This morning I was reading a book first published in the 40s (I think) and reprinted (among other editions in 95 and I was very surprised to read the intro on that. The I guess published and probably fairly well known author (well, I’m not aware of having ever read him) writing it talks about the author’s (of the book) great female character, and how she’s not like the women at the time who had three options “scream, be rescued, throw up.”
Now I’m acquainted with this version of reality from our present bubble heads. Yesterday someone was lecturing a bunch of us on how “fandom has changed” apparently in the strange belief that sf/f fandom was EVER not a gathering of oddballs and strange people, which yes, included strange females and strange people from other races. Pfui. The only way it’s changed is that we have more NORMAL college professors. Which is why they’re so tedious.
I just wasn’t aware these illusions about women — characters or real life, the way the sentence was written was hard to tell — went back that far IN PRINT.
I remember in the eighties being very puzzled at my well educated, mostly female friends in the US imagining a lot of things about women which I knew not to be so. Like the one who said that women had become hysteric because they “couldn’t hunt or do male stuff” in the renaissance. Which forced me to explain practically every middle ages woman hunted. Unless they were a little odd. The noblewomen joined the hunt, and poorer women would probably set snares, as well as killing the livestock.
I know I was surprised when I started posting DST in a private group and people were so excited that “she’s not waiting to be rescued.”
I was glad they liked the book, but dear lord, when have women characters waited to be rescued, outside some very tedious books, or books where they’re not the main characters? (Non-main characters always have less action. It’s part of writing.)
I mean, Heinlein female characters had more options than those. A lot of them were rather able with gun, knife and hands. Heck, Agatha Christie’s characters had more options than that. Dear Lord, as our Mary Catelli is fond of reminding us, female fairytale characters had more agency than these people are crediting female characters in the 20h century with having.
Sure, if all you know is the Disney version of fairy tales, it might seem like the main female character gets rescued a lot, but even then they usually follow the hero’s journey and have a hand in their own troubles.
So why are moderns and let’s face it mostly leftists so infatuated of the idea that female characters (and possibly women) had no agency whatsoever before the late 20th and early 21st century?
I don’t know. But I can’ hazard guesses.
The first is that they want to be seen as rescuers. If women were treated as empty-headed dolls and perhaps WERE empty headed dolls before the left “liberated” them, then women do naturally belong in the preserve of the left. Also, what the left made it can unmake, and women like me who don’t sing in the choir are ungrateful AND at risk of being enslaved again. (How many times have we heard that, complete with accusations of “gender traitor” as though vaginas were something you had to swear allegiance to?) This is a naked attempt at getting power over half the population and demanding right to our gratitude. More the fools those who believe them.
The second is that they’re genuinely ignorant. Having been taught a Marxist version of history they don’t understand power or ability or agency as anything but a collective endeavor that needs to be affirmed int he history books, with holidays, proclaimed from the roof tops, etc.
It never occurred to them that women aren’t mentioned much in the history books except as someone’s wife or mother (unless they’re queens, but they tend to blank those out) because being a wife and mother was genuinely back breaking work in the past. That managing to get your children to adulthood alive was a miracle. That it took both halves of the marriage for one half (the one not always pregnant) to achieve something in the public sphere. Instead, like true sexists, they see only male achievements. As such, they discount everything women did do, and instead invent reasons why women were “suppressed” by men, or their achievements lied about.
In fact, the only people lying about female achievements, from the middle-ages nuns to the early twentieth century female writers are… the left. Their minds are so distorted that they can’t understand the feats of quiet (and not so quiet) strength it took to be a woman before the pill effected some liberation from wretched biology and before the free market and invention liberated women from the drudgery of household work.
The third is also ignorance, but more profound than simply “of history.” It’s an ignorance of humanity, how strong both halves of humanity were required to be in centuries past, how much they had to fight and suffer for us, the few, the pampered few to be here… and completely ignorant of how hard life can actually be.
The week I put DST up, I had been reading (coincidentally. I tended to get my books from library sales before KULL and many of those were history books and biographies) the biographies of several women in the War of The Roses and — again, luck of the draw — the biography of Emma Smith, wife of Joseph Smith (note that I didn’t have any particular interest in Mormonism — and don’t really — but was interested in the biography.)
Those women, while their husbands achieved “well known thing” were busy as heck, and probably worked and suffered more than they did, not less for being very private. They were pregnant, or raising kids or worse, burying kids all alone and struggling to manage estates or farms on their own so their husband could do “well known thing.”
They weren’t waiting to be rescued. They certainly weren’t waiting to be pampered princesses. Not even those who were genuinely princesses. “Faint, throw up and be rescued” might have been the options of Victorian wealthy maidens. I doubt it was what they actually DID, though they might have played to the image. (Read Agatha Christie’s biography sometime.)
But that was a very small slice both in time and social standing. They are not and will never be the norm for women.
And sure, most past books didn’t have 100 lbs women beating 300 lbs men. That’s because that is… what’s that word? Oh, yeah, impossible. Unless you have an explanation of some sort, and no, training is not enough. Magic, or bio enhancement or something MIGHT be. Depends on how you handle it.
But going around beating up people is not the only form of agency. It’s not even the best one. It’s the agency of a type of man, not even all of them. I’ll note that in the Musketeer books (Dumas, not mine) the Cardinal is not powerless, or fainting or throwing up just because he’s not out on the street, fighting. He has thugs for that. And Milady, likewise, is not a fainting flower, even though the book was written before the 20th century. Even Constance Bonacieux has agency. Yes, in the end she trusts the wrong woman and gets poisoned while they’re trying to rescue her. But that’s agency too. She makes the decision. She didn’t need to fight in the streets. The men did that for her. It’s obvious her husband, even, is her pawn.
So, dear crazy people who think that women “only had three options” all of them passive before the late-twentieth to early twenty first century: I don’t know what color the sky is in your world, but in ours it’s blue and occasionally grey, and if it’s green you probably should run. If in yours it’s made of green cheese? The problems you face have nothing to do with us.
You are ignoring the rich panoply of human experience. You’re belittling the abilities and experiences of real women in the past. And it’s entirely possible you’re too pampered and rich to understand much of anything.
Check your privilege. You’re probably high on it.
Whenever you’re ready to join the real world with real people, we’ll be here.