Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters – Part 2
In this space we have been examining and excoriating the attempt of many reviewers and activists in science fiction to increase the number of ‘strong’ female characters in science fiction yarns. I put the word strong in scare quotes because it is my contention, argued in the previous essay, that this word conflates two distinct ideas. Good authors can make strong female characters who are strong with the virtues particular to women, feminine strength. Lazy authors make strong female characters by making them masculine.
Now there are several arguments which can be raised against this position: first is that virtue the same in men and women, so that what I am calling feminine strength in reality is the same as masculine strength, and ergo the distinction on which the argument is based fails. This argument has the strong point that temperance, justice, fortitude and prudence are the same in both sexes. The counterargument, which I think is sufficient as far as this point goes, is that the particular character of male and female virtues comes not from the virtues, but from the difference in priority, emphasis, approach, and skill sets involved.
The argument is experiential rather than logical: if you have not noticed that men, and for good reason, tend to be proud of their physical prowess, tend to be direct and adversarial, and tend to look at the world in terms of winners and losers, then I can do no more than to bring it to your attention. I call upon experience as my witness.
If you have no experience of real life, aside from what you see on the modern television or read in modern books, I might remind you that these jolly pasttimes are not meant to reflect reality, but is instead meant to reflect a vision of the world, a narrative, with which I am taking issue. Your witnesses, modern television and modern books, are corrupt.
Second, it can be argued that while indeed men do act in a more masculine fashion than women, they do not have a good reason for this: that the typically masculine and feminine roles are the product of historical accident or perhaps cruelty and social injustice. By this argument, the fact that they have always existed hence is an argument for their overthrow, because injustice has always existed, so any alternative is worth trying. The counterargument is that femininity is based on female biology, and that psychology, despite the fact that it can be trained to defy biology, ought not to be, as this leads to inefficiencies, injustices, and a general lack of joy.
Here again I point to experience as my witness: compare the divorce rate, the suicide rate, the crime rate, the rate of drug abuse, or any other honest indicator of social happiness between a modern urban setting, where the modern and Politically Correct ideals have had full sway for more than half a century, with a postwar rural setting where the traditional ideals have full sway. Neither one is utopia, but the number of bastard children belonging to drug running gangs beaten to death by his mother’s live-in lover is far smaller in rural Pennsylvania of 1953 than urban Detroit of 2013.
Third, it can be argued that while there are natural efficiencies involved with women being feminine and men being masculine, it does not produce the greater joy of which I speak. This argument would run: Females do not want to be feminine, but to be free, and the restrictions of femininity are both artificial and limiting; men do not want to be masculine, or to be leaders, or to be strong, they would rather whine like girls without being criticized for whining like girls. They certainly do not want to be policemen or soldiers or firemen, or to do any task requiring physical courage and clarity of thought and boldness of action.
This argument cannot be answered, because it is two arbitrary assertions: first, the femininity implies inferiority, because it tends toward a support and nurturing role rather than a showy leadership role; second, the pleasure in life after weighing the pros and cons is seen as a matter of experience to favor liberated women who talk and act like men. The liberated woman can smoke cigars and grab waiters on the buttocks and sleep around and get drunk and join a pirate crew and raise the Jolly Roger and start slitting throats, or stand for public office, which is much the same thing.
The counter argument here is that if feminism consists of this doctrine, then it consists of eliminating the particular qualities that emphasize the feminine nature of women. Feminism abolishes femininity.
Now, logically, since there is no such thing as an asexual human being, even from a fertilized egg in the womb, eliminating the feminine can only be done by getting men to act more feminine and getting women to act more masculine. It does not liberate women from an artificial set of expectations and leave them at liberty to live as asexual beings with no social roles. All it does is ask them to live partly in the masculine role, and partly to improvise, and then not to know what to expect from anyone else in the system.
The implication then is that, if these roles are based on natural tendencies built into our psychology because they are built into our biology, then men will naturally be more masculine than women and women more feminine than men, even if social artifices hide or distract or make the manifestation of these traits different than the manifested in the past.
