Okay, if you haven’t seen the trailer for the new Netflix series Enola Holmes, it’s worth watching. And the show looks great! Except for one thing. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait. You’ll know it when you see it.
Mystery runs in the family.
Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, and Helena Bonham-Carter star in Enola Holmes pic.twitter.com/qtMYXW1KXh
— Netflix (@netflix) August 25, 2020
Yeah. Enola is Not Like Other Girls. And how did the writers decide to show that? She doesn’t know how to embroider! That’s right. Just like another “action-oriented” and “interesting” female character who is Not Like Other Girls. *cough*Arya*cough
Could we dispense with this incredibly tired cliché already? It’s as if writers are going “what is something old timey females did that’s really stupid and boring?” In other words, this device isn’t revealing the disdain of the character for traditionally female arts – it’s coming from the writers’ contempt for them.
I’m going to throw out there that, in both of my examples, the writers are male, which makes the assumption even more annoying – and even misogynistic. Yes, I’m sure there’s an image floating out there of old timey females sitting around in some parlor, primly doing needlework and gossiping like hens clucking. How dull! What ninnies they must be! Surely any sensible, action-oriented and interesting female worth her salt will repudiate such nonsense!
This attitude completely ignores the fact that many powerful people enjoy needlework and fiber arts of all kinds because they are both relaxing and allow the mind to focus on other activities. Listening to music or to someone reading aloud while doing needlework is immensely soothing. Handwork like this is meditative and allows for creative inspiration. Embroidery and similar arts are exacting crafts requiring concentration, dexterity, and the meticulous application of practice and talent. All those people complaining about smartphones ruining in-person socialization ought to appreciate that conversation is a worthwhile pursuit. It’s only when men dismiss women’s conversation as being worthless that it gets reduced to the level of gossip. It’s only contempt for arts that have been considered women’s work that makes it de rigeur for a heroine who’s Not Like Other Girls to shun needlework.
Let’s all roll our eyes at that.
And this photo? It’s a king-size wedding ring quilt I made for a friend’s wedding. I love quilting – but I had to give it up because it used too much of the same creative energy that writing does. I’m thinking about learning to knit, instead.
Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: “Heroes and heroines – how do you write them differently.” Come on over for my take.
The other day I saw a well-known reviewer discuss a popular book that concluded a trilogy. They commented that they enjoyed the grand finale, but wished that the hero – who’d been built up as being the most powerful of his kind – had wielded more of that power in the final battle. I nodded along, having felt the same way. I also know why the story skewed in that direction. The heroine stepped up and took the lion’s share of the heroics in defeating the Big Bad.
Does it have to be that way? I don’t know.
As both a reader and a writer, I see stories through a dual lens. I very much enjoyed that trilogy and loved the ride, but I did feel a little let down that this hero I’d come to love never truly flexed this incredible power that had been hinted at all along. At the same time, my author mind was running the plot analysis and thinking, “Well, yeah – his power had to be downplayed for the heroine to shine.” Otherwise we’d end up with yet another story where the hero saves the day while the heroine cheerleads with breasts bouncing on the sidelines.
In fact, it drives me crazy when the hero takes over the narrative from the heroine – the reverse situation of this example – and I see stories fall into that trap all the time. And I am definitely talking about stories where there are two primary protagonists, one male and one female. The gender politics, assumptions, and subconscious programming come into play with the hero/heroine dynamic that aren’t as present or pronounced with male/male or female/female pairings. Or, so I believe. Someone who’s more versed than I am in parsing those dynamics is welcome to take up that topic.
What I see in hero/heroine, male/female pairings is that the female character will often begin with a terrific set of strengths and challenges. She might have a fascinating profession, or be determined on a quest or revenge. As the story plays out, however, gradually the hero takes on the active role, handling the greatest challenges while the heroine takes a step back.
