Where creative thinkers come together to build worlds...
 
PortalHomeCalendarFAQSearchMemberlistRegisterLog in

Share | 
 

 Female Characters

View previous topic View next topic Go down 
Go to page : 1, 2  Next
AuthorMessage
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Female Characters   Sat Sep 29, 2012 1:00 am

Another forum I'm on has a discussion going about the lack of good female characters in stories (that discussion was focused on videogames, but applies to other media as well). Someone made an argument that having strong female characters requires having female characters whose femininity matters--otherwise you've just got a strong character who happens to be female, which means that it could just as easily be a male character.

It seems to me that this thinking is a big part of the problem. In a lot of stories gender doesn't really matter--and when gender doesn't matter, the default gender is male. So we have a huge variety of stories with male characters who have all kinds of different personalities, skills, and ideas, because male characters aren't constrained to only those scenarios where masculinity matters. Meanwhile female characters are relegated to that very small subset of cases where gender not only matters, but the gender has to be female. So we get fewer female characters over all, and thus fewer opportunities for good female characters.

This is a problem that I've seen in my own writing. If I begin thinking of a character with traits that aren't tied to a specific gender ("they're intelligent", "they're a lone survivor of some cataclysm") I typically make the character a "he", because...well, just because. I treat "male" as the default gender even though there's no reason to do things that way. You'd think that as a woman I would default to making characters female, but I don't.

So for the rest of you, do you tend to make characters male by default whenever gender isn't important?
Back to top Go down
Calwyn
Sidekick
avatar

Posts : 1067
Join date : 2009-06-03
Age : 31
Location : Ercildoune

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Sep 30, 2012 1:15 am

I'm conscious of a gender's character, both when I'm reading a book and when I think of writing one. A big reason for that is that whenever I talk to other people about books we share interest in (fantasy mostly), the issue of how an author writes a gender almost always comes up. Robert Jordan is the example that instantly comes to mind, specifically with how he wrote female characters throughout his series.

I can remember being at a panel that discussed fantasy writing, someone mentioning that it's almost impossible for a male author to write a good female main character, because he won't fully be able to understand a female's mindset as they experience their life, or something to that effect. It's something I'm conscious of. In the story I'm working on now, I currently have the main character as female but I'm constantly debating with myself over whether I can pull it off. For the sake of the story I'm trying to tell, I believe the main character almost HAS to be female. It would be better, but it might only be better if I can write her well.

Going back to your point, where writing a strong female character should involve her femininity rather than just being a strong character that happens to be female, that's an interesting point. Coincidentally, I remember reading a review for a series by N.K. Jemisin, a female author, where the reviewer mentioned just that in praising the book: it had as one of the main characters a 'strong' woman who was strong THROUGH her femininity; she wasn't a woman who kicked ass like a man, through martial abilities or magic or whatever. She was a woman who was intelligent and graceful, and used that with her beauty to her advantage when she needed to. I haven't read the book yet to see just how that plays out, but I was intrigued by the concept. That interest is all the more heightened by your thread here.

_________________
"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last minute panic.”
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Sep 30, 2012 6:03 pm

Calwyn wrote:
I can remember being at a panel that discussed fantasy writing, someone mentioning that it's almost impossible for a male author to write a good female main character, because he won't fully be able to understand a female's mindset as they experience their life, or something to that effect.
That's a sentiment I've seen expressed quite a few times. I can't recall ever seeing the inverse, though.

Quote :
Going back to your point, where writing a strong female character should involve her femininity rather than just being a strong character that happens to be female, that's an interesting point.
That's not what I'm arguing, though. While it's great to have such characters (and we could definitely use more of them) I think we need to also be willing to have characters who are strong and interesting without gender being important. There are plenty of stories that don't need to focus on gender issues, but those stories tend to involve male protagonists anyway because we want to only use female characters when feminity matters.

Thinking about this a bit now, I think the character of The Fool from Robin Hobb's work is an excellent example of how you can have an amazing character while ignoring gender. Nobody knows what gender the Fool is, and the Fool considers such concepts to be a siily matter of plumbing. You can't tell from the Fool's speech or actions which gender they are, but they're still an incredibly strong character that I absolutely love.
Back to top Go down
rainshadow
Compulsive Writer
Compulsive Writer
avatar

Posts : 2294
Join date : 2009-05-25
Age : 37
Location : SW Kansas

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Mon Oct 01, 2012 12:16 pm

You know, gender is actually very low on my list when I determine a character. Often times when I prepare to introduce a new character I don't really determine what gender is until after I've already started writing. Sometimes it's an unconscious decision, sometimes I realize as I'm writing that a particular gender would work best.