If women act like men, they will be, by and large (with some few exceptions, like Anne Bonny) not as good at male-behavior patterns than males (like Blackbeard and Calico Jack Rackham and Sir Francis Drake).
Now, a rebuttal to this counter argument is that the categories of masculine and feminine are completely artificial, a social product of a sinister conspiracy of the patriarchy. (I assume this refers to the Patriarch of the alien catlike species inhabited a world circling 61 Ursae Majoris, and that this is meant as a serious argument, not merely tomfoolery and nonsense like the conspiracy theory behind Marxism, which proposes that investment bankers, not patriarch, are the conspirators.)
Here again, I can only point to experience. I am a newspaperman and an attorney. I have seen real life in a way that few other people, perhaps policemen and certainly priests who hear confessions, have seen it, unfiltered by an entertainment industry or media complex devoted to an agenda.
But don’t take my word for it. It is possible that my personal experience is atypical. Let us look nationwide: fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and ninety percent of divorces are initiated by women.
My conclusion is that you dear ladies are unhappy about something.
Many ladies. Very unhappy.
Ready for another statistic? Couples who practice the Catholic method of Natural Family Planning have a divorce rate of about 5%, markedly lower than the 50% divorce rate of couples who utilize contraception. Correlation is not causation, so you may draw your own conclusion about what this statistic means, if anything.
The conclusion I draw is that old fashioned religious Moms who listen to St Paul’s oft misunderstood injunction that they submit to their husbands, and Dads who heed St Paul’s oft misunderstood injunction that Dad be the head of the family the way Christ is the head of the Church, that is, by total self sacrifice, are happier with each other than two liberal-minded and free and equal and rather selfish partners who made an alliance to service their mutual friendship and pleasure and call it a marriage. A marriage between a submissive woman and a self sacrificing man may be many things — it sounds a bit kinky to me — but it certainly cannot be selfish. But this conclusion I offer here only as a personal aside, an opinion, not part of the argument.
Let us look closer to home. Look at science fiction stories and movies. What has the attempt to produce strong female characters produced?
On the one hand, I would be the first to say that the Miyasaki characters Nausicaa and Kushinada, the heroine and the villainess respectively of VALLEY OF THE WIND are the exemplars of perfectly strong and perfectly feminine women. Being in leadership roles does not strike me as unfeminine, not when we are dealing with princesses and war leaders. Nonetheless, the particular masculine characteristic of touchy pride, the desire to slit throats, machismo, vulgarity, roguishness, and the other one-dimensional stereotype writers who don’t know any real men use when trying to make their females more masculine are utterly absent from Miyazaki’s characters.
Again, throughout the film (and manga) Nausicaa shows more concern for the suffering of enemies, including horrid insect monsters and radioactive biotech god-soldiers, than a man would. Her attitude toward war is hardly the same as that of a Lancelot or Achilles.
One example: when the princess Nausicaa commands her men to don their gas masks and they do not obey, she does not shoot one of them in the leg. Instead she takes off her own gas mask, provoking their concern for her, hence loyalty, hence they then listen to her. This is feminine in approach.
By that I do not mean illogical or cunning or whatever negative implications feminists and other people who simply hate women apply to the word ‘feminine’ when they hear that word.
I am a romantic: to me, who loves women in their every aspect, the word is complimentary and highly so. I am also a Catholic. I say fifty prayers a day to the Our Lady and only five a day to Our Lord, so do not tell me there is something illogical or cunning or negative about feminine leadership. The Queen of the Angels disagrees.
I am calling such behavior feminine because I hold that femininity is more concerned with the doer than with the deed. Masculine approach is to be businesslike and curt, and not concerned with your emotions, only with our performance. This approach is useful both on the battlefield and in the marketplace. It is results-oriented. It is concerned with duty, outward actions, not with inner motives.
Typical masculine thinking: I do not care why you salute just as long as you do salute. You are not saluting the man, you are saluting the uniform. It is impersonal.
