I am a woman.

I started writing a post about an hour ago. I had eleven hundred words before I knew it, and they were some of the angriest words I have ever put to page. Writing about nerd male privilege and being a “geek girl” just after seeing Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is perhaps not the most effective recipe for a balanced response to my subject. I am an angry person, it turns out, but after a first very ranty draft about the dregs of behavior geek girls have to put up with, I took a step back and established what I am truly angry about, in my little corner of the big and angering subject, “Women in fiction and its environs.” What I’m most angry about is the stories. Angry about the way women are treated in the stories I love. I should know. I am a woman.

I am betrayed by the stories I love. Betrayed, belittled, ignored, used, punished, raped, tortured, and killed. I have little clothing, and less agency. I am a plot device, a cliche, as much a part of the hero’s journey as the Totem or the Mentor, and about as well-rounded. I have worn many names and many outfits, my hair has been raven, fiery, chestnut, and golden. I have been femme fatale, ingenue, princess, whore, with and without the heart of gold. I am reviled when I am strong, I am ridiculed when I am weak. I am a woman.

I am betrayed, too, by the world I inhabit in my life outside of stories. The world of geeks and nerds, the world of swords and sorcery, ships and starships. The realms of fantasy, science and fiction are still a boy’s club, though it gets better. Oh, how it gets better too slowly for me. I was raised on Batman and Star Trek, a legacy that brings me joy to this day, this very minute of writing. But there are shadows in the corners of my eyes, monsters in the alleys of the City of Invention that I love. For I am not striding down the streets, chest thrown back, my chin raised. My hand is not on the hilt of my sword, no challenge to all comers is present in my eyes. I am a woman. I am in danger here.

My presence as protagonist is bewildering to the men around me. As a woman who loves what they love, I am a woman, who loves what they love. I have no right of my own to their inheritance. I am a victim of my genetics. I am here on sufferance. It took Star Trek three separate series and nearly seventeen seasons on the air before someone had the guts to write a female captain. Janeway is the most reviled of the Star Trek captains, for reasons that in other series made Picard and Kirk heroes. She, on being born a woman.

My opinions in the outside world are suspect and apparently easily shot down. I am accused of minding the shocking objectification of women in games, movies, and TV shows just because I’m a girl, as if there is a whole class of problem I just wouldn’t have to bother about, if I were not female. That, in fact, my concerns and questions about the role and treatment of women in geek media are so much noise to be listened to with a long-suffering expression and an uncomfortable shift of the shoulders. As if to say, “I know this is wrong, but I don’t want to have to stop loving what I love…” I understand you, you know. I understand all too well. I am a woman.

My love of so many stories is a double-edged sword. They mean the world to me, and yet I am forgotten. Tintin, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, they are nearly bereft of women. As if there is only, or ever could be, one woman. “The” woman. Is it any wonder women are at each other’s throats, when the wisdom of stories tells us there is only room for one of us? In rich and vibrant worlds, expansive enough to hold dragons and magic rings, or spaceships that soar through the air, technology as if by magic, there is no room for more than two or three female characters?

I exist on the edges, in the subtext, and behind the scenes. I am a cackling crone when I work magic, an untrustworthy minx when I am clever. Perhaps I am unbalanced, insane, a slave to my urges and emotions, like Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Harlequin. Perhaps I am Lady Macbeth, forever washing my hands of the sin of ambition, rotting in the dungeon of public opinion with Cersei Lannister. Or Desdemona, proven trustworthy too late, as death is the punishment for even the imagined indiscretions.

I write, and I read, and I try so very hard to be brave when I come to my keyboard. Brave enough to write complex, capable people. Brave enough to say that a character can be a woman and not spend the entire book being a woman. That she, like her male counterparts, can simply be who she is. Brave enough to define a woman by what she does and says, rather than by how other characters perceive her. Brave enough to make her more human than a Disney Princess with a dark past. But it is a frightening place in the City of Invention. I must be special, but not too much. I must be likable, but “strong.” To survive, to have any hope of surviving, I must make men want me, and women want to be me. But not too much, or else I will be accused of being a fantasy. I have news for you. All of this is a fantasy.