Of course there are always situations that arise where it's integral to what I've written that the character be one or the other. There are often times that I'd have several pages written when I'd realize that one gender would work better than the other, for whatever reason. It makes for a pain to have to go back and made edits to get gender-specific pronouns to match up, but usually not making the determination early on makes it easier to determine what I think the character would do (or should do) given a particular situation. I can throw aside all the pesky details, boil it down to the basics, and go from there.

Usually it works out well enough. Sometimes I end up having to change the outcome for whatever reason -- usually in making the determination that I don't think that's how my new character would actually behave in a given situation.

Of course that's not how it always works. Usually that's the case for lesser characters, but I almost always know who my main characters are before I put pen to paper (so to speak). One thing I do know is that I'm almost split down the middle in which gender is my main character. For every male main character there is another story where the main character is female. Heck, of the two I'm working on at present, the casts are so large that you could say there are multiple main characters of both genders. LOL

_________________

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass... it's about getting out there and dancing in the rain.

We should create a loop. That way when he gets back he can feel jealous that he's been out of it.
Back to top Go down
http://worldbuildersguild.forumotion.net
BigBen
Secondary Character
avatar

Posts : 103
Join date : 2010-06-07
Age : 33
Location : England

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:30 pm

I think the main issue of gender usage (in fantasy) is because of the gender roles during the time period that fantasy stories tend to take influence from, i.e. the middle ages. During those times men had specific roles and women had specific roles it was very rare to confuse and mix the two. This is then reflected in the literature that seeks to emulate that environment. To have a female character taking on the stereotypical male role of the time you then need a trend-breaker, a "strong" female if you like. You can have female characters that still take on the female roles but are incredibly intelligent and shrewd etc etc thus adding depth to the role and bringing the character to life - you can have a queen that uses politics to place other kings/queens into a position to conquer them with ease etc etc. Or you could have a male warrior that is able to defeat dozens of soldiers with ease and goes on a quest for whatever reason. When you mix the two up, having a female warrior take on the quest - unless you use her feminity to the advantage of the storytelling you end up with a female character that appears butch and masculine (unless that's your intent in the first place and it does work often) a great example of using the female warrior image is that of Mickey Zucker Reicherts "The Last Renshai" series - Mitrian is a brilliant character and trains to become a warrior - while pregnant - the author uses her femininity to great advantage and gives the character true definition.
I think, if you ignore what makes a woman a woman and don't use it to the advantage in your story, you lose a little depth within the character.
But, on the flipside, you can creat a very butch female warrior as your main character that just stomps all over the guys in the story and it could be quite impressive, but I prefer the graceful warrior, the one that slips between the male soldiers and uses their strength against them - making them off balance before slicing them with her sword etc etc.
I do agree, there doesn't seem to be as many female protagonists that aren't in a stereotypically female role, but I think this is mainly to do with the "time-period" fantasy writers are using as an influence.
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Thu Oct 04, 2012 7:12 pm

BigBen wrote:
I think the main issue of gender usage (in fantasy) is because of the gender roles during the time period that fantasy stories tend to take influence from, i.e. the middle ages.
As soon as you say that a story is fantasy, "it's historically inaccurate" ceases to be an excuse for anything. Hell, not too long ago I read a fantasy book that was actually set IN Victorian England (not a place inspired by Victorian England, but the actual time period) abut a guy who had been resurrected from the dead. Once you allow for that kind of thing there's really no room to say "well, strong women characters who do things other than cook and clean are too inaccurate".

Quote :
I think, if you ignore what makes a woman a woman and don't use it to the advantage in your story, you lose a little depth within the character.
Does the same thing happen if you ignore what makes a man a man?

And what are those factors, anyway? What are the differences between men and women that are so vital to good characterization?
Back to top Go down
Calwyn
Sidekick
avatar

Posts : 1067
Join date : 2009-06-03
Age : 31
Location : Ercildoune

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Fri Oct 05, 2012 12:45 am

BrassButtons wrote:
That's not what I'm arguing, though. While it's great to have such characters (and we could definitely use more of them) I think we need to also be willing to have characters who are strong and interesting without gender being important.

