Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bitches, man.

The promo rant is reaching critical mass, but I'm going with this one first. Why? Because I'm in a bad mood, and if I get started on the promo stuff I'm liable to say something career-ending. Before my career has really gone anywhere.

So I'm reading some Kim Harrison books lately.

Aside from the literal sick feeling in the pit of my stomach any time I hear about demon books, or urban fantasy sales involving demons--and believe me, I do feel like I'm going to throw up everywhere, then curl into a miserable litle ball and rock myself into a pit of despair--something bugs me about these books. Something of which these books are only the nearest example to mind, and is not meant to imply these books aren't good.

Why, oh why, do we as readers seem to accept behavior from female characters that we would never in a million years accept from a man? And is it only in books, or is it in life as well?

Here's the big example. Rachel, the heroine of the Harrison books (try saying that three times fast) has a rommate, a vampire named Ivy. Who is also apparently a lesbian of some kind.

Now, I didn't read the first book in the series. I thought I was but it turned out to be the second. So it's possible, I guess, that something happened in the first book to give us a reason why Rachel puts up with Ivy. Because I don't see it at all.

Rachel is a kick-ass heroine (It feels like I should start putting a TM after that, I swear.) In the world of KH, Rachel and Ivy run a bounty hunting business (or something. Yeah, I've only read one and a half of the books, okay? It's an example, the rant's not about these specific books.) There's a whole bunch of business with vampires that would take too long to explain, but basically they get off on scent, and so smelling Rachel's scent is a big deal to them, as is drinking blood, of course. Rachel starts dating Ivy's brother in the second book.

Every time Ivy sees her brother, she threatens him. She'll do this if he dares drink Rachel's blood, she'll do that. he better not touch her. he better not kiss her. She better not catch them actually having sex. Rachel and her boyfriend actually have to hide their intimacy, washing sheets and opening windows etc., so Ivy's widdoe feewings won't get huwt.

Now, let's pretend Ivy is Ivan. And we know Ivan has a big thing for Rachel, but we know Rachel isn't interested.

Would a reader still like Ivan if he were threatening Rachel's boyfriend? If he pulled him aside and said he'd tear him apart if he even touched Rachel? If he dared to actually forbid the boyfriend to drink Rachel's blood, as if it was any of his damned business? If he became furious after discovering their relationship had progressed and threw a little hissy fit?

No. We'd think Ivan was a dick. A creepy, stalkery, controlling kind of dick. We'd wonder who the hell he thinks he is, and why he seems to think his feelings for Rachel automatically mean she has to reciprocate.

So why does Ivy get a free ride? Because she doesn't have a penis?

This isn't the only place I've seen this. Female characters who betray their friends are forgiven in ways men never would be. A man who cheats on a woman is always bad. A woman who cheats on her husband is just misunderstood.

Now yes, there is that subset of female characters known as The Evil Ex. Or the Evil Seductress. They're the same woman, it's just one of them has already done the deed with the Hero and the other simply wants to. I know those women exist.

But let's face it, most of the time women--and, I'm beginning to notice, especially the kick-ass heroine(TM)--are allowed to be as miserable and bitchy as they want, and everyone just thinks that's fine and lets them get away with it. And it bugs me.

What do you think? Do you think fictional women are allowed more leeway? And do you think that has anything to do with the fact women buy more books?

27 comments:

littlebirdblue said...

People seem confused about how to portray strong women in fiction; they confuse being powerful w/being a bully.

I'm not so much into the bullying (in a character I'm supposed to like), but I see it all the time in romantic fiction, either the hero or the heroine being bullying a**holes in order to garner our (the readers') respect. It's about as sexy to me as having only socks on.

BernardL said...

Your post made me think of a Jack Nicholson line from 'As Good As It Gets':

Receptionist in the movie: “How do you write women so well?”

Nicholson’s character, Melvin Udall answers: “Easy. I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”

My point being, we all write for a certain audience in our heads. Some will laugh at the above quote, as I did, while others will hear it as an illustration of how arrogantly condescending Nicholson's character was in the movie. In actuality, the line was both funny and illustrative. Will there be people who think it crass and sexist? Probably; but even so, they will be forced to admit it put the character in perspective. I’ve never read the book you wrote about, but it sounds as if the author is writing for the audience in her head. Such fiction will sell if she is lucky enough to get it to the audience she envisions reading it. The constant threatening tone this Ivy character perpetuates throughout the book was annoying to me just in the small dose you wrote about; but seeing as how this author is selling, she must have found her following. If I’d have been writing it, Rachel would have borrowed ‘Mr. Pointy’ from Buffy and staked Ivy around the second threat. :)

kis said...

