rosefox: A Victorian woman glares and says "Fuck's sake, what a cock"; someone out of the frame says "mm". (angry)
Rose Fox ([personal profile] rosefox) wrote2014-04-22 12:13 pm

"It would not be logical"

Recently I read yet another book where the character I most identify with ended up sad and alone after the death of her beloved partner. Reader, I am fucking done with these books. DONE. Done done done.

If you nodded along to Ferrett's post about how the "logic" underpinning all-white and all-male award nomination lists is suspect, then nod along to this. Every time a lesbian dies, every time a wife is widowed, every time a mother grieves the death of her child, every time rape is used to define a woman's character, it serves the story that the author wanted to tell--the story the author chose to tell. And I am no longer content with "it makes sense in the context of the story" as an explanation or an excuse. That "logic" is just as suspect.


Tell stories where it doesn't make sense for her husband or wife to die. Tell stories where her child dying is unfathomable. Tell stories where women live happy fulfilling lives. Tell stories where women find love and don't lose it again. Tell stories where women and their bodies aren't treated like objects.

Tell stories where women are happy, where a woman's happiness makes sense in the context of the story, where a woman's happiness serves the story, where a woman's happiness is integral to the plot. Tell stories where women's hearts and minds and bodies and families and vocations are healthy, and treated with respect by other people.

Tell stories where women are happy.

This should not be such an outrageous suggestion. But take a look at recent SF/F, at the books that get awards, at the books that get talked about, and it is entirely and utterly radical.

Tell stories where women are happy. I dare you. And I'm begging you, please. I can't handle any more unhappy women. I can't. It's why I read romance more than SF/F these days. I don't identify as a woman anymore, but that doesn't stop me from identifying with women, and they are all so sad and I can't do it. Stop showing me how tough and realistic your grimdark is by making the women as miserable as the men. Stop showing me how exciting and dangerous your space adventure is by putting the women through as many trials as the men. I believe you, okay? It's tough and realistic, it's exciting and dangerous, I believe you, you can stop now.

It will be hard the first few times, because it's so alien, this notion of women's happiness. But you'll get used to it, once you can adjust your ideas of what's "logical".

Tell stories where women are happy. Go on. Give it a try.
willow: Red haired, dark skinned, lollipop girl (Default)

[personal profile] willow 2014-04-22 04:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Edited 2014-04-22 16:44 (UTC)
lilysea: Serious (Default)

[personal profile] lilysea 2014-04-23 01:57 am (UTC)(link)
Would you be okay with me linking/sharing this?
clevermanka: default (Default)

[personal profile] clevermanka 2014-04-23 01:23 pm (UTC)(link)
This is perfection. Do you mind if I put a link of this on Tumblr?
clevermanka: default (Default)

[personal profile] clevermanka 2014-04-23 04:37 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you. Post is here if anyone wants to reblog it.
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[personal profile] clevermanka 2014-04-23 08:42 pm (UTC)(link)
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

[personal profile] staranise 2014-04-25 07:13 am (UTC)(link)
*holds up a lighter*
brithistorian: (Default)

[personal profile] brithistorian 2014-04-27 03:38 am (UTC)(link)
This was awesome. I hope writers hear you and listen. I could do with some stories where women are happy.
Edited 2014-04-27 03:38 (UTC)
shipwreck_light: (Default)

[personal profile] shipwreck_light 2014-04-27 06:14 am (UTC)(link)
And people ask me why I do the jaded laugh thing when they try to get me to read Margaret Atwood.


I know we haven't been formally introduced, but imagine I'm a stray cat walking by and rubbing on you.

Mew! Thank you.
ivy: (grey hand-drawn crow)

[personal profile] ivy 2014-04-22 04:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Arrrrgh, I'm so with you on this! I just finished a sci-fi book that I would have otherwise liked, but of the two major female characters in a relationship, [rape and traumatic prostitution] and that was used to tell a story about how their relationship with their shared boyfriend was actually much more important than their relationship with each other sexually. ARGH DONE. I was so upset that I'd spent 300 pages liking and caring about these characters and their relationship, and then that. Extra irony since I'd ranted halfway through to the person who recommended the book to me about how female soldiers always getting raped was such an upsetting trope and I wanted to read books where that didn't happen.

I would love to see a thread about recommending good books where women were happy.
brooksmoses: (Default)

[personal profile] brooksmoses 2014-04-23 02:52 am (UTC)(link)
I would like to see that too!

If you don't mind picking up a series on the second book, Marie Brennan's The Tropic of Serpents (sequel to A Natural History of Dragons) fits the "good books where women are happy" bill nicely, IMO.

(The protagonist is mostly happy in the first book too, but there's one plot point -- not a rape, to be clear -- that means it doesn't quite fit [ profile] rosefox's criteria.)