Well shoot, that's an even better point. Razz

There are two issues I think that need to be overcome in order to get to that kind of stage within fantasy as a genre: First, is that most fantasy is based on a kind of western medieval society, including gender roles/disparity where the men go out and fight and the women are married and care for children and so on and so forth. Actually, any kind of historical society that is used as a model or inspiration for a fantasy novel seems to result in something similar. That kind of world construction in fantasy can be somewhat tiresome nowadays, so it would only benefit a story were the author to mix things up: create a fantasy world where it doesn't matter what gender you are, at least in some areas of the 'world', or something like that.

The second issue is the unfortunate amount of sexism that is pervasive in nerd culture. Look up any article written online about how ridiculous women are portrayed in fantasy art, or super hero comics, or video games, or whatever. Then look at the comments section, and you'll see what I mean if you aren't already aware of such things. It's not necessarily the art and design that's the problem, but a good portion of the target demographic are horny, sexist young men to various extents of each of those traits. I wouldn't say that authors up until now are of that same mindset, or even that they intentionally cater to such people. But there hasn't exactly been much reason for them to try something different in that regard. A lot of women, usually love interests for the main character, are still 'damsels in distress' whose main reason for existing in the plot is to be rescued by the hero. And whenever someone DOES try to change that up, they go out of their way to show women as ultra bad-asses while emphasizing that it's super awesome that they're women and they're strong and kick ass.

Now that I think about it, the better books that I like nowadays are ones where there's either an interesting (and realistic) mix of different kinds of characters - men and women, strong and weak - and ones that find a better balance. Off the top of my head, I think of Patrick Rothfuss. Originally I would have thought of him as an example of an author who still uses damsels in distress (Denna), but the other female characters are varying degrees of 'strong', assertive, capable, and so on. So he creates an interesting mix. The same could be said for female characters in Brandon Sanderson's own books. Another interesting series I just thought of is Peter V Brett's, where society is largely backward in terms of the rights afforded women but where those who have the mindset can assert themselves in their world. It's a very interesting balance between trying to seem realistic for a historical society, while still allowing for 'strong' characters regardless of gender.

_________________
"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last minute panic.”
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sat Oct 06, 2012 2:19 am

Calwyn wrote:

Well shoot, that's an even better point. Razz
Very Happy

Quote :
First, is that most fantasy is based on a kind of western medieval society, including gender roles/disparity
As I said up thread: once you allow for magical forces that break the laws of physics as we know them, "it would be historically inaccurate" ceases to be an excuse for anything.

Quote :

The second issue is the unfortunate amount of sexism that is pervasive in nerd culture. Look up any article written online about how ridiculous women are portrayed in fantasy art, or super hero comics, or video games, or whatever. Then look at the comments section, and you'll see what I mean if you aren't already aware of such things. It's not necessarily the art and design that's the problem, but a good portion of the target demographic are horny, sexist young men to various extents of each of those traits. I wouldn't say that authors up until now are of that same mindset, or even that they intentionally cater to such people. But there hasn't exactly been much reason for them to try something different in that regard. A lot of women, usually love interests for the main character, are still 'damsels in distress' whose main reason for existing in the plot is to be rescued by the hero. And whenever someone DOES try to change that up, they go out of their way to show women as ultra bad-asses while emphasizing that it's super awesome that they're women and they're strong and kick ass.
This is very true. Though now I'm wondering if the idea that all nerds are horny sexist guys isn't also contributing. The people making this media assume that all (or most) nerds fit the stereotype, so they cater specifically to the stereotype, and everyone who doesn't fit that mold avoids that media. So even though there's a large audience that would happily play games and read books with non-stereotypical women characters, the people making the games and books don't think to expand their target demographic beyond "stereotypical nerd".

Really, it makes sense that fantasy fans wouldn't all be horny sexist teenagers. LotR came out in the 50s and D&D came out in the 70s--people who were nerdy teenagers then are adults now. So unless everyone magically stops being a nerd the minute they reach adulthood (ha!) there is definitely a more mature audience for this sort of thing.
Back to top Go down
BigBen
Secondary Character
avatar

Posts : 103
Join date : 2010-06-07
Age : 33
Location : England

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Oct 07, 2012 9:20 am

No one mentioned historical innacuracy at all. I think making any claim of innacuracy within a fantasy novel is downright idiocy lol. The point was that the gender roles of those times, the culture, the architecture, the beliefs, even the food and drink of those times influence the fantasy genre greatly and it is quite difficult for a fantasy author to deviate much from those influences and still write a good fantasy novel - it takes a really good writer to do this. You don't have to be historically accurate to take influence from a time-period for your novel.