An example that springs to mind is a story where the heroine has returned from an abduction, having left a child behind. She actively manipulates her family and events so she can marry a man who will take her back to recover the child. Enter the hero, who arrives in the story entirely as a tool for the heroine to get what she wants. As the story progresses, she discovers her magic and they engage in adventures and battles. By the end, however, I was dismayed to see her pretty much hanging out back at the castle, pregnant and watching the kids, while the hero went out and battled the Big Bad. He had become the far more interesting and active character.
I think this happens in part because of gender stereotypes and the weight of stories and tropes in our heads. It’s easier to give over the action to the big warrior hero, because we have a lot of precedence for that kind of story. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As we’ve seen with all kinds of gender-swapped stories, we can produce fantastic narratives with roles and tropes switched up.
But do we have to switch and swap?
As with my opening example, it wasn’t satisfying to me as a reader to have the hero basically sidelined either. It’s a challenge, but I think stories that have a male/female pairing – whose adventures in part show what a great team they make -should strive to give equal limelight to both the hero and heroine. I think Ilona Andrews does a great job of this in their books, giving both the hero and heroine critical roles in overcoming the challenges, each playing to their own strengths.
What do you all think of this – am I wrong? Who else writes this balance well?
I was trying to get the moon in the clouds last night, but this ended up looking like an avenging angel swooping in over the Santa Fe Railyard.
Particularly as we were sitting outside, having some lovely prosecco, after watching WONDER WOMAN. Speaking of avenging angels.
So, yes, I am joining the hoards who are totally in love with this movie. Even though I made a point of seeing this in the theater – which I rarely do, as I stream most movies at home – I still didn’t expect to be so thrilled with it.
The Amazons were incredible! My fantastic (Campbell-award nominated!) writer friend, Kelly Robson, pointed out that there are only women in the movie for a long time. I hadn’t even noticed, but I reveled in the skill, power, wisdom, and athleticism of the Amazons. The armor! Those muscular thighs! The sparring and battling!
It made me realize how starved I was to see heroines like this. They were never once silly or clumsy or apologetic. When they died battling the Germans, they died heroically. And when they kicked ass, they did it mightily!
Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is everything I could want in a heroine. She is courageous, firm in her convictions, a mighty warrior, and full of compassion. The moment she kneels behind her shield fending off a hail of machine-gun fire gave me chills. As if all the horrible events of the recent months could be dashed away as easily, if only we keep to our resolve. Wonder Woman never once falters. She battles on with strength, agility, and integrity.
Her relationship with Steve Trevor was pitch perfect. And not only because it’s exactly the kind of relationship I like my fantasy heroines to have! They enjoyed each other’s humor, their friendship deepening beyond the obvious physical attraction. They complemented each other’s skills and the movie absolutely allowed him to play supporting role to her heroism. He loved her in all her brilliance and power – never once detracting or mansplaining.
If I ever get to have my Twelve Kingdoms and Uncharted Realms books made into movies, I would love, love, love for Patty Jenkins to direct. The woman totally gets it. It’s good to have things to wish for and that’s top of my list now.
A girl can dream! She can also kick serious ass and still have love and compassion.
Look what arrived late last night! Yes, the UPS guy came by around 7:30 with this largesse. Finished copies of THE TALON OF THE HAWK!!! I may have fondled them.
I’m over at the Contemporary Romance Cafe today, for my usual first Thursday post, talking about prickly heroines and mixing it up with Ursula from TALON and Detective Kate Beckett from Castle.
Also, I did a really fun interview with Jennifer Estep over at Magical Musings. It includes a giveaway! In my typical style, after I glommed her terrific Elemental Assassin series, I stalked her on Twitter and made her be my friend. She kindly suggested doing this post, for which we are now both grateful, being equally crazy getting ready for the RT Convention. I get to have brunch with her there and meet for reals – very much looking forward to that!
Finally, the crazy gals at I Smell Sheep also did an interview with me and are hosting a giveaway also. More than you *ever* wanted to know about me?
Possible. Entirely possible.