Feminist SF/F: on Feminist Characters

During #FeministSF twitter chat yesterday, a question was floated about what kind of women we want to see more often in speculative fiction, and what kinds of characters are feminist. Keri@Feministfantasy.com called for strong female characters: independent women who save themselves and make their own choices, and are not defined by men. This is, I think, the popular notion of what a feminist heroine should be like.

A discussion followed, and I said many things, and some people said I should write up my thoughts as an entry.* Here goes.

In the twitter chat, I said:

For me, a feminist work showcases a variety of women, not necessarily a “typical” strong female character. I feel that by limiting feminist expression to strong female characters only, we are shortchanging ourselves. If male characters are allowed to be strong, weak, broken, insane, anti-heroes – why can’t we have a range of female characters likewise? I think that writing women in a non-stereotyping way, as people with desires, weaknesses, strengths – is feminist.
I want portrayals of women that are as vivid and varied as portrayals of men.

Limiting the range of female characters to the kickass-heroine, we are saying that only one type of woman is worthy of story.

I say, that approach is helpful in a short run, but harmful in the long run.

Let me unpack.

The Warrior Woman is a powerful archetype. We are still fighing very simple battles. We live in a world where all-male Best-of anthologies are published, where women’s books are reviewed less than books by men, where all-men panels happen – heck, we live in a world where all-male groups are empowered to decide on a woman’s rights to her own body. Against these, the Warrior Woman stands tall. She is powerful and unafraid of power. She does not complain , does not bend, does not hesitate. She may grieve, but her grief will never put her in a corner. She towers above the cowing figures of those who oppress us. She lends us strength. She is an Example of how we want to be, powerful and free and unafraid. She is an archetype, a token, and we need her – we need her in life and we need her in books and movies. She empowers us. There is not enough of her, yet.

But in a way, she also undermines us.

A subtype of the Warrior Woman is the Professional. She is a scientist, a doctor, an astronaut. She is fearless, competent, and wise. She is usually alone, surrounded by male colleagues who are sometimes goofy, immature, undersocialized, or just plain wrong. But never the Professional. She is never immature, never undersocialized, never abrupt, never wrong, never makes horrible mistakes with friends. She must be polite and rational and calm. She must never, ever be impolite or offensive, because women are so often demonized and underrepresented and barred from professions for various reasons (including ascribed overemotionality) that the Professional must always guard against it, always present a flawless Example. She is always, always a Token.

In classic theories of gender and language, women are said to be more polite because women are disempowered. Robin Lakoff (1975) theorized that lack of power is a key factor in constructing women’s discourse; due to women’s subordinate position in society relative to men, women would strive to minimize any threat to the people in power (men), and would therefore come across as more polite.

“Men are power brokers in most speech communities, while women are subordinate. Men can dominate the talking time, interrupt, and use a narrower range of speech variants because they don’t need to worry about pleasing their interlocutors, especially when the addressee is a woman. Women by contrast need to be supportive and non-aggressive and must be linguistically flexible in order to survive in societies in which they are not in control” (Eckert and McGonnell-Ginet 1998, 491)

This notion of power and powerlessness is very, very basic. As sociolinguists, we’ve moved quite a ways from it, and we know now that these generalizations about women and power in discourse are not borne out by the data. The data are, in fact, extremely diverse. (c.f. the work of Cameron and Mills in particular). Still, this notion of women as powerless, however inaccurate or incomplete, “provides a powerful symbolic meaning” (Cameron 2000, 333) that affects both people’s behavior and societal expectations.

What I am trying to say is, with the Warrior Woman (and her subtype, the Professional) always and only our Story, we as women act out our powerlessness – our desire to be invincible and able to ordain our own fate (Warrior Woman), and our desire to be Impeccably Competent in order to be Allowed to Exercise our Chosen Professions.

