In my searches online for graphics to represent Halflings, I came across this entry in the Pixiepalace online journal. And I got to thinking. Only in an industry that is utterly dominated by males would a situation in which characters that are ostensibly women get represented in illustration by “men with breasts” be acceptable. Or even accepted, for that matter. This goes a long way, in fact, to explain why the people who buy publications that make up the Dungeons & Dragons core rules tend to be males in the lower end of the teen age group. Actually, do not get me wrong. A fantasy publication does not necessarily live or die on how accurately the feminine form of character races happens to be represented. But when the phrase “men with breasts” can be used aptly to describe a publication’s character models, it definitely does not bode well for the composition of the publication’s audience.
Not that fantasy fiction in general has a lot of actual women who recommend themselves well. You have authors like Stephenie Meyer who, according to the Wikipedia page, is a “children’s author” who is known for writing some incredibly terrible novels published in a collective series I like to refer to as the Twitlight or Titlight series. First of all, when you are known for writing what is described in the Wikipedia as a “vampire romance” novel, you are not a children’s author. Secondly, when every second sentence out of your fingers is basically an extolling of chastity or something the Junior Anti-Sex League would read to each other, you are not really much of a romance author, either. And let us be blunt. The relationship that is the central focus of the Titlight series is an abusive one. Not just on a physical level, as many feminists and people I have discussed the series with on Fudgebook state. But also on an emotional and psychological level. In another fifteen years’ time, when my nieces are approaching what we call adulthood, I hope like I hope my death comes swiftly that they have far better role models than SchMeyer is offering. Because young women who view the character of Bella as a good or even normal example of a Human being need help.
But anyway, this gets back to the challenge of writing characters. By some margin, the biggest challenge the author can face is writing a character whose experience does not match, or worse yet is a polar opposite to, their own. This is why when I am writing stories that feature Ruby Amelda or Linula, cutting away to the second of those two characters can be both a curse and a god-send. A curse because exploring such things as how Linula feels about being touched in intimate ways when residual fragments of memories of being violated during her childhood still swarm through her consciousness can be really upsetting… to me. But on the same token, writing things about how she deals with these most horrible feelings is a very liberating and comforting process. At present, the planned ending involves Linula cursing the chief conspirator against her in such a way that it leaves them sick to such a degree that they can no longer live outside of a glass tube. Part of this is because Linula is exactly like me. Conspire to tell lies about her in front of her face and have them believed, and she will get sore. Tell her that she has to live an asexual life because not doing so offends your delicate sensibilities, and she will experience rage on a level that very few people ever get a hint of. Do both, and it is like Frank Zappa once sang: “the torture never stops… the torture never stops…”
Writing about Ruby Amelda is a completely different challenge, and obviously juggling between the two characters is a way of dealing with such challenges. In the dynamic between Ruby and Linula, Ruby is the Halfling Mage who did not mind being a child, whilst Linula is the Halfling Mage who spent her childhood wishing she could grow to be a 6’9″ Akhaseian berserker like Kríblach so she could bash in the heads of those who are abusing her with her bare hands. My current story in progress is a good example of how this approach works. In the middle of the story, Ruby is engaged in the task of talking to Baladu and Gilmick whilst healers who are obviously quite a bit more experienced than her observe. Of the two women in these stories, she is clearly intended to represent the more nurturing, loving side. Linula is the opposite. Since she began training as a Mage, all she has wanted is to destroy the people that she believes to be abusing others. The only loving things she does involve either Ruby or her boyfriend, Sirian.
But both Ruby and Linula were designed as carefully as possible to avoid the whole “men with breasts” design disaster. When they are physically described, for example, much effort is expended to make readers understand the difference spoken of in the journal entry I linked to at the start of this one. One of the essential differences spoken of in that journal entry is a certain element called the center of balance. This is the point at which an object is balanced with respect to applied forces. In male Homo Sapiens, and therefore any male of any fantasy creature that is based on Homo Sapiens, this point is in the shoulders. This makes a certain amount of sense, as the largest and heaviest part of the body in adult men is the shoulders. Believe me, speaking as a man whose shoulders are wide enough to fit two women into with space to spare, I can tell you that my center of balance could not be anywhere else. In women, however, the center of balance is at least a couple of feet lower. Specifically, it is in their hips. Again, this is usually the largest and heaviest part of a woman (it needs to be in order to make giving birth more do-able). So when one writes about a woman getting naked, talk up how big her butt is, if in polite and poetic terms, is generally a good idea.
Which all brings me to the central point here. When games like Dungeons & Dragons can use men with boobs as a representation of women; when a woman can write of a domestically abusive relationship and (supposedly) sell millions of copies, when videogames can show their customer bases the arse and still retain in excess of ten million customers, something is very, very wrong here.
Anyway, I hope this latest ramble has at least proven entertaining to read. If you have come to this point of it, thank you for your time.
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