Feminism, Initials, JK Rowling, and Me

533642_552932778076373_588861722_nA writer friend posted this picture on Facebook this morning and invited my comment. You really don’t do that unless you mean it. I don’t like to get political and I don’t really like the term “feminism.” I’ve always joked that women who seek to be equal to men are underachievers.

The fact of the matter is that I strongly believe that each gender has its strengths and both male and female should support and encourage each other. The traditionally “male” role complements the traditionally “female” role and one is neither superior nor inferior to the other. I also believe that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to and my gender has less to do with it than my determination and skill.

I believe that the term “feminism” is insulting to me. It implies that women cannot gain true equality to men without the help of enlightened men making adjustments and setting the bar lower so we poor, weak creatures can reach it. That’s not equality. It’s condescension.

Growing up in a home with three brothers and eight male cousins, there was very little doll-playing going on. When playing with my brothers, I crawled on my belly taking the beaches of Normandy with my stick rifle across my forearms along with everyone else. The taunt of “You can’t because you’re a girl” always resulted in “Watch me!” followed by my doing just what their friends said I couldn’t.

Of course my accomplishments were declared a fluke and I was shoved aside and told to go play with dolls while they went off to do “important” boy things.

My mother once told me that boys didn’t like when girls beat them, so I needed to let the boys win.

Screw that!

No power in the verseWhy should I hide who I am or pretend to be less than I am to make someone else feel better about themselves? By the same token, why should I expect someone else to lower the bar so I can reach it. If I want it badly enough, ‘no power in the ‘verse can stop me’ regardless of how high it sits.

I’ve been called a “femi-nazi” an “Amazon” and several obscenities that my brothers would have decked them for using. I knew going in what I was in-for by working in a male-dominated industry. Some men are intimidated by women and feel the need to denigrate them just to make themselves feel better.

Buffy_CheerleaderI’ve got news for you, some women are intimidated by strong women who don’t fit into the typical cheerleader mold and feel the need to denigrate them just to make themselves feel better, too.

I don’t feel that’s an issue that falls under feminism. That’s an issue that falls under some-people-who-have-a-sense-of-power-over-others-fear-those-who-will-not-fall-in-line-with-their-world-view. That’s not being a feminist. That’s being a free-thinking, intelligent human being. If there is an obstacle in the way of my goals, I will overcome it on my own, thanks. I don’t need a group of condescending men and women in power legislating it away for me.

Whether we like it or not, prejudice against women writers is alive and well. I see it with SF more so than with Fantasy, mostly because I’m most active in that genre. The stereotype of the SF fan being primarily male, between the ages of 13 and 30, socially awkward, living in his parents’ basement is still strong, but oh-so-outdated.

Recent scandals of sexual bias and harassment have rocked the SFWA. Women in the genre are marginalized and often vilified. Unless one is writing SF Erotica or SFR, having a feminine name on the cover does reduce sales.

When it first came out in my town that I’m a novelist, the local editor/owner for the free newspaper asked if I wrote about “trips to the grocery store.”

upwords-board-730x485Rather than start beating my chest and crying over the unfairness of it, I considered the source. He’s a condescending blowhard with few friends in town who is still angry over the fact that I beat him like a red-headed step child the one and only time he challenged me to a game of “Upwords.” I tried to warn him that I play cutthroat Scrabble and tend to make my opponents cry, but he just had to challenge me.

In case you’re wondering, I looked at him in disgust, told him to stop being an ass and said I was writing a SF series filled with political intrigue following a military officer wanted for treason while she tries to find her kidnapped father, clear her name, and prevent an assassination plot that will plunge the galaxy into civil war. I doubted she had much time for grocery shopping.

Women and girls are less likely to care about the gender of the author. Men and boys have preconceived ideas of what women write. It may not be right, but the fact remains that it *IS*.

We can stubbornly stick our given names on the covers of our books and whine about pathetic sales and wonder why men don’t buy them. We can also suffer the ridicule of males threatened by intelligent women while we’re tilting windmills over it.

ChewieMen in power are like wookiees, they don’t like to lose and tend to get upset and pull people’s arms out of their sockets. Let’s face it, it’s not about prejudice as much as it is about a group of people in power over an industry who are loathe to relinquish said power.

For now, that is the nature of the industry. Ideas do not change overnight. In the decades that I’ve been writing, I’ve seen many, many changes within society and within the industry. When I first began, the strong, kick butt heroine was anathema and completely unheard of. She was the kiss of death for a manuscript.