"Does the same thing happen if you ignore what makes a man a man?

And what are those factors, anyway? What are the differences between men and women that are so vital to good characterization?"

Forgive the improper quoting - I'd already started typing my comment before I needed to quote! lol.
And I think, personally, that the same thing does happen. In fact, I think it'd just end up comical if you took a man in a fantasy novel, put him in a pinny, his hair in a bun, with painted nails and have him baking cakes. Now, if he was a stern cook with a red face, a top-knot, burn marks on his hands from years of handling trays etc then there's the difference. He can still bake cakes and decorate them extremely prettily but when you ignore the fact that he's a man then it doesn't really make it as effective and the character could easily become comic relief rather than a potential protagonist (I'm sure an author could do the character justice if they completely ignored what "makes a man a man" as such, but they'd have to be really, really, really good to pull it off in my opinion).
The same works for a woman I think. You can make her an expert swordsperson, a great warrior, a shrewd businesswoman, you can put her in any kind of male-orientated environment and have a fantastic character, but as soon as you ignore the fact that, biologically, she is a woman she may as well just be a man, or an orc, or a eunuch. A warrior can be a warrior, a ruler is a ruler, a baker is a baker, a chimney-sweep is a chimney-sweep, a shephard is a shephard - it doesn't matter what gender they are - those are their "career-path" if you like. Any gender can do them. But gender is the very basis of character. You can make a character anything you want to make of them - they can take on absolutely anything as long as you write it believably but at the very core of them, of who they are, is their gender.

I'm not sure if that actually made sense haha! But that's my take on it anyway - gender roles can be mixed up to high heaven and it doesn't matter - but ignore the very basics of the characters gender and you'll lose a bit of depth. I'm sure it can be done but it'd need to be done absolutely right and with the right reasons in mind otherwise it'll just come across silly, not make sense or be completely comical.
Back to top Go down
BigBen
Secondary Character
avatar

Posts : 103
Join date : 2010-06-07
Age : 33
Location : England

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Oct 07, 2012 9:31 am

Just to clarify I'm talking not talking about all male characters being manly men, or all women characters being emotional and crying at some point in the story - I'm just talking about how the character is described, at a very biological level women produce different amounts of different hormones to men and vica versa, so from an absolutely biological level men and women behave differently. Try to avoid that and you lose the essence of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman.

I also think that if you set out to prove that a female character can do exactly the same as a male character and try to avoid describing them as a "woman" before you've even thought about the story or the events or their objectives or their reasons for doing what they're doing etc etc then you're pretty much doomed to failure. As always, story comes first Smile

That being said, I completely agree that there could, or maybe even should, be many more female protagonists that aren't your stereotypical fantasy female. I've got one on my mind right now that's in my novel (that I'm labouriously slow at writing right now!) but she's female through and through and I shan't be ignoring that and losing her femininity - it'll just reduce the characters strengths completely.
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Oct 07, 2012 10:48 am

BigBen wrote:
And I think, personally, that the same thing does happen. In fact, I think it'd just end up comical if you took a man in a fantasy novel, put him in a pinny, his hair in a bun, with painted nails and have him baking cakes. Now, if he was a stern cook with a red face, a top-knot, burn marks on his hands from years of handling trays etc then there's the difference. He can still bake cakes and decorate them extremely prettily but when you ignore the fact that he's a man then it doesn't really make it as effective and the character could easily become comic relief rather than a potential protagonist (I'm sure an author could do the character justice if they completely ignored what "makes a man a man" as such, but they'd have to be really, really, really good to pull it off in my opinion).
So the important differences between men and women, which are vital to having good characterization, are clothes and hair.

Quote :
Just to clarify I'm talking not talking about all male characters being manly men, or all women characters being emotional and crying at some point in the story - I'm just talking about how the character is described, at a very biological level women produce different amounts of different hormones to men and vica versa, so from an absolutely biological level men and women behave differently. Try to avoid that and you lose the essence of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman.
OK, so it's clothes, hair, and something vague about hormones.