Of course we perceive men and women differently. A woman in a book (and in real life) can slap a man across the face, punch him in the shoulder and call him a bastard, and it's no big deal. If a man did that to a woman, he'd be in jail. It's the same reason why my husband (before I knew him) ended up face down in the dirt and cuffed while covered with his own blood, while his now-ex-girlfriend was still screaming and smashing furniture in the house. Women are perceived as less intimidating than men. Thus the prevalence of bullying behavior to illustrate how "strong" a KAH is.

I once knew a man whose wife beat and verbally abused him regularly. He phoned a domestic violence hotline, and the operator threatened to call the police if he ever phoned again. Because when it comes to domestic violence, women are only ever victims, not perpetrators, right?

But flip it around. Women in fiction are permitted a lot more weakness and introspection than men. You have to allow for some differences. I once read a book where the main characters were a gay couple. I wondered to myself whether the book would have worked if the author had made them hetero. After a great deal of thought, I realized that the "heroine" would have come across as too whiny and strident and bitchy and unstable as a woman. That those qualities would be viewed as unattractive in a female, but possibly intriguing in a male.

I don't know. Hard to say. Let's just agree that whiny, petulant, selfish, bossy women are a turn-off. And that what comes off as selfish, bossy and strident in a woman, doesn't always play the same in a male character.

Me, I'm an advacate of equal rights. The story I'm writing right now has the hero kicking the heroine in the face right at the beginning. And the reader (I hope) isn't left feeling like he's an asshole for doing that--just human. They're both assassins. Picture the big fight scene between Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Nobody thinks Brad Pitt's a jerk for beating up his wife then, do they?

Michele Lee said...

I agree. That "how is it okay for someone to force someone else to feel guilty/hide a relationship because they like that person even though said person does not reciprocate" thing *sucks in a breath* is why I stopped reading Anita Blake. Anita giving into someone she made a huge deal about not liking just because he fawned over her for a year ruined the character completely. Suddenly are we women (or you men) expected to have sex with someone jsut because they crush on us? What bs is that??

Robyn said...

Of course there are exceptions, but what gets me is that most KA heroes these days get to start out bullying alphas, but have to change by book's end. They hold their tempers. They choose not to kill. The KA heroines don't change much. They can stay bullying alphas, throw tantrums and kill anyone they darn well want to.

December Quinn said...

People seem confused about how to portray strong women in fiction; they confuse being powerful w/being a bully.

Very true, lbl. And I agree it's not sexy in either a man or a woman. Have we lost track of what strength really is, do you think? Just like we don't seem to understand "respect" anymore.

December Quinn said...

I loved As Good as it Gets, Bernardl! And yes, that line showed us Melvin Udall's character perfectly.

There are actually people out there who really like the Ivy character and are hoping for a lesbian affair. The lesbian affair wouldn't bother me a bit, but with the Ivy character it certainly would. I don't think behavior like that should be rewarded.

Aah, Mr. Pointy. That poor girl (can't recall her name at the moment--Kendra?) and her awful bad accent.

And then we got Faith, who I loved. I was so excited when she came back at the end.

December Quinn said...

Kis, it's interesting that the only way some writers seem able to come up with to demonstrate a heroine is tough to is have her behave, literally, like a man.

I knew a man abused by his wife as well. They did a very interesting Lifetime movie about it--still Lifetime cheeze, but not awful. Judith Light was in it, I don't remember what it was called.


Let's just agree that whiny, petulant, selfish, bossy women are a turn-off. And that what comes off as selfish, bossy and strident in a woman, doesn't always play the same in a male character.


Very true. We need to work harder to find a way to portray stong women without resorting to bossy and violent, and to portray sensitive men without making them whiny.

December Quinn said...

Suddenly are we women (or you men) expected to have sex with someone jsut because they crush on us? What bs is that??


EXACTLY, Michele! Which is what I say to the fans who are so into the idea of a Rachel/Ivy relationship. Like, what has Ivy actually done, aside from being a bully, to make herself a legitimate possible love interest? (Aside fully from my big issue about characters suddenly turning gay, as if gay is a preference you can turn on and off when it suits.)

I get irritated by romances and books in general where the only real quality of the H or h is simply that they want the other one. Whoopee.

December Quinn said...

Of course there are exceptions, but what gets me is that most KA heroes these days get to start out bullying alphas, but have to change by book's end. They hold their tempers. They choose not to kill. The KA heroines don't change much. They can stay bullying alphas, throw tantrums and kill anyone they darn well want to.

Beautifully put, Robyn. That's it in a nutshell, really. Female readers seem to love watching these horrible women be frankly horrible to everyone, but the men have to find their sensitive side. Most don't take it as far as LKH's bitch army who follow Anita around, but it's still there.

Bernita said...

"Have we lost track of what strength really is..."
I think you've nailed it, December.

Isabella Snow said...

Dunno. I can't say I like toddler-ish characters. Snarky, ok. But temper tantrum? Not unless it leads straight to a spanking and very hot sex.

But never from someone who isnt the heroine.