Xena Thanks to Xena, Buffy, and Charmed, or rather Sam Raimi, Joss Whedon, and Aaron Spelling, the female action hero is no longer a thing of the past, although I doubt without the male of the species putting his weight behind the notion, women writing and producing these characters would ever have gotten past the elevator pitch. Right or wrong, it’s the nature of the industry.charmed_season_1_promo-2

Feminist? Perhaps. Capitalistic? Certainly. I’d be willing to bet that these men who produced these cutting edge women saw the potential fan-base for strong female characters in the rising numbers of young men of the 90’s having grown up in single parent households and tended to view their mother as provider and protector.

I’m jaded enough to attribute their choices to dollar signs rather than any sense of social justice or feminist responsibility.

The gatekeepers of the industry can’t argue with sales. While the traditional SF/F publishers are less inclined to give shelf space to women writing in the genre, it *is* a business and sales are the bottom line. When the sales of female authors match or outstrip the male of the species, you’ll see change. To first get those sales at this point in time, one must play the game.

For the time being, women using initials or a male pseudonym in order to be taken seriously in a male-dominated genre is simply the way things are done. In time, with networking, the rise of self and indie publishers more inclined to take a chance on women writers, that will change.

Our daughters and granddaughters will thank our initialed nom de plumes for paving the way for them to use their own names on their own SF/F covers.


I took my four-year-old daughter to see the Disney/Pixar film BRAVE this afternoon. At my husband’s urging we went on a Mommy/Daughter day out. There were several reasons my husband knew we’d love it:

  • It’s set in Scotland.
  • The main character is a fiery, unconventional young woman.
  • A GIRL is proficient with sword and bow.
  • Both my daughter and I were riveted by the previews.

One of the things I love about science fiction is that it’s one of the first genres to open up to the idea of the warrior woman. In fantasy, warrior women were six foot Amazons of the type parodied by Jim Carey in the old TV show “In Living Color.” Science fiction opened the door to smart, savvy women who can outfight, outfly, and outshoot any average man, while still hanging on to her femininity. As a petite woman myself with a sword and a shoe weakness, that is what I liked about Merida.

The fiery-haired young princess, much to her mother’s annoyance, would prefer to be  flying across the countryside on her trusty horse “Angus,” rather than learning comportment and manners and other “useless” skills.

Both my daughter and I (each with older brothers to keep up with) can relate to Merida’s lament. The boys got to have all the fun and excitement, while my mother expected me to “be a lady.” Being demure, calm and ladylike was never in my nature. In my rambunctious household, the only way to respond to being pushed was to push back harder. The only way to be heard over the noise was to get louder. The only way to get what I wanted was to go after it myself. I felt like an utter failure my entire childhood until, like Merida, I rebelled. My little girl is very like Merida…and me. She would rather plan her future as a Pink Ninja, saving the world with a sword in one hand, a ray gun in the other. She’d like to look chic and girly while doing it, so she’ll wear pink body armor, thank-you-very-much.

I love that Disney has finally given me a princess that I can relate to.  Over the decades, Disney’s princesses have gone from being hand-wringing victims, sweet and helpless, waiting for Prince Charming to show up and rescue her from the evil machinations of those who would do her harm, to the fiery and independent young woman who is willing to defy her mother and fight for the right to choose her own fate, with bow and arrow if need be. Merida is the first Disney princess I really would like to see my daughter want to emulate.

Like many independent-minded, unconventional young ladies, Merida brings her problems on herself. However, she also quickly realizes what she’s done and she sets out with the same single-minded determination to put things right… on her own. In the process, Merida learns that some of the lessons her mother had been trying so hard to impart are, in fact, quite important and useful. Once Merida is able to tame her own independent streak, she redefines her priorities and makes amends with her mother. Once the two women, more alike than not, stop trying to force their own way on the other, each finds a new respect for the other. Merida proves herself the essence of the woman her mother wants her to be, but on her own terms.

For a firebrand with a fiercely independent streak, facing life on your own terms with the support of your loved ones is what it’s all about.

To my daughter, Brave is a fun movie that she thoroughly enjoyed as she watched from her Mama’s lap, snuggling and cuddling through the scary parts and dancing and waving her imaginary sword during the swashbuckling bits. When it comes out on DVD, she’ll watch it endlessly.

I wonder if she’ll want a Merida costume for Halloween this year.