Feminism, Stories, Empowerment

Breaking a Board

Nancy Jane breaking a board held by Olympic Taekwondo champion Arlene Limas.

As I have said before, I was never very good at being a girl, but I didn’t want to be a boy, either. What I wanted was to be able to do the things boys did while still being a girl.

When I was a teenager, I expressed that by arguing politics and doing debate, but it also came out in my reading. I read a lot of adventure stories — spy novels were all the rage — and also some more complex books in which some man (it was always a man) confronted difficult situations in life.

I identified with the men in those books. I still didn’t want to be male, but those were the kind of adventures I wanted to have (or at least to imagine).

I grew up and went off to law school (because that was something coded male that I had talent for) and then found my way into martial arts. I took up martial arts because I got the idea that if I learned those skills I would not be at risk from male violence. By the way, it was not an area where I had a lot of natural talent.

For the most part, I have trained in Karate and Aikido schools with both men and women, meaning I trained in places with a majority of men. But for a brief period I trained in a very feminist all-woman school, and it gave me a solid connection between my training and my feminism. My experience of becoming a confident person physically is intimately tied to my feminism.

My feminism is embodied. I understand it in physical terms. This is deeply important to me, because it has allowed me to live my life without a lot of physical fear. But because I understand those things on a deep physical level, I have had to work hard to figure out how to write about them and explain them to others

My reading habits changed about the same time I became a martial artist. One didn’t cause the other; it was just serendipity. A friend pointed me in the direction of C.J. Cherryh and I started reading science fiction seriously.

Most of the authors I read were women and a lot of the stories were ones in which women had adventures, both outrageous ones and complex ones. There weren’t enough of them, and I eventually ventured farther into both science fiction and fantasy, but they always affected how I saw the field. (I was completely nonplussed by those pathetic boys who claimed SF/F was all white male adventure stories.)

Eventually I got serious about my own writing and started writing the kind of adventure stories I had always wanted to read. Looking back over what I’ve written so far, I find that almost all my stories center on a female protagonist. There are a few from a man’s point of view, but even those have something to do with women.

I have created ambigender characters who are both male and female and there is one story I truly love in which even I don’t know whether the main character is male or female. Every time I try to assign that character a gender, it feels wrong. (Perhaps they are nonbinary, though that word and concept was not in common usage when I wrote the story.)

All that is to say that I write the kind of stories I wanted to read as a child, stories in which women have adventures or deal with the complex issues of life. Love sometimes comes into them, but it’s rarely a focus. And because most of them are SF/F, I’ve had the luxury of writing stories about women who do things without having to write stories about how they manage to do things in a world that wants to keep them in their place.

I’m thinking about this a lot right now, as we once again see the underlying misogyny of our culture play out in the halls of Congress. There have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of articles using the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to illustrate how women must tread carefully in public while privileged white men can throw a tantrum before a Senate committee (both as witnesses and as senators)  and still get taken seriously.

I’m way past tiptoeing around privileged male fragility. I’m way past telling men “please let me in the door and I promise I won’t upset your applecart.” I’m way past putting up with men who think they’re entitled to abuse women as part of their manhood rituals.

Right now I’m putting my energy into the physical response to all that, into teaching and writing about empowerment self defense, because I know from my own experience women who learn to use their power physically are able to claim that power in the rest of their lives.

And yeah, I’m still writing fiction with women characters who know their own power. I’ll keep doing that, too. I’m not going to write about women who tiptoe around male privilege to get an edge here and there. I don’t give a damn if that’s “historically accurate” or not. My women characters come in through the front door, sometimes with a sword in their hands.

Women are strong, we are powerful. We aren’t going to put up with this crap anymore.

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Feminism, Stories, Empowerment — 2 Comments

  1. My most recent lesson in the vital need of diverse individual representation in popular entertainments and history — and not as a sidekick or window dressing — came through the Showtime series, “Billions.”

    The second season (there are three, with at least a fourth to come) presented Taylor Mason, a non-binary character, who is played by a non-binary actor, Asia Kate Dillon. Taylor, who is an intern at the Axelrod Corporation, is presented to the Big Boss Protagonist (the second Protag is the Northeast District Federal Prosecuting Attorney — i.e. for the financial district of NYC). Taylor, who is also a genius quant nerd, and fully of a different generation than Big Boss, informs Big Boss that their pronouns are ‘they’ etc.

    Via just this initial presentation a big wind of understanding – recognition blew through this viewer. I’ve gone through several times the adjustment of thinking of, speaking of he to she and she to he, when friends transitioned from one gender to the other. But I’ve never had personal friends who identified as non-binary.

    It’s not centered, per se, in Billions, but how the people Taylor deals with see them, react to them, is a continuing arc. Of course, this is the world of the obscenely criminally wealthy. All that matters ultimately in value is how much money they generate for Big Boss, Axelrod and themselves. Taylor wins — but surely being a genius with making money doesn’t automatically come with being non-binary, which is something that could make somebody uncomfortable, though, of course, genius at getting rich and stealing other people’s obscene wealth, is the whole point of the show.

    BTW, when people ask what else they can watch that is like GOT — Billions is it. Even magic, such as it is in GOT, can be found via the most interesting figure so far in the series, who is female, who smarter than ALL of them, including her husband protag attorney, her Axelrod boss, and their employees. She’s a performance coach whose job is to keep Axelrod’s employees generating wealth. In private life she’s also a dominatrix to her husband’s sub. She reads better than anybody. She’s magic. And — at least so far — she dominates (I’ve seen only two seasons, about to start the third).

    But having recently had conversations with friends who, progressive and non-bigoted as they are, are tending to balk at ‘they’ and ‘latinx’ etc. — my own initial reactions to seeing Taylor on screen were worth noting, because by the very fact that Taylor and their character were so important on screen, there came a certain automatic understanding, but one — me — also physically felt that initial, sudden if brief, jolt of shift in thinking non-binary.