I retweeted this blog post yesterday. You should read it.
I think about this stuff a lot. I’m pretty vocal about my feminism, and popular media is one of my great bugbears. But, as a writer, even I have to remember to consciously check my biases. I write fictional words that are dark and difficult, and my instinct is to populate them with men.
When I started playing in Sailor’s world — a world of pirates and smugglers and slaves and mages — I realised I was in danger of writing the kind of story I loved when I was a kid. Bear with me. I want to write that story: I’m writing for my younger self as much as anyone. But as someone who loved fantastic worlds and daring adventures, powerful women were rare — even when they were the protagonist.
The Alanna books were probably the formative books of my childhood. But Alanna — kick-ass, fierce, powerful as all get-out — is the exception in her world. She moves in circles populated almost exclusively by men. It’s a necessary part of her story — she’s a girl pretending to be a boy in a world where only men can be knights — but in its own way that’s almost as damaging as the stories where the women are all plot devices or scenery.
I had to check myself with Sailor. I realised embarrassingly late that I’d crewed this pirate ship entirely with men, other than Sailor and a female first mate. In my head, I’d done that thing where one other strong woman (the middle-aged motherly one, natch) seems like balance.
I tweeted this a while ago:
Geena Davis has a campaign about something similar. She talks about the idea of making half of all speaking parts in film and television female. Half of all background actors. Of making our media actually look like our world. A world where it would seem bizarre to only have a single female character in a cast, instead of something no one even seems to notice.
It’s so simple, and so obvious. And yet.
I want Sailor to revolt against her upbringing, her lifestyle, her father’s expectations — but I want the fact that she’s a woman to be incidental. I want her to live in a world — a piratical, magical world — where her gender in and of itself isn’t a barrier (or a reason to call her a hero). I want the people in that world to reflect the people of our world: half female, and of all races and colours and creeds and orientations.
What does that world look like? I don’t know yet, honestly. I’m not sure what the ramifications are. It definitely looks different than every fantasy world I’ve ever loved or spent time in. What would a pre-industrial world look like without the entrenched sexism (and racism) of our pre-industrial world? (And by “our”, I mean our specifically white, Western idea of the world that we’ve foisted onto our white, Western made-up worlds.)
That’s the tough stuff.
The other bit is easy — just make sure half of everyone with a speaking part also has a vagina. Make sure they’re not all white. Or straight. Make sure they’re people. Like us.
It’s easy, but it takes thought. It takes being aware of how insidious and invasive the status quo is, and constantly checking your biases and preconceptions. This is a big, important, nuanced conversation, and I barely feel qualified to even be involved in it — but the more we talk about this, the more we notice it, the better. So here I am.
(Thank you to Alison and Reuben for the feedback.)