Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters – Part 1

Anyone reading reviews or discussions of science fiction has no doubt has come across the oddity that most discussions of female characters in science fiction center around whether the female character is strong or not.

As far as recollection serves, not a single discussion touches on whether the female character is feminine or not.

These discussions have an ulterior motive. Either by the deliberate intent of the reviewer, or by the deliberate intention of the mentors, trendsetters, gurus, and thought-police to whom the unwitting reviewer has innocently entrusted the formation of his opinions, the reviewer who discusses the strength of female characters is fighting his solitary duel or small sortie in the limited battlefield of science fiction literature in the large and longstanding campaign of the Culture Wars.

He is on the side, by the way, fighting against culture.

Hence, he fights in favor of barbarism, hence against beauty in art and progress in science, and, hence the intersection of these two topics, which means, against science fiction.

Different reviewers no doubt mean slightly different things when they speak of strength of a female character: but the general meaning is that the strong female character is masculine.

Masculine in general means direct in speech, confident in action, coolheaded in combat, lethal in war, honorable in tourney or melee, cunning in wit, unerring in deduction, glib in speech, and confident and bold in all things.

Hence, a strong masculine character in a story is one who can pilot a jetplane in a thunderstorm while wrestling a Soviet-trained python in the cockpit. He can appease a mob, lead a rebellion, give orders, follow orders, seduce a countess, fight with a longsword, build a campfire, repair a car engine, write a constitution, comfort the grieving (usually with a brisk slap in the face and a curt command to snap out of it), receive confession, sway a jury, suture a wound, and escape from a sinking submarine with a knife clutched in his teeth. In a science fiction story, a strong masculine character can also pilot a starship; in a fantasy story, he can resurrect the dead. See the cover of any lurid Men’s magazine to see a concise summary of the essential characteristics.

Of the classical virtues, fortitude and justice are essential to masculinity, as is magnanimity: a real man neither complains nor says ‘I told you so.’

Much more rarely do reviewers speak of strong female characters as having the virtues particular to women.

Feminine in general means being more delicate in speech, either when delivering a coy insult or when buoying up drooping spirits. Femininity requires not the sudden and angry bravery of war and combat, but the slow and loving and patient bravery of rearing children and dealing with childish menfolk: female fortitude is a tenacity that does not yield even after repeated disappointments and defeats. And, believe you me, dear reader, a woman in love has a very clear-eyed view of the faults and flaws of her man, and if her love is true, she does not yield to despair or give up on him. The female spirit is wise rather than cunning, deep in understanding rather than adroit in deductive logic, gentle and supportive rather than boastful and self-aggrandizing. The strong feminine character is solid in faith in all things.

Hence, a strong feminine character in a story is one who can overcome the prejudice against her family’s humble origins to win the heart of the proud Mr Darcy. She can appease an angry mother-in-law, reconcile a feud, arrange cooperation without seeming to take or give orders and without anyone feeling left out or overruled, lure a Lothario to his destruction, unman a Benedict with her wit, build a family, repair a broken heart, restore loyalty, comfort the grieving (usually with a sympathetic ear and a soft promise of better days ahead), receive confession, sway a jury, suture a wound, and escape from an arranged marriage to find true love. In a science fiction story, a strong feminine character can also halt a planetary war; in a fantasy story, she can resurrect the dead, and then marry him. See the cover of any Woman’s trashy romance novel to see a concise summary of the essential characteristics.

Note that men in fantasy stories tend to revive the dead by going to the underworld like Orpheus or Aragorn, and wrestling Cerberus like Hercules. They get revived like Gandalf the White, by being sent back by angelic higher powers. Women tend to pull Tam Lin off his horse as he is being led to hell. They get revived by love’s first kiss, which is more powerful than angels.

Of classical virtues, temperance and prudence are essential to femininity, especially that temperance of the sexual appetite called chastity, and that prudence not to excite the sexual appetite outside courtship nor to invite flattery, which is called modesty. A real heroine does not manipulate good men by their affections, nor copulate out of wedlock.

This leads us to two immediate and controversial questions. First, is there a difference between masculine and feminine strengths and virtues? Second, should there be a difference?

To speak of masculine and feminine is not the normal way of speaking of things. Modern political correctness requires one to speak incessantly and indefinitely of whatever is the topic without ever naming the topic, because certain words and ideas are taboo, the source of black magic. The theory of black magic is that if a word has a connotation the social engineers do not like, by avoiding the word, thought and psychology can be sculpted or habituated to a more perfect form. It is the theory that calling black skinned men not born in Africa and who may or may not be Americans by the term ‘African American’ rather than by the term ‘Black’ will somehow abolish race hatred. It is the theory that linguistic mannerisms and queer verbal tics can save mankind from our sinful nature, rather than, say, the Enlightenment of Buddha or the Blood of Christ.

Likewise, to speak of the sexes is thoughtcrime. We are to speak only of ‘gender’ which is a word that properly only refers to parts of speech, or, among anthropologists, social roles rather than spiritual and biological realities. Hence there is no word in the vocabulary of Political Correctness to speak of masculine or feminine things. The theory here is that by eliminating verbal reference to reality the offensive reality will softly and suddenly vanish away like a Boojam.

Hence, the Politically Correct theory is, first, that there are no differences between masculine and feminine strengths and virtues, and, second, that even if there were, it would not be pleasing to the amateur social engineers to acknowledge that fact; and indeed, it may be an offense against women to do so, and unwitting treason to the cause of radical egalitarianism.

The theory is borrowed without change from Marxism, except that instead of capitalist Jews being the evil and sadistic oppressors, the husbands and fathers and sons are the evil; and the women are the saintly and utterly innocent victims instead of the proletarians. The theory here is that that every pretense of any difference, however slight or obvious, between the sexes will be used by the ruthless oppressors as a ruthless excuse to exploit the weak and helpless women. Hence the theory of women as weak is built into the very bones of feminism.

By this theory, anyone admiring femininity in women or masculinity in men can be presumed to be motivated by savage and unforgivable yet unadmitted racism, but as if the female sex were another race, not the opposite and complementary sex of the same race. This type of make-believe racism is called ‘sexism’, than which few stupider words exist in the modern lexicon. (One would think ‘sexism’ would be rule by copulation, an inventive form of government yet to be tried.)

As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that Political Correctness is not merely false but is as lunatic as a man who hops energetically on his cracking skull, both legs kicking wildly aloft, screaming that his hat is a pogo-stick. The Political Correctoids seem to regard it as all the more admirable the more defiantly their words defy reality. Like the White Queen in Alice, they seem to admire not merely believing lies but believing impossibly false and utterly outrageous lies.

But in this case, we should hasten to admit that the Politically Correct lies, like most good lies, contains a grain of truth to it. Masculine nature tends to be adversarial and domineering where the feminine tends to be yielding and conciliatory. Left to ourselves in a Hobbesian state of fallen nature, sexual alliances between men and women tends to situations of mutual exploitation where the women get the worst of it; without the institution of marriage, the mating dance becomes a sexual melee, and the more callous masculine nature of the sex who cannot get pregnant and hence is less dependent on his mate, has freer latitude to use and abuse the other sex, not to mention being more violent in the passions and more prone to violence considerably.

The institution of polygamy is an attempt devised by men to check the excesses of this free for all by enforcing standards of chastity, but this institution is blatantly unfair to women, rendering them little more than slave chattel.

Monogamous matrimony as practiced in the West, that is, in Christendom, is an attempt devised by heaven to check the excesses of polygamy, by rendering the bride and bridegroom equal in chastity and voluntary in vow. Even so, women were not afforded the equal rights to vote and own property until quite recently, even in the West. Hence, we must admit that there is a real problem of feminine inequality that Political Correctness attempts to solve. We can merely reject with jovial contempt their means of solving it: one does not rectify deeply rooted historic injustices by means of euphemisms and nonsense-words.

Let us therefore at the outset acknowledge that the majority of strengths and virtues are the same in both sexes. It is not more admirable or less to lie or steal or cheat in a man than in a woman. We here are concerned those few areas where the strengths and virtues differ, which are the areas that Political Correctness pretends do not exist.

I propose that women can commit the same vices as men, but they do not commit them in the same way; and likewise practice the same virtues, but not in the same way.

For example, when men in a locker room, or on a battlefield, use the name of the Lord in vain, and no one hears them but their team mates or brothers in arms, the vulgarity may have the positive effect of stirring up emotions ranging from team spirit to desperate anger which aids the will to win. It is the same vice as if a woman swears, but the rough nature of the masculine task mitigates some of the roughness of their tongue. A man who is crude can also inspire fear because he fears neither God nor men.

Contrariwise, when women in the kitchen or the nursery use the name of the Lord in vain, and the children they are nursing and teaching hear them, the vulgarity has the negative effect of deadening the emotions of the youngsters and making them vulgar and indifferent to vulgarity. Youngsters indifferent to vulgarity with very few exceptions cannot have a reverent or respectful attitude toward man or God. This absence of respect infiltrates to every compartment of their lives; they are mean to the poor, callous to women, negligent of duties, contemptuous of authority, and so on. The point of vulgarity is to desecrate the image of man in the eyes of man: filthy language is meant to make us seem like filthy yahoos to each other. It is the same vice as if a man swears, but the delicate nature of maternal and educational tasks, not to mention the greater need for consensus-building in the circle of women, gives this vice a darker and longer-lasting stain when a woman indulges in it.

Also a woman who is crude inspires contempt, because she has contempt for God and man. The difference is that a woman who loses her native delicacy and modesty does not become an object of fear and respect, but an object of contempt and loathing, because the aura of sanctity women naturally inspire in men is tossed away.

For another example, when men complain to their team mates about some petty irksomeness in their job, it shames them by making them look weak-minded and whiny. Women, it must be noted, complain more than men. There is nothing sinister in this: if women did not complain, the thing of which they complain would not be corrected. The feminine way to correct the problem is to get someone else in the group to volunteer out of kindness. It is not duty oriented. The masculine way to correct the problem is to endure it, fix it yourself on your own time, or command an underling to correct it if and only if that falls within the scope of his duty, or demean yourself by asking a superior out of noblesse oblige to fix it for you, whereupon you will owe him. It is not kindness oriented.

Now, it must also be clear that men have free will, and can train themselves either to fulfill their nature or oppose their nature. Merely because we have a natural inclination toward something tells us nothing about whether we ought to heed or avoid that impulse. I have an impulse to be kind to children with big eyes, which I think I should indulge, and I have an impulse to stab my rivals through eye and into the brain pan with my sword cane, which is an impulse I think I should suppress, not the least because my blade is dull and I am past the age when one can face the gallows with dignity. So in looking at the formal causes of masculinity and femininity, I make no remark as yet recommending whether we ought to train our young men and women to adhere to these roles or to oppose them. We can go against nature if there is a greater good to be served. Likewise, we can all learn to walk on our hands rather than learn to walk on our feet. The question there is whether the good outweighs the cost.

The quickest way to examine the good of male and female roles in romance (hence in romances of adventure) is to look at their origins, that is, at the causes which encourage those roles.

Biologically, females can bear children and nurse them. While it is a very popular idea these days that nature only creates physical and biological reality, but leaves psychological, mental and spiritual reality to the arbitrary and absolute power of the individual willpower, this is a popular error. Mind and body are two aspects of the same reality.

It would be wasteful and absurd for nature to give women the sexual organs needed to bear children without giving women the sexual nature of women needed to use those organs properly or raise those children properly. That women would be more concerned with the tasks related to childrearing than men is neither absurd nor unfair, but reasonable and natural.

Like it or not, nature has oriented female thinking to make them generally better at teaching a child how to volunteer to do a task, so that he will naturally and willingly do his tasks once he is grown; whereas men are generally better at commanding and punishing, so that the task gets done whether the child is willing or unwilling.

The female concentrates on the doer; the male on the deed.

Whether or not nature is being cruel and arbitrary with this specialization of roles is a debate for another day.

But the purpose of the specialization is also difficult to deny: children need both a father-figure to mete out justice and fight for the family against the world, winning bread and slaying foes, and need a mother-figure to quench the thirst for mercy and nurture the family within the home. The mindset needed for these tasks is different, hence the approach is different. Men fight and women nurse the wounded, and then tongue-lash any malingering men into going back into the fight. Their role is support rather than front line duty.

This has a second ramification, also difficult to deny: the qualities that attract women to men are influenced by the specialized roles nature intends, and likewise the qualities that attract men to women. Since the roles differ, the qualities differ. Women generally must govern a consensus between family members within the home and between homes in the neighborhood, and arrange the harmony of all the souls involved. By the nature of her task, a bride must be more concerned with the soul and psychology of her bridegroom than he is with hers. Being friendly and kindly is not what she primarily seeks in him, but instead confidence and leadership. His role will require him to protect her during the vulnerable seasons in the marriage, and this requires that mysterious quality called good character.