Back to top Go down
BigBen
Secondary Character
avatar

Posts : 103
Join date : 2010-06-07
Age : 33
Location : England

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:28 pm

ha ha! Now you're being pedantic :p I'm not saying they're different because they wear different clothes or produce different hormones etc etc. They're different because they're different. Simple as. As soon as you start to create a character and write about them ignoring their gender you lose a lot of characterisation. Try writing a story and write your main character as a male but give them a female name and refer to them as she. I doubt it'll seem right. And the other way round. I'm not saying at all that authors should stick to the stereotypes. I'm just saying that completely flipping it on it's head and ignoring gender won't work as well as you think. But i could be wrong.
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Oct 07, 2012 4:56 pm

BigBen wrote:
ha ha! Now you're being pedantic
Not really.

Quote :
:p I'm not saying they're different because they wear different clothes or produce different hormones etc etc. They're different because they're different. Simple as.
I'm asking for specific differences that are vital to characterization, and you've given me hair, clothes, and vague statements about hormones. So they're "different because they're different", but none of the differences you've given seem terribly important. Sure, women might wear skirts more often than men (unless the men wear kilts). but if all it takes to change your character's gender is a wardrobe change, then gender doesn't seem to be a very important aspect of the character to me.

Also, clothing is probably going to depend more on occupation and income level than on gender. If your male character is dirt poor, then he might wear more dress-like clothes because they're cheaper to make. On the other hand a woman sailor is probably going to prefer pants.

Quote :
As soon as you start to create a character and write about them ignoring their gender you lose a lot of characterisation.
What characterization, aside from clothing and hairstyles, would I be losing? Because those are the only non-vague examples you've given.

Quote :
Try writing a story and write your main character as a male but give them a female name and refer to them as she. I doubt it'll seem right.
I've already done this with a few of my 15 Minute Stories. Think you can guess which ones?
Back to top Go down
Calwyn
Sidekick
avatar

Posts : 1067
Join date : 2009-06-03
Age : 31
Location : Ercildoune

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Tue Oct 09, 2012 10:21 am

BrassButtons wrote:
Sure, women might wear skirts more often than men (unless the men wear kilts).

How DARE you!! Mad Kilts are in no way skirts. They are uber manly and testosteronic and awesome in a way that puts them in a whole other plane of existense!! Cool

_________________
"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last minute panic.”
Back to top Go down
Calwyn
Sidekick
avatar

Posts : 1067
Join date : 2009-06-03
Age : 31
Location : Ercildoune

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Tue Oct 09, 2012 12:08 pm

More seriously, there are distinct differences between genders.

Physically, there's the obvious anatomy differences and what they mean - pregnancy and childbirth for females being the most significant one. Mentally, or psychologically, there's the differences in hormones and how they affect mood swings, or even how the difference in physical matters could alter a male vs a female's way of thinking about certain things (a male and a female will have two differing thoughts and concerns on pregnancy for example). Culturally and socially, there will be things that have been used to enforce the differences, such as clothing or hair styles as well as how a male vs a female should act in certain situations. I would guess that most cultural and social attitudes arise partially because of the physical and mental differences, with different societies and cultures coming up with different ideas (probably because of differences in their environment, geography, history, etc).

At the same time, however, there are plenty of other matters - physically, mentally, culturally and socially - where a male and a female are more similar than they are different, or even just the same. I would assume that, inevitably, an author will want to create some kind of situation that will require there to be a specifically male and/or female character, or characters.

As an example: you want your lead character, whose gender you have already established, to have a love interest. This requires you to have a character of a specific gender for that role: either the opposite gender for a straight-sex relationship, or the same gender if you want to have a same-sex relationship. Either of those situations will likely require you to go in depth to the relationship itself: how both parties view it, how they think of their partner, what they want out of the relationship, and so on. It will likely require the author to touch on those physical, mental, social and cultural issues.

So it seems almost impossible for an author to create a viably captivating story without touching on, and even working with, the differences between genders at some point in time. Maybe it won't involve your main character and their gender, though considering the main character has the most involved and significant role in the story that would be more difficult. What I think a good author should do, is keep all of this in mind when creating and developing their characters - male AND female.

A fantasy author (which I think we're focusing on in this thread) has an advantage, in that they can create their own social and cultural environment to suit their needs. In a character's every day life, I think those will have the most obvious (in a superficial way) impact on how a character of a specific gender would behave. But there's no getting around the physical differences that are inherent to each gender, and some psychological ones I would guess as well.