I want women to dream their literary heroines from a position of strength. Just as we know by now (I hope) that women are not always polite, so we should be able to have heroines who do not always represent our oppression. The way to get there, I think, is through multiple, intersectional, and diverse (yet not stereotyped or cartoonish) portrayals of women. I want women to be able to be Neurotic Geniuses. I want the Amazing Inventor with bad hair and mismatched socks who yells sometimes and makes her friends upset, and sometimes forgets to eat, and sometimes forgets to do laundry. I want to read about the Magician who forgets to check her email and gets embroiled in a political struggle at her University, which she loses ungraciously. I want to read about Neurotic Creative Professionals – architects, writers, film directors, music composers – who, in throws of creativity, can be quite upsetting to be around. I want to read about a brilliant woman scientist who is also a miserable drunk. I want to read about the person in a wheelchair who loves her work, but who takes her disability really hard. I want to read about women who are child-free by choice, and women who are mothers. I want to read about mothers who decided to stay at home, and mothers who work. I want to read about women who are fat and not, women who struggle with weight and women who do not. I want to read about asexual women, bisexual women, I want to read about people who are genderqueer and trans* and questioning. I want to read about menopausal women. I want to read about a heroine who is eighty two. I want to read about women who are mentally ill. I want to read a book with a feminist anti-hero. I want to read about kinky women, I want to read about dominant women and submissive women. And note, I haven’t even touched upon the questions of racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity!

One side effect of writing a range of women is that we might not be comfortable with all of those characters, all of those women, all of those people. In real life, unless you are extremely holy, you won’t be comfortable with all the people you know. But what we often do in genre is allow men to be uncomfortable and difficult, but erase the women who are less than warm and fuzzy-making.

What I am saying is simple. As I see it, limiting women’s creativity to the Warrior archetype is limiting us in difficult ways that are ultimately bad for us, because this perpetuates our oppression. There are all kinds of men in speculative literature. There are NOT all kinds of women in speculative literature. There should be all kinds of women in speculative literature. Having all kinds of women who are human and complex will empower us to be ourselves, and comfortable in our skins. It is not easy, but I think we can get there.

——–
* Additional and very important points were raised by Ekaterina Sedia (@esedia) and Alex Dally MacFarlane (@foxtailedgirl) among others; I encourage you to check out #FeministSF.

——–

And ETA: Alex Dally MacFarlane wrote an excellent and important follow-up entry on female friendships. I did not want to discuss female friendships in my entry, because Alex raised this point in the original twitter chat, and I was hoping she’d write up an entry on this topic – and she did. Thank you, Alex.

44 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    Wow. You just blew my mind. I never considered any of my writing or characters feminist but I suppose I’ve been doing just that. Growing up I just found it unfair that the stories about women in SF/F weren’t nearly as “fun” as the stories about women.

    BTW, right now I’m writing about a fantasy “detective” that most people find rude and uncomfortable to be around. I adore her.

  2. Sil says:

    I’ve objected for years to the use of ‘strong female character’. As you wrote above, characters should be of all kinds and types. Using the term ‘strong’ to qualify a female character usually limits said character in very predictable ways. I understand where the use comes from, but like you, I want to see ALL types of female characters.

  3. [...] us to be ourselves, and comfortable in our skins. It is not easy, but I think we can get there.Via roselemberg.net Click here to cancel [...]

  4. Heidi says:

    Everything you said is so right. I’m sending this to everyone I know. And I’m writing a story about a trans woman who hears voices.

  5. [...] other news, Rose Lemberg has a great post about feminist characters and why speculative fiction needs more types… than the warrior woman and the professional [...]

  6. [...] Rose Lemberg on Feminist SF/F: on Feminist Characters. [...]

  7. F says:

    True, this. I’d like to add that there’s nothing more boring than a Perfect Girl.

  8. Lise A says:

    Very interesting.

    Could you give some examples of writers doing this “right”, or doing it “wrong”?

    How do you see Hermione Granger? Or Susan Calvin?

    • Rose says:

      Those are great questions. I’ve actually started making a list yesterday, so a more detailed response is coming.

    • Rose says:

      Lise,

      Short response is: there is no “right or wrong” per se – how can one say that Hermione Granger is “wrong” when so many women and girls find her so incredibly inspiring? I think my goal is not to say that existing female characters should not exist the way they have been written – that wouldn’t be right – but that as writers, we should aim to have more – and more diverse – female characters in our books.

      Ursula Le Guin has many very diverse female characters of all kinds, but I do not know of another author in SFF who has a similar range and diversity.

  9. Anjasa says:

    I have very little interest in reading a bunch of books about the same character in different window dressing.

    I want to see the full range of humanity expressed in literature. Not only that, I want to see the full range of humanity expressed in more characters. I want to see the strong become weak, the weak become strong.

    I feel that one of the problems is simply that because certain types of writing – writing with marginalized characters such as women, or GLBT, or PoC – is monitored by activists in those groups. There’s a lot of pressure to write them ‘right’, to do them justice, to not employ stereotypes. So if we only allow ‘warrior women’ to be right, there are going to be people who are sensitive to feminist readers and they’ll only write warrior women.

    When you narrow your range of characters that women can be so much, they all become the same. Or, perhaps worse, other characters that portray a wider spectrum of behaviours will be all male for fear that showing a ‘goofy’ or ‘unprofessional’ woman will be unacceptable to some of their readers.

    It’s obviously a difficult line to walk.

  10. [...] me, because it seems to cut to the heart of a different discussion: the perennial questing after strong and varied female characters in SFF. I dislike the oft-floated image of YA books didactically Teaching Lessons To Teenagers; dislike, [...]

  11. Abra says:

    I like to cite this story as having a female character who is meek and passive and kicks exactly zero asses but is still a strong character just for having her own interests: http://www.cabinetdesfees.com/2011/bluebeard-contented-by-b-gordon/

  12. Women who make their way through life, regardless of details, are strong by definition. Mainstream literature has done far better than SF/F in showing diverse women and female roles across the power spectrum. Of course, depicting women who have little agency is fairly traditional fodder across all genres; it’s easy to conflate power with agency, especially if a writer is not in full control of her/his material.

    Even so, SF/F has depicted women who are powerful yet flawed and difficult. Very partial list without consulting sources in depth: Cherryh’s Signy Mallory (Downbelow Station), Asimov’s Susan Calvin (the creator of the robots in the series), Friedman’s Anzha liu Mitethe (In Conquest Born), Alexander’s eight women friends (The Secrets of Jin-Shei), Lynn’s Talvela sisters (The Woman who Loved the Moon), Piercy’s Connie (Woman at the Edge of Time)…

    • Rose says:

      Mainstream literature has done far better than SF/F in showing diverse women and female roles across the power spectrum.
      I agree with that.

      Even so, SF/F has depicted women who are powerful yet flawed and difficult. Sure – and I am not saying that they do not exist. They do. It is sad though that same handful of authors (Cherryh, Le Guin, Friedman, Alexander, Piercy, sometimes Bujold) are always cited as counterexamples. If we look at the work of Le Guin alone, we find a great diversity of female characters. But looking at the field of speculative fiction as a whole, including YA and urban fantasy, I feel we need more of this kind of work.

      • Of course we do. Some of it will come from simply having more women as important characters, period. The ratio is still skewed in SF/F. If enough women exist in a story, by sheer numbers they will have to fulfill more roles than the few earmarked either in agreement with or in defiance of tradition.

  13. EMoon says:

    Speculative fiction already has more types, but you’re not reading them (at least, since you say you’re not finding these other types.) Why not? Is it because the authors aren’t labeled “feminist?” Because the books may have both male and female primary and secondary characters? Because the books are not advertised as having a diversity of female characters?

    This is the sort of thing that has puzzled me for a long time, with both male and female reviewers/critics/etc. bemoaning the lack of one kind or another of diversity, when it should be staring them in the face. I can’t tell, of course, whether they read the books I read or not…but if they are reading those books, they’re missing something. And if they’re not reading those books–why not?

    As a writer of SF/F, I see some dangers in generalizations about what writers “should” write . It is the primary task of a writer to tell the truth as she sees it…or, as McKinley puts it, the story that comes to her. Writing “to market”–and that includes the desires of any given reader to shape a writer’s work–destroys the honesty of the work. Attacking writers for not writing what you (general you, not specific) want to read is an attempt at censorship (as happened to Nnedi Okorafor, attacked by Africans, mostly men, for not writing the kind of thing they thought she should write. As has happened to many of us.)

    Women do not need to be silenced by anyone. We need all women’s voices–which means, instead of scolding the women writers who now write characters you think insufficient, we need more women writing, each writing her from her own truth. No one book–no one writer–will ever encompass all of human experience. And fiction is not–cannot be–”real life” any more than a photograph or a painting can include everything in the reality being abstracted into a visual image.

    But the other danger is in not seeing what is there to be seen. We all come to a book with some preconceptions, some biases, in place. If there’s a bimbo on the cover, we’re apt to think the writer wrote a bimbo character. If there’s a Fabio-looking male, we’re apt to think the writer wrote a romance. Last fall, a male reader in the UK talked about fantasy–he had just read G.R.R. Martin for the first time and was amazed to find lots of active women characters…he hadn’t read fantasy since Tolkein and thought fantasy was devoid of women characters (apparently he never considered picking up a fantasy book by a woman: a teeth-grinding moment for me.)

    Women *have* written, and are writing, SF/F with a variety of characters of different ages, sexual behaviors, character traits, who are “human and complex.” Why haven’t you found them? What are your filters for reading that block out the books you might well like? Are there sub-genres you never look at? Writers you dismiss without having read them? Do you see the complexity in characters when it’s easy to pre-label them as “woman warrior,” “professional,” “kick-ass?” Or do you take the label and shrug off the character traits that run counter to the simple label? Can you accept the complexity of a character who combines roles: woman warrior, but also wife, but also mother, but also politician (Cordelia in Bujold’s Vorkosigan books?) (I used to see Bujold’s books lambasted by feminists because Cordelia did marry Aral and have a child, but evidently you’re not that kind of feminist.)

    Last spring, at a convention, I sat on a panel beside a young male writer who proudly announced to the room that no one had ever included in their fantasies the human-complexity issues he included. Except I had. Most of my writer friends had. It’s just a wee tad annoying to find the same mistake here.

    [Disclaimer from Rose L.: In 2010, Elizabeth Moon expressed strong opinions about immigration and Islam that engendered controversy and ultimately got her disinvited as a guest of honor from Wiscon 35. As a human being, an immigrant, and a Jew with lived experience of physical violence directed at me due to my ethnicity/religion, I am strongly opposed to Elizabeth Moon's stance. I allowed her comment to pass moderation, but will not engage with her. Others are welcome to do so, if they wish.]

    • It seems to me that you are essentially agreeing with Rose. When there are too few important women characters, the often-lone female hero has to be everything. Additionally, such configurations do not allow portrayals of interactions between women. If you take just about any popular SF/F work (with very few exceptions) and you reverse the genders in it, it becomes palpably noticeable.

      • Yeah; and I think (since she’s often used to set the bar) Cordelia is a great example of both the possibilities and the limitations of that bar; she *is* nuanced and interesting and complex, but — yeah, I never get the matching sense that Aral has to be *everything*; there are so many other male characters around that we inherently get a variety of male experiences represented. Does a woman still have to be as exceptional as Cordelia to have a voice?

        And.. I want to love Cordelia/Alys as a positive female interaction, because they are very different but need each other, and when I read those books they were the single best female-friendship I’d seen in SF; but it’s still all wrapped up in their menfolks (including the babies). And they don’t end up as a strong, lasting friendship, at least not on screen.

        And that’s a lot of what I would like to see more – very different women having strong relationships (of whatever sort), and not needing to undercut one another or “show” that one sort of femininity is better than others, or having their primary/most important relationships be always with the mens. Which is to say, I’d love to see more of the sort of female characterization that’s in Kate Elliott’s “Cold Magic” & “Cold Fire”, and Delia Sherman’s “The Freedom Maze”.

        (It’s one of the reasons I’m loving the lesbian spec fic I’ve read, but above examples are managing it with straight characters, which I find rarer.)

        • Rose says:

          Yes to all you said. But I do not see Cordelia and Alys as a friendship even when they are interacting; I feel circumstances throw them together, but then the war is over, and we rarely even see them interact socially. I think the one real female friendship we see in Bujold’s work is Iselle and Betriz, but I get a nagging feeling that Betriz is only allowed to be in the book to provide romantic interest for Cazaril, who cannot be interested in Iselle.

  14. Keri says:

    Beautiful, beautiful post; thanks so much for writing out your thoughts on this. I think my desire for “strong female characters” was sort of a short-sighted backlash against the usual male-centric fiction with a female character that has no personality and exists just to be a love interest or some other object. I absolutely agree that we can’t just stop at “strong” female characters. We need them all.

    • Rose says:

      Thank you, Keri, and thank you for starting the conversation on the FeministSF chat. I think we need all kinds of characters, including but not limited to the “strong female character”. As Athena pointed above and Alex and Ekaterina Sedia did in the chat, when we have multiple female characters in a book, they have a greater chance to be different from each other, as well as to interact and form friendships and alliances.

  15. Asakiyume says:

    This is wonderful, Rose. I feel *exactly* this way. Thanks for writing this essay.

    (Here because Tithenai linked to it in LJ)

  16. [...] Lemberg recently wrote a fantastic piece about the need for a greater diversity in the representation of women, and I think one of the [...]

  17. Robert Sloan says:

    Wow! Thank you for an important eye-opener of an article. It’s also a feel-good article because I’ve always been fond of strong female characters in my fiction whether they’re the lead or not. I’m concerned most if they’re the protagonists. But I ran a couple of my current heroes past the two archetypes and they’re just not those types. One’s a middle aged Hindu widow with grown kids and multiple degrees based on a group of middle aged honor students in the college I first went to – I knew I’d put a composite of that whole intellectual group into a book someday and she found her book. Carefree and thrilled, obligations completed, now treating heavy homework like it’s a candy store.

    The other’s a blacksmith who’s not any more or less a warrior than other blacksmiths, she’s probably more worried about the horses than the politics and she’s one of those Ordinary People Stuck With A Quest. But not that ordinary because banging on metal and wrangling thousand pound animals into letting her nail things on their feet is not easy work.

    One’s tiny and wiry and energetic, the other one big, tall, muscular and has to fight not to get too much of a tummy (occupational muscle doesn’t do the same things to a body as gym body sculpting). They’ll never meet, they’re in different worlds, but I think they’d yell at each other a lot with significant underlying respect if that makes any sense.

  18. [...] Lemberg on Feminist Characters (aka how agency isn’t only limited to the Warrior Woman trope), and Alex Dally McFarlane on [...]

  19. [...] Lemberg wrote an excellent article on feminist characters, and I really hope you go read the whole thing. She says:“But what we often do in genre is allow [...]

  20. [...] Rose Lemberg: Feminist SF/F: On Feminist Characters [...]

  21. [...] Rose Lemberg Feminist SF/F: on Feminist Characters [...]

  22. Name says:

    Thank you for your post; I really enjoy your blog, although this is my first comment. I agree with what you wrote, but I think that the statement that women should be allowed to be weak needs to be examined carefully. I agree that female characters should be able to be diverse and human. I’d define “strong” as having agency over one’s actions. That’s it–no need to be physically strong or with power over others. Just over herself. Given that definition, where are these strong female characters who are not dominated and controlled by men hiding in fiction? Maybe I’m just reading the wrong genres–SF/F mainly–but I can count on one hand–well, actually, three fingers–the number of books I’ve read written by woman where a female MC isn’t eventually under the sway, influence, and control of a man, and where romance doesn’t dominate and stifle the plot. I became so frustrated that I started reading only stories written by men or with male protagonists.

