Monday, February 20, 2017

Strong Female Character=Feminist?

The strong female character. The girl who's super good at fighting, who doesn't need a man to save her, who never shows a vulnerable side. The perfect feminist.

At least, that's what the clich├ęs say.

But I would contend that a strong female character doesn't have to be feminist. That, in fact, these characteristics are not what makes a character strong. I'd even say as well that a female character can be good at fighting and try not to show vulnerability, but not be a feminist.

First, what makes a character strong? Male or female? Culture and today's media probably make you think someone that's physically tough. I know I get those mental images. But a character can be good at fighting and not be strong, in my opinion. A truly strong character has, well, strength of character. It takes a lot of courage to do what's right in the face of evil, whether or not you're in a physical fight.

For instance, Kyrin Altair of Ilyon Chronicles is one example of what I would call a strong female character. She doesn't know much about physical fighting. She learned to fight with a staff and Jace is teaching her to defend herself with a knife, but her abilities in that area are limited. Where is her strength? It's in the way she stood up to Emperor Daican and held to her faith when she knew she'd be executed. It's in the way she didn't give up on Jace when he tried to push her away because she knew he needed her. Kyrin isn't even close to being a feminist, but she's very strong.

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Lucy Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia also shows strength in her unwavering faith. She doesn't let anyone stop her from following Aslan. And she even fights with the archers in The Horse and His Boy, remaining feminine in spite of it. Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time is also strong in doing what needs to be done. She resisted IT and rescued her brother, difficult though it was. Kyrin, Lucy, Meg, they all have vulnerabilities, they all have flaws, they're not necessarily that good in a physical fight, but in the end, they always do what's right because they have strong characters.

Strength is doing what's right no matter the consequences.

But what about those girl characters who are good in a fight? Maybe they do have strong characters, but isn't being able to defend themselves and not needing a guy to do it a mark of feminism?

Not necessarily.

Oh, absolutely there are some fighter girls who are feminists. And I don't tend to like those characters. But since when is it wrong for a girl to be able to defend herself against attackers? A guy who cares about the women in his life, whether she be his wife, girlfriend, daughter, or sister, ought to want her to have the ability to defend herself because he knows he can't always be there to protect her. The reason Jace is teaching Kyrin to fight is because something bad almost happened to her, and he's afraid that if there's a next time he might not be there to save her. And sometimes the strong female character who can fight is that way because she had no choice. Enter Katniss and Rey.

Honestly, I don't think either of them are feminists. They're survivors who, because of their experiences, don't really trust anyone besides themselves to watch their backs.

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Let's look at Katniss. Yes, she can defend herself. Yes, she's against the idea of getting married and having children. But that isn't because she doesn't want to be protected. It isn't because she's against the concept of marriage and family. It's because she lives in District 12 and when her dad died, her mom shut down leaving Katniss to provide for the family at age 11. She doesn't want to marry, not because she's anti-guy, but because she doesn't want more people to worry about and she definitely doesn't want to bring children into the world to get Reaped. She didn't volunteer for the Hunger Games because she had something to prove. She didn't volunteer because she thought she was this great fighter who could beat all the guys. She volunteered so her sister wouldn't go to her death. Yes, sometimes she acts like she's hard and unfeeling, but she's not. She just pretends she is so it doesn't hurt as much. Her circumstances hardened her into a survivor.

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Rey has a similar story. She was abandoned on Jakku at a young age and had to fend for herself. She had to figure out how to fight in order to survive. But Rey's not interested in going and being a fighter. She's not interested in joining the Resistance. Throughout The Force Awakens, what she wants to do is go back to Jakku and wait for her family to come for her. She is a tough strong female character, but she's not a don't-need-no-man type. She's just a survivor who never had anyone else to watch her back. And she's strong not because she can take care of herself, but because--despite wanting to go home--she did the right thing in facing all those dangers to get BB-8 back to the Resistance with the map.

