Joss Whedon was famously asked why he writes strong female characters and responded with ‘Because you’re still asking me that question’. The geek community is quite proud of having strong female role-models in stories, citing Buffy, Zoe from Firefly, River Song from Dr. Who, Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, and so on and so forth. This is supposedly an age of gender equality, just about.
And then I read this.
I’m aware that I’m treading dangerous ground here, which is in itself a warning sign that things are not all shiny. Feminism has come a long way but it’s still a touchy subject and I’m not even close to well-read enough to debate it properly. Suffice to say, as a woman, I believe that genders should be treated equally because they are basically capable of the same things. Okay, there’s a few biological restrictions in both directions, but in terms of intelligence, capability, etc. there’s nothing to choose between them.
And yet, despite that, I’ve fallen into the same llama-trap that Kameron Hurley talks about. The protagonist and narrator of Spiritus is defined – by herself as much as anyone else – as a ‘sister’. She’s a warrior, yes, but portrayed very much as an exception to the social norm. Because I assumed that, within a basically Roman society, she would be. Assumed. I researched pretty much every other detail, but not that one because in my head it was a given.
I’m not ashamed of Spiritus. I still believe that it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. But I also think I can write better and, importantly, I can write stronger heroines with far more agency. Mercy, the goblin narrator of Corpus, was already well down that particular road. This is a timely reminder to make sure she stays on it.