Isn’t it funny how we have to categorise some books and movies as having Strong Female Leads? And by funny, I mean super annoying.
We don’t highlight stories with Strong Male Leads because that’s a given isn’t it?
Even the story of Eve eating the forbidden fruit made the dude into the hero. Red Riding Hood was rescued by the Woodsman. Cinderella was carried off by a handsome prince, etc, ad infinitum. But yes, readers and viewers are finally developing a taste for stories where women are the stars, the leads, the lovers, and the fighters. They rescue themselves and each other, often without even having to slay the dragon. Dragons deserve to have their story told too.
In her brilliant book, The Heroine’s Journey, Gail Carriger tells writers and story tellers to examine our biases by a technique she calls “Show me your Doctor.” Let’s set the scene: Your main character is the Chosen One and they are trying to save the town/planet/universe. They need answers quick-smart from a doctor. It’s a bit part. This doctor won’t feature in your story again, it’s just a plot device. They can be a medical doctor, a physicist, an archaeologist…
Now, describe your doctor.
Until recently, almost every movie or book portrayed “the doctor” as an old, white, man in a white coat/cave/castle. I mean, until recently even The Doctor was an old white man, although his coat wasn’t white. He did get a bit younger (Matt Smith) before they made him old again (Peter Capaldi) and forever ruined Doctor Who for me. Yeah, not a fan of Capaldi as The Doctor. Then… The Doctor finally regenerated into a female body. I’m sure more than a few dudes lost their minds over this one.
Until very recently any doctor, or any important role for that matter, was always a man and her was usually white. The only way a woman could be a doctor was if she was super sexy and could be a play thing for the leading man , see every James Bond book ever! But James Bond was a product of its era! Speaking of which, I cannot wait to see to newest Bond movie on the big screen. I hope we get out of this bloody lockdown in time to see it at the cinema!
(I will draw the line at remaking James Bond with the woman in the title role. Surely we can do better than that?)
Storytellers need to look at how our internal biases show in our work and FIX them. I read a few short stories by indie authors this week. One was the winner of a very popular writing competition and it takes the piss out of a fat woman. It surprised me because I thought we were past shaming people for the way their body looks. Another story had such one-dimensional, stereotypical Indian characters. This kind of stuff is just not okay and it’s boring. We writers need to do better.
I re-wrote the ending of Hotel Deja Vu, my first novel. Okay, so it had a lot of faults but easily the worst thing was the sappy ending with the marriage proposal. Kill me. I’m married, I’m not dissing marriage or sappy marriage proposals, but I didn’t want my book to end with one. Now Hotel Deja Vu concludes with strong women doing the talking!
I very rarely give physical descriptions of my characters. I prefer to describe their personalities. The entire cast of characters in Hotel Deja Vu could be played by any actor if someone would like to make a series…anyone??
When I started thinking about writing to publish, I had to look at my biases. I’m lucky. I started writing at a time when we are collectively waking up to the unconscious biases we’ve all lived under for centuries. Wealthy white men were always the movers and shakers and it was their stories being told. Now we are hearing and seeing the stories of a diverse range of people and in the process abuses of the past are coming to light. The treatment of Marie Curie, Katherine Johnson, Colette, and other notable women throughout history whose talents were simply used by men while the woman herself struggled for agency and sometimes her life.
I’m writing a story set partially in what I am currently calling ‘thousands of years ago.’ I know the story I want to write but I am having trouble fitting it into a time period. The story, Circle of Ashes, is mostly set in Wiltshire and Somerset and one of my two Main Characters is a fierce priestess on pilgrimage to the Great Mother, the mighty stone circle of Avebury and the smaller circles nearby.
Over the past 2 years of writing Circle of Ashes, I’ve read a lot of conflicting theories about the people of this time so I decided to read Edward Rutherfurd’s Sarum, a fictional account of human activity on Salisbury Plain since the first hunter/gatherers wandered down from the tundra. At the very least, I thought it would be entertaining.
Like Rutherfurd, I am neither an historian nor an archaeologist so my story, like his, is purely that, a story. I loved his book, Paris. It used a similar style, focusing on different time periods and weaving a fictional story through historical events. Midnight in Paris character Gil Pender even gets a mention which made me laugh. I’m a huge MiP fan!
I have set Sarum aside for now. The entire first third revolves almost exclusively around the male of the species. The women get to have babies, look after the hovel, and spin a bit of wool nicely if they’re lucky. The rest of the action is a sausage-fest! I am hoping it gets better but I have other books to read right now.
Maybe it’s a product of its time? Sarum was published in 1987, in a time when, as a reviewer on Goodreads put it, only men had ideas and did things. I am so glad I live in a time where all kinds of diverse stories are being told.