Sunday, September 16, 2007

Am I a Bad Feminist?

I've been spending some time wrestling with myself about my favorite storytellers. The conflict comes from the fact that of the writers/actors/directors who will make me read a book or watch a movie, purely for the sake that their name is on it, only a couple are women. For books: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Sherman Alexie. For movies/TV: Joss Whedon, Robert Rodriguez, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Winslet.

As someone who's a feminist (not the aggressive, bra-burning kind, but the men should cook too kind) shouldn't I have more female heroes? I tried to think of women authors who are my favorites, or who seem like they ought to be. I like Joy Harjo, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan. I have respect for Toni Morrison, but none of them are what I aspire to be.

Three female fantasy authors come to mind as being quite good: Lane Robins and Carol Berg wrote good books. Sarah Monette not only wrote a good book, but also influenced some of the decisions I made in how I wrote Oracle. Here's the funny thing - Berg and Monette's books feature male protagonists. Lane Robin's book features a female protagonist who spends almost the whole novel pretending to be a man. So, even though the authors are female, there's still a masculine focus, which means I'm back where I started.

I'm trying to figure out how to negotiate this quandry, and one thing that strikes me is that some of my favorite female characters have been the work of male writers. Joss, in particular, is the king of strong gals. Terry Pratchett has many a female led book, and Neil Gaiman has some strong girls and women too.

There's also a question of - despite feminisim and all - whether book writing is still a male-dominated game? Or, more specifically, how about fantasy book writing? I can't think of many guys who write "chick lit" but I can't think of the last time I read one of those, either. Of course, there's also the fact that there's a trend for female fantasy authors to have an aggressive feminist agenda - with a trend that "strong" female characters means female characters who can beat up men. It gets old, really, it does.

Add to that the different theories about how men and women use language differently. Do I just like a more masculine style of writing? Is it the tomboy in me coming out? What about the fact that, when Jenny compared my writing to another author's, said author was a man? Why can't I find a solid female role-model? What gives?

Can any of you all help me sort this out?


Jenny said...

My God, girl, I never thought about that before.

Part of me is down with the argument that novel writing is still a male-dominated game, but a bigger part of me says that's kind of a weak excuse...and it's being used as an excuse.

As far as heroes being male, I'm with you. Stephen King is a hero. I'm also a big fan of Tom Perrotta, Tim O'Brien, Sherman Alexie, and Jeff Long. I buy their books flat out. I don't even read the backs anymore. But (!) J.K. Rowling is right behind Stephen King as far as hero-worship goes.

I also pick up books by Jodi Picoult (sometimes a little too tuggy-at-the-heartstrings), Janet Evanovich (hilarious), and Jhumpa Lahiri is also tops on *how* I want to write. Her language is beautiful.

But I think you should not really worry about how evenly your interests are distributed. Everyone reads what resonates with them. If a man writes a strong female lead, should we damn him just because he's a man and pulled off something rather difficult? You and I both know how hard it is to switch hit--writing from a male perspective while still being a chick. And we've read pieces that struggled madly when a man couldn't deliver a real woman character....

Camii said...

What's wrong with having basically only male role models? Would you be having the same feelings were they mostly female?

Ali said...

That's a good point. If my role models were all female, I'd be slighting the guys, wouldn't I?