Men generally must accomplish missions in a team or warband, either to kill the enemy in wartime, or in peacetime to overcome and outperform the competition in the marketplace, which ironically calls for many parallel considerations of diligence, stoicism, courage and discipline. These tasks require a sense of honor and a certain unfortunate touchiness of pride, a sense of teamwork and orientation toward the goal. We men do not care how you feel about your job, just so long as it gets done on time and under budget, and we don’t want to hear any complaint. We don’t want to hear complaint because that betrays a weakness of emotion, a lack of honor, which harms the team spirit and morale. Spiritual and psychological reality is a secondary concern. By the nature of his task, the bridegroom must be more concerned with the bride’s ability to perform the goals of marriage than with her emotional nature or mood. A central goal is child-rearing: this requires a fit physique and a willingness to submit to masculine sexual desire. Another goal is friendship. Hence, a man’s attraction tends to be rather shallow. Nature inclines him to emphasize that she is physically fit, healthy and young, and willing to undergo the travail of childbirth, chaste and friendly and amiable.

Hence during courtship, nature places a paradoxical burden on the maiden. She has to discover, not how her suitor acts during the fun and sunny days of courtship, but how he deals with adversity. Character is that trait which a man displays under distress, during wintery days when things are going wrong.

Character is a hidden trait. Many a young man undertakes foolish risks and stupid dares, leaping from rooftops or riding bikes on railroad trestles, not from any self-destructive impulse, but because of a burning need to discover what his own character is. Is he a coward or not? He cannot know this unless he sees himself under stress, in an emergency. Hence some young men concoct artificial emergencies by taking up dares or doing daring stunts or doing deeds of derring-do.

During courtship, nature inclines the woman to seek out the character of the man. If she were to act in the direct and masculine fashion of satisfying the physical sexual urge with the first potential mate who was no more than physically attractive, that is to say, if she were to dive bomb the target of her lust like a man, she would have no opportunity to test his character. He, in return, winning cheaply what he craves would not and could not prize it, and he will ignore or betray her as soon as his physical appetite is sated, for experience will have told him he can lift another skirt as effortlessly.

But if she lures her candidate in by her amorous coy flirtation, teasing, blowing hot and cold, pretending indifference then surprising him with sudden signs of affection, if, in other words, she torments him with her allure, then she can see whether he has the fortitude and depth of passion needed to continue the rite of passage to the end. Courtship is trial by ordeal.

Naturally, if she can see him doing brave deeds like wrestling that Soviet-trained python in the cockpit of a smoldering jetplane in a thunderstorm aforementioned, this will satisfy her as to his bravery. But it will not tell her if he is true and faithful to her, rather than attracted on a shallow level to her looks, or her wealth or position. She needs to know if he will be true in better or worse, rich or poor, sickness and health, because she does not want to be abandoned if she falls sick and loses her hair or her eyesight or her fortune. The only way to test that hidden trait is to see how he overcomes obstacles interfering in the courtship, including obstacles she herself puts in the way. The reason why girls do not phone up boys for dates is that if the guy is not interested enough in you to pick up the phone, he is not in love enough to wrestle that damned Soviet-trained python for you.

The paradox here is that even if the woman were a mind-reader, even if she were totally honest with her courting candidate, she cannot discover from him what she wants and needs to know, because he does not know it himself. He himself does not know how much in love he is with her, because infatuation camouflages itself as true love every time. He does not know the steadfastness of his own character until it is put to the test.

This is also why the mating dance cannot be reduced to a merely logical contract between two persons negotiating at arm’s length. They are not negotiating for the exchange of goods and services. Indeed, treating sex like a service is the mere opposite of true love, and hence is rejected with disgust wherever it appears by honest men, as gold-digging if not as harlotry, and honest women hate cads and Lotharios. The lovers are not negotiating a contract, which is an exchange of goods, but proposing a covenant, which is the exchange of souls and lives. Each lover gives his whole self, body and soul, to the beloved, and marriage is the sacrament to seal that surrender of self.

A certain degree of ritualized formality has been painstakingly developed over the years to channel and cushion and guide the mating dance and matrimony and so on.

On the man’s side, the courtship does not entail a paradox. His mission is to pursue the girl to whom he is attracted, overcoming her indifference, and perhaps her angry family if she is a Montague or a Shark and he a Capulet or a Jet, and winning her heart with courtesy, sincerity, wit, savoir-faire, and physical or mental muscle or both.

His mission is not to give into despair, and, when she walks out on him, to walk after her.

His mission is not to let his own pride spoil the relationship. Of course, heartbreak is certain here, because the formula requires you men to continue to nosedive at the target even after her ack-ack guns have shot you down. The other part of the masculine formula is to abandon her as a candidate if she is unchaste. If she cannot be trusted with sexual self control before the marriage, there is no reason to suspect that she can be trusted after, when the temptation is all the greater.

Now, if that is the essence of the male-female mating dance, as you can see, nature places a much greater burden on the woman. All he needs to do is be brave and persistent. She needs to be wise and insightful, and make an accurate judgment about his character. She needs to understand his real emotions and motives and moods.

At this point we can return to the main question above and consider how this influences fiction, including science fiction.

A poet portraying the mating dance in fiction by the nature of the art must portray only the essential elements. This is why Romeo and Juliet do not have a long courtship: we have one balcony scene and a secret wedding soon thereafter.

If the essential element of the female side of courtship is discovering the man’s true character, then a book like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which is concerned with the misjudgment and the correction of misjudgment about a suitor’s character is the central theme, is the quintessential feminine book. Women, if they are feminine women, will be fascinated by a book such as this, as it will allow them in their imagination to play through the steps they themselves, if they are not to live as nuns, will go through, or which they went through as maidens.

Even if they were not at first more interested in love stories and the play of romance than little boys, a little girl should be encouraged by the cold logic of the circumstance in which she finds herself to pay close attention to that one life-decision upon which so much of her happiness and success depends.

Girls who do not like love stories are well advised to learn to like them, because such stories deal with the essential and paramount realities on which much or most of that girl’s happiness in life will hinge.

Likewise, if the basic nature of the male side of courtship is overcoming obstacles between the suitor and the bride, then a book like A PRINCESS OF MARS is the quintessential masculine book. John Carter is so deeply in love with Dejah Thoris that even death cannot hinder him, nor the wide uncrossed interrupt of interplanetary space, and he fights his way past men and monsters and Martians, red and green and yellow and black, all the way from the South Pole to the North Pole in search of her, even though she is promised to another man.

These elements might strike a modern reader as offensive to the equality of women, particularly if the modern reader has been unwary enough to absorb modern ideas without examining them. This objection has always struck me as slightly comical. It is not the equality of the sexes that is at question in a story like A PRINCESS OF MARS. If memory serves, nearly every heroine of the several Barsoom books of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his many imitators is a princess. In other words, in such simple adventure stories the woman usually outranks the man. She is royalty and he is a nobody, a stranger, or an earthman. He is in love not with an equal but with a superior, hence winning her heart is a more difficult victory, hence more satisfying a drama.

Likewise, on the distaff side of the equation, I note that the particular example I selected of an exemplary woman’s romance, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, it is Elizabeth Bennet who is lower in status than the proud and handsome Mr Darcy. Equality is not a part of the mating dance: the drama of such girlish tales comes from the humble girl, the Cinderella, winning the high and aloof prince, and likewise the drama of boyish tale comes from the humble boy winning the heart of the princess.

In that most famous homage to sciffy serial adventure, namely STAR WARS, please notice that it was a princess who needed rescuing. While the space farmboy Luke is low class enough to be a proper suitor when he becomes imbued with magic powers as a psionic Warlock-Samurai, he is no longer low enough in rank to be a satisfying suitor, and the lovable space rogue Solo the Smuggler is selected instead. And Luke is not the brother of the space princess until the third movie, a plot twist needed to eliminate any possible romantic interest.

But perhaps it is not the inequality of rank between space princess and space rogue that concerns us here. The objection is that the space hero does the rescuing, his is the initiative and the action, and he gets to fly the spaceship through the palace wall, whereas the space princess is given no role but to languish in prison, perhaps wearing chains or perhaps wearing a silky harem outfit, and await rescue. The inequality is between the active versus the passive role.

I submit that this is not inequality, no more than Fred leading and Ginger following during a stirring waltz is inequality. It is complementary. Those who object that men should not lead in the dance, whatever they say, are not friends of women; they just want to stop the joy of the dance.

Please consider the nature of the art present even in the humblest pulp story. Stories by their nature are meant to be a culmination and sublimation and example of some idea, preferably a true idea, coming from the human condition.

The human condition for better or worse puts men in the position that the natural strategy for a suitor to pursue to find true love and win the girl is as outlined above: it is analogous to defying a world, sword in hand, and fighting an entire globe for her. It certainly feels that way.

There are no real alternatives to the strategy of persistent defiance of obstacles. The strategy of picking up an attractive stranger of loose morals, or hiring her for a fee for sexual favors, is so repugnant to prudence if not to human nature itself as to induce vomiting. This is what is portrayed as the norm these days, but that fact by itself betrays that we live in abnormally sick days these days.

The strategy of alluring a sexually aggressive woman by coy and amorous teasing and batting the eyelashes, so that she throws the man over her shoulder like a female Tarzan and carries him off to a floral bower for dangerously passionate ravishment makes the man weak and comical, a joke akin to Bugs Bunny wearing a dress.

There is a reason why Superman rescuing Lois Lane remains a charming and beloved center of their myth even after more than half a century, whereas no one remembers or cares to remember any scenes of Wonder Woman rescuing Steve Trevor. The stark fact is that a healthy woman admires and should admire strength in her man, including when such strength sweeps her up in his arms. She should be delighted even if she is offended when Tarzan throws her over his shoulder, or her bridegroom carries her across the threshold. A man should not admire physical strength in women, because this is not a characteristic that differentiates the sexes for him.

The sexes are opposite, and culture should exaggerate the complementary opposition by artifice in order to increase our joy in them, including artifices of dress and speech: when women dress and speak and act like men, some joy is erased from both sexes.

The best image and analogy of this male strategy of courtship in action is pursuit and combat and rescue. The simplest way in a story to have pursuit and combat and rescue is if the girl has been abducted, so that her abductor must be slain and she liberated. The man then is both her servant and her savior: this combination of service and salvation exactly pictures the heart of the lover.

It is extraordinarily rare that a man in real life has chased the abductor of a fair maiden, slain him with a sword, and untied her from the railroad tracks or sawmill log, to win her grateful kiss and hand in marriage. I doubt if it has ever happened in the history of the world that a young damsel met the man she later married when he rescued her from a shipwreck or a housefire. But this image, corny and hackneyed as it is, of rescuing a damsel in distress is the central image of the male strategy of courtship, the central sexual image in all male dreams.

In real life we might outperform a rival for the affections of our true love, but it would be more satisfying to stab him to death with a sword, for the victory in love feels like the victory in a duel. Rarely if ever has the object of our affection been tied to a tree in a clinging white dress to be sacrificed to a dragon, but every bridegroom rescues his bride from the dragon called loneliness. It feels like a rescue. The purpose of a story is to capture such feelings in a concrete image.

This kind of adventure story scenario also allows the story to display the other elements which give the particularly masculine virtues a chance to shine, including airplane crashes, tornadoes, and escapes from dungeons, or, in the case of a fantasy story, grasping with your teeth the vulture who stooped to peck out your eyes while you were being crucified, and breaking its neck with your incisors. Perhaps there are young girls these days who daydream about doing such a feat a strangling a vulture with your teeth, but it would seem unusual.

A woman perhaps will be offended at being portrayed as a prize; but none should be offended at being prized.

A main objection to the damsel in distress scenario is that by the logic of the plot, she does not have much to do, aside from perhaps knifing a too-familiar dungeon guard. If Andromeda by herself slips the chains and strangles the sea monster, there is nothing for Perseus to do, nor has he done anything for which she might reward him with her hand in marriage, for his character has not been put to the test.

I should also hasten to mention that while many people complain about the portrayal of weak heroines in boy’s adventure stories, the complaints are narrower than it might first seem.

