Thursday, August 8, 2013

On ass kicking warrior babes in fantasy fiction

Stop me if you've heard this one: the protagonist is a Strong Female Character. She swears, she fumes, she takes on ten men at once with her mighty waif-fu. She has no time for the swaggering macho alpha male - whom she will probably defeat in a straight up fight at some point - but she falls for the geeky bespectacled shy guy. Witty banter flows effortlessly from her lips in the midst of battle. And the story will devote much loving attention to her emotional needs.

I blame Joss Whedon. To be fair, many of his ass kicking warrior babes have been enhanced in some fashion. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fighting prowess is the result of magical intervention. Indeed, one episode features her undergoing a test: slaying a vampire without her magic fighting power. River Tam from Firefly has been genetically modified to have psychic powers and, presumably, her superhuman strength and agility. I don't have a problem with that kind of storytelling. What I've grown to dislike is the Strong Female Character who is essentially a man with different sexual organs.

It's taken as a given that a Strong Female Character must do all of the things a man can do, and do them better if pressed on the matter. A 5'3, 110 pound girl can take on a 6'3, 250 pound man in a straight up fight and how dare you even think she couldn't. A woman can put on a full suit of plate armor and swing a mighty warhammer alongside the men, and only a sexist bastard could question it. A Strong Female Character must be a loud aggressive ballbreaker who never, ever needs the help of a man but who often rescues silly overconfident men from messes of their own design. Give thou me a break.

Granted, one can create any sort of fictional world with any number of fictional rules. But there comes a point where suspension of disbelief becomes impossible and you are reduced to snickering at the so-bad-it's-good implausibility of it all. When I read of encounters where the Strong Female Character boldly makes advances toward the nerdy gamma male, I can't help but wonder if it's a bit of wish fulfillment on the author's part.

Men and women are not equal. Men are superior in some ways, and women are superior in some ways. Men are generally superior in both speed and strength. I guaran-damn-tee that a 6', 200 pound man can run circles around and easily overpower a 6', 200 pound woman. Seanan McGuire may find it offensive, but a woman who "runs around being a protagonist all the damn time" is probably going to get her ass kicked if she tries to go toe to toe with her male opponents.

None of this is to say that there can't be strong characters who are female. But too many Strong Female Characters are transparent attempts to demonstrate that biological sex doesn't matter, that gender is a construct, that women are equal to if not better than men in every possible way. If your mighty warrior who smashes heads for great justice behaves in exactly the same ways regardless of whether he's male or female, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment