Friday, February 03, 2012

The Depiction of Women in Speculative Fiction - Part 1

If you look at the picture of me over to the right (past the cover art for the Corrupts Absolutely? anthology), you’ll see that I’m a guy. And a heterosexual one, at that.

I like women. I like the way they look (especially my wife). I like the way they smell (especially my wife). I like the way they feel (especially my—well, you get the point.) And I like writing about them in speculative fiction.

My very first science fiction story had a female main—scratch that.

My very first science fiction story was a very short piece about two male astronauts who went to the Moon in a rocket. One wanted to stay, the other wanted to go back to Earth. It ended with the one astronaut blasting off and leaving the other behind. But more about that another time. This is about women and gender in speculative fiction.

So, let’s try that again. One of my first very science fiction stories was about a young girl (seventeen or eighteen years old) who was a gladiator in the future. She was very good. The story was very bad.

But that’s not the point. What I’m trying to get at here is when I first started writing speculative fiction, my main characters were female. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure why (more about that another time, as well), but I do know I find a strong, beautiful female character appealing.

And, let’s be honest, I sometimes find women in comics drawn to impossible proportions appealing.   

(And men. I can’t get enough of the Hulk drawn huge with every single muscle in his body popped, ready to smash some shit up.)

I got back into comics in the late 80’s, early 90’s, drawn back by the X-Men and the artwork of Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio. I was about twelve years old at the time. While I don’t think Lee or Portacio went overboard with their depictions of the female form in comics, their artwork made the story arcs that much better for me.

(I should probably say I don’t collect comics anymore. I don’t really have the time and/or money to collect the way I used to.)

This is where things gets a bit squirmy for me. Twelve-year-old me saw nothing wrong with Pyslocke in a bath towel or Marvel Illustrated: the Swimsuit Issue. But as I grew into adulthood, and now that I am a father to a soon-to-be nine year old girl, I realize that the depiction of women in comics and speculative fiction is often inappropriate and unrealistic.

And I do my best to rectify that.

But it’s a work in progress. Literally.

My last three short stories have featured female lead characters, including “G-Child,” which will be published in Lincoln Crisler’s Corrupts Absolutely? anthology this March. I had been wanting to write a superhero story for some time now, and I think “G-Child” is an interesting take on the sub genre, the notion of the anti-hero, and gender roles in speculative fiction.

But my cyberpunk WIP—well, that’s a different story (no pun intended.) I’ve been working on it for about four years now, and I just can’t finish it. I’m not sure how. It’s told from the three different points of view—all female—and one of them is a sex doll.

My hesitancy with this WIP—scratch that.

My fear with this WIP is that I’ll get it wrong, no matter how careful I’m trying to be with the depiction of these three female main characters. The reality is that I probably will.

I mean, I’m a guy. A heterosexual guy. I’m bound to get it wrong.

But I have my wife to help me make the WIP as right (and good and fair) as it can be.

No matter how long it takes.


William Todd Rose said...

I agree wholeheartedly. While my own fiction usually leans more toward the horror/dark fiction genres, I don't really write damsel in distress stories. To me that's played out and tired.

six blocks east of mars said...

Thank you for the comment, William. I don't like the damsel in distress story, either. But then I don't like soft main characters--no matter the gender.

Not all of my characters need to be bad asses, but when the time comes, I want them to be able to hold their own mentally, or physically or verbally in a situation that pushes them to their emotional or physical limits. And if they kick some ass while doing it, well, that's fine too.