Four examples will suffice: Notice that while Dale Arden of FLASH GORDON has nothing to do aside from being captured and forced into a slinky harem outfit and menaced by the lust of Ming the Merciless, Wilma Deering of BUCK ROGERS is a soldier fighting in endless and hopeless resistance against the Air Warlords of the invading Han. While Dorothy Vaneman has nothing to do in SKYLARK OF SPACE aside from being space-napped by that most magnificent of space opera villains, Marc C ‘Blackie’ DuQuesne, the Red Lensman Clarissa MacDougall in GALACTIC PATROL is an officer in the medical corps, fearless in war and in the operating theater (where she must perform a quadruple amputation on her wounded beloved without flinching) and has at least one scene blasting Boskonian space-pirates, crashing a spaceship through the palace walls to rescue a damsel in distress of her own, ironically enough, an Amazon. In other words, weak and fainting female characters do indeed crop up, but they are not as prevalent even in the boy’s adventure fiction as the complaints would lead one to believe.

Another point to be made here is that annoying girly characters who do nothing but scream and need rescuing do exist in science fiction, but that they were more prevalent in the 1960’s, the era of the Playboy Bunny, than in the 1940’s, the era of Rosie the Riveter.

The modern women’s liberation movement got started in the same era when the sexual revolution was imposing on women a demeaning role from which she needed to be liberated, the dumb blonde sex bombshell role of the postwar years. During the 1940’s, the Serial Queen from the Cliffhangers were action heroines, Daughters of Zorro or Jungle Girls more often seen with dirk or sixgun in hand, and sometimes whip, than than she was seen clinging to cliffs, menaced by killer apes or being lowered slowly into the fiery abyss (albeit, of course, she was seen there as well).

A plethora of pictures will help make this point.


Serial Heroine with Sixgun


Serial Heroine Hanging from Cliffside



Serial Heroine Menaced by Killer Ape


Serial Heroine with Dirk


Serial Heroine with Sixgun AND Whip


Note that the Black Whip is racing to rescue Vic Gordon, who has nothing to do until then but be drowned during a cave in or something

My theory is that in the postwar years, the returning servicemen, having survived the hell of war and emerged from the purgatory of the Great Depression, yearned for and created the most pleasant environment imaginable to the human race: the well tended suburb, complete with elm trees, white picket fence, automobiles with tailfins, televisions with rabbit ears, schoolhouses (and shoes) for their children, washing machines, and, in yearning for domestic bliss, asked for an exaggerated form of domestic femininity from their women, complete with high heels, aprons and pearl necklaces. They had certainly earned it; and the women graciously granted their wish, and behaved in a more feminine fashion than their mothers.

The dark side of that grant was that the relaxation and celebration of the fat years of peacetime also encouraged the red light districts of American life to begin to sneak into main-street. It was the era of Marylin Monroe and of Playboy Clubs, where femininity first began to be treated as a soulless commodity.

In those days the feminists, instead of reacting with Puritanical horror against the dehumanizing sexualization of their sisters, saw the pornographers and sex peddlers as allies against domestic life, which the feminists, inexplicably, saw as the greater threat.

The cigarette companies encouraged women to smoke as a sign of liberation with the slogan you’ve come a long way, baby. And the femininsts made a common cause with the Madison Avenue types who thought it was cute to call them babies. Figure that one out.

However, in my own admittedly unscientific review of science fiction, I noticed that the useless female characters whose only role is to look pretty and scream at danger, the Playboy Bunny style girls, date from the 1960’s, in works by Keith Laumer or Robert Heinlein. Female characters who act more like Roman Matrons or Pioneer Wives, dames with dignity but tough as nails, ready to pick up sword or raygun, or stab a salacious dungeon guard with a dirk, mostly date from during and before the war, as in works by Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merrit, Jack Williamson or C. L. Moore.

Admittedly there are some, more than a few, heroines in boy’s adventure stories given little or nothing to do. My argument is first that the complaints are exaggerated, and second that introducing masculine traits to female characters does not make them strong, merely unrealistic to the point of dishonesty.

It is wise to be wary of book reviews discussing strength in female characters. The unspoken idea being foisted across on the unsuspecting reader, who might have thought he was reading a book review rather than a political tract, is that to be feminine means to be weak and despicable, hence the only way to be strong and admirable is to be masculine. These reviewers, almost without exception, take for granted that it is an offense to female readers, and perhaps an offense to the grand and glorious revolutionary social cause of feminism, to present to the audience a female character who does not inspire admiration and emulation. They also take for granted that the only people women readers can admire or would emulate is a woman who acts with manly virtue, masculine power, male strength.

In other words, when reviewers urge writers to put strong female characters into their works, they are asking the writers, in effect, to add Amazons, women with stereotypically masculine behavior patterns, values and attitudes. The only difficulty with the idea is that Amazons are as mythical as gynosphinxes.

I return once again to my example of Miss Bennet from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I defy anyone to dismiss as weak a character who, in the climactic scene where Lady Catherine de Bourgh commands her not to marry Mr Darcy, and Miss Bennett, unmoved and unimpressed despite the high rank and vast influence of the earl’s widow, flatly refuses. If I may quote: “I am resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.”

Is this a weak character? I think not. She handles the confrontation in a fashion exemplary of feminine courage, particularly since, after the marriage, Elizabeth’s firmness of character allows harmony to be restored within the group, and the conflict reconciled, once Lady Catherine is one of her in-laws.

Strong men do not want reconciliation but victory. An action hero in that situation would have simply stabbed the fussy matron with a snickersnee, eloped with his fiancee, and fled to the coast to sign on with privateers, with her disguised as the cabin boy. Then he would have wrestled a sea-serpent.

Femininity is not weakness. In many ways, perhaps in most ways, female strength is greater than male strength, since our strength is based on a fragile sort of selfish pride that comes from triumphs, whereas feminine strength is based on selfless faith, in her beloved man or her beloved God, which the defeats and the adversity of the world merely strengthens all the more. Male strength is like a fire among Autumn leaves, which burns brightly but quickly, then is gone. Female strength is like a sacred fire among coals, which comes again to life when it seems to be out.

Is there a danger that the repeated urging to introduce female characters that manifest masculine rather than feminine virtues will damage science fiction? Ah, but that is a question for my next essay. Space does not permit I answer here.


  1. Ping from Men and Women are Different – Another Perspective | Josh Postema:

    […] but it isn’t as far along as I’d like. In reading today, I came across this post by John Wright that relates to the topic. If an idea can’t hold up to the rigors of story and […]

  2. Comment by Stephen J.:

    “The inequality is between the active versus the passive role.”

    I think if I had to boil down this (brilliant) essay’s entire thesis to one sentence this would be it; it is both the most concise summation of the issue and the one that illuminates, I think, why so many female readers/viewers are hung up on the Amazon archetype. The desire is for heroines who do something, who save themselves rather than facilitating another’s heroism by being saved; the fatal weakness that much modern media has fallen prey to in attempting to satisfy this need is, I think, twofold.

    1) The tendency for direct physical violence to be the ultimate method of conflict resolution in most genre stories has become significantly exaggerated over the last couple of decades, and much aggravated by the fact it is superficially the easiest method to visually and excitingly dramatize in film and TV. (I sometimes think the parts of screenplays that writers really love to write are directions like, “They fight — choreographers, go nuts!”) As a result, protagonists who don’t achieve their goals at least in part by sheer badassery have come to be thought of as less exciting, and protagonists who can’t or won’t Take a Level in Badass (as the TVTropes page calls it) have come to be thought of as unworthy of respect.

    2) Many of the consumers who want to see female protagonists kicking butt, taking names and saving their boyfriends keep forgetting that most viewers/readers — men or women — find it very hard to see a man who keeps needing to be saved as worth saving. As a result, when they simply flip the sexes of the characters and retain the plot devices, the lack of response drives them to assume prejudice rather than instinct, and they blame the audience rather than the trope.

    (That’s not to say it can’t be done, but it needs a lot of work; the eponymous geeky male protagonist of the TV series Chuck, for example, often had to be saved from physical dangers he didn’t have the training to handle himself by his love interest action-spy babe Sarah, for the first two seasons anyway. However, Chuck regularly proved his courage and effectiveness all the same by using his wits, ability to improvise, earnest conviction, and bluffing chutzpah to defeat enemies far more physically dangerous than himself, so we could still respect him and respect Sarah for falling for him; he was merely not physically active in the same way — until he got an upgraded computer program in his head that taught him kung fu, anyway. Watch the series, it’s fun.)

    As a result, the modern demand is a rather O.Henry-esque trap. Requiring female protagonists to be badasses exactly like men so they can save men only takes away the sole respectable incentive — protecting the deserving but helpless weak — for that badassery in the first place. The one classic escape from this trap has been to have female badasses protecting children, viz. Ripley with Newt in Aliens… but this, too, harks back too strongly to maternal tropes to be much welcomed these days.

    • Comment by Pierce O.:

      Another way out of the bind is for the man to save the woman from physical danger and the woman save the man from spiritual danger. I am thinking in particular of Fullmetal Alchemist, where Col. Mustang saves Lt. Hawkeye from baddies on numerous occasions, while the good Lieutenant stops Mustang from crossing the moral event horizon (though she’s got his back in a fight, this is a more significant plot point). He makes her his subordinate for such a reason, and she tells Winry the only reason she remains in the military is too keep Mustang safe (spiritually or physically). Also, note that while Hawkeye is a great marksman, the Colonel can throw freaking fireballs, and outranks her, so the romantic idea of a strong man is still present.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Many of the consumers who want to see female protagonists kicking butt, taking names and saving their boyfriends keep forgetting that most viewers/readers — men or women — find it very hard to see a man who keeps needing to be saved as worth saving.

      Yeah, it’s a trick. OTOH, the girl who keeps needing to be saved may not be worth saving. (Though I had a story idea once where the woman kept walking with wide-open eyes into peril so as to give the men an excuse to destroy the evil on the pretext of saving her. Outlined it even, but never wrote it.)

      And it does take more work when it’s a guy, above and beyond the standard stuff. (I go on at wearisome length here) However a guy who needs you is also romantic.

  3. Comment by Danby:

    Small correction. Lady Catherine DeBourgh is not Mr. Darcy’s mother. She is rather an aunt to both Darcy and Col. FitzWilliam. She becomes Elizabeth Darcy’s aunt upon the even of the marriage, not her mother-in-law.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Whoops. Correction made. In my defense, there is not a single raygun or snake-wrestling scene in all the corpus of Jane Austen, so I naturally pay less attention than to works of profound art like GALACTIC PATROL or LEGION OF TIME. And I am a guy. I am lucky to have read the book at all.

      • Comment by Carbonel:

        speaking of small corrections: The phrase here: “Men fight and women nurse the wounded, and then tongue-lash any malingering men into going back into the fight. Their role is support rather than front line duty.” isn’t entirely clear: the parallelism is a bit off. It reads as if both sexes were in the business of tongue-lashing the malingers, but also as if you only meant the men did the tongue-lashing. Which did you want? I only ask because it’s a minor tweak in an otherwise thoroughly brilliant essay. Great stuff!

  4. Comment by Pierce O.:

    Excellent essay Mr. Wright. I particularly liked your summation of the two sexes’ different virtues; it reminded me of Heinlein’s ”A real man can…” quote. I also appreciated the distinction of sex and gender, something I’d been trying to explain to a friend recently when I was explaining why I didn’t buy into modern gender theory: it has a superstitious belief in ‘gender’ (as it uses the term), a ghostly sex-that-is-not-your-sex that exists alongside, and possibly in opposition to, your actual sex.

    I’m curious as to what you would make of a short Japanese series I watched recently, GIRLS UND PANZER. At first glance, it might appear to be about ‘strong’ female characters slugging it out with their rivals in mock tank battles like men would, but upon viewing, it is actually a celebration of femininity: it is the characters’ feminine strengths that ultimately make all the difference in the story, their kindness, their devotion to one another, their forgiveness, their determination, etc., rather than how well they can blow things up with tanks (though that does help), and said blowing up is done in a feminine, rather than masculine fashion. For example, they decorate their Panzer’s interior with cute, fluffy cushions; the radio operator is selected on the basis of her skills as a conversationalist; and the freshman team paints their tank hot pink (much to the dismay of the resident tank buff). The English trailer sums it up nicely:

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      it reminded me of Heinlein’s ”A real man can…” quote

      As it should, I stole it from him shamelessly. It is inefficient to invent your own material. Just ask Virgil.

    • Comment by DGDDavidson:

      Squee! I don’t know what Mr. Wright thinks, but I LOVE Girls und Panzer. Most of the characters don’t get enough development, but otherwise, such a fine show. And that final tank battle was all by itself worth the price of admission.

      But I must admit I’m somewhat conflicted: although I find myself in agreement with this essay, I also have a great love for any and all depictions of cute girls blowing up stuff.

      Girls und Panzer works because it takes itself seriously while at the same time never forgetting how crazy its premise is: it’s a world where operating a tank is considered feminine exactly because it is supposed to train girls in the feminine virtues. Every once in a while it seems the writers forget their own premise, but for the most part, I thought they did a good job of selling it.

