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.