Several weeks ago, I wanted to share a series of posts by author John C. Wright, but I deferred in order to post more holiday related items. I heartily recommend that anyone with an interest in science fiction, fantasy, pop culture, and contemporary cultural matters read Wright’s tome on women in the sci. fi. and fantasy world: “Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters.” It is witty and insightful, as I would expect from Wright—you may remember that I discovered Wright at last year’s Doxacon, which I covered in detail in “Doxacon Eidomenos.” Though lengthy and somewhat repetitive at times (as later posts recapitulate earlier points for the sake of those who just started reading Wright’s argument), the posts are full of gems. For example, I found Wright’s analysis of Buffy and of what Wright calls the Urban Fantasy brilliantly spot on (from part 3):
What is the wish in this picture, drawn, I assure you, in all serious and earnest good faith by a feminist who was being serious:
[It is a cartoon still of Aurora from Sleeping Beauty with a sword confronting the Maleficent dragon]
The wish is to do without Prince Charming. The wish is to be as good as a man at men’s work. This is from a Disney movie where all the main characters are female and everything that happens, happens because some female makes it happen. (The female are fairies, but so what? Women are magical in real life anyway, as far as I am concerned).
The Prince does little more than dance one waltz with the maiden fair and get his butt kicked by orcs and end up in chains while the evil fairy queen mocks him. Not only is he rescued by women, they are women no bigger than my pinky finger.
But his is the task to face the poisonous thorns and slay the dragon, who is filled with all the powers of Hell.
That anyone would see this, this small role occupying only a few minutes of screen time, as an insult to women, or as a threat, or as an imposition, is madness. So what is the wish being fulfilled in that picture above, where the Sleeping Beauty needs no rescue and needs a man only about as much as a fish needs a bicycle?
It is not a wish for female equality. This is one fairy tale where every female character is either royalty or is supernatural.
It is a wish for sexlessness. It is a wish to do away with everything feminine, and to be better at Prince Charming’s task than the Prince. Ultimately, it is a wish to do away with human nature itself.
But human nature cannot be done away with. Consider that epitome of liberated strong femalehood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who has spawned as many homages and imitations in her day as John Carter did in his. He created a genre of his own, called the Planetary Romance. She created a genre of her own, sometimes called Urban Fantasy, but which should really be called Monster Romance.
It should be called Monster Romance because the main story arc for Buffy was about her love life. First she was sweet on Angel, but that did not work out, then Riley, and then Spike. Despite that she was a kick-ass wire-fu superheroine with a smile full of quips and a hand full of stakes, the main point of the drama was, as in most stories of this kind, her love life.
And Anita Blake? And countless others? Where is the main conflict? Where is the reader’s interest? Where is the drama? It is all about Jean-Claude or Spike or whomever the semihuman male lead is. It is all about the romance.
Most if not all of these urban leather clad ninja-babes and modern swordswomen feed a need in the audience. The males, by and large, just like seeing cute girls dressed as catwoman. The females, by and large, like the romantic drama. There is no drama if the boy and the girl kiss on the first page and get married on the second. The drama exists if something prevents the marriage. These days, there are no real taboos to marrying whomever you would like, and the guy can even start out married to someone else, because divorce is no fault. Modernity allows no dramatic and realistic obstacle to romance.
The solution is to employ dramatic, unrealistic obstacles, such as by having your male lead be a nonhuman from the Night World. In urban fantasy, the vampire or the werewolf can fulfill this role neatly. Also, the half monster can be masculine in a fashion no soft modern man is likely to be: werewolves can be badass as Conan, and vampires as seductive and dangerous as Lord Byron. (Who no doubt was a vampire, anyway). And since the heroine is the Chosen One, and destined to kill monsters like him, she is placed in a situation where she must overcome both his fallen nature, and the powers of hell, and her own best judgment, and defy the Council of the Illuminati, to win his heart and restore his soul.
Which is a perfectly satisfying book because this is exactly what finding and domesticating a man feels like or should feel like to a woman.
And, of course, in the modern age, where the despair of women is at a historical all time high, and the divorce rate is high and the suicide rate is high, romance feels like a back alley brawl with a supernatural monster. These books are a picture of the despair of women in the sexual free-for-all that exists in a postchristian, feminist world, a world where women are defended by no one but herself.
A leather-clad street fighter with a sword and a chainsaw, covered in blood, is what life feels like to the female readership, who need an image of strength and security to admire. No wonder such books are popular.
Perspicacious, eh? Vampires are needed when contemporary Jane Austens no longer may count on social convention to provide the proper obstacle to the heroine on her mission.