Posts Tagged strong women
A few weeks ago I attended a writers conference (or writer’s conference, I’m never sure which is correct) and one of the topics discussed was that of book covers. The cover of a book is important and lots of attention is paid to book covers. The cover—so they tell me—has a lot to do with selling a book. People do judge a book by its cover whether we authors like it or not, and publishers take considerable time and care to produce a cover that will help sales. A good cover can actually spur sales. Colors seem to be particularly important in book covers: some say reds and yellows don’t sell well, others disagree and look for a lot of red on their covers. I’m not one to say much about covers since I haven’t had one designed for my books yet, though I’m hopeful I will be going through that process soon. What I do want to talk about here is the presence of representations of people—presumably one or more of the characters of the book—on the cover
One of the main subtopics of discussion in the meeting was the use of people, either in face or whole body, on the cover of a book. Not all books use a figure, though many do. But I was struck by the dichotomy of the discussion about how to use a character’s likeness. If you put a man on a cover, either as just a face or an entire figure, then it’s a man. Period. But if you put a woman on the cover, it must be a strong woman, a weak woman—heaven forbid!—will not do. A man, okay; but not just any woman, a strong woman. No one ever says, “We have to put a strong man on the cover.”
We seem to have divided characters of fiction into two broad groups, men and strong women, as though any man is acceptable as a protagonist, but not just any woman. A male character is assumed to be a strong man, but female characters are divided into weak and strong, and no one wants anything to do with a weak woman. Especially not on the cover of a book. I’m not sure I can name any weak women off the top of my head, perhaps one or two of the March sisters from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But strong female characters are all the rage now, and if you’re writing a book about a female character, it must be about a strong one. Physically strong, as for example, Wonder Woman, or endowed with strength of character, as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind.” Agents and publishers are not looking for weak-willed women. Not a good role model. But does anyone ever question whether a male character is strong—in the same sense that we require a female to be strong? Certainly if someone wrote a book about a man who is constantly run over or put down by his peers, as for example, Caspar Milquetoast of the comic strip “The Timid Soul,” or Mr. Peepers, played by Wally Cox, of the TV series in the 1950’s, it might not even be picked up by a publisher. The “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series by Jeff Kinney has sold well, though. Yet, in some ways, those characters had qualities that gave them a type of strength we can admire. If not “strength” in the physical sense, then in a “persistence” sense. They picked themselves up and continued on, only to be knocked down again. They didn’t quit; it was not in their nature. I wonder if a book or TV series about a woman who is similarly kicked around would work.
But a “weak” woman on the cover of a book? Not likely. Eventually I hope we will be able to divide the heroes of books—and this is true especially of science fiction—into two groups: male and female, without having to use a modifier for females. The protagonist of any story has to be strong, of course, but do we need to divide by gender into men and strong women? I suspect that when agents and publishers say they want stories about strong women, they’re really saying is they want stories about women who, if you were to replace them with a man, would be a likeable and saleable character. Nobody wants weak men or weak women, except in very unusual circumstances.
Bubonicon 47 is over. Now for the post-mortem.
Bubonicon 47, that is the 47th running of the Albuquerque Science Fiction Convention, was held August 28-30, 2015. This was my seventh con to attend, and as usual it was filled with the interesting and interested, the timely and the timeless, the bizarre and a bazaar (I’m thinking of the dealer’s room here). As usual, I spent all day every day at the Con, attending the panels, browsing the dealer’s area (I didn’t buy anything this year), and browsing the art show (I did buy a computer designed work by Lance Beaton entitled “Phantom Flight.”)
The theme of the Con this year was “Women of Wonder,” celebrating the role of women in science fiction and fantasy, especially women who take the leading role. Wonder Woman, Princess Leia, Ridley from the “Alien” movies, and so forth. Since my (as yet unpublished) science fiction novels have women in leading roles in most cases, I took a special interest in this con, especially to see if I could glean some good details about how to write strong women characters. There were discussion panels on women in combat, strong females needing strong males, the romance subplot, the curse (?) of the strong female, and a few others. The panels were populated mostly by women writers (as you’d expect) and I took home several important tidbits about female characters. One of the most important was in a session entitled “Warrior Women In Combat: Fighting Females.” One member of the panel, Jeffe Kennedy, a Santa Fe author and resident, made the comment that using rape and sexual abuse just to “incentivize” a woman to fight is probably not a good idea. Why not? Because it demeans and diminishes the warrior woman, as though she needs some sort of “extra” incentive to fight for what she believes in, an incentive a male warrior doesn’t have or need. I took that to heart because I’m in the process of writing the third novel in my sci-fi trilogy, and one of the leading characters is a woman raped and abused. That was supposed to give her a reason to fight back against the forces abusing her. But she doesn’t need any special reason to fight so I took that out. She fights for what she believes in, the same as any male would in the same situation.
The recent announcement that two female army officers just completed Army Ranger training under the same circumstances as the men who’ve been going through that course for years, made just before the Con opened, cast an exciting tone through the conference this year. It fit exactly with the theme, and was mentioned a couple of times that I heard. Women have tried Ranger training before, but none of them has finished the course. (I’m not sure I could finish it, even in my prime. It’s a tough course.) But the two women who did certainly didn’t need any extra incentive to get through. They did it on their own, and your characters in your books can too.
Enough said. Looking forward to 48.