      • Comment by Arakawa:

        “never forgetting how crazy its premise is: it’s a world where operating a tank is considered feminine exactly because it is supposed to train girls in the feminine virtues.”

        Well, it’s certainly a better excuse to invent tanks than the one our world wound up using :-P

        • Comment by Pierce O.:

          Interestingly, WWII still happened in the setting, which makes you wonder what they thought of all the Afrika Korpsmen. The Erwin and Yukari (my favorite characters as well) at least don’t find it odd.
          I’d say at least half the cast get decent character development, which is impressive considering that is about 12 characters in 12 episodes (I am thinking of Anko Team., Rabbit Team, and the student govt).

          Also, Deej, if you get the chance, watch Madoka Magica: Rebellion when it comes stateside. It was Avengers level epic and throws a huge twist to the storyline(though this better not be the ending).

  5. Comment by Sean Michael:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Despite having only partially read this essay, I wanted to ask a question. How do you think Poul Anderson handled women in his works? I thought at once of his character Kossara Vymezal, to be found in A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS. In many ways she seems to fit the ideal female character you would prefer to see in SF or life in general.

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

  6. Ping from My Way Or The Highway | Something Fishy:

    […] I will admit to my fault, which was explained to me by John C. Wright: I shouldn’t have cussed. Even by acronym. Mea […]

  7. Comment by Arakawa:

    A crucial question to figure out is why the modern mind is so bad at writing Amazons and assorted ‘strong’ female characters, who do have a place in literature, or else we would not have the Amazon myth in the first place.

    Why a certain kind of modern mind refuses to spend its time trying to write any other kind of female character is a sadly more obvious question :-P

    So, why is someone like Miyazaki (who is certainly one of the least modern minds around) able to write both Nausicaa and Kushana, who trip all the red flags for a ‘strong female character’, but seem to draw no real objection?

    (My best guess, based on the manga version of the story:

    I think it’s obvious that Princess Nausicaa is, on one level, blatantly unrealistic, but her strengths are still drawn from feminine nature. She fights the world with atypical and active ferocity for, ultimately, the same reason that one is ill advised to get between a mother bear and her cubs; only, Nausicaa’s heart happens to be big enough for her to treat the entire world and all its creatures (even a radioactive god-warrior) as though they were personally her children. This puts her at odds with more or less every villain or misguided idealist in the surrounding nations, and the ones who cannot be pleaded with, she battles with nigh-Barsoomian feats of martial valor. This is, ultimately, no less realistic than any other superhero fiction that extolls a virtue by making it the source of implausible superhuman feats.

    Princess Kushana, on the other hand, is the classic Amazon, with the tragic aspect of the archetype acknowledged. Where the Amazons chopped off one breast for both practical reasons and as an act of deliberate symbolism, the vicissitudes of fate have chopped off Kushana’s… almost everything, and replaced it with some kind of prostethic armour. Therefore even one look at the character’s appearance suffices to tell us how much she is forced to give up in order to fill the roles of a warrior and a politician; not exactly a wish fulfilment character.)

    To contrast, the Avatar filmmakers crashed and burned trying to do something similar with Legend of Korra. As a strong female Avatar, you’d expect Korra to be driven by some of the same ideals as Nausicaa, and occupy the same sort of ecological niche in her own universe. This isn’t a terribly difficult or complex archetype to write — but the basic understanding required seems to have been completely absent; for the first one and a half seasons (at least; based on what I’ve seen so far), the end result is that Korra’s character is rarely entertaining but mostly is a selfish, insufferable jock, to the point that it beggars belief that she could be a reincarnation of the subtle, pacifistic Aang from the previous series.

    • Comment by Pierce O.:

      I thought Kushana’s prosthetics were only in the film version, not that her character isn’t tragic in the manga in other ways. I think Nausicaa’s unrealistic martial prowess also gets a pass because we see her showcase her feminine strengths as well, both in the Valley and in the battlefield. In particular, I recall when she comforts the children when she is taken from the valley, the old men when the barge goes down in the Sea of Corruption, and the spore infected Torumekian who is hacking up blood and crying out for his mother. Also, her role as a prophesied savior also lends to her the aura of, ahem, a Joan-of-Archetype.
      As for Korra, it is particularly annoying that they can’t seem to get her characterization right, given all the other good female characters in the Avatar universe.

      • Comment by Arakawa:

        “I thought Kushana’s prosthetics were only in the film version, not that her character isn’t tragic in the manga in other ways.”

        Ah… oops? That at least goes to show that the armour is such a brilliant summation of what the character has to give up, that it’s apparently become an indelible part of my mental image of the character ^_^;

        “As for Korra, it is particularly annoying that they can’t seem to get her characterization right, given all the other good female characters in the Avatar universe.”

        I notice that the writers’ instincts on the show with respect to the characters seem to be better than their politically correct cerebral reasoning. So, when they wrote Katara as a character whose purpose was to support Aang through the story, they followed their intuitions and wound up creating a much stronger character than Korra, who was supposed to be the star of her own show and where they clearly way-overthought what a strong female hero is ‘supposed’ to be like. (If Aang was the deliberate and conflict-avoidant one… let’s make Korra the jock who rushes into everything without thinking things through!)

        And the bending mechanic makes for a world where it’s perfectly plausible for twelve-year-old girls and geriatric old men alike to show up and start doing things like flinging around colossal boulders. Then it turns out when you level the playing field like that in terms of strength of brawn, that has a tremendously clarifying effect on just what strength of character does for a person.

        • Comment by Pierce O.:

          I was talking about Korra with a friend just today, and while I liked her in Book 1, the problem in Book 2 is that she’s just not a strong character, feminine or masculine: she has the physical fighting skills of soldier(and, to be fair, is drawn muscular rather than petite), but lacks the discipline of one. During all of Book 2 she is completely swayed by her emotions, lacking most any strength of character, and I think this, moresoe than her jock-ish attitude, is what renders her unlikeable.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      So, why is someone like Miyazaki (who is certainly one of the least modern minds around) able to write both Nausicaa and Kushana, who trip all the red flags for a ‘strong female character’, but seem to draw no real objection?

      I would say Nausicaa and Kushana are perfect examples of female characters who are feminine and strong without seeming masculine. They do not act like wannabe males. Anyone serious about portraying female characters in leadership positions, in combat, and in other typically male situations should study those two character portrayals very carefully.

    • Comment by oddy:

      I can’t stand Korra as a character. The overall show isn’t that bad, but she just ruins it for me. Katara is a million times better character. She was strong but she was also motherly. Korra is just a bratty idiot.

  8. Comment by The OFloinn:

    One can see this phenomenon at work in the comments section of Tor-dot-com’s Game of Thrones read-through. Much praise whenever a female character acts like a guy; pushback when she acts like a girl. Terrible worries about whether Martin is using something called “gender stereotyping.” (Hint: Martin is writing realistic characters, which means none of them fit into ideological buckets.)

    The worst part of the ideo-tic thinking is that it has gotten some writers on their blogs to actually take a census of all their characters to determine whether they have some thing called “Diversity.” It was this sort of self-conscious deliberation that used to plague the Left back in the 60s, as to whether they were using the currently-approved language to express themselves.

  9. Comment by The Deuce:

    Excellent post, John.

    One thing I always roll my eyes at is feminists complaining that the sort of “bikini chainmail armor” that fantasy and sci-fi settings tend to put their female heroines in is “unrealistic” and “demeaning.”

    Er, no, ladies. If it were realism you were worried about, you’d be complaining about the absurdity of worlds full of masculine, warrior-woman Xena types somehow going toe-to-toe with men three times their size and muscle mass and winning. If it were dignity you were worried about, you’d be complaining about the devaluing of the feminine implicit in the demand that all female characters be “strong” and masculine to be acceptable.

    What you’re actually objecting to is the small remaining recognition in such works, albeit distorted in laughable fun-house mirror fashion, of the reality of male-female distinction.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Because their lives are less important than feminist dogma.

      I warned her as graphically as I could that she was already well down the slippery slope leading to poverty and misery—that, as I knew from the experience of untold patients, she would soon have a succession of possessive, exploitative, and violent boyfriends, unless she changed her life. I told her that in the past few days, I had seen two women patients who had had their heads rammed down the lavatory, one who had had her head smashed through a window and her throat cut on the shards of glass, one who had had her arm, jaw, and skull broken, and one who had been suspended by her ankles from a tenth-floor window to the tune of, “Die, you bitch!”

      “I can look after myself,” said my 17-year-old.

      “But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

      “That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

      A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

      “But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

      “It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.

      Full account here

    • Comment by Carbonel:

      In all fairness, that nice Mr. Colt and his fellows, did make it possible for the warrior-woman types to go toe-to-to with men three times their size and muscle mass, and, if they’ve taken their range-practice and concealed carry rights seriously, winning.

      Oddly enough, the same ladies determined to have “strong women characters” who can stand up (successfully) to would-be bullying males (or worse) are equally determined to strip us gals of our 2nd Ammendment rights here in the U.S.

      Go figure.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        I have never felt a suspension of disbelief in any cop show where the female officer pulls a firearm and puts an bullet with the precision of Annie Oakley right into the perp’s left eyesocket making an exit wound the size of a grapefriut out of the back of his skull. I do not even mind fantasy stories where the woman uses a rapier, which depends for its deadliness on point control, which women can learn equally with men. I do mind fantasy stories where weapons requiring great upper body strength, saber, ax, polearms, where men can excel far beyond women, and the women are shown routinely defeating enemies in droves. It is more unbelievable if this is done in a live action show where the actress is petite.

        But I am fairly easily to please in that regard, if any fig leaf can be offered as to why this one woman can beat up men like an Amazon. Special training in Tibet, or her father was from another planet, or she is possessed by the soul of a ghost — all of these clear up my disbelief.

        Because, honestly, I want the female swordswoman to cut up the bullies in one stoke, rather than being forced to watch some pretty actress being punched in the face over and over and over again, as the fight slowly breaks her nose, and then bruises both eyes, putting one out, and then breaks jaw and teeth, and then one ear is ripped off, while blood and mucus pours from her one-lovely nose and mouth.

        I feel the same way a health man feels seeing an young child or an old grandfather punched over and over. But if it happens to a big, tough guy? He can get an eyepatch and his broken nose and facial scars are a source of pride. Are women these days supposed to be proud of facial scars?

        The only people who can enjoy these images are those in whom the natural, normal, healthy, and decent sense that men should protect women has been, in the name of equality, excised. Hence the images are unnatural, abnormal, unhealthy and perverse, bordering on sadistic.

        • Comment by Carbonel:

          “The only people who can enjoy these images are those in whom the natural, normal, healthy, and decent sense that men should protect women has been, in the name of equality, excised. Hence the images are unnatural, abnormal, unhealthy and perverse, bordering on sadistic.”

          The which speaks to your thesis, that the driving power in worldly affairs, such as Big Hollywood or the Academy, is Uncle Screwtape and his Vision. Consider the latest canary sent into the mine to determine whether or not the populace was sufficiently anaesthesized: Hit Girl.

          I’m with Eowyn on martial mastery for women (and our daughters) but we’re better off using advanced technology, and best off teaching our sons to be Komondor dogs instead of allowing the wolves to win. Whatever ignorant girls may think, Western Science is a woman’s best friend.

          • Comment by Arakawa:

            Ah, Hit Girl. A character founded on a very basic and shameless lie.

            So, granting the basic premise. That an insane vigilante father trains her to be implausibly good at killing people, in a remorseless fashion. It is still possible to write such a character, but it’s not possible to write such a character and have them be a healthy, functioning soul throughout the proceedings.

            The lie then, isn’t even that Hit Girl kills people, with brutal efficiency; it’s when she’s presented as something other than a character in sore need of recovering some form of basic humanity, which basic common sense dictates would have been almost entirely taken away by the circumstances of her upbringing. (Femininity or not femininity is not even worth discussing at this point — for a character that lacks humanity.)

            Even something like Naruto handled this kind of thing much better. For a series that is set in a brutal world, populated heavily by superpowered child soldiers (whether male or female), the author was still able to recognize that taking a six-year-old or a ten-year-old and training them to assassinate people is not normal or desirable, and the resulting people will be damaged, perhaps irreversibly. If they live to grow up into adults, they either end up as villains, or as supremely awkward people, just as pitiable as they are impressive.

            Of course, it’s still mindless entertainment :-P — but it had the decency (at least early on in the storyline) to acknowledge such basic facts of human nature. The moment an author lets go of this sort of basic sanity, their work becomes humanly worthless. So, in many series the author lies by (in effect) taking men and passing them off as functioning women, but in Kick-Ass the writers take soulless monsters and lie by passing them off as functioning human beings.