I walk through the streets of the City of Invention with my chest out, and it does not matter what size or shape that chest is. My chin is raised, and there is a challenge in my eyes to all comers. Try and stop me. Try and distract me. Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will resurrect me. We must fight this fight until we win. We who claim to represent truth more fully than life itself.

I am a woman. This is my story, still untold, though such things get better. Oh, but they get better too slowly for me.

9 thoughts on “I am a woman.

  1. I’ve been reading a lot of articles about this subject lately. And that’s the thing, I’m reading a lot *about it*. Black guy, so I know about being the underrepresented or misrepresented minority in another fashion (Luke Cage doesn’t need a costume, he’s black!). You guys (ahem, girls) need to take a page out of the black history book (as much as I hate isolating it as black history), and that is: Stop waiting for the mainstream to acknowledge you. You all need to start writing your own stories worth reading. If they’re genuinely good, with just enough exposure (not *too* hard thanks to the internet), the audience will emerge, and popularity will follow. Proliferation will follow. The process is small steps but you’ve gotta take it upon yourselves. There’s nothing wrong with raising your voices to the establishment but if that’s your only plan of attack you’re going to be waiting a looooong time. Stop waiting for them (and I say them because I’m sympathetic to your cause) to open the front door, the back door or even the window. Build your own house! Put your own front door on it, and eventually, the guys will all be asking to be let in once they see what a great party you’re having. I hope that’s even a little helpful.

    • ^ Yes, thank you, I’ve been saying this, too. Stop waiting for a Hollywood studio to make what we want to see. Make our OWN f***** studios, because I don’t trust these folks with anything having to do with women anymore. We’ll be the new giants of industry if we just make it instead of waiting for someone to hand the reins over. They ain’t gonna. We can draw. We can write. We can rig lighting and render video and blah blah blah. Let’s DO THIS SHIT LADIES!
      Same goes for Congress…..citizens, stop expecting the top 1% to represent anyone but themselves. Vote in new blood.
      The basic structure’s not horrible, but the wood’s rotting. Need to rebuild.

      • Dang! Forgot to also say, great post! I really like to see people say this stuff so it’s considered common knowledge.

        I’m lucky though, my stories had pretty kickass lady leads, like Ellen Ripley and Katherine Hepburn in everything. Laura Ingalls. Anne of Green Gables. There’s a lot of stories that don’t have that SEX-AY factor, but it’s true that tons of books have male leads and men tend to write strongly for men. They don’t understand us well, why WOULD they be able to write us well?
        We have to fund the women writers/artists, too. Online marketplace for art/creativity is making things exciting right now….it’ll be interesting to see which giants emerge from our petri dish.
        We better hurry, because what you’ve described only seems to be intensifying in the “classic” entertainment spheres and it’s torturing young girls.

        Okay, I’m just hollerin’ now, forgive me, I’m excited about this subject lately in a big way. I see a lot of women growing their (now little) empires.
        It could go either way…isn’t that always the case?

        I’m putting my money on us. We’ve got higher pain tolerance. 😉
        And isn’t long term success really a game of tolerating rejection and failure enough to succeed?
        We’re GREAT at getting rejected! Happens all the time.
        As soon as we learn to take it in stride we’ll do great.

  2. We need to *start* writing our own stories worth reading? We write stories worth reading. We write stories with awesome female characters – stories that go massively mainstream. Look, for example, at the Hunger Games. Or Harry Potter, for that matter. One problem is that for every Hunger Games we get, we also get a Twilight – a story about a woman written by a woman who doesn’t believe that she herself has any agency or power. Stephenie Meyer buys into patriarchy big time. Not. Helpful.

    I don’t think anyone is waiting for men to open the door. We opened our own damn door. I think we’re asking culture as a whole to stop buying into gender stereotypes and pigeonholing women. I think we’re asking nerdy guys to stop dismissing female perspectives on nerdy things as invalid, or worse, ‘cute’. I think we’re asking to have worth as people rather than as sexual objects. I think we’re asking to be allowed to be brave. We’re asking for more Arya Starks, more Eowyns. More Katnisses. Fewer fucking Bella Swanns.

