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January 30, 2012

The Things I’ll Do to You…

So, how about that portrayal of women in fiction?

I’ve entertained the thought a few times on this blog that I want to be a writer.  Maybe I’ve got what it takes to be the next big name.  Maybe I don’t.  Maybe I’ll have people lining up to read my fiction.  Maybe I’ll just be an underground voice, with a cult following and snooty zealots scoffing and saying “You just wouldn’t get it.”  Who’s to say?  The point is, I have a goal in life.

I also have a very specific, very certain fear: a scenario in which someone will stand up, point their finger at me, and shout “That’s sexist!

Also I'm a JPEG made in Paint for some reason.

“Me, sexist?” I would ask, mouth agape and hand pressed to my beating heart.  “Why, I wouldn’t dream of it!  I’d like nothing more than to consider myself an ally to women!  Equal opportunities for all, and --”

Then someone would throw a brick at my face, which -- given my poor reflexes -- would turn my nose into gnawed-on ravioli.  And then the objections would follow; someone would be able to cite evidence, right down to the very page, that suggests that I have no respect for the fairer sex.  Or rather, maybe I do, but my work is just a platform to have the female characters bow down to the superior, much snazzier male characters.  Living vicariously through fiction.  Pandering to audiences.  Or maybe just penning a fantasy without anything to make it entertaining to others (or under the pretense of passing certain ideas onto others). 

The point is that, if someone took a look at my work and interpreted it a certain way, I probably wouldn’t be able to do much about it.  I’d have to nod and agree, offer my justification, say “Sorry.  I’ll be more careful next time,” and then self-destruct so I wouldn’t have to deal with the same question(s) again.      

I’ve been around the block (read: the internet) long enough to know that everyone, men and women alike, are hungry for the legendary “strong female character.”  That’s cool.  I respect that -- and moreover, I WANT that.  I want to be able to provide a heroine like that to the pantheon.  But as I read books and play games and watch movies and scout for fan reactions, it seems like there are so many ways that I can go wrong.  A cynical -- very cynical, to the point of being ridiculous -- part of me is even willing to admit that being a man is one of the problem’s roots. 

Pictured: a vehicle for spreading the joy of BDSM.

But there’s hope for me yet.  I’m glad that I’ve started thinking about it early; I figure that if I start getting paranoid early, it’ll prevent me from doing something ridiculous in the long run.  Which is what brings me here today.  I’m resolved to creating some hella-cool heroines, and I have ideas in mind that can help bring that about.  But more importantly, I want to bring everything that I SHOULDN’T do to light.  Think of it as a…sort of reverse checklist.  I can jot down my thoughts now, and maybe someday when/if I stumble on the things here, I’ll think to myself, “Whoa!  Glad I didn’t do that.  That would’ve been a disaster!”  Also, I’ll probably invest in a shock collar.  Can’t be too safe.

Anyway, here’s where I’ll make my stand: The 24 Things I’ll Do (And Never Do) to Fictional Women of My Creation.


1: I will make at least one character of a story I make not just a member of the main cast, but THE lead character.

2: I will make ALL female characters competent and reasonable.  If I am unable to do so, I will have evidential justification as to why she is incompetent or unreasonable.  If not, then I will bash my head against the object of an indignant reader’s choice.

3: I will NOT introduce a female character as a badass, only to have her skills/usefulness/intelligence inexplicably decline throughout the story.  If I am unable to do so, then I will allow an indignant reader to bludgeon me for an undisclosed amount of time.

4: Corollary to the above: I WILL introduce at least one badass female character in every other story I write from now on.

5: Corollary to the corollary: I WILL give said badass female character a personality beyond sarcasm, stoicism, and/or inevitable attraction to a lead male character.   

6: I will NOT shoehorn in a romance between a male and female character if there is no compatibility between them besides “we occupy the same space for a long enough period of time.” 

Worse than Bella Swan.  Trust me.

7: I will NOT make a male hero look better by making a female character look worse.  (See: Article 3.)

8: Incidentally, I will NOT make a female hero look better by making a male hero look worse.  This is asinine, and destroys credibility.

9: I will allow female characters to have all manner of skills and abilities, and not just confine them to common roles (healer/medic, mage/summoner, etc.)

10: Corollary to the above: princesses and other important political/social figures are to be as well-rounded and developed as all other characters if they are featured in a story.

11: I will have all female characters of unknown/magical origin be more than just plot devices and love interests.  NO EXCEPTIONS.

12: I will have all female characters have a legitimate reason -- either job-wise, role-wise, or personality-wise -- to wear articles of clothing that reveal copious amounts of skin.  If there is no reason (besides the obvious), it is forbidden.

13: Corollary to the above: no female character will wear articles of clothing that would make a woman in real life blush or groan, either due to impracticality or a conceivable attempt at pandering to male sensibilities.  Again, NO EXCEPTIONS.  (Because we have porn for that.)

14: In the same sense that I will feature men of all shapes and sizes, I will also feature women of all shapes and sizes.  However, I will portray no singular build as superior to another.

15: Corollary to the above (and by extension, articles 12 and 13): I will be cognizant of Rule 34, and let my writing/the women themselves do the talking rather than their appearances.

16: I will give all female characters their share of the limelight.  Similarly, I will not have a male character swoop in at the last moment and do what a female character could do just as readily, given the chance.

17: I will give all female characters meaningful dialogue, such as observations about the setting/circumstances, and the ability to make important judgments.  Their conversations are NOT to merely focus on them pining for a male character without serious justification; otherwise I permit detractors to scream into my ears with megaphones.

18: As I rely heavily on body language as a means of conveyance in my writing, I will have female characters do more than just “contort their bodies alluringly, yet impossibly.”

19: I WILL NOT have rape and/or domestic abuse as part of a female character’s backstory (OR as an event that occurs in the story proper) without extensive research, delicacy and tact with the subject, and a meaningful exploration of the aftereffects.  If I cannot integrate these well, then I will not use them at all.

20: I will allow men and women alike to express emotions when appropriate; in other words, I will not have the former express mindless stoicism and force the latter to grow weepy at a moment’s notice.

She'd get her own game if she wasn't virtually unstoppable.

21: I will have a sense of humor in regards to creating female characters, just as said characters will (personality-permitting) laugh and joke around.  However, I will know when a joke has gone too far or when there are boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed.

22: I will show that Character X is a strong female, not tell.  If I am unable to do so and get called out for it later, then I will concede and learn from my mistakes.

23: Incidentally, I will not be afraid to introduce female villains as well as heroes -- the only stipulation being that they are even more effective/planned out than the heroes.

24: I will not treat the creation of strong female characters as a chore, nor will I treat it as a requirement.  It will be something that I genuinely want to do, and therefore will come far more naturally with practice, skill, level-headedness, rationality, anticipation of backlash, and of course common sense.


Whew.  Well, I’m sure there’s more out there, but this is as good a start as any.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to use this as a guide for the future (though I am a little worried that I’ve essentially written 24 commandments and I still feel I’m missing things).  But I’ll find a way to manage.  After all, I don’t want to imagine a world where I have to self-destruct for wronging the fairer sex.

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