Okay, it’s not Thursday, but this is an expansion on the Bonus Awesome Thing I linked to yesterday. This is a Storify of the discussion about character agency and how it is an element of PLOT, not character. Give it a gander.
This is another one of those awesome light bulb posts and it’s making me Think All The Things. It’s something that seems so incredibly obvious once it’s pointed out–and then you feel stupid for not seeing it before. It doesn’t matter how physically kick ass or ball-busting we make our sheroes (or any other character, for that matter–women aren’t the only ones who are marginalized) if we do not insert them into plots that give them an opportunity to act. That’s not to say that these characters need to have it easy. By all means, put them through hell. But don’t tie their hands. Leave a bobby pin and duct tape so they can McGuyver their way out of the crap situation. That doesn’t always mean that these characters have to have that physical or mental strength. It would actually make for a far more compelling read to have someone who feels like they have no control, like they can’t act grow to become someone who can, who takes control.
I think this is really important. Women (and certainly other marginalized groups, but right now I’m thinking about women in particular) have been socialized for CENTURIES not to act. We’re supposed to be the weaker sex. We’re force-fed rescue fantasies practically from infancy. We have this notion of a prince coming to save us from the drudgery of real life dangled in front of us as some kind of carrot on a stick. And, sure, there’s some appeal to that. Real life is WORK, y’all. There’s no shame in wishing somebody’d come along to ease up the load. And it seems to me that maybe this is where the huge popularity of these stories with these powerful, controlling men coming into the shero’s life and taking care of things comes from. We’re socialized to want this, so it’s really craptastic for huge chunks of the populace to then turn around and get angry that a lot of women buy into it and bash them as stupid or somehow lesser.
I have largely steered clear of this kind of story. I’ll try them from time to time, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the sheroes of these kinds of stories, but invariably I end up putting the book down because she’s not participating in her own story. I’ve always viewed that as being an inherent characteristic of the shero and associated that with weakness (which makes for an automatic wall thumper for me), but in light of Ms. Hoffmann’s points, the object of my ire ought to be with the author (well, okay either way my ire ought to be with the author–she being god of her own world) for having created a story in which the shero is NOT ALLOWED to act. Because, quite outside the realm of fiction, this perpetuates the notion that woman in real life should just sit passively by while someone else makes decisions that impact them and their lives. And that’s both a disservice and a waste of the potential power of fiction to enact change.
To my mind, story should be used to EMPOWER women. I’d like to see these everyday sheroes exercising more caution when these powerful alpha males show up and start trying to run their lives. Let’s have more stories of normal, everyday women who choose to act despite the fear, despite the difficulty of doing so. Show everyday women finding their strength and learning that they can and should make decisions to control their lives (better yet, let’s pair them with powerful men who encourage the flexing of their autonomy). Show them rising above their circumstances by their own actions, their own choices because those things have POWER and MEANING. Too often, I think these stories end up sending the message that shero is in a life that somehow sucks but along comes a man who (in some manner or other) takes over and everything gets better–which therefore = women need a man to make it better and cannot rescue themselves (to which I instinctively call BULLSHIT) and trains women to relinquish control too easily. The balance of power should not be automatically handed over to the nearest man just because he happens to exist. Not that all men are inherently bad, but you’d best be damned sure you’ve got a good one if you’re going to trust him that far.
Writers, I encourage you to remember that it’s both your job and your privilege to create stories–use that power wisely! So anyway, that’s where my brain is today. I’m itching for discussion! What do y’all think about all this?