|The second book in the Locke Lamora|
series, this is full of historically-inaccurate
female piracy. I'm pleased to say that
Lynch has done proper research on
magical poisons and sorcerous explosives
to make up for it.
- Despite their often faux-medieval settings, fantasy novels are, by definition, not historically accurate, and so cannot simply say 'women didn't do X/Y/Z in the fourteenth century' to explain why they have no women drinking in taverns or taking to a bit of piracy on the high seas. I particularly enjoyed the reiteration of this point in the comments section on this article, 'Tangled, Brave and Frozen All Made The Same Critical Mistake', which argues that although all these films do well in presenting two female leads, they are still flawed because the supporting casts are almost entirely male. One commentator tried to argue that there were no women in the background in Tangled because 'These movies all have historical timeframes to consider, and rough-and-tumble women in bars and female soldiers is just not historically accurate.' One brilliant response to this post was: '[I]t is a very strange argument to make that an animated fairy tale can have a horse act like a military commander with dog-like mannerisms, but having a female thug is too unrealistic?'
- Another commonly-used argument is that writers need to have artistic freedom, and so should not be compelled to keep to an arbitrary 'quota' of women in their novels, shoehorning female characters into scenes where they just don't belong. Keeping the first point in mind, it is clear that it is often more artificial to keep female characters out than to put them in. Scott Lynch realised this when writing The Lies of Locke Lamora, and to his credit, not only amped up the number of women in the supporting cast massively but made sure that he had more female central characters in his second novel, Red Seas Under Red Skies. Furthermore, I would argue, it's easy and lazy to slot in default characters to your secondary cast, which for many writers can mean choosing somebody of the same race, gender, sexuality and nationality as themselves (obviously the tendency to do this may decrease as you yourself get further away from the 'norm'). Far from violating artistic freedom, thinking outside the box can challenge you to write better. The same goes for the argument that novels should not simply create characters that the reader can 'identify' with, and so complaints from women and ethnic minorities that they cannot identify with usual heroes should be ignored. While I completely agree that fiction is there to help us walk in other people's shoes, how can white men learn to do this if they never have to?
|Bad for so many reasons, but also suffers|
from an almost total lack of competent,
As I was reading The Name Of The Wind, it struck me with greater force than ever before that the inclusion of a working system of magic in your fantasy universe, as long as women and men are equally gifted with magical powers, virtually compels a writer to rethink his or her views on gender roles. At least among the elite, and as long as magic has always existed, does this not mean that women would always have held greater power in society, because the ability to do things has never depended on physical strength? In The Name of the Wind, it could be argued that because being able to use magic effectively requires intensive education, women have been excluded from this tuition in the same way as they have been excluded from traditional educational systems, despite them having nothing to do with physical attributes. But this argument is undermined somewhat because wizard school is such an odd enclave, and because poorer, lower-born students are admitted alongside the rich (the tuition system explicitly allows for this). It's emphasised that wizard school is not a reflection of the society that surrounds it - hence Kvothe's success there, even though he comes to the school as a homeless beggar. So why are we stuck with one in ten female students (only one of whom we meet in the course of the first novel, and she seems to exist solely so she can look attractive while Kvothe rescues her from burning to death)?
There are some fantasy settings where I can believe the exclusion of women from positions of power, if not the exclusion of women from the text. I love A Song of Ice and Fire because GRRM is so clear that although women are formally excluded from ruling in much of Westeros, this does not prevent them from wielding power in all sorts of informal ways (Catelyn, Cersei, Sansa). Of course, he also makes sure that these women are important narrators, rather than sidelining them. Furthermore, magic is derided as weak and superstitious, and it is indicated that the disappearance of dragons from this world has robbed it of much of its supernatural power. GRRM can be forgiven for making Westeros look very much like a patriarchal medieval society because that is what it is. Interestingly, as magic returns to this universe, it's often women who seem to be benefiting from its exploitation (Dany, Melisandre). So this is certainly not to say that you cannot write a fantasy world where men outnumber women in power, education and wealth. It's only to say that one's traditional assumptions should not be taken as default. If anything, they need to be strongly justified, especially in fantasy.