"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Feminist Fiction

What is feminist fiction? Before I even begin, I recognize that this could mean two things: in essence, overt and covert feminist fiction.

"Overt" feminist fiction would be fiction of which feminism is a primary theme. Stories by and about women challenging and overcoming gender roles, and the discrimination they face. Tamora Pierce, or Mercedes Lackey, in fantasy, for instance.

My stories aren't like that. My two biggest projects were conceived before I identified feminist, and they're full of other themes and characters. There is, in some sense, not "room", I sometimes feel, to address injustices suffered by women when I'm busy telling an epic of kings and thrones, dragons and magic swords. And yet that in itself is the height of male privilege--assuming that only male experience is important enough to grace my pages.

And so, it seems to me: shouldn't a feminist writer--a writer who believes that men and women are equal, that gender roles are oppressive, and so on--shouldn't such a writer write fiction that is in some way informed by that sensibility? Presumably, a feminist writer should NOT imply that traditional gender roles are a good thing. A feminist writer should NOT lazily exploit negative stereotypes of women.

And yet, in trying to formulate the requirements of feminist-acceptable writing, I found myself in a quagmire. Because the demands of story, of fantasy, and of reality so often conflict.

Stories about kick-ass female heroes are clearly feminist. Does that make stories that are NOT about kick-ass female heroes anti-feminist? Obviously not. What if the story features kick-ass male heroes, but no female heroes? Maybe it *is* anti-feminist. What if the shortage of female heroes is caused by an oppressive society? Feminist? What if the author fails to make this point explicitly? Anti-feminist?

How about relationship dynamics? Is a story anti-feminist because it depicts unequal relationships? Clearly not. What if it depicts them favorably? What if the (male) main character has an unequal relationship? Has unchecked male privilege? Aren't characters supposed to be true to life? And yet, if the protagonist is presented as an admirable man, a moral man, isn't it harmful to show this paragon of virtue blithely exercise male privilege?

Even heroes are allowed the occasional character flaw or petty moral failing. But does it count as a flaw if most readers don't recognize it as one?

Furthermore, because I write fantasy, I am halfway between writing life as it is and life as it should be, which makes the matter of responsibilities unclear. The writer of historical fiction is safe. He will not write about female knights because there are no female knights. But in writing fantasy, I am responsible for the world I bring to life. There may never have been female knights--but there were never fearless dragon-slaying knights of any kind, and never any enchanted swords. Why, if I am to invent a King Arthur and his round table, would it *not* have women in it?

So, What say you all: To make a long question short:

What responsibilities does a writer who calls himself "feminist" take on, in terms of the types of stories, characters, and plotlines he may use?
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