    • You’ve hit the bullseye on the wrong target. I’m not saying they don’t exist. I’m aware, and enjoy them. I love me some Hermione, some Janeway, some Eowyn, etc etc. But ‘when waiting for an apology from the king, one will be waiting a long time.’ One problem is the people producing the objectionable stuff (1) know their audience, (2) Don’t know how to write women and (3) probably don’t give a damn.

      So writing and blogging about it, as much as it’s good reading and I like to discuss it, share it with others, isn’t going to change anything. If every person male or female aware of the problem in the blogosphere writes this article it’s not gonna change anything. Creative women are out there and strong female characters are out their. But there ain’t enough of ’em. And I can count the ones that are strong women without being fetishized in their own source material on one hand and have fingers left over for spares (rule 34 notwithstanding. If you don’t know what rule 34 is: ‘if it exists, there’s porn for it’, now you know).

      You have to confront your oppressors with the truth; that you are people. The fact is, men will always see women as women first. That’s just biology. But that doesn’t prevent us from acknowledging you as individuals, as a person, as a *will*. And the best way to do that isn’t by bitching about it (as much as I agree with you!), it’s by being the change you want to see in the world. It’s not like I don’t *get it*. You can’t see a movie with more than 5 black people in the cast without it being a *movie for black people*. You can’t cast a black man and woman in a romantic comedy (or an asian for that matter) and expect most white people to go see it. You can’t see a movie with a black man in a relationship with a white woman (save Love Actually, which is a British movie) unless THAT’S what the movie is about. It can’t just be happenstance. Although you’ll see plenty more instances of white men with black women, funny how that works. A lot of movies (and god knows what other media) don’t get green lit because the main characters aren’t white. And if they do get made, they get whitewashed. Video games are even further behind than movies or anything else, for that matter. Nothing but brown-haired-white-males all day.

      I *get* the problem. Luckily I had strong female role models in my life as well as good male role models. But the things that you HAVE to accept are:
      1) You gotta be part of the solution
      2) It’s a grind. It’s a slow, grueling climb.
      I think (if I may be so bold), that the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s into the present has brought about such rapid change, that is, the 20th century brought about so many rapid changes, that people aren’t used to the actual nature of change, which is slow and gradual. And our idealism about the way things should be cuz-we-want-it-right-now and were brought up in a quick fix culture is crashing up against the slow process of shaping the world. If we are able to bring about rapid changes in certain places, great. But that shouldn’t be the initial target, because human nature and culture don’t turn on a dime.
      You have to dedicate yourself to a worthy cause. And worthy causes require more than one lifetime.

      • Kevin, I see you you clearly have a strong hold on the marginalization of nonwhite faces and the objectification of nonmale people in books and films and other media. I think this is a good framework to emerge out of. BUT the thing you are missing is that TALKING about the issue is actually a type of activism. Miranda writing this post is creating a language for re-evaluating the way we think about representation in our geeky world. You identifying the racialized nature of casting and producing movies is expanding the mental framework of movie watchers.

        You are also missing something key about about activism as well. Change maybe effected gradually in the world, but the WORDS surrounding this change, the stated goals of activism, are always radical and always call for change NOW. The Black Power Movement—a wonderful expression of human agency—was not called the “Black Power Gradually Over the Decades.” Why? In terms of political issues, you have to break it down and achieve little goals step-by-step, of course. But you always have a large goal in mind, to fully express your purpose, a full and true representation of who you are and what you deserve. Here, just like Megan said, we women ARE creating female characters who are powerful, normalized, agents of their own lives and of the world. These are our small steps, but we always need to state, and re-state the issues that surround our work and demand that we be heard.

      • And I just want to say that change doesn’t NEED to be gradual. This is something we might accept as a truism which actually is not necessarily a necessary fact of life.

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