Many of my recent fictions are about the dynamic of how to be a strong woman among strong women, and what society and its individuals look like after we’ve already crossed over from the “one! kickass! woman! in! the! world!” place to the “OMG assassins at my door! Yes, of course they’re women!” place.
Note that is not necessarily a BETTER place. But it is a DIFFERENT place.
And that is where my interest lies. Because a world in which that is an assumption is a much different world than ours.
There is no longer any “singular badass woman” in my recent fiction, unlike some of my earlier dabblings with epic fantasy. She tends to be one of many, just like the old feminist SF of old, and a lot less like today’s Urban Fantasy with its singular gifted woman.
There are plenty of real-life examples of female fighter pilots, revolutionaries, war heroes, boxers, martial artists, innovators, heroes, leaders, and spies. But when we talk about them, still, we pretend that those particular stories of women are extraordinary. We celebrate their uniqueness. We trot them out like remarkable circus freaks. We make no attempt to normalize them. When I spoke with one of my academic advisors back in Durban about how I wanted to look into the role of women revolutionaries because so little was ever spoken of them, he scoffed and pointed out that women had always been a part of war. Even Shaka Zulu had an all-female band of warriors.
But what specialized academics in particular fail to see, so often, is that the popular cultural narrative is not one of women warriors and female empowerment (strip tease cardio classes aside). When you turn on the TV or listen to the radio, you’re most likely to hear about men making decisions and doing things and women having things done to them. This is still the case. When your most powerful governments and corporations are chock full of guys (when, indeed, men own the majority of the world’s wealth and certainly our nation’s news outlets), it’s highly likely they’ll be the ones making news. Powerful women are still more likely to make the news due to some fashion faux pas or the fact that their husband got caught dicking around with some other woman.
We do not have a cultural narrative of female power in the way that our culture values power (childbirth is loooooads more powerful than money or movie deals, but we place very little value on it because, well, women do it). In fact, the narrative is largely one of female disadvantage and disempowerment, often to such an extent that I have to turn the news off for fear I’ll get discouraged about my chances of not being raped or killed or sexually humiliated because I was born a woman – stories about women that make the news are, quite often, stories of rape, abuse, cheating, murder… or pregnancy. Because “women” only get into the narrative by virtue of what’s been done to them or who they’re giving birth to, right?
Oh, sure, there are plenty of examples to the contrary – always those Singular Women who are trotted out to prove that All Women are not painted with the same brush… just those whores, you know. There’s Oprah (who, of course, wouldn’t be Oprah without the constant churn of interest in her weight, love life, and abusive past), various other female celebrities (always spoken of in terms of how hot they are, how they lose weight, what they’re wearing, or who they’re sleeping with – very rarely purely in terms of talent), and oft-cited “women now get 56% of all degrees so this must mean men are disenfranchised!” (without noting that, in fact, the difference is a little over 100,000 degrees, and women make up 52% or so of the population, so getting a little more than half of all degrees is certainly nowhere close to the ravenous female hordes of degree-stealing blondes that such terrified proclamations seem to wish you’d envision).
But anyway, all this crap just kinda got to me after a while. I wrote a lot of angry, venomous posts here a few years ago about just these issues, and I still get worked up enough to rant sometimes. But after a while, you know what? All that talk about how shitty it was to be a woman got to me too. I started thinking, “Shit, man, it really sucks to be a girl. I hate being a girl.”
And you know what? That’s bullshit. It sucks.
I wanted to imagine something better. Where me and women like me weren’t victims, but active agents – in our own success or demise. We were the ones doing things, not having things done to us.
I was tired of talking about how shitty things were, because it ended up being at the expense of how powerful people could be – it drowned out all the good stories of how we could make or break worlds.
We needed to highlight the good stories. Yes, we need more good stories, always – but MORE than that, we need to actively promote the good stories. It’s the sensationalist crap that bogs me down. There are plenty of people writing about rape culture, and domestic abuse, and power, and yes, sure, I’ll comment on that stuff sometimes. But when I sit down at the keyboard, I’m not here to imagine a world exactly like this one where I’m getting constant messages about how much it sucks to be a girl.
I want a different narrative.
And oftentimes, if there’s nobody else promoting or creating that narrative, you need to be the one to do it.