The feminine approach, since females are biologically more suited to bearing and nursing children than males, and since females are given the infinitely important task of domesticating the male barbarian of her husband as well as taming and training the children, must be more concerned with the doer than the deed, because the women must train the children to volunteer to do the right thing, so that as adults, when she is gone, they do the right thing. It is character-oriented. This is the more useful approach in peacetime and in cooperative rather than competitive situations. It is not concerned with duty, but with inner motives.
Does anyone seriously, honestly think that a goals-oriented approach is always superior to the personality-oriented approach? Does anyone seriously think that we can treat squadmates like children or children like squadmates?
By the way, gentlemen, this is why women talk more than men and talk about more trivial things. The act of talking is attempting to form a bond and open a channel of communication which the woman can use to deduce information vital to her approach about your personality and moods and your character. She is trying to see behind the mask all to many of us wear as a matter of convenience. She is trying to cure us of our hidden pain.
By the way, ladies, this is why we guy don’t talk about important things and never open up and share our feelings. We don’t have any, not what you call feelings. We have tactics and goals. Anything outside the goal is distraction. We do not care about how we ‘feel.’ Feelings pass. Pain is endured, not cured.
And, by the way men, the old canard about men being logical and women being emotion is and always was meant as a joke. If a woman points out a matter the is outside the immediate goal on which the one-track male mind is focused, he will call it irrelevant. That is because women are generally better at thinking in multiple parallel tasks at once, and are less goal-oriented and more personality-oriented. However, during the high-stress type of tasks to which men, especially young men, tend to gravitate having a one-track mind is a benefit: it is a mind stripped down for action.
However, the way to deal with this canard is not to pretend it does not exist, or to tell men that women are logical after all. They are, but they are not logical in the same way. Women tend to think strategically and men to think tactically. A strategic thinker also thinks of arranging the peace terms after the battle is won or lost.
So much for an example of a strong female character done well: strong female characters done badly are almost numberless. Consider Xena Warrior Princess, or more to the point, Red Sonja, the she-barbarian who invented the chainmail bikini.
Hmm. I can clearly see why boys like Red Sonja, especially lonely boys. I do not see that any honest feminist would think that this is an example of a strong female character as opposed to a buxom female character.
Agreed, Red Sonja does not need rescuing, and she is not going to scream like Fay Wray. But she is a Playboy Bunny, just one who wears a sneer and carries a honking big sword.
Consider Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in the AVENGERS movie.
I trust the pictures make my point. Ladies, you have been rooked, cheated, bilked, and tricked. These are not more realistic and stronger images of women being set out before the public eye than the 1950’s images. These are eyecandy, if not fetish fuel.
To make my point, let me forgo my normal habit of inserting a gratuitous picture of Batgirl, and instead add a picture of Alice from RESIDENT EVIL. She is a strong female character, ain’t she?
Let us compare this with the allegedly weak female characters from the old days of science fiction.
Hmm. The Black Amazon of Mars seems to be built along the same lines as Red Sonja, and wearing the same outfit as Alice and Black Widow. Are you sure women in the old days were simply shrieking damsels in distress with nothing to do?
This is very different from Princess Leia, who is never in distress.
Oh, wait. I was confusing her with Princess Amidala, who is clearly a strong female character. Her role includes falling in love with an evil man, whimpering, and dying in childbirth, and she is never dressed as mere eye candy.
Oops. It looks like the eye candy factor was about the same, the number of distressed damsels may have gone down a little, and the number of warrior babes is about the same. Red Sonja is based on Conan’s Red Sonya of Rogatino, which dates from 1934.
Let us compare all of the above this with my personal favorite picture of a strong female character. Now, I am cheating, of course, because this is a real heroine, not a make believe one. Meet Spc. Jennie Baez.
My conclusion is that there is not an iota of real difference between the way women in the past were treated in SF stories and women now.
The fake difference is that some women are masculinized in order to satisfy a fundamentally illogical doctrine of Politic Correctness.
In Part 3 I will attempt to explain why Science Fiction needs to be saved from this scourge of absurdity.