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 05:07 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm re-reading Miss Read - schoolmistress in southern Britain in the 50s onwards. The author was married, but Miss Read has no interest in it - she goes to concerts, is involved in her friends and village life, and basically is a romance-free zone. She is a happy woman. I'm reading it because I need a change from shit-happening, too: I have enough of that IRL!

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 06:49 pm (UTC)(link)

Obviously as I write I (personally) want to write struggle, conflict, people facing obstacles, both downs and ups, but there are (I believe) ways to write these stories in which the story isn't told from and about the point of view of inflicting pain on vulnerable people. Not only does the sff field too often frame that as entertainment but it also far too often frames it is "important" "edgy" and "bold" when it is actually standard, familiar, and (I think) even comforting as an expression of the default.

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 08:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't want to read 'em.

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 09:07 pm (UTC)(link)
Nooooo no no no, anymore of those "award-wining" lugubrious bricks in which women end up unhappy and alone, because that is so profound and realistic. Gag.

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 09:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Are there stories where _anyone_ is happy? Just about the only place I see that anymore is a subset of cozy mysteries, where the investigator occasionally gets to have a happy plot. Of course, by nature of the genre, at least two characters per book end up rather unhappy, one at the beginning and the other at the end, but at least the overarching series plot can be nice.

As far as F/SF goes, it feels like it's nearly full time discontentment for all.

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 11:44 pm (UTC)(link)
This is why I like the erotica genre.
Because all jokes aside... people do end up pretty happy as a result. :)

And maybe some of the YA stuff. Except dystopians. Nobody's allowed to be happy in a dystopian.

[identity profile] 2014-04-23 05:51 am (UTC)(link)
i really liked nathan lowell's solar clipper series for that. the characters are a bit cardboardy and the protagonist is very mary-sue, but it's a happy, optimistic series with good things happening because why not.

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 09:45 pm (UTC)(link)
One of the things that always gets me about these crapsack world books is that real people who live in real crapsack circumstances still manage to find joy and contentment at times. They dance, make music, crack jokes, flirt, and all that. To get all quotatious, they make a heaven in Hell's despite. But I guess that's not tough-minded enough for fiction to try.

I don't demand that everything be sunshine and roses, and that the worst your characters must face is rain on the picnic, but a little joyfulness is not a sin. Honest.

Also, torturing your characters because you can and because you think it makes things more realistic is as lame as never letting the picnic get rained out.

I shall now go and read something by D. E. Stevenson. A heart may be broken but people will manage and move on.

[identity profile] 2014-04-29 12:47 am (UTC)(link)
My apologies for that! How about 'weaksauce' instead?

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 11:41 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't know if that's a thing I can do. Lately, I've been writing a lot of historical fiction, and the point of most of it is to highlight how much history is just horrific injustice and abuse, and how magic doesn't make that better, and that pretending it does is...willful denial. There's not a lot of room for happiness or joy in there. Happy moments, happy relationships, but not an overall happy life, or more importantly, a happy ending to the story. I also do a lot of fairy-tale revisions and fairy-tales are very much about trauma and its aftermath.

I know I'm just one person, and this post wasn't addressed to me in particular, but I do think writing trauma can serve important political ends...the next project on my docket is a Holocaust fairy-tale retelling, so...yeah. There's not going to be a lot of happiness there.

That said, [spoiler] no fictional lesbians were physically harmed in the making of "Burning Girls," and nobody was raped, either. Those were both conscious decisions. Earlier drafts were different. Interestingly, neither was a political decision. They were both aesthetic/narrative. During my revision process, I realized, at separate moments, that neither bad event was necessary to any part of the story, they were gratuitous, and in fact detracted from the emotional impact I wanted. My next story to be published has an ending whose happiness depends on your point of view, I think. It's a happy ending to my mind, though.

[identity profile] 2014-04-23 09:51 pm (UTC)(link)
I absolutely hear what you're saying, and I agree--and of course I should've realized that you knew this already. Why did I feel the need to write it out? I guess I was feeling a little guilty (I don't think anything I've ever written has had an unambiguously happy ending, either because I'm depressive or I write myself into corners and can't think of how to get my protagonist out of the trouble I've gotten her into) and just thinking out loud. But you're right--we need both kinds of stories, and we need trauma to be written with respect and full understanding of the consequences, not just as a cheap and easy way to add melodrama, and we need validation that it is possible to make a happy life despite injustice and abuse.

Oh, wait! "Swimming," the second story of mine to appear in LCRW has a straight-up happy ending! It's kind of a weird story, but it is definitely happy!

[identity profile] 2014-04-22 11:49 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, and rock on!

[identity profile] 2014-04-23 12:10 am (UTC)(link)
Roger, wilco.

CollaredPika of Bliss

[identity profile] 2014-04-23 02:55 am (UTC)(link)
User [ profile] pointoforigin referenced to your post from CollaredPika of Bliss ( saying: [...] to blow them up. Hail Hydra, indeed. In lieu of profound thoughts from me, go read an awesome post [...]

