April 23rd, 2003

A Pocket Full of Murder

(no subject)

More blogback to Jemima, who recently wrote an interesting response to my gender politics post of last week.

She writes: I was about twenty-four years old the first time this fiction gap was pointed out to me. I had just watched "Lawrence of Arabia" with a guy, and during the credits he pointed out that there were no women in the entire movie, except for one non-speaking figure seen from a distance. ... I hadn't noticed.

I know what she means. "Lawrence of Arabia" is one of my favorite movies of all time, and while I did notice the near-total absence of women the first time through, I was not at all distressed by it. (One of my other favorite movies, "The Hunt for Red October", is similarly bereft of female characters.) With regard to Tolkien and Lewis, until I was well into my twenties it genuinely never occurred to me that anyone might accuse them of ill-treating women in their books. Eowyn, Galadriel, Aravis and Jill in particular seemed to provide satisfactory evidence that both authors knew women could be intelligent, courageous, powerful and/or wise, and were prepared to acknowledge it. To me, the strength of those characters spoke louder than any sexist comments or trends in the narratives. (Not that I noticed those comments and trends either, much less gave them serious thought, until quite recently. And even now that I've seen the problems pointed out, I still don't find that they spoil my enjoyment of the books.)

Also like Jemima, I tend to see male characters (unless their maleness is exaggerated or strongly emphasized) as neutral. However, as a writer I don't feel the way she describes in the comments section of her post, that male is the natural "default mode" for characterization and "easier" than writing female characters -- that unless the character needs to be female there's no reason to make her so. Personally, if I have a secondary character to put into a story and their function is not gender-related, then it's just as likely they'll be female as male. Characters like that tend to just pop into my head and get committed to paper equally quickly. So unless there is some practical reason why the character has to be a certain gender, it's really just a toss-up as to what they'll end up being.

As I admitted in another comment (I think in Lisa's blog), for good or ill I tend to think of myself more as an individual who is female (though not a bit sorry to be so) than as a representative of a worldwide class of women. So when I choose to write either female characters or male ones, I'm simply following the images and ideas that pop into my mind, not making a conscious statement about gender. No doubt the way that I write male and female characters says something about my views of men and women, but that's another story.