_________________
"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last minute panic.”
Back to top Go down
BigBen
Secondary Character
avatar

Posts : 103
Join date : 2010-06-07
Age : 33
Location : England

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:18 pm

said far better and more concise than i seemed to put it Brian. The points i was trying to make clearly didn't come across but you put it brilliantly.
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Thu Oct 11, 2012 8:24 pm

Calwyn wrote:
How DARE you!! Mad Kilts are in no way skirts. They are uber manly and testosteronic and awesome in a way that puts them in a whole other plane of existense!! Cool
Is that where you buy the little matching purses that go with the skirts? HAHA!

Quote :
More seriously, there are distinct differences between genders.
I'm not disputing this. What I am disputing is the idea that these differences are always (or even usually) largely important to characterization.

Quote :
Physically, there's the obvious anatomy differences and what they mean - pregnancy and childbirth for females being the most significant one.
For physical differences such as appearance and clothing, then yeah that's something that needs to be considered, but it's also probably something that can be changed at the drop of a hat if you decide to swap the character's gender. For things like pregnancy, that's certainly important--if your story deals with that element of gender. If nobody in your story gets pregnant or has a kid, then that difference between the genders is a non-issue.

Quote :
Mentally, or psychologically, there's the differences in hormones and how they affect mood swings, or even how the difference in physical matters could alter a male vs a female's way of thinking about certain things
How significant are those differences, though? If I have a scene with a woman who gets upset over something, and I change her into a man, will the scene need to be radically changed in order for it to make sense?

Quote :
Culturally and socially there will be things that have been used to enforce the differences, such as clothing or hair styles as well as how a male vs a female should act in certain situations.
That depends on the setting of the story.

Quote :
So it seems almost impossible for an author to create a viably captivating story without touching on, and even working with, the differences between genders at some point in time.
I agree that it would be extremely difficult to write a story without dealing with gender at all. But there's a lot of room between "all characters are gender-neutral" and "changing a character's gender will drastically alter their characterization/the story".

Back to top Go down
Dinwar
Primary Character


Posts : 412
Join date : 2009-10-08

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:20 pm

A. Milne Edwards is a decapod paleontologist. He was rather prolific in that field, and everyone in the field knows who he is because frankly he wrote so much that if you DON'T know who he is it means you haven't read the literature. That said, the only reason I know that he's a he is a fluke--he included himself in a photo for scale ("Geologist for scale" is a joke in the field). I've also done the opposite: there are numerous times I've asked someone "What did he write again?" only to be told "You mean 'she'." Doesn't matter; the important part is the quality of the work.

For many minor characters in a book, the same thing holds true. Take, for example, the farmer in Faith of the Fallen that Nicci sells horses to. Gender is irrelevant--the character could be male, female, or Argonian and it won't matter. The important part is that Nicci sold the horses. Or, why were the magicians in the book male? Don't say "That's how it was in Europe"--first, I'll burry you in references to nunneries, and second, as BB said the instant you say "fantasy" you throw out such concerns (more on that later). These are minor characters for whom gender DOES NOT MATTER--and the fact that Mr. Goodkind didn't describe their hair color, clothing (beyond some minimal descriptions, generally), etc. is an admission of that. Why are they male? Because that's what's always done.

Going back to the issue with fantasy: The whole purpose behind fantasy and sci-fi is that they attempt to show the world from a whole new perspective. The whole POINT is to show vastly different worlds, vastly different societies, vastly different experinces. It's a cop-out to say "Well, fantasy is based on Europe in the Middle Ages" (unless you're specifically dealing with Europe in the Middle Ages, anyway--Arthurian legend gets a pass for the same reason Legend of the Five Rings does). The Myst books get it nearly right: authors create worlds. As such, we don't need to worry about what has come before. We only need to be concerned with what we're trying to say.

As for the differences between the sexes, I have to wonder how much is social. Humans are notoriously hard to atomize--it's nearly impossible to say "this is biological, this is social". For example, I've heard a lot of people say that women don't go into combat because they're weaker, get pregnant, etc. The real reason, given the military folks I've spoken with (more than you'd think--I work on bases a LOT, and have good friends in relatively high places), is that women give birth--and that makes some of them uncontrolable. They SNAP, and kill EVERYONE outside of their group. Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to obey the order to not shoot someone.

