I saw something recently, as I was scrolling through Tumblr or Pinterest, I can’t remember (hey, there’s a lot of bleed-through between those sites) and it keeps replaying over and over in my head.
It was an innocent and perhaps well-meaning post that boiled down to this: “A female character is not a plot device”. It reminded me of this:
This bothers me a lot. While we all chortled at this statement in the newest installation of Sherlock, we might be missing the broader picture.
First of all… I realize that feminism is a very touchy topic. I’m not downplaying the importance of women. Realize this: I am not attacking feminism. I’m a woman. Don’t shoot me yet.
George R.R. Martin — ‘You know I’ve always considered women to be people.’
We’ve been so busy taking sides and labeling each other in damaging generalities that we haven’t recognized the pervasiveness of feminism causes instant and intense emotional responses. (Also, there are a lot of articles about feminism, and I’m not going to rehash any of those here.)
Not everything has to be a battle. Not every book or show needs to be a war zone of emotional name-calling. Not every decision that is made is a secret slight against women, or against men, for that matter. Calm down, people.
There is a danger in tropes, about this we all agree. The chosen one will save the world, but not until the evil overlord has things seriously in hand. The guy will get the girl (uh-oh, feminism). The mentor or maybe the best friend will die. In the end, almost everybody is happy (unless this is a John Green Novel. If it is, we can give up on being happy.) We want to be original, yes. We want to break the boundaries and push literature to new heights. Sadly, this fight does none of those things.
Did you read that? Anything. A storm. A woman. A man. A cactus. A death. A donut. Poison. Assassination. A fairy.
In this instance, all these elements are tools to tell a story. There’s nothing wrong with being a plot device in a story: woman, man, or cactus.
Taking the fight of ‘women’s lives matter’ to the book front, and no longer accepting that a character may just exist to move the plot along, is a dangerous move. All characters, major, minor, unnamed, or main, exist to move the plot along and affect change in the reader. It’s a story. These are characters. It’s what characters do.
At the same time, I do realize that books influence deeply, and what we believe about people should be reflected in our literature. But listen. Again, a supporting character does just exist to move the plot along, to influence the main character, and to then fade from the novel (usually). That’s the point. If we say ‘A female character is not a plot device’ are we saying that we never want any of the supporting or background characters to be women? Are we saying that no characters should ever be women? Or that no characters should ever be men?
Why is it not okay for a main character who is a male to be influenced by a female character?
Culture today emphasize the differences between men and women, but what if that adds to the problem rather than diffuses it? What if this battle of the genders is serving to widen the gap between rather than solve the problem?
Rather than pillage and plunder with the battle cry of “women’s lives matter”, why don’t we take to the keyboard with the resolution that we will write well and accurately? That we will avoid tropes and treat characters fairly, as we ought to treat people fairly? If you write compelling characters, it doesn’t matter whether they are men or women. Just write them well. Make them real. Talk about hard things. Expose the flaws and issues of our culture. Think before you react violently and take sides.
Let’s revolutionize this from the inside out.
What do you think?