

Does that mean you should start writing books with strong lead women? If you’re a writer who can’t make female leads interesting, you’ll end up watering down a potentially great story with a poor character.

However, when you come up with a new story idea, don’t automatically make it all about the men in the world you’re building. See if you can add strong, empowered female leads that help propel the story forward. Try to get creative with your MC and see if you can’t make that “he” into a “she”. Not only will you start thinking outside of the box, but some of these fantasy adventures could almost come out better with a woman at the reins.

And don’t forget the Bechdel test:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man. [1]

 

 

About the Author:

Andy Peloquin is a fantasy lover turned author, and he writes the stories he would love to read.

Growing up as a third-culture kid gave him a broader insight into the world around him, an insight he tries to weave into his books. When not writing he enjoys family, practicing martial arts, reading comics, reading, playing the guitar, and blogging on his website: http://www.andypeloquin.com.

He debuted his first novel — In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent — in 2014, and plans on writing many, many more.

He can also be found on his social media pages, such as:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndyPeloquin

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andyqpeloquin

 

Sources:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test

 

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8 responses to “Guest Post: Sexism in Fantasy

  1. Have a look at books by Ursula Le Quin – Left hand of Darkness is a good one to look at as it is written with the intent of highlighting the discrepancies between women and men through a science fiction lens.
    You must understand that for the most part, fantasy is a male-dominated sector. Not a lot of women used to read it, so the requirement of a female lead is put aside in order to appeal to the gender that most often reads these kinds of novels. As a reader, more often than not, you attach to the character that bares the most similarities to you, sex included, so male readers are more likely to relate to a lead role that carries the burden of their gender.
    Also, while Game of Thrones has an exceptional male cast, I would argue that the use of POV allows for there to be different lead roles per chapter. The book is designed in such a way that the main character is always changing; everyone is the main character of their life story, and so, they each get a chapter to express that. Cersei and Danys, Arya, Sansa, Cat Stark and Brienne (I think) all have opportunities to excel as leading women in the novels.
    Nice article though! Just thought I’d leave my two cents here.
    http://charizardatcf.com/

    • While Martin did the literary world a service by providing a multitude of varied, (mostly) interesting female characters, there are some issues. I’ve tremendous respect for the man and his accomplishments, but I’ve always felt it necessary to temper things with alternate opinions. Here, consider this, from an article at Cracked.com (http://www.cracked.com/article_19785_5-ways-modern-men-are-trained-to-hate-women_p2.html) :

      […Right now I’m reading a book from mega-selling fantasy author George R. R. Martin. The following is a passage where he is writing from the point of view of a woman — always a tough thing for men to do. The girl is on her way to a key confrontation, and the narrator describes it thusly:

      “When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”

      That’s written from the woman’s point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. “Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.” He assumes that women are thinking of themselves the same way we think of them…]

      Articles like this, and that of Andy, are I believe always necessary, if for no other reason than to fall into the same pitfalls.

      • But, similarly, I’ve read in an interview with Martin about “why you write women so well,” and his answer was something to the effect of: “Mostly because I think of women as people.”

      • I was thinking of that very same interview, actually!

        I agree that there are a lot of pages dedicated to breasts and their doings during GoT, however, the same could be said about the boys and their penises. I think most male POVs have some sort of homage made to their bits or the cocks of others, and perhaps that’s saying something about the preoccupation of society and their reproductive organs? I am the first to jump on the bandwagon to say that women are conveyed as caricatures in most fantasy genres, but I stand by my argument that Martin is one of the few fantasy writers that endeavors to engender all his characters with realistic traits.

        My only problem with him – which I’ve written an article about – is the over-reliance on sexual violence in the television adaptation. There is so much rape and violence and whoring that sometimes I forget what the episodes are about.

      • Too-shay, Kimono Girl Zuki. Too-shay. A valid point regarding the male bits. I guess it’s something we all ought to consider on a character-by-character basis, yea? I wager there are women who think a lot about their breasts, and there are men who don’t think a lot about/with their dicks.

        Though I think you’re right – society at large is rather preoccupied with our reproductive organs. We’re pretty much just apes who’ve historically only recently shed body hair (most of us anyway) and been handed iPhones, after all.

  2. You’re right. Fantasy is a male dominated, both readers and writers. I actually don’t personally know any women who read or write fantasy. I have met online, though.

    I’ve been playing with the idea of writing a fantasy from a female’s POV. While she wouldn’t be a muscle bulging, sword wielding hero, she would still be a hero. My main obstacle is capturing thoughts and behavior properly – would she really think like that, would a woman really say or do that?

    Someone told me that shouldn’t be a problem but I’m not so sure.

    • I actually have considered switching the gender of one of my MC’s for the express purpose of the challenge — how different *would* it actually be for an old man to instead now become an old woman? Same motive, same character, minus the beard and (possibly) latent sexual drive. Other than appearance (and even then that’s kind of flexible), “thinking like a man” or “writing a woman’s PoV” are, I think, becoming outdated modes of thinking. The likes of which I myself confess am catching up to.

    • It is always hard writing from the opposite sex’s point of view. Leaving out all the stereotypes and ideals we have formatted during our lives is hard work. For reference, ask female friends/online women what she would do in situations like that, and see if there is any mean you might take to inform your writing.

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