[identity profile] 2014-04-23 05:49 am (UTC)(link)
so very much this!

[identity profile] 2014-04-23 03:37 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, absolutely this. I made a conscious decision to follow this principle as a non-negotiable baseline in my writing. And I disagree that writing historic stories means the characters can't live happy fulfilled lives. Every era and setting has happy fulfilled women's lives and I choose to write about that subset of stories. (At some point I realized that my "skin-singers" stories in Sword & Sorceress revolved around the theme of characters demanding, "Give me a different story, I reject the superficial options!"

[identity profile] 2014-04-23 09:53 pm (UTC)(link)
I didn't say that historical fiction means that the characters can't live happy fulfilled lives. I said that the purpose to which I was putting historical fiction meant that.

[identity profile] 2014-04-24 02:10 am (UTC)(link)
Ah, sorry, the wording was ambiguous. (I read the "it" in "the point of most of it is to highlight how much history is just horrific injustice and abuse" as "historical fiction" in general as opposed to your writing in particular.)

[identity profile] 2014-04-24 05:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, I get it! Sorry for the lack of clarity.

[identity profile] (from 2014-04-23 08:30 pm (UTC)(link)
I have been extremely angry at such books for decades; I'll say it right out: it's other people's pain as entertainment. Given that the "default" is white, male, upper-middle-class, and so on, the "others" are everybody else. I've had a bellyful of torture-porn written by people who are very confident that nothing of the sort will ever happen to them.

And yes, you can fight the good fight and be happy at the same time; the most cheerful, optimistic, doggedly contented folk I know come from fairly grim background and spend their working days picking up after the disasters created by the privileged and the systematic oppression that nobody's supposed to notice.

So yeah. For the record, the uphill climb is the tale I write. Start between rock and hard place, find a way up and out -- but not alone.
beatrice_otter: Me in red--face not shown (Default)

[personal profile] beatrice_otter 2014-04-27 12:55 pm (UTC)(link)
In general, I agree with this; what about SF/F stories where the woman starts off unhappy and in a crappy relationship and one of the main plots of the story is to get her to a better place?


[identity profile] rex bellator (from 2014-12-23 10:07 am (UTC)(link)
I really don't understand the objection here.

Happiness isn't just an absence of pain but a fulfillment of a desire or goal and contentedness with a situation or circumstance, but as far as I'm aware, all traditional fiction with a beginning, climax and denouement is based on a conflict; conflict denotes a loss or lack of something where the main character must overcome or regain it somehow. The only stories I'm aware of where the characters are perpetually happy even in the face of adversity are either children's stories or stories about simple characters (i.e., Forrest Gump). Is that what you really want? I certainly don't.

I can get behind the idea if the basis of the complaint is about moving away from cliche storylines about "damaged" women seeking fulfillment. But if it's a desire to have "happy" characters solely to for the sake of having happy characters, then I cannot agree. It's bad medicine for an altogether different ailment.
Edited 2014-12-23 10:07 (UTC)

Re: Happiness

[identity profile] rex bellator (from 2015-01-19 12:52 pm (UTC)(link)
>You are correct: you really don't understand.

Right. If you are so enlightened, then - please, by all means - educate me instead of simply deflecting. I welcome the opportunity.

You are clearly a highly intelligent and thoughtful person, so I can assure you there is no need for snark or defensiveness. Perhaps your experience has hardened you to expect hostility from others who don't immediately agree with you; I can assure you that is not the case here.

My initial statements are not straw-men but simply taking what you've said and viewing them through the lens of my own experience and my own understanding. Therefore I'm giving you an opportunity to open my eyes to an alternative view.

Traditional storytelling involves conflict; conflict implies an obstacle or circumstance to overcome, usually through loss of some sort (loss of freedom, loss of well-being, loss of love, etc...). Conflicts are rarely happy occasions, therefore characters - be they male or female - attempting to re-establish a state of equilibrium. Are you in agreement?

If not, at least present an example of a major work where the central character is either content and/or never unhappy regardless of obstacles or circumstances faced by them.

I am in agreement with you that bad storytelling often reuses well-worn tropes and stereotypes to tell a story and this needs to be improved. However I disagree that an unhappy character is evidence of this because of the very nature of conflict and its relation to story structure.

And the only stories I am aware of (the key word being "aware of" I am not making a blanket statement about all literature) where central characters are either content or not unhappy are usually simple, two-dimensional characters.

I will stress this again: I do not claim absolute knowledge in this field, therefore I defer to you to correct me if I am wrong. Help me understand your original argument if I am misunderstanding you; how do you reconcile a "happy character" with the requisite conflict in storytelling?

That's all I have to say. I respectfully request that any response be meaningful and devoid of needless snark, sarcasm and defensive language. I am not opposed to you even if I personally disagree with your thesis.