Today I met with J.H. Coates for his vlog/podcast (check out his channel on Youtube), and our conversation had my brain whirring long after we disconnected our video chat. In reading the synopsis for my book, he noticed my main character in All the Pretty Bones challenged the traditional role of female victim from the start. Olivia decides to hunt her stalker. He wondered if that was difficult for me because it flies in the face of some deeply ingrained cultural norms.
What an excellent question!
All the Pretty Bones was Olivia's first step into an evolution that (Spoiler) later leads her into a life as an apex predator. I desperately wanted to challenge the typical set up of normal, plain, boring girl meets wonderful vampire who sees something special in her despite her overwhelming normalness. Trust me, I've enjoyed those books, but I wanted something different. I wanted someone who had greatness locked inside of her, waiting for the right trigger into evolution. I wanted someone who had strength despite physical instability.
For those of you who haven't read the book, Olivia faces ten years of persistent trauma by her stalker only to be diagnosed with terminal cancer. With nothing to lose, she decides to hunt her hunter. My primary challenge centered around her illness. There are dramatic physical limitations that accompany her condition, which presented giant issues that stood in the way. I couldn't Rocky my way through the book. She couldn't train herself into peak physical condition and chase down her tormentor. How can she fight when she can barely function? How can she run away and avoid being cornered? Weakness, fatigue, and debilitating headaches are just the tip of the ice burg as many of us have unfortunately seen.
Asking for help is hard, but it's not a sign of weakness. Olivia does ask for help, and she asks it of a man. The majority of reviewers appreciate how its navigated, but not all. It was a very difficult balancing act. I didn't want her to depend on someone else, but I needed to approach the scenario realistically (I laughed at myself a little just then because VAMPIRES....but even fiction has to have some semblance of logic). In the end, she's forced to face her nature--on her own--before she's ever given the opportunity to tap into her power.
It was difficult to challenge the traditional definition of victimized women, but it wasn't at all for the reason I thought.
We are seeing more examples of strong female warriors in television, and this is a good thing. However, there is still a very long way to go. My friend and I decided to watch Tarzan together despite our reservations over the inevitable questionable messaging (she wrote a wonderful blog post on it here). While Jane showed intelligence, fortitude, and bravery, she was still the damsel in distress, relying on her husband to rescue not only her but all of Africa (big eye roll). In a bizarre twist, her spirit revved her captor's engines. Even her fortitude was sexualized.
Right about now my family would be rolling their eyes, but look at how women warriors are depicted in video games, comics, television shows, and movies. One day I will sit down a costume designer and explain to them why it isn't practical to run around in three inch heels with long hair flowing free and only leather panties and bra when fighting bad guys. If you doubt me, here's what a search for "woman warrior" turned up in PIxabay:
To be fair, there are some wonderful exceptions to the typical depiction of the woman warrior. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Jessica Jones, Crimson Peak, Pan's Labyrinth, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are just a few that come to mind. There are male writers who write women well such as Joe Hill, John Green, Stephen King, and George R.R. Martin. Their secret? Writing women as three-dimensional characters who have motivations, needs, and an arc.
As an author, I view it as my responsibility to continue to challenge myself to overcome social tropes in my own writing. I haven't always succeeded, but I'm aware, and I'll keep trying. I encourage others to do the same.
Have you seen good examples of women warriors in mainstream media? Please share examples. I'm always looking for my next book, television show, and movie.