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              I would say so as well. I thought the point of the character of Hit Girl was to show the insanity of having a teen sidekick like Robin or Aqualad would be in real life. I thought it was supposed to be deranged. She was not a feminist role model of a strong female character.

              • Comment by Arakawa:

                Well, the issue is that, in any kind of media (especially) satire, we can put a burden on the viewer to have to exercise discernment, as to what they can take away to their own benefit… up to a point. When we look at this kind of media, we can follow the advice of St. Basil and try to take the good and leave the bad, sometimes having to give our own reinterpretation, which the author may or may not have even considered. The interpretation you just gave might be a good example of how to do that.

                This makes it possible to beneficially enjoy even Communist propaganda stories, or something like Kick-Ass, though at this point much effort is required.

                That said, the question if we want to decide if a portrayal is ‘harmful’, is how will viewers in general take this, and boy is that a fatal question…. Barrels of virtual ink may be spilled on the subject, as with the infamous religious controversy around Harry Potter. But it seems not unlikely that, in the context of all the other distorted portrayals, the takeaway about Hit Girl could easily become “Hit Girls are cool and killing people in a nonchalant manner is cool”. There’s a whole ladder of less egregious ‘sells’ leading up to that conclusion.

                Particularly since, if I remember correctly, Hit Girl and the wimpy main character eventually hook up.

                • Comment by Arakawa:

                  “we can put a burden on the viewer to have to exercise discernment, as to what they can take away to their own benefit… up to a point.”

                  I would also add, it’s very tedious to have to scrutinize every bit of media for propaganda ‘sells’ (unless I specifically want to do so as a perverse intellectual exercise; then I watch Squirrel and Hedgehog). It’s not even an issue of puritanism (“media must be good for you and not tasty”); a good reason to insist on having a variety of literature and media maintain moral sobriety is there’s some kind of thing we can consume for mindless entertainment without having to deconstruct the author’s hidden allegiances as we go along. Which just distracts from enjoying the tastiness.

      • Comment by The Deuce:

        It makes a lot more sense when you realize that all of the things liberals profess to care about, or to have compassion for, are actually mere rationalizations for their resentment and hate of their opposites.

        So, for example, they’re for feminism not because they care about the well-being and safety of women, but because they hate and resent men, as well as the societal approval enjoyed by the sorts of stable, traditional families that feminism seeks to destroy.

        So, for example, they’re for gun control not because they care about preventing death or have any compassion for those killed, but because they hate and resent people being able to defend themselves against the sort of tyranny liberals would like to force on everyone if only they could.

        This bizarre situation where they claim to be for equalizing men and women, and for protecting women, but then turn around and and try to stop women from being able to protect themselves equally, only seems bizarre if you take their stated motivations at face value. If you take their stated motivations as mere smokescreens for their various hatreds, it all comes together.

        • Comment by Jane Lane:

          That is an amazing amount of projection right there, it’s kind of impressive. I can’t speak for all Liberals, we are not a hive mind, but I’d like people to be honest about guns and what they do and what they are for. I resent the mealy mouth assertion that guns are just a tool. They surely are, but they are a tool that must be respected in a way that a knife and a hammer does not. They are a tool that is for sending high speed projectiles flying at a target. That is what they are for, they are not for hammering nails or slicing bread. Americans do not respect guns. And I know this because of the sheer volume of people bragging that they would have taken down whatever mass shooter you want to pick like they’re Billy the Kid. They refuse to admit that concealed carry is only helpful if you keep your hand on your gun at all times because muggers do not announce themselves and unless you are Quickdraw McGraw, you’re not going to out shoot someone who already has a gun on you. Read the Federalist Papers. Amendment 2 is not about preventing tyranny, it’s about the constitutionality of having a standing army. Which, by the way, it’s not, but since we’ve pretty much always been at war since WWII, we have maintained one ever since then.

          And don’t get me wrong, I AM NOT anti-gun. However, I have a serious problem with the narrative surrounding guns.

          And, for the record, I don’t hate men either. I know it’s easier to assume that Feminists hate men, but you should try talking to a few.

  10. Comment by envoymyra:

    One correction: :”and inventive form of government yet to be tried.)” I think you mean “an.”

    I agree completely. I cannot engage in a willing suspension of disbelief if a female uses strength to defeat a male in combat. Doesn’t matter if it is Bones, Beckett in Castle, GI Jane, Starbucks in Battlestar Galactica, or others ad naseum.

    And, as Vox Day has pointed out, males are losing interest in sci fi because of feminist editors forcing these characters, who are just men with boobs, on us.

  11. Comment by Deklane:

    A while back, somebody posted on Facebook a repro of a ’50s SF magazine cover with a disparaging comment to the effect of “Typical ’50s cliche sexist ‘spacebabe’ cover.” I had to wonder — didn’t the guy even *look* at it before robotically reciting a programmed string of words? Lunar landscape background. Central figure is a woman in a space suit firing a ray gun at a menace somewhere offstage in front of her. She is protecting an unarmed man behind her. Her spacesuit is a functional, plausibly designed pressure suit. No unduly emphasized chest development. Perhaps most telling is her hair: relatively short, exactly what you would expect for someone who wears a helmet as part of daily life. In every particular, the cover was the *opposite* of the “sexist spacebabe” cliche the commenter was railing against, yet he still felt compelled to reinterpret what he was looking at in terms of what he expected to see.
    “The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      It is because trashing the 1950’s, one of the most civilized decades of history, is a core part of the Politically Correct myth which requires them to shit on their betters. The generation of the 1950’s halted the terror of Leftist Nazism and fought the monster of Lefty Russia to the standstill. So the Lefties had to denigrate the 1950’s for the Jim Crow laws that existed in the Leftwing and Democrat Controlled South, and to take credit (somehow) for the Civil Rights Act which the Republicans voted into law. The Leftwing and Democrat KKK were lynching blacks, and so the Lefties condemned the United States of America and the 1950’s as an age of oppression and horror.

      Likewise with women’s liberation, the Lefties wanted to get into the girl’s skirts, and so a vast propaganda campaign was launched urging girls to sleep around and act like tramps on the theory that approving of heartbreak and broken lives and bastard children would somehow make you the moral superior of men with self control and a sane attitude toward the divine joys of sex. The Kinsey Report was a pack of lies written by a pervert, and the Left bent themselves double trying to make sexual immorality seem normal. And, by and large, they were successful. No one I know despises Hugh Hefner for being a pornographer. He is regarded as a successful businessman.

      Politically Correctness is not built on lies, it is built on aggressively and insolently and outrageously false lies, almost like a Zen koan that shocks the mind into a suspension of thought. The idea that the era when women were respected and practically worshiped was worse for women than the modern era when even a Disney teen ends up as a trash whore is aggressively and outrageously false. Compare Donna Reed with Miley Cyrus.

      The picture you describe sounds familiar. Is this it?
      Fantastic Stories, 1951

      • Comment by Mary:

        You must remember that Political Activism means you get your daily dose of virtue and so can act worse the rest of the day. (Produced in the lab, even. Given people a chance to buy “green” products, and they are more likely to lie and cheat in a subsequent game for money.)

      • Comment by Deklane:

        That isn’t the cover I saw, though I admit this one hath its charms. I’ve noticed that late ’40s PLANET STORIES ran a fair number of covers featuring fight scenes with the female character front and center dishing out mayhem to the bad guys while a male partner is helping out in the background. It’s all fantasy of one sort or another, but it wasn’t always helpless females being rescued as the cliche would have it.

      • Comment by robertjwizard:

        No one I know despises Hugh Hefner for being a pornographer. He is regarded as a successful businessman.

        He is not only regarded as a successful businessman, but an inspiring role model.

        I made the mistake once of stating I did not find Hefner admirable. This was at my bar and in the context of his lifestyle. Not only was I simply not believed, I was not believed because the greatness of a Hefner lifestyle is axiomatic today. A lifelong relationship (good or bad), marriage, a family, is considered derisively laughable, what the powerless are stuck with.

        Who, it is asked, could possibly want to stay with an aging bag of bones, reliving memories that were not worth living the first time, when you could have 10 (20, 30!) pairs of fresh boobies in your face every night while getting lathered on the Vegas strip. Speaking of which, no use telling people you have no interest going to Vegas.

        I have found a great many women (girls, actually) agree with this. As they have assumed the lifestyle of the cad.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          The Roman Catholic Church seems positively SANE compared to that, don’t she?

          Speaking for myself, I remember the moment when I was watching a documentary about the life of Hef, and it was a very flattering documentary, too, and he mention his divorce from his second wife, Kimberley Conrad. He made some small joke about the ‘girl next door’ which was his key for making porn respectable, related to the divorce settlement, which gave her the mansion next to his. But when I saw his eyes, his tired, wrinkled, sad eyes as he said this, I realized that he was a failure in such a fundamental way that he could never might it right, never get it back.

          He could not do what the simplest and poorest peon could do, which is keep his family from shattering. He was a failure at marriage, a failure as a father, which meant, a failure at the only real task a man has here on earth.

          He was Alberich the dwarf. He had forsworn true love to get the all-powerful ring of the Rhinegold. He had no more opportunity for finding true love ever again. No honest woman would go anywhere near him.

          Imagine starving at the feast, and every time you put out your hand, the thing that looks like real food turns out to be some shallow and fake silicon non-food. Imagine living surrounded by women who, by all accounts, are the most beautiful on earth, but you cannot give yourself to any of them, cannot make them your wife, cannot love them with true love, because when you put out your hand they turn into the type of gold-digger or narcissist who thinks it is wise to pose nude for money, and likes showing her nipples to strangers.

          It sounds like an ancient Greek idea of the torments in Tartarus. That was when I stopped envying Hef and started pitying him, as I would pity Tantalus and Sisyphus or Ixion in Hell.

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            Yes, she does.

            It is pretty amazing. He exhibits all the characteristics of fear of intimacy, commitment, and a profound lack of self-esteem and respect, that manifests in a continual need to be surrounded by boobs. I am pretty sure he has no respect for women, and I am pretty sure, deep down, he is terrified of them. Hence the need to be surrounded by young, sweet, utterly ignorant ones that have yet to even mature into women – if they do. They have no challenge to him – in fact probably the exact opposite – easy sex, easy flattery, easy conversation. Just what an empty shell would require, an empty shell that never really wanted to make an effort in life.

        • Comment by DGDDavidson:

          Maybe they need a closer look at Hefner’s life. I once read a short bio that painted him as a wreck, especially in his later life. He may have made money and had a lot of women, but he certainly wasn’t happy.

          • Comment by robertjwizard:

            Short of a pillow-cam that shows him crying into a pillow every night, I doubt anything would change their mind.

            A drastic change in outlook would change their mind. A change that would cause them to read what they see (in this instance Hefner and his lifestyle) in a different light. A change that would cause them to change the label of “desirable” to “detestable”.

            I say that because I think Hefner is just one card in a giant cultural deck that repeats the same mantra. It is in our sitcoms, movies, “music” (we don’t make music anymore) liquor commercials – you name it.

          • Comment by Mary:

            Blackbeard and his crew, contemplating their likely future destination, took some sulfur pots into their hold, stopped up all the outlets, and saw how long they could take it. Blackbeard was rather proud of his lasting the longest. And no one of them took it to heart.

      • Comment by Jane Lane:

        Google “Southern Strategy.”

  12. Comment by envoymyra:

    “Another point to be made here is that annoying girly characters who do nothing but scream and need rescuing do exist in science fiction, but that they were more prevalent in the 1960’s, the era of the Playboy Bunny, than in the 1940’s, the era of Rosie the Riveter.”
    I may have missed it, but did you really state WHY the screamers were more prevalent in the 1960’s?

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      So if I was unclear, but my theory is that after the horrors of the Great Depression and of World War Two, the peace and prosperity of the returning veterans made women and men both yearn for an idealized domestic life, an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ style existence, a house in the suburbs with modern labor-saving appliances, which is the noblest and finest form of existence the genius of man has yet devised.

      I propose that after the war, when the men came home, the women wanted to flatter their masculine pride and confirm them as the breadwinners and the lord and master of the castle. Their entertainment and popular images followed. So you had both June Cleaver or Donna Reed as one version of the feminine ideal, an exaggerated ideal housewife, and you had Marylin Monroe, an exaggerated ideal sex goddess. The whole point of the character of Monroe was the exaggeration: her hair was blonder, her lisp was more sullen, her dumb blondness was dumber, her breasts were bigger, her hips were hipper, and on and on. Her eyes only ever occupied two positions: wide eyed childish wonder and heavily-lidded half-sleeping sultry sensuality.

