Thursday, March 17, 2005

gender traps in fiction

Writing from a masculine viewpoint is definitely a departure for me. Trace is not difficult for me to write, as I am well in-touch with my masculine side, as well as spending much of my social time in the company of dogs--er, men. But I had some serious misgivings about writing this story, particularly given the strong possibility of it being my first published work. For a very long time, women writers couldn't get a fair shake in literature, and that trend held on longer in SF and horror than the other genres, I think. Even back in the 70's and 80's, C.J. Cherryh and Andre Norton were writing under gender-ambiguous names in order to sell to a male-dominated market. (At least, that's what I've heard. I may be forwarding a feminazi meme, here.)

Still, one of the reasons I initially refused to read the Harry Potter books were because they were about a boy. I was highly miffed--and on some level I still am--that J.K. Rowling was a woman writing about a boy hero--and doing it under another gender ambiguous nom de plume. I know getting Harry Potter published at all was an uphill climb; I wonder if it would have happened at all, or been such a success, if the protagonist had been a girl. Somehow I doubt it. I know a half-dozen examples of girls-in-witch-school books that are just as good and virtually unknown.

I suspect, with some verification, that I haven't been able to sell the Quinn Taylor stories because she is a woman assassin. Women can be fighters and killers, but only in the name of good and right, i.e. Xena and Sydney Bristow. Even "Elektra," in the movie, had a change of conscience. It's unacceptable, to about 60% of the readers I've polled, for Quinn to be mercenary about her work. My husband is part of that 60 percent, incidentally.

But aside from the external stressors related to my writing male v. female characters, there are the internal pitfalls. I got started thinking about this a few days ago when I stumbled across "Women in Refrigerators," a web page dedicated to the hazards of being a superheroine, or worse: a superhero's girlfriend.

It's a time-honored tradition in hero-stories to use a woman to bring out the hero's soft side, to humanize him, give him something to fight for. Conversely, when you want to torture your hero, what better way than to abduct, abuse, rape or murder the woman he loves?

For Trace's next adventure, I was toying with the idea of putting a missionary woman on the train, give him someone to talk to as well as a victim-of-the-week, as it were. But then I realized I was heading down the same overbeaten path: hero meets nice girl to whom he is attracted, hero begins to think perhaps the world holds love and acceptance for him after all, girl dies tragically, hero avenges her death but will flagellate himself about it forever after.

Frankly, I'm a little leery of the implication that a hero can only be roused to action by a personal loss, rather than genuine altruism--or worse, that heroism is only rewarded with pain and death. Only the good die young and so on.

Of course, I took the exact same path with Quinn Taylor. But since Quinn is a female protagonist, her partner and love interest is a man, and well, let's just say it doesn't look good for our hero.

I guess my main concern isn't gender conventions but more an interest in avoiding the clich&eacutes.

In Trace's case, I didn't want him to have a genuine love interest this early in the game, but I don't want him to be sullen and isolated from the world, either. Since faith and damnation are the subjects predominant in his mind, it makes sense he'd connect with a missionary woman, but I don't believe that's what he needs in life, and I'm sure he's not ready to settle down yet. I have a tentative sketch in my mind of a woman who's right for him, but I don't yet have a story in which she would fit.

But more to the point, if I really wanted to torture Trace I'd do something to Boz. Boz is home to Trace, and his being a black man in the 1880's is just rife with gut-twisting possibilities. They act like a married couple anyway. I'm already picturing the slash fanfic.

So much for gender conventions.

1 comment:

Holly said...

No, wait! It's the new POST-MODERN gender convention! The gay-buddy action team!

Now there's a pairing we haven't seen in mainstream entertainment.