April 11th, 2003

A Pocket Full of Murder

(no subject)

I'm still brain-fogged (having a head cold doesn't help, plus I'm still tired from a busy day yesterday) but I do vaguely recall what I wanted to post about gender politics. This was inspired by some comments I read on somebody's LiveJournal (too lazy to hunt down the link) about gender politics in Narnia, as well as comments I've come across elsewhere with regard to the portrayal of women in Tolkien. I got the impression that many people feel the reason Lewis and Tolkien had trouble with women characters was because of their Christian background -- based on the assumption that Christianity is inherently misogynist, so the more seriously an author takes the Bible, the more inevitable it will be that they short-change female characters in their fiction. I don't think that's the case, however.

I am a Christian woman who takes the Bible very seriously on this matter, and doesn't feel the need to explain away, say, Paul's remarks about the role of women in the church, as being cultural artifacts or otherwise irrelevant to the present day. In fact, in some respects I am quite sure I am more conservative than Lewis or Tolkien on the subject. And yet the problems and prejudices evident in their fiction regarding women are not, I think, present in mine.

Of course, it might well be said that my attitude is different from that of Lewis or Tolkien because I am a woman and therefore naturally more interested in portraying women characters fairly and giving them significant parts to play. But as Truepenny pointed out in her recent series of articles, Susan Cooper also appears to short-change female characters in The Dark is Rising sequence -- and she is not only a woman author but a modern, non-Christian woman author. So again, I don't think the mere fact of the author's gender explains this phenomenon any better than the mere fact of his or her religious affiliation.

Probably the best example of what I mean when I refer to myself as a conservative Christian author who doesn't short-change women characters is my one significant work that is not available online -- my original fantasy novel Knife. The book has something close to fifty characters who are mentioned by name, all but four of whom are female (and only one of those four men has anything even remotely close to a significant role in the book). It never occurred to me that I was making some sort of feminist statement with the book, nor did I intend to do so, but nevertheless it's interesting that all the action in the story revolves around women. And I mean action in nearly every sense, because the hero is paralyzed from the waist down.

Musing a bit further on what I've written to date, I realize that the theme of men reduced to a state of physical and/or emotional helplessness and needing to be in some way assisted or even rescued by women comes up again and again. It's in four out of my six DOCTOR WHO stories, it crops up repeatedly in D&L, it's in my Trekfic, my X-fic... wow, I'm a radical feminist and I didn't even know it! And the hero, instead of resenting the heroine's intervention on his behalf or mentally disparaging it, recognizes and acknowledges that he couldn't have made it through the crisis without her. He sees her as an indispensible part of their team, someone he needs by his side, not just the obligatory female sidekick or love interest. (Plus, she's often the viewpoint character, so the story needs her, too.)

Do my ideas about men and women come from modern feminism rather than a truly Biblical viewpoint? I don't think so -- I can think of an abundance of verses in both the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 2 comes to mind, as does the example of Paul's friends Priscilla and Aquila) to underline the theme that men and women need each other, need to appreciate and respect and value each other, and that neither one is meant to operate independent of the other or at the other's expense. The fact that historically men and women have failed to do this, and are still failing to do so today, says more about the sinful heart of humanity than it does about anything else, IMO.

My apologies for this rather rambling post, and I hope it doesn't sound self-aggrandizing (if it does, I'm sure I can count on some of my loyal friends to cut me down to size ).