      Women characters in the 1960’s — I am thinking particularly of the Parlor Maid in Keith Laumer’s comedy series starring Lafayette O’Leary, or of the three interchangeable and utterly forgettable trollops in Bob Heinlein’s atrocious STRANGER IN A STRANGE BED — followed this postwar Playboy Bunny model.

      Compare this to women in the 1940’s in science fiction. I am thinking particularly of Empress Isher in AE van Vogt’s WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER, or for that matter, Ineznia from BOOK OF PTATH or Patricia Hardy from NULL-A or Kathleen Gray from SLAN or, heck!, any female A.E. Van Vogt character whatsoever. All these women had more in common with Nyoka of the Jungle than with a Playboy Bunny.

      • Comment by JJ Brannon:

        Women characters in the 1960′s — I am thinking particularly of the Parlor Maid in Keith Laumer’s comedy series starring Lafayette O’Leary, or of the three interchangeable and utterly forgettable trollops in Bob Heinlein’s atrocious STRANGER IN A STRANGE BED — followed this postwar Playboy Bunny model.

        You’re usually more just than this, Honorable Sir.

        From memory: Anne — blonde, large, Valkyrie, unflappable Fair Witness; Dorcas — brunette, small, snarky, skittish; Miriam –red-headed, medium-height, Mother-of-All complex, later wife of Dr. “Stinky” Mahmoud.

        All three women are implied to be of average breast-size, high-intelligence, and all around competence. They kick Jubal in the posterior when he needs motivation, dump him in the pool when his ego gets out of hand, and he’s lost without them.


        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Playboy Bunnies all fit this model, like Stewardesses in the 1960’s. The idea that they could also do secretarial and other work efficiently and with a sense of spunky humor does not break them out of the stereotype, but fits them more tightly into the stereotype.

          The deal offered by the pornographers to the feminists to win them to their side was that the pornographers would convince society that women could be sexy, could sleep out of wedlock, but could also be respected for their ability to take shorthand, and, in this case, dump lawyers into pools. Do you think that deal was carried out? Hugh Hefner thought of himself and called himself a pro-feminist, a supporter of equal rights for women. Do you think he was?

  13. Comment by JJ Brannon:

    I am trying to recall screaming pretty damsels in distress from ’60s RAH.

    Fainting Homo arean saved by competent female. Star. Podkayne trekking through the swamp. Dead Ludmilla with knife in hand & revolutionary leader Wyoming Knott. Dead Joan/Eunice holding on to save her baby (published in 1970 & in under the wire). Barbara Farnham?

    I suppose, JCW, there are some incidental characters somewhere in those texts.

    Now Laumer packed his tales, if there were a female present, with the proverbial “woman in jep”.


  14. Comment by Mariana Baca:

    Mr. Wright:

    Much of what you say here is wisdom, and I don’t disagree with your notions of feminine and masculine virtues and vices and the nature of courtship.

    But here is the problem with the princess that waits to be rescued, and with a lot of this essay: women are primary defined by their relationship with men and men are not defined by their relationship with women. The virgin, the sister, the nun and the widow are not waiting to be rescued. Even she seeking marriage is not waiting to be rescued. Elizabeth Bennet is not. Women have agency outside of men and children.

    When women ask for strong female protagonists, modern writers and movie makers think we are asking for her to wield a gun or have lots of sex. Not so! Even the horrifyingly progressive denizens of tumblr will sigh in exasperation if people think this is what feminism is asking for. Those movies frustrate women because we know someone had good intentions (or is trying to cash in) but missed the point entirely. This is the essence of the Bechdel test (not one I think is necessary all the time — Lawrence of Arabia doesn’t need women to tell the story because it is not about women or sexual love): that women should be on screen talking about something other than men and romance. Because “strong women” in the feminine sense are not waiting for their suitors. They are loving and serving God every day, they have chaste friendships, they are skilled and looking for their vocations.

    This is the failure of Uhura in the new Star Trek movies vs. the old. Old Uhura talks about engineering and languages and music (her talents), her love of shopping and fear of growing old (her vices), and she solves problems by using feminine talents. She was a strong female character, even as a minor extra in the original story. When she finds love it is at the end of a long career, picking an honorable and intelligent man, Scotty. New Uhura wields a gun, complains about promotion, is in a sexually inappropriate relationship with a superior who is romantically unsuited for her, but she is also in every way less strong in the portrayal. She is not called to use her actual skills as often, her uniform does not display her rank, and her life is consumed by the actions of her paramour.

    A woman can be feminine and strong when she shows a life outside her romantic interests. This woman is more likely to be a good role model for young women because it doesn’t cause women to succumb to the very real vice and temptation of the modern age — despair. If her life revolves around waiting for the perfect suitor in a world inhabited by unsuitable men, she is going to give up and chase the unsuitable men using every means she has, even bad ones. If her life is devoted to something greater *first* her virtues will shine and a suitable man will be attracted to her if she pleases (or not! but our lives are meant for something higher than this world).

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      women are primary defined by their relationship with men and men are not defined by their relationship with women.

      Your criticism is perfectly reasonable. Please note I also did not cover ‘buddy picture’ type stories where men bond with men, either. I did not mention the Three Musketeers, nor Frodo and Samwise. Nor did I mention the WIZARD OF OZ books, where the female protagonist tends to meet males not as romance figures but as brotherly or fatherly figures.

      This is a limitation of the point of the essay: I was only talking about romance.

      But I did say — or tried to say, perhaps I was not clear — at the outset that the majority of stories deal not with romance nor with the particular circumstances where specifically masculine or feminine virtues come into play. The majority of circumstances, and indeed the majority of story genres, deal with circumstances where male and female approaches are the same.

      An example I did not use in the essay, which I should have, is detective stories. Since the detective is one who solves the crime entirely by solitary intellection, there is neither the teamwork and male pride needed in a war story, nor the consensus-building and female faith needed in a melodrama. A detective story, if I may use an ungainly term, is gender-neutral: Miss Marple can solve crimes as readily as Sherlock Holmes. In this case there is no particular need for masculine or feminine traits to be on stage.

      When women ask for strong female protagonists, modern writers and movie makers think we are asking for her to wield a gun or have lots of sex. Not so!

      That is exactly my point. You said it more clearly than I did.

      Women have agency outside of men and children.

      I do not know what the word ‘agency’ means in this context. I would venture to say that women do indeed have virtues outside of men and children, but I doubt whether they have any reason to express particularly feminine behavior outside men nor maternal behavior outside children. The essay was concerning femininity, not agency, whatever that means.

      Just personally, I am sure there are men who think there is something men are supposed to do besides being fathers. I myself cannot imagine it. Even priests who are vowed to lifelong celibacy take up a fatherly role.

      This is the essence of the Bechdel test

      Beg pardon? What is the Bechel test?

      A woman can be feminine and strong when she shows a life outside her romantic interests.

      Strong, yes, feminine, no.

      Males are only masculine in relation to women, and women are only feminine in comparison to males, and the trait are only manifested, or need to be manifested, in romance and childrearing and thing symbolic of romance, such as waltzing or courtship. As far as I know, there are male and female bicycles (or used to be, back when women wore skirts) but not male and female yachts. The tasks outside the domestic sphere which have a definite tradition of masculine or feminine, such as lumberjack or schoolteacher, took on their traditional implications because of some obvious relation to the domestic tasks, as teaching was akin to child rearing, or manual labor requiring gross physical strength was best left to the sex where physical strength was more apparent and more obviously a point of pride. There were also tasks which at one time require gross physical strength, such as seamanship, which stayed traditionally male even after mechanical aids made the tasks more unisex. However, I am confident I am the only man alive today who thinks of it as unfeminine for a woman to be a truckdriver or a seaship captain.

      The conflict comes in roles that were traditionally male because they were leadership positions. This may at first have been innocent, a carry over from the fatherhood role which is a leadership position, but there is no rational reason to exclude women from the professions as doctoring and lawyering, while indeed they can perform many or all the same tastes as nurses and paralegals. On this point I entire agree with the feminists — but do not tell them I agree, I pray you, because they will get the vapors like Victorian ladies, the poor dears. Feminists are not tough and strong like Christian women, so we have to guard the delicacy of their feelings lest their unbalanced female glands send them into hysterics.

      You also mention despair. That I think is the core problem of modern womanhood. No one will be shocked to learn that I think Christianity is the source of the only hope that can defeat that despair, and that the nihilist egalitarian self-mockery which modern feminism has corrupted the once noble cause of the suffragettes is the cause of the despair. Feminism is the Marxist interpretation of economics applied to the relations between the sexes. It is materialist doctrine, explaining all human things in terms of inhuman historical forces, therefore hopeless. It is also a paranoid conspiracy theory. I assure you that I did not conspire with the rival for my wife’s hand in marriage, a filthy man named Duncan. I wanted and still want to kill him. I hold that wrath in check out of Christian charity. He and I and other men did not enter into any agreement for the purpose of suppressing or oppressing women. If anything, I am the man I am the way I am because my mother — a woman — so raised me to be.

      The despair also comes from robbing women of defined social roles and then not providing any satisfactory roles to substitute. Does every girl want to grow up to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Really? And date who? Spike? And marry who? Riley?

      But this would require an entire essay to examine. Let it be said here that I am generally in agreement with what you say, but I do not regard the goal of young girls seeking role models in sexy action heroines as rational. Copy Joan of Arc rather than Buffy the Slayer, and you will be copying a nobler ideal of femininity, a saint and a savior of her nation. Getting girls to like fighting and conflict leaves society with no natural peacemakers.

      • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

        I would also point out the foolishness of depicting “Strong Women”. There have been several periods in history where men were not marrying at acceptable rates, to the point that the government of the day created penalties be being bachelors. Not aware of anything like that on the women’s side. Might have missed it. I would point out that the Palestinians solution to deal with the terrorist monsters they had created was to get them married off. No, I think the actual “Strong Woman” is Nanny Og, and she does not advertise the strength of women, because the colt must be caught before he can be broken to the plow…….

      • Comment by Mariana Baca:

        Thank you for the extra clarification. I think we are largely in agreement then.

        The Bechdel test is a simplistic test to judge the representation of women in a particular piece of fiction. Basically, a work passes if:

        1) It has at least two female characters.
        2) They speak to each other at least once.
        3) It is about something other than about men.

        Now, I think there are many plots that aren’t required to pass in my mind — large segments of society are gender segregated historically and it doesn’t make sense to artificially add women in a context they don’t belong.

        But in certain fairytales and fantasy, you expect the queen and the princess to discuss things other than suitors, you expect female artisans to talk about their craft to their audience or customers, you expect sisters to chat about everything. And in stories where this never happens despite there being no obvious reason women should not be present, it is a bit frustrating. Or, when women are present, when they only talk about men and have no interests outside of that.

        “I do not know what the word ‘agency’ means in this context. I would venture to say that women do indeed have virtues outside of men and children, but I doubt whether they have any reason to express particularly feminine behavior outside men nor maternal behavior outside children. The essay was concerning femininity, not agency, whatever that means.”

        By agency (I might have used an ill suited word, not sure) I mean the capacity for a fictional character to make choices and take actions. The princess should do more than beguile the prince or pine for him in a tower. She should argue with the evil step mother or read books or love horseriding. Even in a romance, the stories where the woman is a good role model she does things that are not about attracting the right mate.

        If you argue women are more suited to being peacemakers and other virtues that flow from being motherly, they will be expressed in non-romantic pursuits as strong virtues in other fields the way manly and fatherly virtues get expressed in battle, in their professions, and in their interests. The way even a priest is fatherly, a nun is motherly, even though she has no romantic interests or children.

        From “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Wolfe:

        “All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. …And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. … They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that …”

        • Comment by Mariana Baca:

          To summarize: when I say I want a “strong” female character, it means I want a well-rounded female character, a human being. Maybe even more than one! She should have interests and actions outside her relationships with men or children. I think showing women as well rounded characters helps them avoid the traps of unchastity and despair because they are not defined by sex.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            As a science fiction writer, I would like well rounded female characters who are not human beings, of course.

            The problem is that Political Correctness limits the ability to see them. Take the two examples I mentioned: Miss Elizabeth Bennet is one of most realistic portrayals of women in literature, and yet she in a romance story whose drama centers on relationships with men and marriage. Dejah Thoris would be rejected by Political Correctness because she is an abducted princess who is rescued by her stalwart hero, but anyone who actually reads the book knows she was captured while on a scientific expedition where she was studying the dying atmosphere, and would see that she conducts herself with the stoic dignity of a Roman matron or a Spartan lady of noble rank — that is, she is tough as nail and cold as ice. Indeed, in middlebrow popular literature I would humbly submit that way female characters in adventure stories are treated is a well rounded as any male character — keeping in mind that John Carter, Warlord of Mars, is himself just a stereotypical Southern Gentleman and man of war.

