I’ve been thinking about writing this for a long time. And to be honest, I don’t really have the time currently to do it. But I’m going to anyway because I’m angry and writing helps me work through it.
I was born in the 60’s. This was a period of time when banks literally asked women to bring men in if they wanted to open up bank accounts, apply for credit cards, apply for mortgages. They discounted women’s pay a lot more than men as well. At this period of time and all the years before that, society considered women “less than” men. I mean, hell, even the terms pretty much say that–woMEN, feMALE.
So back in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s etc, women were pretty happy, generally speaking, just to get roles in male-dominated literature/movies/television. It was pretty damned awesome that Lt. Uhura was on the bridge of the Enterprise. Even more fantastic was the pilot of Star Trek, which had a woman doctor wearing pants. Yup, originally, the original Star Trek didn’t have women in short, short skirts. It was the 60’s though and that was nixed.
Uhura was cool, though, still. She was black, she was a woman, and she rocked. Kirk depended upon her to be smart and capable and because of that, I grew up knowing that women could be smart and capable.
The 70’s and 80’s brought us other role models. The Mod Squad (woman!), Charlie’s Angels, and my personal favorite, Princess Leia. She grabbed a gun and shot it. She saved the men. She shoved ’em aside and basically said she didn’t have time for sexism. She had shit to do.
Because of Uhura, because of Leia (and I’m sure there are many more that I’ve missed) women are now ubiquitous in sci-fi. I’m happy about. But in an effort to make women “strong” people too often seem to write a man with a woman’s name and body. And that annoys me. So without further ado, some pointers.
1) Let her have female friends. Yes, women can have women friends and be strong. Katniss did. The movie took that female friendship out and it irritated me. She later formed a bond with Johanna. That got cut from the movie too. Hermoine–male friends. Jessica Jones has a female friend, thank God. But we don’t see a whole lot of her. Her fellow super heroes are mostly male.
Men, on the other hand, have friendships. They have bromances. I’ve written about the bromance triangle in Star Trek. Lots and lots of shows and movies and books with men forming friendships and working together. Precious little women, which is ridiculous because women really, really value their friendships.
2) And don’t make ’em lesbians. This is incredibly annoying. I sit and watch the sci-fi channel with my husband, and we see two women becoming close. He says “Here it comes. Bring on the lesbians!” and invariably he’s right. I have nothing against same sex couples. I’m all for inclusion. But I have a LOT of anger over this weirdness–to the point of fetishism–that every friendship between strong females is just a lesbian relationship that has not yet been formed. NO. NO. NO. Stop it. Okay? Just stop it.
3A)Bechdel test–this is a feminism thing that says that women should have conversations with other women that don’t center on men. And yeah, it’s good. I like it. But you know has happened? Instead of creating conversations between women that aren’t about men, we just don’t have conversations between women. Problem solved!
Here are a few things you can have women talk about between each other–food. drugs. music. guns. explosives. bad guys. evil dictators. survival. zombies. mountains. sofas. television. cheeze-its. bathrooms. rugs. movies. books. trees. grass. water. leaves. cars. planes. asphalt. politics. football. baseball. basketball. hurricanes. earthquakes. dogs. kittens. monkeys. elephants. . . .
I can tell you with absolute certainty that I have talked with female friends–STRONG female friends–about all of those things at some point in 40-year long friendships. So. . .do you want to adhere to the Bechdel test and you’re writing about a battle against evil aliens and you’re wondering what your two female friends will talk about that isn’t about men and their romantic relationships with them? Here’s an idea. HAVE THEM TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT THE BATTLE AGAINST THE EVIL ALIENS. Don’t give all the good planning and idea conversations to the men. Give some of them to the women. Honestly, people, it is not that hard.
Woman one: Do you think the x87 has enough fire power to kill the locust people?
Woman two: I don’t know. It worked great against the snake people, but their hides weren’t that strong. Maybe we should test it.
Woman one: You’re right. Why don’t you grab that x87 there, and we’ll try the x90 too and go out and see if we can puncture the armor.
Woman two: Oh yeah! I’ve never shot the x90. You’re on.
3B) Bechdel test–Women do talk about men. We do talk about relationships. We like to talk about relationships. It’s a Thing for us. We talk about relationships with men, with parents, with children, with coworkers, with pets, with bosses, and yeah, with men. Romance is a thing. There’s are whole industries centered around it. It’s just not the ONLY thing. And honestly, there are a helluva lot of romance novels that have themes other than just romance.
Scene with women trying the x87 and x90
Woman one: (shooting x87) So guy1 has started dating woman 3.
Woman two: (shooting x87) Are you fucking kidding me? He just broke up with you 15 minutes ago!
Woman one: (still shooting x87) The 87 isn’t working. It’s just bouncing off the shields. We’ve been at it 3 minutes. I’m going to try the 90. Yeah, guy1 always liked woman 3 but damn, that was fast. You’d think he’d at least let the bed get cold first.
Woman two: (getting x90’s for woman one): How are you feeling about that?
Woman one: (aiming x90) Like I could drink a keg and cry from now until Tuesday.
Woman two: Oh hon, I’m sorry. Listen, when this is all over, we’ll have a long talk, okay? And in the meantime, just pretend every Locust is guy1.
Woman one: (wipes eyes quickly). Okay. I can do it. (shoots x90–blasts a 70-foot hole in carcass). Damn did you see that?
Woman two: Gimme, gimme! I want to try!
4) “Women’s subjects” are not weaknesses. Women like clothes. Women like hair. Women like coffee. You can talk about all of those things, and STILL lead a battalion into a battle where half of the soldiers are going to die. In fact, when something horrible like that happens, we take comfort in the mundane. Stop making “women’s subjects” weak. They aren’t.
Woman one (keyed up, making last minute checks with her team, looks up to see woman two join them): nice hair!
Woman two (Looks out the window at firefight. Takes a breath to steady herself): Do you like it? I dyed it blue to go with our new uniforms.
Woman one: I love it. If we live through this, show me?
Woman two: Ha! If we live through this, I’m thinking about going bald. Just to mess with everybody. . .
Woman one: Okay, team, you ready? Go!
Team rushes out the door into a rain of bullets.
5) Strong women are not always angry. This is a trope that pretty much is part of 1-4. WE ARE NOT ALWAYS ANGRY. You can be a strong woman and not have a chip on your shoulder. Seriously. You can not be angry. You can be ambitious or deadly just because you are ambitious and deadly. Yes, I know, tortured heroes are fun. I get that. I like ’em too. Just, please, don’t make every strong woman a walking, talking time bomb. Was Kirk a walking talking time bomb? James Bond? Was Obi-wan or Luke? Come on–you can be alpha and not be angry.
6) Women cry. Yes, even strong women. No, we aren’t going to do that in front of people we are leading. We can actually hold back the tears so nobody sees. But we do cry. You can put her in solitude somewhere and let her cry it out. And come out even stronger and tougher, because that’s what we do. There is an actual physical reason for this–emotional tears contain enzymes that stress creates. Crying it out is literally crying those enzymes out. It’s cathartic and useful and is NOT WEAK.
I could go on, but you get the picture. When you’re writing strong women, just write women who are strong. It’s not that hard. And don’t forget, strong people are often only as good as the friends they surround themselves with–and those friends can be women too.