And really, Katniss and Rey aren't invulnerable. They try to hide their vulnerabilities as a defense mechanism, but their circumstances damaged them. Especially Katniss. They're not good at fighting because they think women are better than men and they have to prove it. They're the way they are because they had no choice.

Writers, don't make your female characters strong simply by giving them special abilities. Don't make them strong by making them compete with the men around them. Make them strong by give them strength of character. Don't give them fighting and survival abilities just because it's cool. If they have those abilities, it should make sense for their backstory, and it should affect them.

Write real characters. Characters whose personality grows out of their backstory. Characters who grow throughout the book. Whose flaws are not condoned and given a pass, but who aren't perfect either. Study people and write.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On Henry Higgins and the Loss of Chivalry

♫Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait.
You'll be sorry, but your tears'll be too late!♫

I recently rewatched My Fair Lady and I discovered that, while overall I like the story, I don't like the ending. More specifically, I don't like Henry Higgins. I don't like his character arc, or rather, lack thereof.

Eliza Doolittle is a London "flower girl" who sells flowers at Covent Garden. Henry Higgins is a scholar of phonetics. He meets her one day and boasts that he could change her accent so that anyone would think her a fine lady. And Eliza, wanting to better herself, insists on taking up the supposed offer. Throughout the story, Higgins and another phonetician, Colonel Pickering, refine street urchin Eliza into a fine lady.

They are successful with Eliza. She not only refines her accent, she refines her manners, and her appearance. People even think her to be a Hungarian princess. Yet, through the story, Henry Higgins treats Eliza, as a friend of mine put it, like a science experiment. He even states once that she doesn't have feelings. Higgins's mother knows what sort of man her son is. She knows he has no manners. Eliza herself is well aware of that fact. But even with such treatment, she manages to fall in love with him (totally beyond my comprehension).

When finally Eliza can't take it anymore, she runs away and goes to his mother. Higgins tracks her down, they fight, and she comes back. I wouldn't have an issue with such an ending if Higgins had changed his ways and decided to treat Eliza like the lady she is. But what are his final words? "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?"

Why must Eliza change, but Henry Higgins can go on treating her like she isn't even a person?

Annie Get Your Gun has a similar ending, though not nearly as extreme. Frank Butler is the star sharpshooter of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and is rather egotistical about it. When Annie Oakley beat him in a shooting competition, when she performed an impressive stunt in a show, when she won medals from foreign royals, he was nothing but jealous. Finally, she purposely lost a competition to him (it wasn't her idea, but when she figured out what was going on, she went along with it), and his bruised ego was saved. She worked to transform herself into a lady for him, but he got to keep his selfish, egotistical ways.

Why must Annie refine herself and get over any attitude she might have had, but Frank can keep his selfish pride?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Eliza and Annie didn't have any work to do on themselves, they did, but why do Henry and Frank get off with no character arc? Why couldn't they become gentlemen? Adam Pontipee in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers realized after he had a daughter himself that he couldn't go around treating people inconsiderately. He tried to get his brothers to return the girls he got them to kidnap.

Maybe it's just me, but if characters have work to do in their lives, I want them to do it. I don't want them to get a pass for their bad behavior while other characters submit themselves to being treated poorly.

I like Jace Ilvaran of Ilyon Chronicles who protects Kyrin, who isn't jealous of her special abilities, who treats her like a lady.

I like Bardon of DragonKeeper Chronicles who is a chivalrous gentleman, who is very careful and protective of his wife, who treats Kale like a lady.

I like Teddy Kent of the Emily of New Moon books who is shy, but kind, supportive of Emily's endeavors, who never intentionally hurt her. The whole misery in Emily's Quest was simply a misunderstanding due to his shyness and his mother's issues. Not because Teddy could ever be a jerk.

I like Reuben Eaglechaser of The Rizkaland Legends who may be slightly ridiculous at times, but is always there for Petra when she needs him, who will always protect her, who respects her boundaries even when he doesn't want to because he loves and respects her.