            The problem again is that most situations in most stories call for the same virtues from men and women, but that the stories that most interest most readers are those where the specific virtues of a man, who tend to be good in physical emergencies, or the specific virtues of a woman, who tend to be good in emotional and social conflicts, melodramas and so on, are ones that take up a disproportionate amount of plot time.

            As I should have mentioned in my essay, I think detective stories by their nature are sexually neutral in a fashion where love stories or war stories are not. By this I mean there is nothing about detecting crimes, which is purely intellectual if it follows the Sherlock Holmes tropes, that emphasizes the characteristics for which males or females are particularly proud or particularly well known. War stories involve physical courage where men naturally want to excel or should want to excel, and love stories involve insight into the character and psychology of others where women naturally want to excel or should want to excel.

            But, as a man, I do not see what the problem is in being defined by one’s sex. I like being masculine.

            I wish I were more masculine: I neither killed an enemy for my king, nor cooked a steak from the flesh of a deer I killed myself, nor can I repair a car engine or do anything useful around the house. I am, however, a moderately good father, which is a role more important to me than anything I can imagine. Certainly being a lawyer or newspaperman or editor or writer or barkeep or any of the other odd jobs I have had means nothing in the long run. So my sex, which is male, which allows me both to grow whisker and be a father, is perhaps the best yardstick to judge me by whether I am performing or failing in my tasks in life.

            If I may ask a general question, which I do not mean anyone to take personally: is there anyone who LIKES the sex she happens to be who also objects to ‘being defined by sex’?

            Is being female rather than male innately inferior, unsatisfactory, or miserable in some way? And I do not mean the miseries women and men have in common, such as they we are all mortals doomed to die, I mean miseries that only apply to women which make womenhood so unbearable that they should envy men?

            • Comment by Stephen J.:

              Other than the incapacity of pregnancy, the still potentially-mortal agonies of childbirth, the low-grade but near-wholly ubiquitous threat of functionally irresistible assault from half the human race, the monthly physical and emotional aggravation of menstruation, the constant cultural messages that your sexiness is the most important thing about you (and that you’re unhealthy or incomplete if you don’t indulge it) combined with constant cultural messages that you are more responsible for the consequences of letting it be exploited than the men who exploited you, the constant cultural messages that almost any man outdoes you not only in physical strength but rational thinking or competitive leadership and that the fields where you do exceed men are far fewer in number and “just not as important”, and the constant cultural messages that your ambitions, whatever they are, are far likelier to be far more limited by your biology and others’ reaction to it than most men’s ambitions will ever be, so best not to dream too high for fear of disappointment?

              That’s an extreme summing-up of a whole bunch of negative factors that in themselves most women I know seem to live with quite peaceably in practice, and the cultural messages women get bombarded with are not the same as the points being made in these essays; nor does that mean there are not compensating positive factors as well, or that there are not negative factors about masculinity too. But none of the factors above are in themselves untrue, and I can’t fault women for envying the men who don’t have to put up with them.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                So what is your point? Telling women the cultural messages that they should envy men, and hate them, and that true freedom consists of getting the Catholic Church to pay for your contraceptives and pay for your abortion, and they you will be fulfilled as a woman if only you kill your unborn child — are these better cultural message?

                The time when women were treated with respect, that gentleman doffed their hats, held doors, and made allowances for the greater burdens women suffer, these are all rejected with scorn by the egalitarians.

                The time when modesty rather than sexiness was prized is also gone. You’ve come a long way, baby!

                You see, it is a paradox. If women are equal to men in all respects, not merely in the legal aspects of having the right to vote and own property, then none of the negative factors you list can be admitted to exist, or, if they exist, they must be blamed, as you have done, on society. They must be called as you have done messages.

                Are they truths?

                Is it true that men outperform women in physical strength, in leadership, in science, in math, at the higher levels? Or is this a “message”?

                Here: let us look at the best selling books Listed in the selling over 100 million are Charles Dickens, JRR Tolkien (twice), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Cao Xueqin and Agatha Christie. One in five. Listed for selling between 50 and 100 million are Anna Sewell, C. S. Lewis, Dan Brown, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Ellen G. White, H. Rider Haggard, J. D. Salinger, Jack Higgins, Johanna Spyri, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Napoleon Hill, Paulo Coelho, Richard Adams, Umberto Eco
                and Vladimir Nabokov. Three in fifteen, or the same ratio.

                It is nowhere near fifty-fifty. Are the reading and writing patterns of the literature world conditioned by a ‘message’ or is the number of female topflight authors able to match the performance of topflight male authors roughly one fifth? If the disparity of genius between the sexes is caused by society, in theory we could alter society to cure it. If it is caused by nature, then it is beyond human power to cure.

                What evidence do you have that the general public will buy books based on the sex of the author rather than the quality of the story? What evidence do you have that I buy books based on the sex of the author rather than the quality of the story?

                That is just book writing. We have not named all the other fields of human endeavor.

                Do you have an answer here? Or have you fallen into the trap of just writing an accusation?

                What is feminism aside from the mortal sin of envy? It is not an answer to say, ‘Well, they should be envious! After all, men do not get pregnant!’

                • Comment by Stephen J.:

                  I concede that my answer sounds much like an accusation, but I suggest that the question as asked was itself something of a trap, albeit an inadvertent one; you asked for reasons why women might envy men and then, when such reasons were provided, said, “But what is that aside from the mortal sin of envy?” What reasons would not have been envious, in that context?

                  There is a difference between sinful envy and the indignant recognition of legitimate injustice, and the desire for redress thereof. It is wrong for a blind man to envy a one-eyed man; does that mean the monocular man should tell the blind one to accept his blindness, rather than try to find a cure? (And even if there was no currently known cure, would the one-eyed man’s injunction still not seem extremely self-serving if he were in truth the King of that country, or if evidence emerged that the blindness had been at least in part inflicted by other men working for that King?)

                  You write, logically enough, “If the disparity of genius between the sexes is caused by society, in theory we could alter society to cure it. If it is caused by nature, then it is beyond human power to cure.” But the problem here is that this is a false dichotomy; that there may not be an exact fifty-fifty distribution in all fields of human endeavour, even were all unjust distortions eliminated, does not mean that unjust distortions do not currently exist and are not having any effect. One team can be better than the other and still cheat during the actual game; and after all, if there is cheating, then it is precisely the assessment of which team is “better” that must be questioned. Neither you nor I buy books based on the sex of the author, but if the publishers only publish the books we can buy from based on the sex of the author, then our impartiality will do nothing to redress the imbalance, and indeed may only perpetuate it by “proving” the publishers’ thesis: “We publish more books by men because they sell better,” without realizing that part of why they sell better is because they are more often published.

                  Now the difficulty here, from both a rhetorical and a political standpoint, is that while this feminist thesis is both plausible and possible it is also conveniently unfalsifiable and unquantifiable. Without knowing what the distribution “should” be, we have no way of accurately assessing exactly how far the current actual distribution has been pushed from that Ideal (and thus it can always be claimed that there is more redress to be made). Without knowing what books were submitted but not published, or what books were never submitted due to implicit and explicit discouragement by publishers, media and Zeitgeist, we have no way of “proving” that the bestseller list actually represents a genuine disparity of quality instead of merely the outcome of a stacked deck (and thus it can always be claimed that the lost benefit of the excluded opportunity is as tragically high as you like, as needed to sway your audience). To rework my own metaphor, even if the one-eyed King has discovered glasses that give all his subjects some sight, it is always possible for agitators to argue that the King still sees “better” than they do, that yet more money needs to be allocated to spectacle improvement and distribution, and that perhaps it might even be time for the King to have to wear a blindfold for a while. And it is just as possible to see self-serving interest in those arguments, too.

                  My point is that while the Libertine plank of “True freedom is state-expensed sexual hedonism” is wrong, the opposing Traditionalist position of “True freedom is in understanding your duties and fulfilling them” (which itself I agree with) has too often in practice been taught to women, and enforced upon them, as “True freedom is doing what the men in your life want you to do and putting their needs and wishes ahead of yours.” Even if one stipulates that mature people, both men and women, recognize the error in that latter and can strive for the correct ideal of it, I don’t think it’s unjust for women to resent that that error was so long and so forcefully promulgated, and to have a certain reflexive suspicion of arguments that may seem to veer towards it.

                  • Comment by John C Wright:

                    I concede that my answer sounds much like an accusation, but I suggest that the question as asked was itself something of a trap, albeit an inadvertent one; you asked for reasons why women might envy men and then, when such reasons were provided, said, “But what is that aside from the mortal sin of envy?” What reasons would not have been envious, in that context?

                    Ah, you make a good point, and I withdraw the question. What I should have asked is, given that women are both physically weaker, more sensitive to emotion, more easily led, more easily annoyed, on average than men, but they also have the power to bear life which even Dr Frankenstein could not have, and are also more important, by any rational measure, than men, what justifiable reason have they for envy? What good reason? Is is a reason any change in law or custom can obviate or amend?

                    I can understand a different answer back before they were allowed to vote and own property. But why does a woman want to be strong rather than pretty? I do not want to be pretty rather than strong. As a man over 50, I am neither. Should I envy the young? Every thing in your list, with only minor tweaks, could be applied to that jealousy, too.

                    but if the publishers only publish the books we can buy from based on the sex of the author, then…

                    But here your hypothetical demands that one publisher turning down Agatha Christie, out of loyalty to the nonexistent agreement made by the all-male illuminati, can be confident no other publisher will break the agreement, and publish the best selling detective author of all time, ranking in money hand over fist, out of loyalty to maintaining the patriarchy. This includes any publisher, including rich uncles or members of her family. This means you hypothetical requires loyalty to the patriarchy to override loyalty to family and love of money and the desire to out perform rival publishers.

                    So it is not a false dichotomy. The misfortunes caused by nature cannot be solved by human effort. Only injustices can be solved by human effort, for only humans, and other rational creatures, like devils, can cause injustices. If it is your misfortune to be born into a poor family, no injustice has been done to you by the lucky lad born into a rich family.

                    You are using the term false dichotomy wrongly. What you meant to say what that the contributory causes, if some are natural and some are artificial, cannot necessarily be easily separated. The question would then be how to effect such a separation, rather than merely having laws that applied equally to all men. No one seems to complain that there are two many black athletes in the NBA, I assume this is because athletes are judged only on the merits of their performance during games, and athletic contests are structured situations where it is clear what is performance and what is bias.

                    There is one clearer. You unfortunately selected the poorest possible example to work from, since, of all the professions and pasttimes of man, being an author is the one where one can completely hide one’s sex if one fears any bias from publishers or fans. Write under a pen name. Everything in the old days was done by post; everything now by email. Authors from overseas often capitalize their first names anyway, except, perhaps for e.e. cummings.

                    However, since there is a concerted effort underfoot to publish women merely because they are women, and since anthologies who do not have at least one female author included are scorned and boycotted, in the current market there is no negative to assuming a female pen name.

                    too often in practice been taught to women, and enforced upon them, as “True freedom is doing what the men in your life want you to do and putting their needs and wishes ahead of yours.”

                    So to correct for this injustice, you would like to teach women to be selfish? It is an easy thing to do. Merely fail to teach them virtue, and voila. Nature will assist you in the task.

                    I don’t think it’s unjust for women to resent that that error was so long and so forcefully promulgated, and to have a certain reflexive suspicion of arguments that may seem to veer towards it

                    It is obviously and hopelessly unjust. Obviously, since men are not being judged on the merit of their actions or arguments, but regarded with suspicion and hostility merely because they are men. Judging someone not on his acts, which he can control, but on the fortune of being born male, which he cannot control, is the very definition of injustice.

                    And it is hopeless since, one the principle is adopted of regarding all men as tainted by an unforgivable original sin, nothing he does thereafter can ally that suspicion.

                    All your standard does is silence men who would argue in favor of the natural difference between the sexes.

                    And the argument is baroque. Who in his right mind does not wish to exaggerate the differences between the sexes? It is how we make each other seem sexually attractive to each other. Only someone convinced that all differentiation was sinister, and attempt slyly to reintroduce real inequalities, Islamic inequalities, would be so paranoid about arguing obvious differences separate the sexes, and should separate them. Waltzing in fun. Having the bridegroom carry the bride over the threshold is fun. No sane woman resents a waltz because she does not get to lead. That is madness.

