This month I'd like to rant a little about innocence and the role of women in fantasy, especially medieval fantasy stuff.
First of all, I'd like to snort at any bozo who tells me that women are evil by nature and can't be innocent. In fact, women (apparently) have an obvious detection method; virginity. Some fantasy fiction goes so far as to suggest lascivious thoughts corrupt, but virginity is a general rule. In fact, "purity" in women is often completely unrelated to their actual compliance in this act; a woman taken by misdeed is just as "soiled" as a woman who laughingly lies with a young lad in a merry making of love-mischief.
In fact, this purity is often so obvious to "evil" that the innocent is either protected completely from its force, or is suddenly its target. Now, I can understand the attraction of corruption, but it often seems that good is completely oblivious to this stain, except wherein it teaches a cruel lesson. (Good has cruel lessons, usually a matter of, "Hahaha! You're not good enough..." Not that you haven't busted your butt, spent half your time in a full-body sling, and are still looking for this grail the half-crazed court wizard assures you will make a difference in the battle between good and evil, but no, you've taken a zillion vows, rescued a thousand princesses, killed a million foul beasts...and you're not good enough, apparently. You once coveted a nice night in a warm bed after a full dinner because you hadn't had any of those in years because of this stupid quest! But I digress.)
The lot of women in fantasy depends on this innocence... but also on their attractiveness. Innocent women almost ALWAYS have a beauty about them (while some may be "hidden" until the knight realizes that he's hopelessly in love with her... which suggests no knight could wed a lady who's less than attractive.) Attractive corrupted women are usually voluptuous witch queens, and more often than not are attractive only through their impure acts (like bathing in the blood of young women, deals with demons, or whatnot.) Or are evil because of their beauty, bewitching men with their smile, as if men were incapable of being anything but beasts controlled by their desires. And I suppose there's no place in fantasy for the virtuous hag. The best you might get if you're ugly is a skill or two.
Of course, the best you get if you're an innocent maiden in fantasy is the sentence of marriage, usually leading to a death in childbirth, hostage situations, and backstabbing maids who love your knight obsessively... not always in that order.
So, being unattractive or just plain plain almost guarantees the woman an opportunity for a real life. For one thing, she can keep her innocence (also known as "value" in medieval texts) longer if she isn't being lusted over, and if she isn't pretty, she's usually gifted with brains instead. It's usually the really bad fantasy that credits her with both. To make matters worse, some authors then throw in a preternatural fighting skill. As if.
And, no, I'm not going to name the author that gives her girls all that AND (several kinds of) magic. Arrrgh.
What bites me about this is that there's really no such thing as a "normal" woman in fantasy literature. Men in fantasy are sometimes dashing, but generally can do what they need to do without worrying about women, their illicit trainings in the arts their mothers or fathers don't want, or making some sort of point. He can go kick butt and finish the story as needed. I growl specifically at the usual fantasy heroine story when it's really a story about a woman who has a little bit of independence having to make the choice about giving it up to either the virtuous knight, the handsome rogue, or the clever wizard.
Is it that I'm upset about that old saying... something about a woman having to work twice as hard to make half as much impact as a man? No. It's because it doesn't make any sense! Especially in FANTASY literature. This isn't REALITY. You can BREAK the rules. Women don't have to either be great fighters or earth-worshipping healers. Men don't have to be knights, rogues, or wizards. Break the pattern! Don't be fooled!
That's an easy gender-neutral motto.
Check out Jeff Freeman's Ack! article on "Chicks in Gaming". I'd just like to note that I am NOT a member or a supporter of the (WIG) Women in Gaming group. While we may have many points in common, I don't find reversing the sexism any thing more than hypocritical. In fact, I've been thinking of making up my own group: I'd call it the Maenads. And I'd let men join, as long as they know we might eat 'em alive. More on this later, maybe.
Next issue... oh, who knows.
j n m ( m n j
"What goes around usually gets dizzy and falls over."