Some things ARE necessitated by physical and biochemical constraints. For example, if people go off to war some people have to stay home to raise the food and children. The women make sense, because they're more likely to go berzerk and to be incapacitated by pregnancy. That doesn't mean that they're weaker. Women in the Middle Ages tended to run the house. Seems to me that would lead relateively easily into a matriarchic society. Add the concept of civilian control over the military (something as old as Athens) and you can get the outline of a society where men are warriors, women run the home, AND WOMEN ARE SEEN AS SUPERIOR. (it also has interesting implications for literature, politics, etc.) Or equal. Either way, something that Medieval Europe certainly didn't have.

My point is, this stuff isn't hard to deal with once you acknowledge that there's something worth discussing here. It's only the fact that people don't want to discuss it that's making it rare that these issues are addressed in the very medium specifically engineered to discuss them.
Back to top Go down
Calwyn
Sidekick
avatar

Posts : 1067
Join date : 2009-06-03
Age : 31
Location : Ercildoune

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:33 pm

Let me clarify: when I bring up the matter of authors basing their worlds on western Medieval Europe as an explanation for employing a conceived notion of gender roles, I'm not advocating it. The fact of the matter is there are authors out there who explicitly use that rationale and reasoning, and say so. Not all do, but some do. I brought that up to answer the question "why?"

Second, you argued something I also already mentioned: fantasy as a tool to allow the author to create whole new ideas culturally and socially. That IS something I advocate. That's where I think fantasy is best, or at least most creative: when an author can imagine and employ a wholly unique (or the greatest extent) culture and society, or where they can take a historical one and reimagine it.

Third, I specialized in Medieval History in university, so I don't think you can bury me with evidence if you tried. Razz

Fourth, if you weren't speaking directly to me in those instances then I apologize. Wink

_________________
"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last minute panic.”
Back to top Go down
Dinwar
Primary Character


Posts : 412
Join date : 2009-10-08

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sat Oct 20, 2012 8:20 pm

Brian, if YOU tried to argue that women weren't in a similar institution as monks (the specific argument that would be the counter to my argument) I'd find out where you go to school and challenge you to a duel. Razz

As for the Medieval theme....I'm no sure you're right. I don't think they're basing it off of Medieval Europe. I think they're basing it off Tolkien. They're similar, but you and I both know the errors Tolkien made. Well...not errors, per say, but rather things where his world diverged from the Medieval one. I used the term "error" because one way that you can detect plagerism and geneology in literature is by looking at the shared errors. Other fantasy of that time didn't have those issues. Pratchet doesn't, either. But most fantasy makes the same "errors" as Tolkien--so basically, they're all telling a story in the same world.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Tolkien had specific reasons for what he did--and he documented them, rather extensively (the phrase "ad nauseum" springs to mind...). But we're using Tolkien as a crutch, and it's turned a literary genera with the absolute most potential into something that's far too homogenous.
Back to top Go down
Calwyn
Sidekick
avatar

Posts : 1067
Join date : 2009-06-03
Age : 31
Location : Ercildoune

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:00 am

Well yes, you'd have to ignore that I would not be arguing against an obviously inarguable fact. Razz

Medieval Europe was an example. There have been a few instances where I can remember reading interviews of an author talking about how they specifically drew inspiration or modeled the culture/society in their novel off of a historical one. Or multiple historical ones. In more recent novels historical Asian and Near Eastern cultures have come in vogue in fantasy: Elizabeth Bear, Daniel Abraham, Jemisin, Guy Gavriel Kay are four that I can think of off the top of my head.

The one I'm very certain of is Brent Weeks talking about how he used late Medieval/Renaissance Europe as a model for his new Lightbringer series. And I want to say Peter V Brett brought up Islamic/Arab/Near Eastern cultures when describing the desert culture in his series specifically in how he portrays the (mostly) subservience of the female gender, but I'm less sure of that.

Tolkien made (more) popular the cultures of the Anglo-Saxons, the Norse, and the Celts within literary circles, and established it as an almost "go-to" foundation for fantasy series after that. The use of Elves, Dwarves and Humans together is STILL commonly used by new fantasy authors. Michael J Sullivan has a rather excellent series in that regard. It's only relatively recently that some authors are mixing in that "kind" of culture interacting with other kinds, or even focusing on a different culture altogether.

Which has me torn as a potential fantasy author myself. On the one hand, I LOVE Celtic culture (pre-Roman for the lands conquered by them, pre-English-Medieval for those who weren't) and would love to bring some elements of it into play in a fantasy story. But on the other hand... it's been done. A lot. To get such a story published I would have to do it very well. Which is why the ideas I have for such a story have been temporarily shelved as I work on something more unique.