                    The argument you making, in effect, unless I misunderstand it, is that if a woman wishes to make a false to facts association between the two unrelated concepts, who leads in a waltz, and who was allowed to vote before the Nineteenth Amendment, that this association, which is based on — what? — a poetical or metaphorical similarity ? — that this association is worthy of respect, and all the formal dances of the world must stop.

              • Comment by wlinden:

                I continually have to be wary of the risk of “functionally irresistible asssault” in the streets and on the subways (and not just in “bad neighborhoods”) And I resent being told that I “don’t have to put up with” what I damned well have to put up with, because I am a MAN, and white males, being “privileged”, all live off on Cloud Nine.

        • Comment by Stephen J.:

          “Basically, a work passes if:
          1) It has at least two female characters.
          2) They speak to each other at least once.
          3) It is about something other than about men.”

          I have also read variations which specify that both characters have to have names and appear in other scenes as well (so a female cop heroine who only has one scene with another woman, if that woman is an exposition-foil character whose name we never learn, does not pass), some which say it is OK if the men being discussed are not ones with which the characters have a personal relationship (if a female cop and a female M.E. discuss a male serial killer, that would pass since they are discussing him as an obstacle or problem rather than as a participant in a relationship with one or the other of them), and some which say the topic has to be totally disconnected from men at all (a female starship commander and a female XO would not pass if they were discussing the difficulty of training male crew, for example, even if the discussion were as impersonal and detached as possible and did not cite specific character examples).

          One thing worth noting about the Bechdel test is that, because its creator Alison Bechdel first introduced it in her cartoon strip Dykes to Watch Out For — a strip centred, as you may have guessed from the title, on an entirely lesbian cast — its original users were women who objected not only to female characters’ constant association with men, but who had no objection at all to completely dispensing with male characters entirely. (Indeed, to this day I do not know if any male characters ever appeared in the strip.) So while the Bechdel test has been used frequently as a litmus test of feminine presence in a story, it should be remembered that in its classic form it imposes a requirement on female characters which many real-life female audience members would not particularly want to meet themselves, or demand their characters meet, on a regular basis. If the success of shows like Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, or any given soap opera prove anything, it is that women like talking about relationships (heck, Dykes to Watch Out For itself focuses almost exclusively on the character relationships), and stories which work to exclude those topics must expend extra effort on character development to make that exclusion plausible. (Which may, to be fair, be entirely the point.)

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            Ah. What is the test for racial purity in the story? I remember one of my stories did not pass the racial purity test because the main character was explicitly said to be a Mestizo, that is, an English-Spanish hybrid with some Red Indian blood thrown in, what is now called a ‘Hispanic’ albeit as best I understand the Nazi rules of racial purity used by Democrats, Hispanics do not count as Caucasians, even though they are from Europe, and neither to Persians count of Caucasians, even if they live in the Caucasus Mountains. In any case, since I am a Christian and a pro-Constitution pro-limited government free market type, the reviewer in that instance decided that any from Texas two of four centuries from now has to be a White Man, and therefore I am a racist.

            That experience shows that ideological purity tests have an innate flaw. Any joker dishonest enough and partisan enough to judge a book not on its merits but on its race-purity is also dishonest enough to lie about the test results if the results allow a Christian to pass. We are the bad guys in the Leftwing worldview, and it is childishly simple worldview, one where the bad guy cannot be an antihero with some redeeming characteristics: all of us without exception are utterly vile and cruel and bigoted without exception, or the else the Leftwing worldview is unworkable.

            In this case, sex is being treated like race, so if the story does not have enough characters of the right sex behaving according to this new stereotype of female behavior, it flunks, and the writer has committed thoughtcrime.

            Let us quickly see what passes the test of Lefty Ideological Race Purity, or Sex Purity, as they case may be. Of the Great Books of Western Literature:

            ILIAD: I do not believe any two of the female characters discuss anything together. It is a war story. Hera and Aphrodite do appear in a scene together, but they discuss how to seduce Zeus, so this does not pass.
            ODYSSEY: Unless there is a scene with Nausicaa and her maids or Penelope and her maids, no, I do not think the women ever discuss anything.
            AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound. Hmm. Hard to remember. Prometheus Bound I know does not have any two people with speaking roles onstage at any one time, because it is always Prometheus speaking to someone. The women speak in chorus in Eumenides and Libation Bearers, but I am not sure if this counts. Clytemnestra and Cassandra do not appear on stage together in Agamemnon, if memory serves, but I am not sure about that.
            SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax. Again, my memory is weak. I believe there is a scene in Antigone where she is being begged by her sister not to attempt to bury the dead brother. I assume this does not count as talking about a man.
            HEBREW BIBLE: Well, some of these books are history and poetry or prophecy rather than literature, but I cannot recall any scenes off the top of my head where one woman is talking to another about anything.
            VIRGIL: Aeneid. Hmm. Is there a scene where Dido talks with her maids about anything? What about Camilla?
            DANTE: Divine Comedy. Nope. Virgil talks to Dante and Dante talks to ghosts or to Beatrice, but there is no scene where Dante overhears womenfolk talking about anything to each other. There are scenes offstage where Beatrice command another divine lady to descend from heaven and help Dante on his ascent.
            CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales. Here I cannot answer. I simply do not remember all the scenes well enough.
            RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel. I think it is mostly male characters here.
            SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets. Ah, now we are in a richer area. I am pretty sure Hamlet and Othello flunk the test, but, again, someone more literate than I must answer. In MacBeth the three Weird Sisters speak to each other in witchcrafty rhymes about the fall of kings. So it passes as feminist-friendly.
            BACH: St. Matthew Passion. Christ comforts the righteous women of Jerusalem, and the wife of Pilate warns him not to meddled with the just man, but I do not think women talk to each other.
            CERVANTES: Don Quixote. Another one where there are several minor tales inside the main narrative which I simply do not recall. Dulcinea speaks to Quixote to be sure, but does she have a scene onstage talking to another woman about something other than a man?
            MILTON: Paradise Lost. The only two female characters are Eve and Sin, and they do not speak to each other.
            LA FONTAINE: Fables. Memory fails. I simply don’t recall his stories.
            RACINE: Phaedre. Well, there must be some scene a Phaedre where women appear together, but chances are they are talking about Hippolyte or Theseus.
            SWIFT: Gulliver’s Travels. No soap. Gulliver speaks with Glumdalclitch, and with the Queen of Brobdignag. No female Lilliputians are mentioned, nor any Laputans given a name, nor is their any dialog with the mares among the Houyhnhnms.
            MOLIERE: Tartuffe. I think the maid speaks with the mistress of the house. I don’t recall if they are talking about men, but they probably are, since men are causing all the problems in the story.
            JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice. Men and marriage prospects is all they talk about here, despite a plethora of scenes involving the Bennet Mother and sisters, or Miss Bennet paying social calls on other women of quality.
            TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nope, unless there is a scene with Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer’s Mother I am forgetting. Boys on a raft with an escaping slave, as I recall.
            GOETHE: Faust. Magician talking with a demon. Helen of Troy has no speaking part.
            WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde. Love story. I think Isolde talks mostly about the tragic fate in which she is trapped. Or sings.
            DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov. Here again memory fails me. I remember lots of scenes with the brothers.
            TOLSTOY: War and Peace. There are lots of female characters here, among the most realistic in all literature. They talk about men.
            MELVILLE: Moby Dick. The book takes place on a Whaler, so there is no female character whatsoever. How this is a sign of gender bias is beyond me.
            CONRAD: Heart of Darkness. Likewise, no female characters in the story that I recall.

            Is that enough? This test requires one to jettison over nine-tenths of all great Western literature from consideration on the grounds that everyone (except, apparently for Bechdel) is ‘gender-biased.’ So either all of Western civilization is totally and absolutely despicable, or else the test is total and absolute crap.

            I am really sorry I asked what this was. I should have trusted my instincts which warned me it was some Politically Correct bullshit from someone who hates women or hates being a woman or both. Anyone who takes such tastes seriously condemn themselves to endless wrath or endless despair.

            • Comment by Stephen J.:

              Actually, I think the Bible describes at least a few incidents of women talking to one another, or situations where the women are present together and it is highly implausible to assume they did not converse: Judith and her maid in the Book of Judith (before the beheading of Holofernes), Elizabeth and Mother Mary before the Annunciation, Lot’s daughters making their unfortunate plans to preserve Lot’s bloodline, Mary and Martha when Jesus attended dinner in their house. In the last of these, it seems very likely that if Mary and Martha did speak it wasn’t even about men, since Martha’s primary gripe was that Mary wasn’t helping out.

              But yes, the Bechdel Test is primarily a way of pointing out that for people who comprise half the human race and are entitled to be treated as independent individuals, women do not appear as characters in nearly as much great literature as one would expect or as often as one might expect, and when they do appear their interests and actions are evaluated predominantly in relation to, and often subordinated to, the male characters’, rather than developed in equal and independent depth and given equal importance in the plot. To assert that this discrepancy is irrelevant to any individual work’s literary merit is perfectly correct, but I have to admit that I understand why ignoring it as if it didn’t exist would be a lot harder if I was a woman, or if the discrepancy went the other way against male characters.

            • Comment by Stephen J.:

              As a further followup, it should probably be acknowledged that the Bechdel Test tends to get used much more to evaluate modern media rather than classic literature. The absence of women from Moby Dick or from the Shakespearean history plays is a product of their time and place; what most users of the test gripe about is the absence or subordination of female characters from works produced today, in contexts where it would be much easier (in principle) to plausibly include women as major characters or full protagonists.

              (I add that last caveat because I myself have always been willing to accept as valid the objection that the characters and the story are what they demand of each other, and that changing a character and story purely on a political consideration of the audience rather than an aesthetic consideration for the work is doing a disservice to both audience and work. But, as noted before, being a writer myself and a man, I can understand why someone who was neither might have a harder time with that.)

            • Comment by Robert Mitchell Jr:

              I must point out for your amusement, that Ms. Bechdel failed the Bechdel test in her strip “Dykes to watch out for”. Endless drama and angst about relationships (Which I assume the “Not talking about men” rule is about, for I am not willing to believe without better proof that people using this rule are just bigots.).

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              MELVILLE: Moby Dick. The book takes place on a Whaler, so there is no female character whatsoever. How this is a sign of gender bias is beyond me.

              Ah, but you see, the gender bias took place when Melville decided to write a book set on a whaler.

        • Comment by Mary:

          I remembered, even as I was reading it, that off the top of my head there were Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It — though Woolf wanted two women who liked each other.

          No, hath not? Rosalind lacks then the love
          Which teacheth thee that thou and I am one:
          Shall we be sunder’d? shall we part, sweet girl?
          No: let my father seek another heir.

      • Comment by Mary:

        “they will get the vapors like Victorian ladies, the poor dears.”

        Now that’s unfair. Consider this Victorian description of Victorian ladies.

        A wonderful joy our eyes to bless,
        In her magnificent comeliness,
        Is an English girl of eleven stone two,
        And five foot ten in her dancing shoe!
        She follows the hounds, and on she pounds –
        The “field” tails off and the muffs diminish –
        Over the hedges and brooks she bounds –
        Straight as a crow, from find to finish.
        At cricket, her kin will lose or win –
        She and her maids, on grass and clover,
        Eleven maids out – eleven maids in –
        (And perhaps an occasional “maiden over”).
        Go search the world and search the sea,
        Then come you home and sing with me
        There’s no such gold and no such pearl
        As a bright and beautiful English girl!

        With a ten-mile spin she stretches her limbs,
        She golfs, she punts, she rows, she swims –
        She plays, she sings, she dances, too,
        From ten or eleven till all is blue!
        At ball or drum, till small hours come
        (Chaperon’s fan conceals her yawning),
        She’ll waltz away like a teetotum,
        And never go home till daylight’s dawning.
        Lawn tennis may share her favours fair –
        Her eyes a-dance and her cheeks a-glowing –
        Down comes her hair, but what does she care?
        It’s all her own and it’s worth the showing!
        Go search the world and search the sea,
        Then come you home and sing with me
        There’s no such gold and no such pearl
        As a bright and beautiful English girl!

        Her soul is sweet as the ocean air,
        For prudery knows no haven there;
        To find mock-modesty, please apply
        To the conscious blush and the downcast eye.
        Rich in the things contentment brings,
        In every pure enjoyment wealthy,
        Blithe as a beautiful bird she sings,
        For body and mind are hale and healthy.
        Her eyes they thrill with right goodwill –
        Her heart is light as a floating feather –
        As pure and bright as the mountain rill
        That leaps and laughs in the Highland heather!
        Go search the world and search the sea,
        Then come you home and sing with me
        There’s no such gold and no such pearl
        As a bright and beautiful English girl!

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