    And no, it doesn’t seem to me to be an equal world. From reading books by men, the question of whether the male protagonist’s actions are under the sway of another character simply doesn’t come into question. His agency is taken for granted. If there is a romance, it is on the side, not dominating his thoughts. He does not become submissive, or struggle with becoming submissive, no matter how “passionate” he is. He remains undominated, and that is so standard in the genre that it isn’t questioned or paraded. Where are the female characters like this? You’re right–it’s ridiculous and dangerous to make every female character “badass”, and probably silly to try to enforce that every female character is “strong”–that is, with agency–because it is true that not everyone in the world does.

    But where are the characters breaking the stereotype? Maybe it’s just that I read SF/F, but I can’t find them. Maybe it’s that female authors, at least in SF/F, seem to push romance much farther into the forefront. I’d love to read just one book where romance or obedience doesn’t rule the heroine. I can find “kickass” characters who do damage, but in the end, their actions and emotions are typically dominated by their passions. That’s basically where we were in Regency and Victorian fiction; these characters might be able to deal out physical damage, but emotionally, they are ruled by the men around them. I fear that a push that we not try to cast all women as strong may become equivalent to Phyllis Schlafly’s antifeminist argument that women should be “allowed” to be homemakers as well. As with Schlafly, does the argument really need to be made? By a definition that uses agency rather than physical strength or power, aren’t there plenty of weak female characters in fiction anyway?

    • Rose says:

      Thank you very much for your wonderful and thoughtful comment. This is a placeholder – I need to respond to this at length and thoughtfully, and I cannot do so immediately. I will respond as soon as I can.

    • Rose says:

      OK. First of all, thank you again for commenting. Interesting points – and I will answer them as well as I am able.

      If you equate weakness with being constantly reactive vis-a-vis male characters and defined by these characters, then I completely agree – there is an overabundance of these representations, seemingly to the detriment of every other representation in genre fiction and film. Even the so-called kickass heroines are not immune to this; take Aeryn Sun from Farscape, whose agency and will to act independently is eroded, over the course of the series, by her relationship. One can argue the same about Cordelia Naismith-Vorkosigan of Barrayar (who is often discussed as a model feminist character). I love Cordelia, but after marriage and motherhood she fades into the background of the novels, there to act as the Nurturing Elder. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things per se, but they are a part of a trend. (I have been avoiding discussing Bujold’s heroines for a good reason; they are excellent in many ways, and I do not want to over-criticize authors who produce excellent characters for us, but such characterization is, unfortunately, a part of a larger issue with the field).

      I am in absolute agreement with you in that I would love to see genre narratives in which women have agency and in which women’s desires are not focused on romantic relationships to the exclusion of everything else. I am not a reader of romantic stories and they very rarely interest me (with the exception of queer romance; this can be explained by my queerness).

      And yet I would say that we also need these stories. If a woman’s choice is to be defined by the men in her life, then it is her choice. I very rarely see clueful and nuanced treatments of kink and women characters who choose to play submissive to men. I have not seen the argument you mention by Phyllis Schlafly, and I do not have the spoons to go look (sorry for that), but “allowing” women to be housewives is not exactly a non-issue. It goes back to the way the American culture systemically oppresses women. Being a housewife is often sold to us by the media as preferred, especially in contexts of motherhood; and mothers in this culture in particular get a lot of flak. I say this as a mother living in America now. If a mother makes a choice to stay home, she loses a significant amount of social capital, not to mention putting herself in a situation of financial dependence that might backfire if the relationship collapses. If a mother has a career, she is denigrated for not taking proper care of her child(ren). This is exacerbated by the fact that many of us cannot not work; being a housewife is regarded also as a privilege. But it’s really a damn if you do, damn if you don’t situation. I come from a culture where multiple adults participate in the nurturing of children, and women work – American paradigm just throws me. So no, I do not think it is a non-issue; but we digress.

