Monday, June 23, 2014

Strong Female Protagonist?

Over the past few weeks I've been introduced to the growing conspiracy that all men hate women in literature, or at least suck at depicting them. (See Bechdel Test) Frankly, I don't think men understand women. So when men over history have dominated popular literature, I think this is a crime of circumstance. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of poor representations of women in fiction over the years, I just think that the whole thing is a poorly constructed debate.

That said, the "Strong Female Protagonist," a purely pejorative term, has been on my mind. Can a man write a good woman, without becoming an effeminate weirdo? I think so. (I will preface my use of "effeminate" as a qualifying term is purely jocular.)

Writing a good female character I think is possible indeed. It stems from knowing women, understanding how they feel, what they are passionate about, etc. Really, what I am saying is that the Other has to be familiarized. Orientalism depicts Asians, middle easterners, and Indian culture using stereotypes and particular tropes that emphasize the exotic quality of the subject matter. Are women depicted in the same way? Is nagging, talking about shoes, and being vulnerable in threatening situations a derivative of feminine orientalism? The idea is compelling.

I am married. After two years of being married I have yet to understand my wife. Talking to older married men about this yields grim futures with little advancement sadly. Still, I have learned a lot about my wife, and much of my interactions with her have made it into my books, short stories, and articles. I don't imagine that many comic book artists/writers or novelists were savvy with the women-folk in their early years, or maybe they were? Yet, I find that growing closer to women and trying to relate with their struggles can help make female characters more dynamic.

I firmly believe that there will always be a disconnect to a certain extent. There are some things that men just cannot experience, and this experience deprives them of true understanding. So I would diagnose the "Strong Female Protagonist" problem as a relational one, and that we ought to broach subjects and come to common understandings on life, sex, and agency in order for there to be reconciliation.

But, then again, I reserve the right to be wrong.


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