I’m keenly aware of the risk I’m running. I write these words knowing full well that they may cost me my Girl card, my Feminist card, and my Feminist Fantasy Fiction Writer card. I am going to write them anyway, because, after running into yet another reference to 50% of Tolkien’s characters not being female, I am getting tired of this junk, yo.
Before anybody gets all up in my grill, I would like to affirm, in compliance with my membership in the Societies of Girls, Feminists, and Feminist Fantasy Fiction Writers, that I like strong female characters. I would like to further stipulate that strong may include but is not limited to “arrow-shooting,” and that strong is definitely not “I will mope around the house in my flannel until my boyfriend permits me to trade the immortal soul I never cared about anyway for some hot vampire lovin’.”
So, now that’s out of the way, and I can move on to the crux of my post.
Yes, Tolkien wrote a bunch of male characters. No, he did not write a bunch of female characters. Yes, a bunch of Y-chromosomed hero-types took the one ring to Mordor and fought the Y-chromosomed Nazgul and got all manly at the Battles of Gondor and Osgiliath and Helm’s Deep and a bunch of other places where they fought the presumably Y-chromosomed ugly bad guy-types and presumably peed standing up. Apparently, this is a problem. There are just too many boys and not enough girls. Fantasy and science fiction are dominated by male characters. But I am getting way tired of this being a reason to heap criticism on the heads of Y-chromosomed writer-types.
I love Tolkien. I am tired of the Tolkien-hating. And, as a woman and a writer and a feminist, I am tired of the Y-chromosomed writer-hating. I think it’s misdirected and, oddly enough, not so subtly misogynistic. I now present my arguments for Why Tolkien and Other Y-Chromosomed Writer-Types Are Not Ugly Bad Guy-Types:
2) Maybe the guys who write mostly guys are writing mostly guys because they’re mostly good at writing guys. Maybe it’s not because they hate girls or think they are stoopid or just there for scenery. Maybe they are doing us a favor by not writing women. I would much rather read a book full of interesting men than a book full of insipid women poorly-written by men who don’t know what they are doing and have clearly never met a woman in real life. Yes, there are men like this publishing books. There are a WHOLE FREAKIN’ LOT OF THEM. YES, you should be VERY AFRAID. They tend to write interminable series.
4) It bothers me–really, really bothers me–when someone suggests that I can’t identify with the heroes of books because they are male, and when I am told that I must have female characters with whom I can identify. There are plenty of female characters in fiction with whom I’ll never identify. Who reads Arwen, The Second Most Beautiful Being Who Ever Lived, and thinks, “Oh, yeah, that’s totally me”? There are also plenty of male characters with whom I’ll never identify, but it’s not because they have testosterone. Who reads Aragorn, The Very Most Scruffily Noble Being Who Ever Lived, and thinks, “I am so that guy”? Who reads Gandalf, The Most Badass Wielder of the Sacred Fire Who Ever Lived, and goes, “Yes. YES. THAT is just like when I killed MY first Balrog”? I’m not going to identify with Arwen just because we both have dads and boobs. I identify with the hobbits, those little ordinary people with hairy toes who like to eat all the time and actually have a normal and evolutionarily healthy fear of nasty things that want to kill you. I identify with the characters who have bad hair days and common sense, and for this, I do not need boy-bits.
5) I have an imagination. It is remarkably non-gender specific. If I could only relate to characters who are exactly like me, I would never read anything because no one has written books about me. Yet.
In conclusion, I grew up reading books full of dudes. I’m rereading Sherlock Holmes. Again. Just like when I was twelve, and when I was twenty, I am not thinking, “I want to sleep with Sherlock Holmes when I grow up!” I am still thinking, “I want to be Sherlock Holmes when I grow up.” If my children ever have the audacity to think that Moby Dick is boring, and are obtuse enough to actually voice this opinion in my presence, I will disown them and never utter their names again. That Ishmael guy who needs the ocean like a drug whenever it’s a dreary November in his soul–he is me. I’ve stood on the deck of a ship captained by a madman and watched St. Elmo’s fire dance the rigging. I’ve raced against time through London’s writhing fog, on the heels of a murderer. I’ve carried Frodo up Mount Doom, stumbling under his weight, and none of these experiences have been diminished by the fact that I am female. Oddly, even I, encumbered as I am in my reading by such disadvantages as a uterus and boobs, appreciate stuff like honor and sacrifice and awesome sword fights. The charge of the Rohirrim makes me bawl like a baby, and it’s not because I’m mourning the loss of all those horseback-riding hotties. I’m crying because they are so brave and they are riding to their deaths with joy and they are good and flawed and wild and it is so freaking gorgeous a statement about the human spirit that I cannot stand it and I want to fling myself down that hill with them, because I am human and they are human and we share the same glorious and terrible impulses and beliefs and intimations of immortality, and I am going to have to stop writing now before I have a run-on sentence meltdown just thinking about it. Too late.
Yes, we need strong women in fantasy and science fiction. But we’re not going to get them by resenting male authors for creating strong men, or even for not creating strong women for us. We as writers have all the power that we need, because ours is the power of creation. To paraphrase a wise character who happens to have boy-bits and yet is still relevant to those of us with girl-bits, all we have to decide is how to write the stories that are given to us.
Let’s get writing.