      Weakness, however, for me seems to mean something different from what it means to you. A woman can be defined by men in all areas in her life because of oppression, not be aware of it and the need to struggle against it – become aware of it and be unable to change a thing, remain defined by men throughout – and it is needed, so needed – Ursula K. Le Guin’s Wild Girls is like this. Weakness can also mean lack of bravery in a world where bravery is expected from women, or a mental or physical illness a character has a hard time being triumphant over. In Laurie K. Marks’ Fire Logic, one may argue that Karis is weak, especially in the beginning, where she is a drug addict, unable to live on her own, protected by her guardians and eventually redeemed by her lover. But she does take one independent action that is really crucial for the plot; and it helps – really really helps – that her guardian is a woman, that her lover is a woman, that her enemy is a woman. If all those would be men I would be unable to like Fire Logic, but in fact I love it fiercely – because there are so many women, so many *different* women, straight and queer (as well as queer men) that one woman’s drug addiction and weakness flowing from it is a wonderful thing to read about rather than a reason to throw the book across the room. I want to read more characters like Karis, more books like Fire Logic – and I am having trouble finding them. I have found some, to be sure. In Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, which I love fiercely, one of Onyesonwu’s female companions chooses to turn back from the quest and go home with her man. It is an example of a certain kind of weakness, to be sure, but contrasted with other female characters who choose to continue the quest, it lends the book depth and realism. I want more of these multi-faceted depictions. I want them all the time.

      Another point is that perceptions of passivity vs. agency can vary from culture to culture, and not ever woman of every culture is willing to struggle against her culture to adopt Western feminism ideals of agency (these points are made repeatedly by some of my PoC friends/allies; I remember an essay to that extent by Shveta Thakrar in Wiscon 3). In certain cultures, I have seen a push against harmful egalitarian-like experience (talking about the Soviet experience here, but do not have enough spoons to unpack in detail).

      Weakness can also mean a simple, crushing weakness of the body, this vessel that seems so necessary for kickass adventures. At 35, after living a pretty rough life as a twice-immigrant and caretaker to a disabled kid, I have multiple chronic conditions and kickass adventures are beyond me, as are most other adventures that do not involve me staying at home. As long as touristy adventures dominate the genre, disabled characters (including women) will not get nearly enough screen time.

      What I feel is happening is that there might be enough weak female characters of one sort in genre fiction, but there is never enough diversity of characters, weak or strong. This diversity is what we need and what I am arguing for. One way to get there is to write works with many women who have relationships with each other; not necessarily romantic – but relationships. This is what I am trying to accomplish in my writing and editing, and this is what I would love to see more of, as a reader.

      [I have taken out the bit where I talk about my novella in progress; not relevant].

      Hope this made sense; I am not doing my best physically today, but later I will not have time.

    • SF/F has plenty of women characters with agency who don’t wilt into distressed damsels the moment romance rears its head(s). It even portrays women who do not experience the traditional feminine “conflict” between romance and the rest of being human.

      Much of your analysis is predicated on the stereotyping assumption that love makes women weak, that they become de facto submissive as soon as “romance” enters their lives. This includes the obviously derogatory use of the term itself. Last but not least, men are shown to be heavily influenced by love/passion in literature across genres and eras (to say nothing of history).

  23. [...] The only thing that is established is that the protagonist is a so-called Strong Woman. I recommend Rose Lemberg’s recent essay on the [...]

  24. [...] – Alex Dally MacFarlane wants to see more realistic female friendships in fiction, and – Rose Lemberg follows up with what makes a good feminist character – and how overuse of the “Warrior Woman” archetype can be ultimately harmful. [...]

  25. [...] Feminist SF/F on Feminist Characters. Rose Lemberg. [...]

  26. [...] essay  ”Feminist SF/F: on Feminist Characters” was selected to be included in Speculative Fiction 2012: The Year’s Best Online Reviews [...]

  27. […] well star in terrible action flicks.  In fact, just as feminism will make a great stride when women are allowed to be any type of character, I think sexism will take a great hit when women are allowed to be leads in any genre, no matter […]

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