However - if Ivy is doing that cos she knows her brother is a dick or something and is just trying to protect her friend - as opposed to someone shes crushing on - then I could probably understand it.

Anonymous said...

[Ducking as I say this]:

That does somewhat mirror real life. Not necessarily to that extreme, but I especially witnessed it for 20 yrs in the military.

As far as in fiction goes, I guess some authors use that as a means of drawing out emotion in their readers (it certainly got December's ire up).

I agree with y'all that say it is a turn-off, but, [ducking again] it does add realism to some situations. -JTC

December Quinn said...

Thanks, Bernita. The more I think about it, the more I think that probably is the case. Sad, isn't it?


No, Isabella, I thought that at first (the brother was a jerk) and that made it tolerable, but seriously, it's frustrated desire. Stalkerrific!



Oh, I agree JTC. I think that does mirror real life, and that bugs me. I guess I just think maybe if we stopped writing such behavior, or made characters exhibiting such behavior see how lame and creepy it is...we'd see less of it in real life.

Anonymous said...

Mebbe. -JTC

Ann(ie) said...

I think it's more that people bend over to be PC.

Ivy is a lesbian, so she gets more leeway, or the author is accused of being a homophobe, no?

Robyn said...

Ivy is a lesbian, so she gets more leeway, or the author is accused of being a homophobe, no?

Ding ding ding! We have a winnah!

Anonymous said...

Most fictional characters would be locked up in the real world. Think of all the 'alpha male' characters who blatently stalk, control, bully, and insult the heroines.
A lot of the characters would probably end up in the Darwin awards list, like the TSTL heroines who go off and do someting dangerous even though everyone told them not to, or the alpha hero who has to prove his manhood.

I totally had to put down the Sookie Sackhouse vampire books because the characters were just getting on my nerves too much. LOL.
But it's fiction, and to each his own. I tend to like realistic situations and realistic characters in a paranormal setting. Other people like super-human characters in strange situations in a realistic setting. *shrug* I think you'll get people who agree with you, and those who think you're barmy, lol.

Sam

Southern Writer said...

Well ... we're always told not to let our characters become a Mary Sue, so I think that's part of it. I think the other part is that it's the author's attempt to keep the tension going. If the heroine is getting laid and is happy about it, where's the tension in the story? Someone has to be unhappy.

December Quinn said...

Yep, I think Annie just might have hit the nail on the head, indeed.


I feel the same way, Sam. I get irritated with heroines who can always beat up the bad guys easily, who live these superlives where they're constantly running and jumping etc. I like regular people stuck in unusual situations.

And yeah, I guess a lot of fictional characters would have some serious police issues, wouldn't they? :-)

December Quinn said...

True, southern writer (and hi!), but don't you think that's kind of lazy writing sometimes? Not all the time, of course, but watching everyone else argue constantly with a heroine gets old, and makes it seem like there are no depths to her character save being brassy and annoying.

Anonymous said...

I've never liked the term "homophobe". Isn't a phobia the fear of something? Is there a latin (or whatever) word for "just don't dig the lifestyle". As in, "you're a homojustdontdigthelifestyleperson.

-JTC

kis said...

I get the lifestyle okay, JTC. Every once in a while when a male friend says something like, "Whenever you decide to dump your hubby, you've got my number," I just think, "Right. Like I'm gonna finally get so sick of my man I dump him, and then I'm gonna get with another?" The appeal of a lesbian marriage wouldn't have anything to do with sex. It's more about help with the housework, someone who can remember doctor's appointments, won't constantly weasel out of parent-teacher interviews, and can actually get the kids to and from soccer practice.

Although I do agree, homophobia isn't always an appropriate term. In a lot of cases, it has nothing to do with fear. It's more of an ick factor.

I do think it's weird that there's so much m/m erotica out there aimed at women, and so much f/f aimed at men.

Anonymous said...

Well said, kis.

I "get" it, I just don't "dig" it. -JTC

Anna J. Evans said...

I think in the case of Ivy and um...Rach...it's more a case of female sexuality not being respected. It's 'cute' for a woman to crush on another woman and get all violent because our culture typically doesn't respect women's sexuality, especially two women together, as something real, viable, and strong. Why else would so many men find it a turn on to watch two women? They think they'll get in on the action, right? Now..if they respected the lesbian as a real competitor, they'd be pissed that she's stealing their booty. Like many women I know are pissed that pretty gay boys are stealing their booty.

Or I could just be talking out of my asshole.

:)

Anna J. Evans

Southern Writer said...

December,
I think that's exactly what it is. I haven't read this particular book, so I can't judge it specifically, but in general, yes, I think that's what it is.

December Quinn said...

I love the conversation we all have here!

Anna, I think you're right. It's cute. There seems to be a view that lesbian crushes are somehow innocent and sweet, I guess, that I find quite irritating (especially since I've been on the receiving end of a couple of female crushes and I promise you, they weren't any less obvious and direct than men.)