I don't want male characters to be wimps. I don't want their girls to walk all over them. I don't want them to be hiding in the background while the girls do everything there is to be done. But I don't want them to be perpetual jerks either. Give me Jace over Henry Higgins any day. I'd much rather read about Teddy Kent than Frank Butler. I prefer the gentlemen. I prefer the men who let the ladies go first, who will protect the girls around, carry heavy things for them, and, well, treat them like ladies. It doesn't make the men weak and effeminate to be gentlemen any more than it makes the women wimpy cardboard cutouts to let them do it.

So writers, don't be afraid to make your male characters gentlemen. If they have character flaws, don't condone them. Nobody really likes a Henry Higgins. But lots of girls love a sweet protector like Jace. Write about gentlemen.

Tune in next week to find out how girl characters can be strong without being feminists.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Sleeping Beauty History

Once upon a time, I knew one version of Sleeping Beauty, and it wasn't the Disney movie.

When I was little, I loved My Big Book of Bedtime Stories. It contained a fairly accurate retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and, while it wasn't my favorite story in the book (that was The Little Match Girl), it defined my idea of Sleeping Beauty. It was obviously a kid-friendly retelling--no child-eating grandmothers involved. The angry eighth fairy curses the baby to die, the last fairy modifies her to sleep, she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and falls asleep for one hundred years until the prince wakes her with a kiss.


♫I know you, I've danced with you once upon a dream.♫

When Disney's Sleeping Beauty came out of the vault for the 50th anniversary, my sister bought the DVD and I was finally able to watch it. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't a big fan. She didn't sleep for one hundred years, and the pacing drives me nuts. It feels like the first half of the story is a prologue. That's just my opinion, and I probably would really like it if I'd managed to get ahold of it when I was little, but as it is, it wasn't my favorite version of the story, and certainly not my favorite Disney movie. I do like the incorporation of Tchaikovsky's music, though. And if you want to know more about the Disney vault, watch this video. XD


I was pleased (and shouldn't have been at all surprised about it, either) with Kendra E. Ardnek's treatment of Sleeping Beauty in The Bookania Quests. Kendra is a connoisseur of fairy tales, managing to overcome the pacing issues and the whole prince-kisses-a-girl-he's-never-met thing while still remaining very true to the original. That delighted me as far as Sleeping Beauty retellings go. Yes, I was far more interested in Robin and Eric's story than Rosamund's, but it still stood out to me as a good Sleeping Beauty.


I liked Maleficent better than the animated Sleeping Beauty, but, well, I still didn't like the structure. To be honest, the fairy tale probably just doesn't lend itself well to a well-structured movie. I enjoyed the added depth to the Maleficent's character and the theme of family true love. But she still didn't sleep for one hundred years.


You may be wondering where I'm going with all this. Well, I wrote a Sleeping Beauty retelling. 

Why would Sleeping Beauty be my first fairy tale retelling when I have such a hard time with Sleeping Beauty retellings? Enter Five Magic Spindles. I wanted to enter the contest, so I started brainstorming for ideas, and came to one I really liked:
What if, when Sleeping Beauty fell asleep, she woke up in another world?
I connected it with another unwritten story, and the pieces started falling into place. (No, I'm not telling which story it connects to...that would give away the twists. And if you already know, don't mention it.) I pulled inspiration from Doctor Who, specifically "Amy's Choice,"  from Merlin, from Michael Vey, and, as always, my spaceships drew on my knowledge of Star Wars. And of course the original fairy tale. Just...with a lot of twists. It didn't ultimately win Five Magic Spindles, but now I can do with it what I like.


Is Liesel from the fairy tale world or the sci-fi world? Is she in a tower or in a cell? And does she have a chance at being rescued either way?

So Twisted Dreams joins the ranks of Sleeping Beauty stories I like. I would hope so, since I wrote it. ;) I plan to let you all read it sometime this summer, so you can judge for yourselves.

And in closing, let's see what Prince Charming might have been feeling during the true love's kiss. After all, it's hard when the first girl you kiss is unconscious.


How do you feel about these different versions of Sleeping Beauty? What's your favorite fairy tale retelling?