Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Commentary: Right-Leaning Science Fiction and the Men with Tits Phenomenon

While I was away at Dragon Con, an argument erupted on Facebook that I would like to address -- and since I've just reviewed John Ringo's zombie plague novels, now is as good a time as any.

The argument in question began in a private conservative/libertarian author's group with a post that complained that John Ringo writes women badly. In creating female characters who are overtly sexual and kick a lot of ass, the poster asserted, Ringo is merely bowing down to feminist ideology, consequently betraying his conservative principles.

Now: Does Ringo write "men with tits"? Well, yes. To cite just one example, Faith - from the previously reviewed Black Tide Rising series - is an Amazon who outright enjoys getting into "scrums" with the infected. But having heard Ringo discuss his work in multiple venues over the past several years, I'm confident that his female characters are determined by the settings he chooses and not by political considerations; indeed, Ringo has gotten into at least one notorious fight with the feminists, so the very idea that he's been slavishly catering to that mindset seems rather ludicrous.

Here's what is happening: Ringo and many other right-leaning science fiction authors hail from modern-day military backgrounds and tend to cluster in the military-SF sub-genre, where the emphasis is placed on the characters' experiences in combat. Thus, their stories usually require principal characters, regardless of their gender, to fall on the skinny end of the bell curve when it comes to personality and physical strength. After all, only a certain kind of person would realistically take up a line of work that, let's face it, involves killing people and breaking things.

The upshot? Yes -- the portrayal of women in a lot of conservative science fiction is skewed, but the distortion is an accident -- a side-effect of these authors' inclination to explore military themes and a consequence of their own real-world experiences. Ringo and the others are writing the women they know: women who are "masculinized" and therefore fit into our current military subculture. They are not attempting to represent all women.

I do think, though, that as conservative writers, we can - and should - do a better job creating strong female characters who don't fall into either the "kick-ass" template favored by a lot of military-SF or the "victim" template favored by bathetic feminist SF. As I've noted elsewhere, world history is replete with promising models, so it's not as if we're lacking in potential sources of inspiration. Further, because we are conservative, we have an advantage the other side does not: We see people as individuals and not as interchangeable members of stereotypically-defined collectives who must all behave the same way and embrace the same causes. Therefore, it should not be difficult for us to write women from multiple walks of life who feel three-dimensional and wholly real.

In sum: Let's cast our net a little wider and come up with story ideas and settings that demand skill sets of our female characters that go beyond the physical. As conservatives, we are uniquely suited to rise to that challenge.

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