And to bring some relevance back to the original topic of this thread, I STILL haven't decided whether I want the main character to be male or female... I've started with female, for a few minor reasons, but it's by no means set in stone.

_________________
"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."

"What mood is that?"

"Last minute panic.”
Back to top Go down
Dinwar
Primary Character


Posts : 412
Join date : 2009-10-08

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Sun Oct 21, 2012 7:46 am

Quote :
There have been a few instances where I can remember reading interviews of an author talking about how they specifically drew inspiration or modeled the culture/society in their novel off of a historical one.
Right--I mentioned Legend of the Five Rings, which is an example of a fantasy story (and card game, and tabletop RPG...) based on feudal Japan. There's a book series based on the Napoleanic War, only with dragons. In those cases, yeah, traditional gender roles are important.

In the Sword of Truth series? Or Wheel of Time? Not so much. And if you're making your own world, it certainly doesn't make sense.

Quote :
It's only relatively recently that some authors are mixing in that "kind" of culture interacting with other kinds, or even focusing on a different culture altogether.

BB focused on how fantasy authors deal with women, but I think you've hit upon a more general issue: fanatasy authors tend to not venture very far from Middle Earth PERIOD. Tolkien's women tended to fit traditional gender roles (and for good reason in that story), so everyone's women fit those gender roles (by default). Tolkien used elves, so everyone uses elves. Tolkien used swords and armor, so everyone uses swrods and armor.

Though the elf/dwarf thing I think runs a bit deeper. Elves and dwarves are deeply ingrained into European culture, and a beautiful and powerful Other is a cultural universal. I'd say that while the STYLE of elves and dwarves Tolkien used is rather unique to him, the CONCEPT of elves, dwarves, etc. is something universal. I've always speculated that they're based on early human interactions with other species of hominid--H. erectus, H. habilus, etc.
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Tue Oct 30, 2012 7:12 pm

This thread is a good example of the kind of problems I'm seeing with how people deal with female characters (note that this from the same forum as the thread that inspired my OP). A lot of people in that thread are basically saying guys can't write women well, because we're aliens apparently.

Back to top Go down
Dinwar
Primary Character


Posts : 412
Join date : 2009-10-08

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Tue Oct 30, 2012 9:32 pm

Never trust someone who bleeds for a week and doesn't die. Wink

There ARE aspects of female life that are hard for men to wrap their head around, and vice-versa. What it's like to give birth, for example, or what PMS hormones do to you. That said, given that I can figure out how an organism that hasn't existed in 500 million years lived, and that the universe is inside a black hole, I'm pretty sure that if I put my mind to it I could figure those out. Very Happy Or just do what Goodkind did--start with a strong character. Than make that character female.
Back to top Go down
BrassButtons
Primary Character
avatar

Posts : 439
Join date : 2009-07-07
Age : 29
Location : DE

PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   Wed Oct 31, 2012 8:13 am

Dinwar wrote:
There ARE aspects of female life that are hard for men to wrap their head around, and vice-versa.
That's true. But people in that thread aren't saying "it's really hard for a guy to write about a woman dealing with childbirth" or "men don't really know what it's like having a period". If the OP of that thread was struggling with those kinds of issues I'd understand completely. Instead, many people over there seem to think that writing female characters at all, in any situation, is difficult.

Quote :
Or just do what Goodkind did--start with a strong character. Than make that character female.
See, that would be my opinion. But I'm told (in this very thread, in fact) that gender is an integral part of a character that needs to be given careful consideration. I'm still not convinced that it's all that important most of the time, though. When people talk about the differences between genders they always either bring up really major but easily avoidable issues like childbirth, or really trivial issues like clothing style. Or they simply refuse to give specific examples. If this were a real issue, I would think someone would be able to give concrete examples of non-avoidable, non-trivial gender differences.
Back to top Go down
Sponsored content




PostSubject: Re: Female Characters   

Back to top Go down
 
Female Characters
View previous topic View next topic Back to top 
Page 1 of 2Go to page : 1, 2  Next
 Similar topics
-
» House Of Night Maine (Open Please Join)
» Rayla - Guardian of Ice
» Character planning.
» My Characters!
» RainbowCat's Characters

Permissions in this forum:You cannot reply to topics in this forum
The World Builders Guild :: General Discussion Forums :: General Discussion Forum-
Jump to: