There’s no such thing as a good stereotype.

Rantytime. Warning for profanity — although I’m going to try and rein it in, as best I can. Nobody listens to Angry Black Women, after all.

This rant has been partially triggered by yet another discussion of “strong female characters” circulating in the blogosphere. (A good jumping-off point for this discussion is this io9 article, where I butted into the comments for a minute to pretty much make this same point.) This isn’t a new discussion, of course; people have been talking about it for awhile on and off. It’s just the latest hiccup.

The strong female character (SFC) is a stereotype. It’s gone beyond just a trope at this point. It’s ubiquitous; we see this character appear in films, in books, in video games — and because it’s a stereotype, we’ve started to “see” it in real life. Conservatives love Sarah Palin because she shoots things, and Ann Coulter because she thinks women should never ask for help, and should tote guns (and vote the way their husbands tell them). We celebrate images like this one, which has been all over my Facebook feed this week. We warn that the Republican “war on women” will “awaken the sleeping giant” — with violent, threatening language re what will happen when women fight back.

This is a good thing, right? We all know women can be strong. Us women can wield the big guns like the big boys. We can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan; we can do anything, everything, we can work and have babies and cut the cords with our teeth and then still get up and punch a motherfucker in the face with our brains

— Yeahno. See, that’s the problem with stereotypes. They contain a grain of truth, sure, but the rest is all melodramatic bullshit.

The usual reaction whenever someone complains about the SFC stereotype is much like what I’m seeing in that io9 article thread: confusion, frustration, and lots of, “But what about [insert favorite badass woman character]? She’s a good character, isn’t she?” Followed by lots of “yeah, but what’s wrong with a woman being sexy and wielding a big phallic symbol?”. The answer is: there’s nothing wrong with it — as long as that’s not the only depiction of women that we’re given. When the grain of truth is all we see, any truth in it becomes a lie.

Thus people begin to believe that the SFC is the only way for a woman to be strong — and they simply stop noticing the many, many other examples of women’s strength around them. They praise Aeryn Sun in Farscape but not Zhaan. They cheer Ripley using a pulse rifle in Aliens, but not Ripley using her brain in Alien. Stereotypes work kind of like brain macros: if [circumstance A] occurs, then run [assumption 1], [assumption 2], and so on. The SFC has programmed us to think “strong” whenever we see a woman with a gun, but not when we see a weaponless woman enduring something that would break another human being. Or we see her, but rationalize away her strength — sometimes until we convince ourselves that it’s something completely different. Strong women would leave an abusive relationship; the ones who stay must be cowards, for example. Or we come up with some other excuse. Even as we’re hit in the face with examples of a woman’s strength across hundreds of different circumstances and in thousands of different expressions, they mean nothing to us. We can’t even see the real strength in real women once we’ve been blinded by the stereotypical strength of the fictional SFC.

And then we hesitate to vote for female politicians if they don’t wield a gun. We justify paying women less because they don’t fight for more — never mind that they shouldn’t have to. We tell women soldiers to suck it up if they’re raped. We expect mothers to be perfect, and career women to “have it all”, and gods help us if we want to be both. We put so much pressure on women in general to live up to so many unrealistic expectations that it’s killing us. And we put the blame for everything women endure because of sexism — differential pay, assault, harassment, the unrealistic expectations in and of themselves — on women, because strong women ought to be able to fix all these problems single-handedly. This absolves men of any responsibility for the system that benefits them.

And thus the Strong Female Character ends up supporting, not subverting, sexism.

Let’s take this beyond gender. You’ve probably heard of the Model Minority, which usually gets applied to Asian Americans but can also affect the children of recent immigrants, etc. It’s usually thought of as a “good” stereotype. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as smarter, nicer, more hard-working, more self-sufficient, and less “inherently inferior” than other groups? How can that be anything but good? Well, here’s how. And here’s how — because even if this minority is seen as less inferior, they’re still inferior to white people. And here’s how. All that stereotype-induced praise generates lots of (undeserved) resentment.

This is why even “good” stereotypes are dangerous. Not only because so many of them end up encouraging bigotry, but also because they make us complacent. We let the ugly stereotypes slide because we’ve bought into the “good” ones. And if one kind of “brain macro” is OK, why not another?

For the past few weeks I’ve been following a case in which stereotypes have caused a boy’s death. There’s been a lot of discussion about George Zimmerman’s intentions; whether he hated black people or whether he’s Latino or whether he said “coon” or not… all that stuff is red herrings. George Zimmerman’s racism was his decision to act on the stereotypes in his head. He saw a young black man doing nothing but walking down the street and immediately concluded that he was “suspicious” and “up to no good” and “on drugs”, because the stereotype in his head was the Young Black Thug. And the police have acted on stereotypes as well. They tested the body of the dead boy for drugs and alcohol (although they did not test his killer). And thanks to a leaked tip from the Sanford police, the media has begun making much of the the boy’s suspensions from school for graffiti and possible drug use. Because All Black Men Are Drug Dealers And Gang Bangers, right? And if they didn’t want to be treated like a stereotype they wouldn’t dress like one, right? Right.

Stereotypes kill. Even the “good” ones. Stereotypes end careers, or prevent them from ever getting started. Stereotypes hide real discrimination, and excuse real violence. Stereotypes change the fate of nations, usually for the worse.

So hit “ESC” on the macro in your head and think, dammit. And the next time you find yourself trying to justify a stereotype, or downplaying a stereotype as “good” stereotype, recognize what it is you’re doing. You’re being a bigoted asshat. You’re killing people and helping to make the world even more fucked-up than it already is. You are the problem.

Now fix it.

96 Responses »

  1. True, true, true, and right on.

    I have been, lately, particularly annoyed at (1) the Spunky Redhead SFC starring in the trailer for “Brave” (which may be a good movie… but the trailer totally fails), and (2) fanhate for Sansa and Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones fandom, which thankfully has provoked some backlash online and intelligent discussions of gender roles in patriarchal cultures, and why it’s kind of definitely still sexist to love only the girls who are tomboy rebels.

    True confession: I used to be super pleased that many people online assumed my gender was male, and that I could succeed in a male-dominated field (philosophy). I thought it made me somehow cooler. It took me until mid-college to realize exactly how fucked up that was.

    ((Also, I love Zhaan. And also Chiana. And really, okay, Farscape was just great generally much of the time.))

  2. Here’s my problem.. Everyone is talking about Zimmerman’s racism, but not about the REACTION and how it’s just as much racist and not helpful at all. This whole thing has been framed SOLELY as a white man shoots an innocent black kid. That’s it. It’s all been framed at how white people are racist and the law is racist because they don’t go out and immediately arrest this man based on an incomplete story (Not saying that Zimmerman shouldn’t be arrest, just saying I don’t know enough to determine that in any way). All the reporting has been solely about how a WHITE MAN can get away with killing a BLACK KID and nothing happens to him. Not about facts, not about anything else and that’s just as racist. Why? Because now it implies that everyone involved with this case is A) white and B) that they want to protect another white person b/c that’s just how us racist whites are. I’m not saying what happened isn’t tragic and the law may be wrong on this. I’m saying that the reporting and pushing this as solely a racial issue is just as bad. Basically, two wrongs don’t make a right here. The other odd thing is that the story is nearly a month old and we’re only just discovering it.. and we still don’t have all of the facts. I am really just getting tired of the idea that just because you are white you are automatically a racist (and yes, I’ve experienced this DIRECTLY and been told this DIRECTLY that b/c I’m white that I’m a racist. I was punched once by an African American man and had the NAACP investigate ME trying to say I was racist because I GOT PUNCHED).

  3. Oh Jason *head shake* This is not the place to invoke the “reverse racism” and white guilt derail. Bad move, buddy.

    As for the story being “a month old and only just hearing about it”. BS. People have been talking, screaming, about this since it happened. Just because YOU haven’t been taking notice of it doesn’t mean the facts, the discussion, the push for justice is not there.

  4. Jason,

    It’s racist because it fits into a very, very long historical pattern of white men killing black men and getting off scott-free. If that pattern didn’t exist, no one would be mentioning racism.

    It’s also racist because it fits a pattern of undervaluing the lives of black men; in any other situation in which a person is murdered, the police would usually arrest the killer and consider charging him with manslaughter, even if it was self-defense. Again, there’s a pattern that’s driving this. If it hadn’t happened before, thousands of times, it would be just a strange bit of eccentricity (or incompetence) on the Sanford PD’s part.

    It’s also racist because, as I said above, there are stereotypes involved at every point in Zimmerman’s and the cops’ decision-making processes. If there was no historical pattern of racial stereotyping… well, Trayvon Martin wouldn’t be dead.

    It has nothing to do with you. I’m saying that because you’re spending a lot of time talking about yourself here, so I just thought I’d point that out in case you were confused. You seem very angry because you have been accused of racism in the past and you have experienced discrimination because of your race and people like you are being accused of racism again and you’re really suffering because of this so people should stop framing this as “solely a racial issue” for your sake. But quite frankly, while a boy lies dead for no good reason and his killer continues to walk around scott-free, I think it would be a bit strange for everyone to stop talking about him and what his death means for all of us, and instead start talking about how it affects you.

    Because if they did, that too would fit in with a long historical pattern of murdered brown people’s deaths failing to mean anything when compared against the angst of living white people. Personally I think that would be kind of a problem. What do you think?

  5. First, my idea of a ‘strong female character’ is based more on Patricia Wrede’s “Princess Cimorene” than on any gun-wielding, barely dressed Amazonian fighter…. Because she sticks to her convictions. She wants to be needed and wanted for her quick thinking rather than how well she can dance or embroider….

    Enough of that.

    On the situation in Florida, a couple of things have me very angry. First, is that damned law. Second is the fact that Zimmerman was NOT a member of any Neighborhood Watch, let alone its ‘captain.’ That neighborhood HAD NO NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH. If they actually did, and if he were a member, he broke most of their rules. They are unarmed and they are told to NOT follow anyone they think are doing something wrong. George Zimmerman was out there, like he was every other night, with a gun looking for trouble. He found it. I honestly don’t think it was about race, at least not in the conventional ways. It certainly wasn’t about Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie (hell, I wear hoodies). From what I have gathered through the reading of all the different stories is that Zimmerman was a small fish in a big pond wanting to be a big fish. So he “volunteered” to patrol the neighborhood. Zimmerman was/is a thug with a gun looking for trouble and he found it. Trayvon Martin was no angel, but he certainly didn’t deserve to die.

  6. Dawn,

    If this is not about race in the conventional ways, what are the unconventional ways in which race impacts black men being murdered by white men without even a police investigation?

  7. The original act, between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, I really do not think was racist. I think that was a bully with a gun, a thug, looking to see what he could find.

    The way the police handled it (or not handled it) and the way the different sides of the press have handled it, those do come across as very racist.

    I see this as a situation that was not racist until the authorities came into it and decided to do nothing.

  8. Jason:

    Fine, let’s not discuss race at all. Let’s look at facts.

    Fact: Zimmerman was told not to follow or confront Trayvon Martin.
    Fact: Zimmerman did not follow these instructions.
    Fact: Trayvon Martin is dead.

    Above all else, these facts remain. Also, there’s this one:

    Fact: Zimmerman has not, to all intents and purposes, been so much as slapped on the wrist. (But I haven’t been following the story closely, so hey, if you have an article saying he was locked up even for a night, or had his gun license revoked, or his hand smacked with a ruler or something…)

    Frankly, it’s very easy for me to believe that Zimmerman saw a black kid in a hoodie and assumed he was up to no good… because he was a black kid in a hoodie. Not because Trayvon was tagging on the walls, or selling/buying drugs when Zimmerman saw him… I haven’t seen that claimed at all.

    Or that Trayvon had a weapon.

    It’s also easy for me to believe what Dawn has suggested, that Zimmerman was a small fish wanting to be a big fish. But I think it was about race, in Zimmerman’s head.

  9. What Nora said in response to the comments about Trayvon Martin. Plus a million.

    What I’m wondering is why so many are insistent that this case is *not* about race. When it so obviously is.

  10. Because self-reflection and admitting that the world view you have built up in your head could be wrong… those things are harrrrrrrrd.

  11. Dawn,

    If you’d rather not see Zimmerman’s behavior as motivated by racist stereotyping, that’s your privilege. But I do wonder why Zimmerman decided that a boy so much younger and smaller than him with no visible weapons, “just walking around” per his own words, was “suspicious” and “up to no good” and so threatening that he needed to be followed around by an armed man. I also wonder why, in Zimmerman’s previous 40-plus calls to 911, he showed a marked tendency to find black and Hispanic males suspicious. And I do wonder who Zimmerman was referring to when he said “these assholes always get away”.

    His behavior fits a pattern. Patterns have meaning, especially in historical context.

  12. Jonathon,

    According to Zimmerman’s lawyer — no corroboration by the police so far — Zimmerman’s gun was confiscated. Not sure if it was tested, given that Zimmerman wasn’t actually arrested.

  13. “Because self-reflection and admitting that the world view you have built up in your head could be wrong… those things are harrrrrrrrd.”

    Ayup. Because being called on your white privilege and/or being called a racist is SO much more damaging to one’s ego and reputation than being dead from a hate crime.

  14. NKJemisin

    Well, that’s a start. But I understand he can still get a gun and nothing can be done about that unless he’s actually arrested. So just taking his gun seems kinda pointless.

    I would have thought confiscating it was simply police procedure, anyways.

    Amanda
    Yeeeup.

  15. You know I saw that picture of the soldiers in this post by Sandra McDonald about clothing for heroines. I didn’t even notice the guns. But that could be because the piece was about clothing. I like the look of women in uniform when the uniform is identical to the male uniform. (Or as identical as anatomy allows.)

    To me the strong female character stereotype comes with not enough clothing, heels, and just the sense that ‘hey, she’s wielding a sword, but look at her legs too’ or things like that. Just to make sure that hey, she’s a cop with smarts and courage and a gun, but she’s feminine too! Look at her shopping for shoes! Exaggerated and stereotyped femininity grafted onto her to balance out the ‘male’ profession she’s in.

    Having only watched 8 episodes of Game of Thrones, it was definitely my belief pretty early on that all of the female characters are good characters and strong women. Though I’m naturally drawn to a tomboy learning to swordfight, I wasn’t dismissing the others who fit better (or who have made themselves fit better) in the limited role of women in that world. They all know what they want and go after it.

  16. The only reasons I have for not ascribing a racist POV to Zimmerman are (a) I have not had an opportunity to listen to the 9-1-1 calls that have been released, so I don’t have that information. Yes, I’ve read the transcripts, but its very easy to mis-transcribe and I’d like to hear them myself when I get a chance and (b)Zimmerman isn’t white… he’s Hispanic and Caucasian. I know, I know, that’s a silly distinction, but it is there.

    Not that it makes any difference, Trayvon was quite a bit taller than Zimmerman. A lot lighter, but about 4-5 inches taller. Again, probably not important to the discussion :)

    I am not ruling out racism on the part of Zimmerman, not at all. I just want to reserve judgment on that until I’ve heard what he said — including the alleged “coon” comment.

    Regarding Trayvan’s supposedly attacking, well, I can honestly say that if someone was following me, I would probably take a chance on decking him too…..

  17. I’m really glad you brought up the issue of strong female characters. I’ve been thinking about that myself lately. I recently finished Reynols’ “Pushing Ice.”. The two main characters are women in authority, in their 30’s to 50’s (at the beginning, at least), and engaged in some pretty epic conflict without either of them toting a weapon. I founf it pretty refreshing.
    Also, how do you look at what happened to Trayvon Martin and *not* see this as a crime founded on race?

  18. All I can say is: This world really is fucked up. Thank you, N.K.Jemisin, for pointing it out. Not that others don’t, but you rant for the right reasons! Unlike others, you don’t refuse to acknowledge it! In my eyes- that’s what makes a strong woman. Someone who isn’t afraid to speak about the world and express their thoughts, and stand by what they say and do!

  19. Dawn,

    I find it really puzzling that you’ve taken the time to educate yourself about details like Trayvon’s height relative to Zimmerman and Zimmerman’s ethnicity, and yet you haven’t bothered to go listen to the (very brief, linked in several places on this page) 911 calls. They’ve been available for weeks, and they’re far more relevant to this case than anything else you’ve cited. It’s not a silly distinction to note that Zimmerman’s ethnicity is Latino — you’re right, whiteness is not a monolith any more than blackness is — but his race is still white.

    But even if he wasn’t white, what difference would that make? Say he was a black Latino. He’d still have assumed Martin was dangerous because of his internalized stereotypes about young black males. He’d still have pursued the boy for committing the crime of Walking While Black. He’d still have shot this unarmed boy. Pretty much the only difference I think it would make if Zimmerman was nonwhite would be that the police would’ve arrested him, and this case wouldn’t have gotten so much attention on the national stage. But Martin would still be dead.

    I also find it strange that you’re so hesitant to acknowledge racism in this case because you don’t know enough… yet you’re quick to offer possible defenses for Zimmerman’s actions. If you don’t know enough to call something racism, then how can you know enough to say it’s not racism? Why are you so open to the latter possibility, but not to the former?

  20. Daniel,

    …Wow. Y’know what? I’m not gonna say anything here. I’ll just leave your comment in place so people can see it and go “wow” too.

  21. … I’m not sure I understood that. Did Daniel just imply that this issue is going to be used to somehow a) bolster support for Obama and b) ‘persecute’ ‘white America’?

    Why yes, I often try to win marathons by shooting myself in both feet…

  22. Daniel Schaeffer: I’m wondering is Nora an example of the company you say I keep?

    To explain: the gentleman above left a lunatic comment on my blog which got stuck in moderation. I only check once a day at most. When I went to check today I was about to release his comment when I noticed another comment from him saying he wasn’t surprised I’d deleted his comment given “the company I keep.” Now I see his mansplaining racist comment above.

    So I’m seconding Nora’s wow.

    Wow.

  23. Ohh, and Incredible Travelling Troll. It’s almost like they’re moving round zee internetz without regard for who they’re commenting too.

    *popcorn gif*

  24. Justine,

    Oh, it’s the same guy? Double wow, then. But since your interaction with him makes it clear he’s a troll, I’ve put him on comment moderation. Daniel, if you can manage to say something about my post that isn’t insulting to my intelligence or patience, I’ll let your comments through. Otherwise, there’s lots of other places you can go to talk about your theory.

  25. After a lot of frustration on this topic, and trying to understand what *really* makes a woman “strong”, I think I’m starting to form an opinion. I’ve always been annoyed by the butt-kicking SFC, because that’s not something I’m ever going to be, nor really want to. But I think a lot of the problem is society’s inability to recognize different kinds of strength. Maybe we’re so much about instant information that we don’t bother anymore to look deeper for character and value than what’s immediately visible on the surface – which too often ends up being the physical.

    Men and women – scratch that, *individuals of any gender or race* – are different from each other physically, mentally, and emotionally, and we should be able to find strength in a person by viewing their actions in their individual circumstances and celebrating universal values of humanity. Things like courage, mercy, loyalty, kindness, integrity… I guess it says a lot about American culture that we value physical beauty, ferocity, and violence in our “strong” characters over pretty much everything else.

    I’m going to take a good hard look at my writing and make sure that each of my characters has their own strength that’s not just the physical kind – a stereotype that does a lot of injustice to both genders.

  26. great post, thank you. Lots to think about. I personally am too defensive about my hate for Sansa Stark in GOT. I’m like “I hate her for pure, non-sexist reasons! stop making my feminism make me feel guilty!”

    And sweet hell what a champion’s job you’ve done in the comments here. I know it’s hard and emotionally tiring, so I wanted to give you some support.

    Also, I just got Kingdom of Gods from my library! I am very excited.

  27. Personally, I’ve been fascinated w/ the development of Sansa’s character — she’s intriguing. And thank you for this post.

    Anecdote-as-illustration time: A few years ago, some woman laughed at me when I told her I was a scholar using feminist lit theory. In her head I was the furthest thing from a feminist because I was:

    (1) South Asian — and with associated South Asian characteristics since I did not grow up in the First World. Therefore, in her head, I fit the submissive female stereotype.
    (2) Soft-spoken, meek-seeming and polite.

    I was more amused than miffed by than incident, but it had me questioning the manner in which people qualify “strong women” or “feminists”. Apparently, being soft-spoken and apologetic is anti-feminist. I suspect these “strong women” stereotypes are part and parcel about why victim-blaming is so rife across the board. It’s a problem, and your post is timely.

  28. I cannot even with people who think Trayvon’s death had nothing to do with race right now. I just can’t. So hats off to Nora for being about a bajillion times calmer and more graceful than anyone should have to be in the face of prejudicial blindness.

    (Or, to quote one of my favourite Australian TV shows: “Old hat? Gina, in the scientific world, when things keep happening again and again and again, repeatedly, they don’t call it ‘old hat’. No, that’s properly referred to as a PATTERN.”)

    Re strong female characters: very much agree. Something I think might be feeding into the stereotype is this current narrative obsession we have with ‘active’ characters, which translates to both a hatred of the passive voice and (I think) a twisted definition of agency. For instance: if a character chooses to sit back, watch, gather information about what’s going on and then go to someone with specialised skills to help deal with a problem, lots of readers will casually assume that this means the character is weak and passive and lacking in agency, when *in fact* it means they’ve taken intelligent control of the situation. Whereas a character who goes blundering in, follows all the clues regardless of their ability to deal with them, winds up in danger a bunch of times and nearly gets killed will tend to be seen as active, in possession of agency and therefore Good and Strong – even though all they’ve done is react instantly (and, often, stupidly) to whatever comes their way. And that bugs me, because it seems to be exalting action above introspection as a ‘strong’ character trait, particularly when applied to women.

    Any idiot can decide that ‘poke problem with stick’ is a good course of action; it takes intelligence to do something less exciting, but also less likely to get you killed. I would really love to see more stories where that happens as a matter of course. There can still be chases and explosions, just, you know – not always as the result of rashness and stupidity.

    (Coincidentally, this post just helped me iron out a plot kink I’d been fretting over – so thanks!)

  29. You live in an area with narrow roads, and your driveway is two houses short of an intersection.

    An ?hole drives in front of you below the speed limit, and swerves to block you when you try to pass. He understands a situation, and seeks to exploit his chance to harm if he can get away with it.

    A dumb? drives too close behind you, and hits you when you signal and slow down to turn into your driveway. He misunderstands the situation, assumes other people are doing something wrong, and causes harm through ignorance.

    Tragedy makes me angry, which makes me want to argue, and it’s easiest to argue about the scope across which the tragedy could have happened: Misanthrope or bigot? Defensive attribution bias or ultimate attribution error? Dumb? or ?hole?

    But: why not both. And: it still happened; I will never argue that away.

    So whatever you say about the reason for a tragedy, I’ll try to believe that you’re wrong, because that lets me imagine a better world while I’m still angry.

  30. First, I am not defending George Zimmerman. At the very least, he is a bully, and on the surface of this whole debacle, he was a bully looking for trouble and he found it.

    The 9-1-1 tapes, that I finally had time to listen to, clearly prove that Zimmerman, for all that he’s trying to sound like a “concerned citizen”, wanted a confrontation with the person he was calling on. He also sounded like he’d had a few drinks — his words were slurred in a few places. But one phrase came through loud and clear, and that was “…they always get away.” That phrase should be causing the authorities to ask more questions, but they seem to be ignoring it.

    Whether or not race is a part of this, Zimmerman was wrong from the beginning.

    1. The “Neighborhood Watch” he said he was “captain” of did not exist. Zimmerman was acting on his own.
    2. Zimmerman knew about how old Trayvon Martin was (states on 911 tape that he looked like late teens).
    3. Zimmerman was slurring his words on the tape.
    4. He followed Trayvon even after he was told that was not necessary (and even though that is against any ‘neighborhood watch’ training since he purports to be a member of a watch).
    5. The police department did NOT follow procedure beyond confiscating Zimmerman’s gun. He should have been held and charged with something because even though he claimed self-defense, HE has the burden of proof. His word is not good enough, but apparently it was for the police.

    Race may well be at the bottom of the whole thing, but I think “bully” and “vigilante” are closer.

  31. Daniel,

    Per your comments that are now in the moderation queue, that was a whole lot of space, filled with more conspiracy theory, a complete misunderstanding of the difference between race and ethnicity, and personal attacks (not even on me!), for you to say you were done. But great! You’re done.

  32. Brittany,

    Thanks for talking about my actual post!

    And yes — my goal here is simply to get people to think, beyond knee-jerk adherence to a stereotype. Women’s strength comes in such a wide variety of forms; it troubles me that so many of us (especially in fantasy) default to a single depiction. I want to see women who defy gender expectations, but I also want to see women who subvert those expectations from within, and I also want to see women who do shit nobody, of any gender, has ever done before. This doesn’t seem so much to ask… and yet it apparently is.

  33. Foz,

    You’re welcome. :)

  34. sfisacity,

    I’m sorry, I don’t understand your point here. You seem to have framed a hypothetical situation, asked whether it has deeper meaning (it might, but since you haven’t provided any context in your example, there’s no way to know), then there’s something I’m wrong about because the world should be better…?

    Please clarify.

  35. Dawn,

    Just a quick correction: the actual phrase was, “these assholes always get away”. The contempt inherent in that phrase is relevant to whether Zimmerman was motivated by racism.

    I’m not sure why you say the police should be investigating that statement in particular when he’d already shown a longtime pattern of vigilantism, but then we’ve established that I don’t understand why some elements of this case seem to fascinate you while you ignore others. (Thank you for finally listening to the recordings.)

    Or rather, I think I do understand your selectivity. Per the post above, I suspect there’s another stereotype at work in your head right now, namely the These People See Racism Under Every Rock stereotype. If so, then the particular macro you’re running right now is basically [if person of color says that something is racist], then [assume she is wrong], [deny her perception even if you lack complete information on which to base your denial], [insist that by doing these things you are keeping an open mind], … et cetera.

    I can’t read your mind, of course. Only you can decide if that’s the stereotype you’re running. Maybe it’s simpler than that; maybe you just have the privilege of ignoring the patterns and context that are so relevant to this case.

    Unfortunately, I do not have that privilege.

  36. FYI for all:

    Daniel asked me to remove his first comment, as apparently it was an incomplete picture without the additional comments that he posted several hours later. I have done so, so please don’t respond to him if you were going to.

  37. When this tragedy first happened, my first thought was “Oh, that poor kid’s mother!” and the second thought was “Why is it always Black kids being killed?”

    I haven’t dismissed that. I do see a pattern that signifies racism. The reason why the police should be following up on the “always get away” statement is because it could very well clarify and solidify the racism and that will be needed for a Federal action against Zimmerman

    My unfortunate situation is that I always see every side of situations. I also, for good or ill, have spent the last 27 years working for lawyers, so I tend to question everything and explore the ramifications. So, yes, racism is very much in my mind in this debate. But so are the other things, like bullying and vigilantism — both of which often have race at their root.

  38. Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking article.

  39. For what its worth, I really try to do my best in everyday life to be “color blind”. I strive to see each person for who they are and how they present themselves; not by the color of their skin. Maybe its because I live (and have lived most of my life) in very mixed neighborhoods. Maybe its because I raised two kids in those same mixed neighborhoods. Maybe its because I’ve stood up for and defended people in my neighborhood based on the fact that I knew them and that the color of their skin had nothing to do with anything. Yeah, maybe I’m naive. But every time something like this happens, something inside of me dies. Trayvon was not just another Black kid. He was somebody’s son, somebody’s friend. He was somebody. He was his parent’s hope for the future. The tragedy here is that George Zimmerman — for whatever reason — decided that Trayvon Martin wasn’t important.

    I really try my best to not judge others’ motivations. To be totally honest, Ms. Jemisin, I really didn’t pay attention to what your race was or wasn’t until after you wrote: “If so, then the particular macro you’re running right now is basically [if person of color says that something is racist], then [assume she is wrong], [deny her perception even if you lack complete information on which to base your denial], [insist that by doing these things you are keeping an open mind], … et cetera.” You don’t have to believe that if you don’t want to. That is up to you. I really am not the enemy here.

    The bottom line is: No matter what was going through Zimmerman’s mind, the death of Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. For his parents, for his family, his friends, and for everyone of us who believes that the mindless violence has to stop. Trayvon Martin’s death could have been prevented, but for a bad law, a man intent on looking for trouble, and quite possibly, that man’s ignorance and prejudice.

  40. “For what its worth, I really try to do my best in everyday life to be “color blind”.” Dawn, unfortunately being colour-blind can actually blind one to the genuine injustices (such as trying to see both sides of the Trayvon tragedy in an effort to be neutral). This can be seen pretty clearly in the lawsuit against a MN high school, where their policy about ‘neutrality’ on homosexuality was actively harming LGBT youth there, to the point of death. And it’s not the only story like that.

    Nora, digging the post. The Strong Female Character stereotype has been on my mind a lot lately, and you’ve nailed how limiting it ends up being for many women. Even Katniss in the Hunger Games trilogy, despite fitting the profile in a lot of ways (deadly, agile, survivalist), still takes a ton of flak for her PTSD in the later books because she is ‘passive’.

    Same thing with ASOIAF. I don’t really believe GRRM is writing a feminist manifesto (or even really coming close) but I do appreciate the wide variety of strengths inherent in all the women characters, even the ones we’re supposed to despite according to how he writes them, like Cersei and Lysa Tully, compared to the ‘good mother’ Catelyn. How Arya is praised, while Sansa is derided, despite the fact that if their roles were switched, they wouldn’t have survived what the other went through!

    Thankfully, lately, there’s been a great deal more good literature with a variety of interesting and in-depth women characters, but it’s not enough.

  41. To paraphrase a certain late-night celebrity:

    I don’t see color. People tell me I’m white and I believe them because random strangers have never asked to touch my hair.

  42. Dawn,

    I get that you mean well, and I appreciate that — seriously. But here’s the thing: you say that you’re aware of the racist patterns involved in these events. But you’ve spent your last few comments downplaying, denying, or actively attempting to refute the assertion by me and others that racism is involved in the Trayvon Martin case. So it’s a little hard for me to tell that you’re actually aware of the racism; that contradicts other things you’ve said along the way. The only reason I could think of for you to do that is if you’re assuming that all the people who’ve noted the racism in this mess are wrong, and you’re trying to keep an open mind, etc. You may not be doing that because I’m black. But there’s a reason you’re doing it. Again, only you can determine what that is.

    And here’s the other thing: colorblindness is not a virtue. I know, I know, I was raised to believe it was too. But it’s not, because it actually perpetuates racism. Here’s a good recent essay on the problem with colorblindness, albeit wrt media representations and not criminal cases, though that actually goes back to the point I’m making in the blog post about stereotypes having an impact in the real world. And here’s another, citing a study in which those who claimed to be colorblind were actually just (sometimes deliberately) oblivious, even to blatant examples of racism (e.g., blackface). The result of this obliviousness is that they ended up more racist than people who acknowledged racism, because they’d done the equivalent of covering their eyes, humming really loudly, and wishing it would just go away.

    Again, I get that you mean well. But intentions don’t really matter with respect to race. As I’ve said before on this blog, the most well-meaning people can actually be the most harmful, if they’re unwilling to examine their own assumptions or the impact those assumptions might have. So please consider the things you’ve said here, and the way you’re reacting to this case, and as I said in the OP — think. Just think.

  43. if someone said to me “I don’t see a woman just a person; I try to be gender-blind” I would feel like part of my life experience is being erased by that person, that person is not actually seeing me at all, because some of what I’ve lived through has been solely because I am a woman. And then I don’t think that person would believe me if I talked about those female-specific experiences.

    and frankly, I think that goes back to the SFC issue. We tell stories in part to make sense of the world. But if only a small part of life experience is being shared (“women who act like *this* but not like *that*”), it is distorting our view of what really happens in the world and what we believe to be true about others’ lives.

  44. Thanks for this article. I hated the SFC stereotype for different reasons, but yours make absolute sense.

    What bothers me as well with this stereotype is that most of the time, authors or directors will make their female characters strong, but they will rarely go as far as making them, you know, actually do something right in the end, not get clubbed on the head during a fight, solve an important problem, things like that. And that’s even worse than showing shrinking violets: personally, I never bothered even trying to identify with a shrinking violet. It’s frustrating, because then you have no character you can truly identify with, but I got used to it, and for me, it was impossible to believe that women were actually like that anyway. But girls can actually start rooting for and identifying with the SFC… only to be let down in the end when she does something silly and lets the hero save the day. And if even badass ladies who kick ass à la Kate Austen from Lost end up having to be rescued, or doing sily things because in the end, they’re just girls, or being killed off… what does it say about women in general?

    Concerning fan hatred for Sansa and Catelyn Stark: I always thought that maybe, just maybe, it was not just the fans’ fault, and it was no happenstance if both Martin and the directors of the HBO show cast two ladylike, ideally traditional females as their less likeable good characters. It’s not like there’s objectively nothing to hate about either of them and fans just get mean because they’re women (hello, Sansa pointedly calling Jon her “half brother”? Catelyn telling him he should have fallen off a high wall and broken his back?). I mean, Jon Snow could have been an insufferable bastard (no pun intended… well, only a little), or Bran. But it was so much easier to write about unlikeable prim ladies-of-the-castle. Which is why I’ve never been that impressed by Martin’s female characters. Between the Stark ladies and sexy, barely legal Daenerys who keeps thinking about her own breasts (seriously, I’ve never heard a woman mention her own breasts half as much as Dany mentions them in the books), and the serving girls of easy virtue, it’s not the kind of series I would praise for the complexity of its women characters.

    Martin is just another reason why the SFC trope irks me: it’s getting us so conditionned to read female characters in terms of “strong/not strong” that books like his get reactions like, “Can she wield a sword? Check. Can she do politics? Check. Can she be a woman of action? Check. Hooray, he’s a feminist!” leaving the more problematic aspects of his depictions of women completely overlooked.

  45. Thanks for making me think a little deeper about the value of, and definition of, a “Strong Female Character”.

    One of the things that bothers me in fantasy is a Strong Female Character who does “manly” things really well, but all the rest of the women in the story are shadowy conformists in a Europeanesque Patriarchy. This leads to “humorous” scenes where men discover the talents of the SFC and the men get to be impressed, tolerant and protective of this unique spitfire.

    This may be just me, but I want to see more fantasy stories where the world building sets up women as equal, and then shows us how certain women and men in the story are doing dramatic things.

  46. This blog post is awesome. It was linked to me on as a reply to one of my questions on Good Reads, and so far I think this is the best answer that’s been given to me. You outlined many of my biggest problems with the general definition of a SFC. Thanks for the thought provoking blog post.

  47. No deeper meaning here, just a failed attempt to soften the cogsci jargon that relates what you wrote about stereotypes to research I found interesting. I’m sorry.

    (That’s about the main post. Separately, about the discussion:)

    When someone tells me a kid (who liked math!) died because of racism, my first reaction is, “no, that can’t be true!” Since I can’t say “no, he’s not dead” I have to say “no, it wasn’t racism.” Similarly, when someone tells me a soldier died from domestic violence, I react, “no, must be al Qaeda.”

  48. Loved the post, have nothing to add.

    Am currently stuck on how bullying and racism are somehow now mutually exclusive. Um, sure.

  49. Um, feeling a little guilty I didn’t address the actual post. Thing is, I’m not sure I have anything of value to add.

    Internally, when I worry about writing a strong female character…. I guess it was more like ‘Strong (Female) Character’, or ‘Strong Character who happens to be Female’. It’s a little wierd to me to see it mean something else, especially the Hark A Vagrant stuff.

    Sometimes I’m more sheltered than I thought.

    My current protagonist is a teenage girl, and I worry more about making her sound like a woman than I do about whether she’s kicking ass…. But in her story she’s kind of forced into a ‘traditionally’ male role as a warrior, so maybe I overlooked something because asskicking was a given and I planned to throw different challenges at her. Also had considered that one of the women she meets is a politician, not a warrior…

    I’m rambling. Sorry.

    Like I said, nothing of value.

    Awesome blog post. I agree with it 100%.

  50. The funny – or sad, depending on your point of view – thing about Strong Female Stereotype is, that it does not respect women, or feminity in general, but rather worships the maculinity in the certain female character. Which is a little bit odd, but still, not surprising.
    It is flabbergasting, that a woman is usually viewed strong, if she succeed in an act that is usually attributed to men. Can she wield a gun or a throw a knife? Then she will be viewed as a strong woman. Is she a professional lumberjack? Then she is strong.
    However, feminity is still commonly associated with weakness. Just look at those jobs associated with women, and you will find out, that they are not respected. They are not viewed as hard jobs – hey, if an avarage woman can do them, than surely they cannot be. If a man aspires to be a nurse, then he is a laughing stock. And I could go on and on, but I know, this is a shaky ground…
    However, there are other things, than career, for which the same thing applies. A woman raising her kids alone? “Then what, this is what women do, caring about kids, not a hard job.” Fuck that. It is not easy, yet many people acting like if it was, showing no respect for the mother. They may even smirk, that she cannot raise her children prperly, since she works ten or twelve hours a day.
    However, stereotypes are two-edged swords. You are a man, if you succeed in countless sports, get laid with dozens of girls, get drunken till you vomit even that lunch you have not eaten. If you like reading and other cerebral stuff, instead of sports, then you are a nerd, who deserves to be mocked and bullied. If you babysit childs, and participate in their games, you are immature at best… and I will not write, what are you at worst. But hey, no problem, a proper man is hard and insensitive, if he is mean, than it is okay, he just acts like a guy should.
    And the “acting like a real man should” stereotype can quickly grow into something… something abominable, like this. Take this Zimmerman guy… he shot a kid. Let us be blunt, he shot a young kid. A young human being. How on earth though he acted heroic and properly, if he behaves like a screwed up cowboy, “shooting first, asking questions later”? May be he thought that that is how a real man acts. I do not wish to brush away the “All Black Men Are Drug Dealers And Gang Bangers” thing, I just wish to provide some extra thoughts to it.
    I find funny, that usually strong male characters are the heroes, while the antagonist is a smart guy. Okay, there are other reasons of this – namely, usually the villain moves the plot, therefore he shall be intelligent… but still, this is a fairly common cliche. (And by the way, the makers usually show the intelligence of the villain with the villain listening classical music… there is a difference between intelligence and erudition, after all.)
    However, I also wish to add, that the viewer also shall have a certain responsibility. If he reads a book for example with an Icelander as a villain, than he shall not suppose, that all Icelanders are bastards. Yeah, a greater responsibility lies on the shoulder of the creator, but this still not exempt the reader. (This was also an extra thought, not a brush off.)

  51. Cecile,

    All good points. And something I didn’t cover in my OP is the power that such stereotypes have to impact the way young women think of themselves. In good and bad ways; the SFC does give women the freedom to do more genderplay, try on the trappings of masculinity and see if they really should be reserved for men or if that’s just stuff men say to keep us away. (Usually it’s the latter; see earlier post about men policing warfare to make it male-only, even though women would make better soldiers than the children used in some parts of the world.) But that genderplay freedom goes all in one direction, if the stereotype drives it. Women don’t feel more free to act like girly girls. They aren’t rewarded or praised for doing so — and in fact the fan hatred you mention suggests that they’re then scorned for following traditional gender expectations. I think this is as much a problem as women not being permitted to enter masculine space at all.

  52. Lori S.,

    Yeah, don’t think about it much. We all have to watch our blood pressure.

  53. At the risk of sounding like a professor assigning homework, what do you think are the traits that make a female character strong without rendering her as a stereotype?
    Obviously dressing them in mid-drift, cleavage, and thigh-revealing chainmail bikinis is out, and simply creating a female character, giving her a big weapon, and plenty of room to ‘kick butt’ is very often just a glorification of masculinity (or at least is meant to pander to male fandom). But what were the things you do(or don’t do) to avoid the stereotypes yourself? What are the ways that Yeinne, Oree, and Shahar (and Glee!) avoid (or don’t!) the examples in the original post above that miff you, and in what ways do they make you squee?

  54. Sabine,

    I actually explored this to a degree in an earlier post on this subject, when I was still formulating my feelings about the SFC. That post also references some character studies specifically examining how I dealt with strength in female characters in the Inheritance Trilogy. Hope that helps!

  55. Ginger,

    That’s a fantastic poem! And I don’t want to detract from its power — but can you please edit your post to excerpt from it and link to wherever it’s located instead? Unless you have permission from the author, or she’s explicitly said she’s OK with it being reposted in entirety, putting it up like that is probably a copyright violation. Gotta look out for my fellow artists. :)

  56. Thanks for posting this:

    “Thus people begin to believe that the SFC is the only way for a woman to be strong — and they simply stop noticing the many, many other examples of women’s strength around them.”

    I hadn’t every thought about it that way before. And although It’s hard for me to come up with specific examples besides the ones you brought up like Sansa and Catelyn, I feel like this is one of those things that once you start paying attention to it, it pops up everywhere.

    Anyway, it reminded me of this, one of my favorite poems by Marge Piercy.

    Reposted with with links (Sorry! You can delete my other post, since I don’t know how to edit. ) The poem is available online here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/foolingwithwords/main_piercy.html, and the author’s personal website where you can buy her novels and poetry is here: http://www.margepiercy.com/

    [N. K. addendum -- I'm not comfortable with posting the whole poem here, but I guess it might be OK under Fair Use as a sample of the author's whole work. Note that this one appears to be excerpted from Circles on the Water.]

    “For strong women”

    A strong woman is a woman who is straining.
    A strong woman is a woman standing
    on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
    while trying to sing Boris Godunov.
    A strong woman is a woman at work
    cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
    and while she shovels, she talks about
    how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
    the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
    develops the stomach muscles, and
    she goes on shoveling with tears
    in her nose.

    A strong woman is a woman in whose head
    a voice is repeating, I told you so,
    ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
    ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
    why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
    you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why
    aren’t you dead?

    A strong woman is a woman determined
    to do something others are determined
    not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
    of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
    a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
    to butt her way through a steel wall.
    Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
    to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.

    A strong woman is a woman bleeding
    inside. A strong woman is a woman making
    herself strong every morning while her teeth
    loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
    a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
    every battle a scar. A strong woman
    is a mass of scar tissue that aches
    when it rains and wounds that bleed
    when you bump them and memories that get up
    in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

    A strong woman is a woman who craves love
    like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
    A strong woman is a woman who loves
    strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
    terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
    in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
    she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
    suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
    enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

    What comforts her is others loving
    her equally for the strength and for the weakness
    from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
    Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
    Only water of connection remains,
    flowing through us. Strong is what we make
    each other. Until we are all strong together,
    a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

  57. P.S. That particular poem is from the collection, The Moon is Always Female. My first exposure to Marge Piercy, and that poem in particular, was actually in my high school biology class. That teacher was awesome!

  58. The media perpetuates stereotypes! Stop the cycle! Think for yourself!

  59. “It’s not like there’s objectively nothing to hate about either of them and fans just get mean because they’re women (hello, Sansa pointedly calling Jon her “half brother”? Catelyn telling him he should have fallen off a high wall and broken his back?).”

    I agree. Despite I think that Martin wished to deconstruct certain tropes of the fantasy literature, for example, the enlightened queen/princess/castle lady, who forbids peasants to bow to her (because they have a long journey behind them, and blah blah), which – the deconstruction – is an aim, I do respect… but that still does not make Catelyn any more likeable. Yes, she has the mentality of a real medieval noble woman, and not that of a Disney princess…
    …But still, when Jon tried to comfort her, she quickly rebuked, that she did not need a bastard’s pity. And THEN she told Jon, that Bran’s accident should have happened with him – which would have been cruel even if Jon had not tried to make her feel better. Jon tried to build a bridge between them, and she destroyed it out of sheer pride. And this incident happened on the same day Jon left Winterfell. And this was one of Catelyn’s establishing moments.

    Not that Eddard was not an idiot for denying the identity of Jon’s real mother from Catelyn, by the way. Okay, arranged marriage, he barely know his wife, when he brought Jon home, and everything… but Catelyn had the right to know, who is Jon’s mother, after all those years. I think, that could have eased the relationship of Jon and Catelyn – because Jon might be the result of a one time betrayal… but refusing to tell this information to her wife was a sign of distrust, which is worse, than the former. Because with this, Eddard inadvertantly made Catelyn feel, that there was a woman, whom he loved more, than he would love Catelyn ever. (And even SPOILER if Jon IS the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, this is still no excuse.)

    Regarding Sansa, she could have been a typical wide-eyed idealist girl thrown in a grim and gritty fantasy world… but she is mean and bone-headed in the first book (I mean, idealizing Joffrey AFTER the incident which had her pet wolf killed, and blaming Arya for it? There was not a spark of realization, what kind of a creep Joffrey is, and she even lied to save his craven ass). I do not dislike her, because she is girly… I dislike her, because she is – or hopefully, way – a jerk.

    Anyway, I cannot help, but always contrast the women of AsoIaF with the women of another essential fantasy saga from the same period – Robin Hobb’s FarSeer Trilogy. Lady Patience for example is the inverse of Catelyn, and God, I like her far more – and she is still a living, breathing character, not a “Disney princess”. Molly is a strong feminine character, and despite we can see Kettricken fighting for her people, she does not do it, because she tries to prove something to others. She fights, because she has to. And that is what makes her a strong woman.

  60. Hedgehog Dan: I do agree. And that’s why I have a problem with those books: Martin needed to make some of his characters less likeable than others, and he “just happened” to paint the feminine ladies as (mostly) jerks. I just can’t buy that this was pure happenstance. Of course the fans hated them: they were built to look, sound and act like that prim-and-proper young lady we all knew and hated back in high school…

    But, y’know, it’s okay, because then we have Arya who is Strong. So I suppose we should assume that Martin’s women characters are portrayed in diverse and complex ways. In reality, though, it’s just reinforcing the idea that women are not worth our sympathy if they’re not Fighting Like The Boys. I don’t buy that Catelyn and Sansa “just happen” to be unlikeable as they “just happen” to be feminine. Fans hate them because, well, they’re jerks–but I can’t believe that when Martin created them, the fact that he imagined them as jerks bore no relation at all to the fact that they were female and ladylike. And just as nkjemisin pointed out, this is yet another message to young girls that’s going to add to the burden of permanent double bind they’re under: you won’t be respected if you’re not feminine but you won’t be respected if you are, be weaker than men because that’s what society expects, be strong because that’s what you should do…

  61. Now I think about it, that reminds me of a very interesting article by Samuel R. Delany on heroic fantasy and female characters, in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. According to him, the female warriors of early heroic fantasy were simply designed to fulfill a common fantasy of male teenagers, something you could call the “very low maintenance woman”.

    According to Delany, in the 50’s-60’s, young men were terrified to become adults, because that meant they would have to get married to a woman who would be incapable of taking care of herself, and they would have to feed her, provide a house for her, and work to get a high social status for her, while all she would contribute would be food and laundry, aka What Your Mom Already Does Better Than Any Other Woman. So young boys didn’t want to get the princess, because then that would mean carrying the responsibilities of adulthood all by themselves, while having to take care of someone else, and they were not at all ready for it. Hence the Warrior Virgin of heroic fantasy: she’s a strong independant women who can take care of herself, and the reason why that’s great is not that she’ll then be her own person and get her own fulfilling life, but that the hero won’t have to take any responsibilities to maintain her in grand style. But he’ll still get to look at her sexy cleavage, because that’s what women are for anyway. Oh, and she’s not having sex with other men, so it’s a winner on every level.

    I don’t know what you think about this theory, but personally, I think it still applies fairly well to many “strong” women in popular media today…

  62. ***Warning: This comment was written while the author was suffering from sleep-deprivation. Grammatical errors may vary.***

    On SFC

    There’s the Strong (Sassy) Black Woman stereotype to consider, too. I’m 21, and the expectations in my generation are outrageous. If you aren’t a fierce bitch, you’re a WEAK bitch (but you’re always a bitch). “Black women don’t need nobody. We some bad chicks. We can raise our own babies widdout the man helped make ‘em. We can deal with wha’ever bullshit de white media dishes out about us. We can deal wid living in a white patriarchal society and deal with the sexism in the Afro-American community at the same time!”

    All that fun stuff. Its become culturally acceptable for black women to be treated like mules and for men to bounce on their obligations because “we’re so much stronger, and tougher than every other woman.”

    On the business with poor Trayvon–not surprised at the whitewash surrounding his murder at all. I’m mad, but I’m not surprised. When a white woman or man is murdered, the media goes crazy for months–YEARS even. But when a person of color dies, especially one who’s murder is obviously racially motivated, the whole thing blows over in a week. Troy Davis’ execution should still be generating outrage, but he couldn’t rap, sing, play sports, tell jokes, or act the part of stereotypical scary black man in action movies, so his life didn’t mean shit.

  63. When I think of SFC, here’s who I actually think of first: the Pharaoh’s wife (mother to Ramses, adoptive mother to Moses, only credited as “The Queen” – she doesn’t even have a name! Argh!) in the 1998 film “The Prince of Egypt.” She’s barely got any screen time, but the way she interacts with her sons reveals a very quiet strength, and I’ve always admired her.

    I absolutely agree that the SFC is killing our understanding of the many different forms a woman’s strength can take, a strength that can happen at any age. About a year ago, my paternal grandmother (aged 83) lost an almost-decade-long battle with multiple myeloma. Following her diagnosis (and a life projection of 6-12 months), through medicine and an iron will, she sent the cancer into remission for years. She was using a walker, and then she wasn’t. She continued to fight when the cancer reasserted itself, undergoing dialysis and other treatments multiple times a week. Through it all, she retained her humor, her wit and her warmth. Did she go out and kick vampires in the face? No. But I don’t think I’ve ever personally known anyone stronger, male or female, of any age.

    Also to comment on the other thread running through these comments – killing someone because you are offended by how they look is wrong. Period.

  64. Well, I’m new to this so I hope I’m leaving this comment at the right spot, for “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Stereotype.” Anyway, thanks for that. I’ve long been bored with the badass, Electra, Ripley, etc type. Yes, Ripley came on the scene and changed a lot. I was glad to see her. But even Ellen had her quiet moments, and if anyone remembers, she was basically forced to fight, and never expected to win. But anyway, I love your comments on the strength of women enduring some shit that would destroy someone else. We do it all the time. Sadly, because of the cultural prevalence of women receiving shit, it’s what we’re trained for simply by living here in this (and many other) cultures. Although we did not choose all that crap, we deserve accolades for getting through it! Thanks for saying it.

  65. More on the SFC: I’m reading “Damned” by Chuck Pahliunuk. If you haven’t read it, a slain 13 year old girl is damned, and it covers her adventures in hell, with the message being that hell is actually a place (albeit a stinky, ugly, dangerous place) to reflect upon your life and how you screwed up. Up to near the end I loved her: she was NOT a SFC in the cliched sense. She was 13 and needy and confused and funny, but she made it through hell’s landscape by using her brain. Her brain! However, Chuck is pretty macho, as you may know, and now near the end he’s got her fighting and maiming, because, having realized that being thought of as the smart one has failed her (that point right there makes it pretty clear the book was written by a man, and oh so telling of our male-centric culture: Smart? Let’s prove that a smart female is not so good!), she has “transformed” from the person she used to be–slightly pudgy, smart rich kid–to the person she can choose to be: a mean bad ass (she tears the mustache off of Adolf Hitler and sends him into even more exile in hell). So her “growth” is to grow into a lean, mean fighting machine. I love Pahliunuk in spite of his violent streak, because-dammit!-his writing is so good, but after reading your post I saw the way he remade her is as an SFC, as if that were her only option for change, and got rid of her best quality, her brains. Jeez. It’s everywhere.

  66. You know. I’ve read though several comments about GRRM’s characterization of women and how Sansa, Arya and the others are thought of and I’ve come to one conclusion. Either most are just commenting on HBO’s Game of Thrones and not GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire … or most have coloured bias and are not seeing things clearly.

    Arya:

    She is NOT just a tomboy with swords who hacks and slashes her way across Westeros but is in fact strong in mind and body. This girl who is 7 years old at the beginning of the novels uses her mind in almost every situation to survive and very little physical prowess as she has none. I do believe that those making comments about her should honestly read the other four novels. I just don’t see Arya as the “chick with the sword” otherwise she would be on Brienne’s path and not a Faceless one. :)

    Sansa:

    She is written as a slightly airheaded girly girl and this also is not all she is. By the time she reaches the Fingers she is NOT the typical strong character where she picks up swords and tries to act more tomboyish to be strong but instead starts to learn and grow. By the time she reaches the fingers she is very strong and exhibits a fountain of strength. I don’t think one should be blinded by how someone acts as an 11 year old and to have them stuck in this stereotype for the rest of the series (her life).

    I’m guessing that most who have made reference to GRRM’s female characters in GoT’s have only watched the HBO series. Remember that GRRM did not write the presentation of any of these characters on the television show and to take the highlights of several thousand pages as the end all be all of these very fleshed out characters isn’t really fair.

    —–

    As far as the Zimmerman / Martin part … all I have to say is that I wish those who occupy the same colour spectrum as I do were not such asshats … it makes it quite hard on those of us who are not and a very conscious of our behavior within society.

  67. Ben,

    Something you may need to understand is that everyone has a bias when they consume media. It’s just a question of what that bias is. So I’m not sure what you mean by “coloured bias”, since you’re referring to a gender issue, but I do think you need to remember that you’re viewing ASOIAF through the lens of your own race and gender. Other people, with a different race or gender, may (actually, do, as you’ve noted) view it differently.

    Those other perceptions are as valid as yours. Probably moreso, given that they’re mostly being made by women talking about female characters; women generally have a better understanding of what it means to be a woman in fantasy, in literature, in a patriarchy, etc., than men do. So keep in mind your own biases, when you complain about the biases of others.

    And keep in mind that a common example of sexism is for men to tell women they don’t know what they’re talking about, and to “correct” them, on things those women actually understand perfectly well. Especially things like sexism. Yeah, don’t do that.

    As a side-note, I’ve been hearing complaints about the depiction of women in ASOIAF for years, personally, long before the TV show was even thought of. I’m pretty sure this is not a new thing.

  68. Ah. Yes, I was referring to coloured/colored as in … http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bias … didn’t mean anything race related in the slightest bit. :) Something like colored judgement … bias by way of experiences. Sorry for the confusion.

    Yeah. Was’t REALLY trying to correct anyone but was in fact just giving my opinion based on what I read and the discussion I had with my wife prior to posting. Reading what was said it appeared that the comments were made on how these characters were portrayed in the television show only or at he very least just the first book.

    Their opinions are valid and I was reading the comments of all … it wasn’t directed toward one person or another. And the whole correcting women about how they feel or what they’ve experienced is quite frankly not in my standard behavior and never has been. I wouldn’t tell a chinese person what it feels like to be chinese, what a black person feels like to be black or anything else I hadn’t personally experience and well .. quite frankly can’t experience. I was just giving opinion based on what was written in the comments which appear to not take into account the growth the characters appeared to progress through. I suppose it is just a case of the only valid opinion that will be accepted that I could make is how Eddard would feel … but that seems to box me and say I can never empathize or even try to understand what someone outside of my gender and race could experience. Sad really. And I’m not could have a further discussion if my opinion is automatically invalid. hmm.

    Don’t know what else to say.

    cheers.

  69. Thanks for pointing me toward Women, Warriors, and Gender Policing, it was a good read!
    However, that and this post have me wondering what your opinions are of the femme fatale (FF) trope. In this post, you point out that a major problem with the SFC is that it reinforces the notion that the only way to be strong is to emulate ‘male behaviors’ (i.e. cleaving through enemies with a blood-soaked sword because you spent your last pulse-rifle round breaking that sonnuvabitch’s teeth). And that the myriad ways in which women can be strong in their own ways are thereby trivialized and discounted, thus reinforcing existing sexist trends.

    The FF on the other hand tends to be aware of the stereotypes associated with her gender, and then enjoys using them to ensnare and/or ruin her male counterparts/adversaries/prey. Is this an example of feminine strength, displaying how women can overcome their opponents on their own terms? Or is the FF just another idealized vision of sexualized femininity that reinforces stereotypes; a woman who knows that society views her as an object, and is not only okay with that, but honestly wouldn’t want it any other way?

  70. I have read the first three novels from aSoIaF, and Sansa’s chapters were always the ones I really wished to skip. Because first she was bitchy, while in the second and third books, she went through hell.
    It was like, either that:
    a) first she was a bitch, now with severe traumas, she will be redeemed in the eyes of the readers
    b) she was a bitch, so she deserves those kicks
    I shall repeat it again: despite of the sibling rivalry, she could have been a generally nice, sweet girl. She was not. I know, that this is a medieval world, which is really unfair to women… or nearly to anybody, who is not a healthy noble man. I also think, that Martin is a nice guy, who has no hidden agenda against women – yet, I think that the feminine characters… well, the large part, what he wrote about them, or how he wrote about them, it just came out wrong. It happens even with the best writers.
    Regarding Sansa, she frequently smirked at Arya, when her sister sucked at being feminine. Yeah, I know, that there were greater expactations for women at medieval times, and people were not open-minded at all. But I cannot remember one moment, when she were a little bit supportive of her sister. Or of her family. In the first book, most of her personality consisted of “awww, Joffrey is Prince Charming, and not a complete douche, instead, anybody else are”. (Which is more than seeing the world as a fairy tale.) In my opinion, she was a fairly flat character.
    Not that aSoIaF are not full of flat characters, mostly villains, who are obstacles, rather, than characters. Martin is a magnificent writer, because he made me read all of the three novels, without throwing the books to the corner of my room – and I am fairly sensitive of flat villains. Yes, there are intriguing antagonists, like Littlefinger and Tywin… but there are complete, utter assholes, like Viserys, Joffrey, Cersei, Gregor Clegane, the Bloody Mummers, Ramsay Bolton, Caster, and Lord Tarly. They consists of solely negative characteristics.
    When I watched the first season of GoT with my friend, he was surprised, when I said, that they made Viserys and Cersei more likeable. Because Viserys is in the TV-series is a creep, but thanks to Harry Lloyd, he is more pathetic, and therefore a little bit more rounded, than that abusive monster, who was Beta Joffrey in the books (and yeah, I liked the irony, that essentially Westeros stucked with a king with the very same personality of Viserys, even if he never managed to regain his throne, but still). I know, that Cersei will be a POV in the fourth novel, so, I skip her now.
    But really, are the rest of those characters more than negative attributes turned up to eleven? Joffrey is pure evil, Gregor is pure evil, we only read about their attrocities… and we read about them many times. Hell, the Lord of the Rings got his fair amount of kicks for black-and-white characters… but Saruman, Gollum, Denethor are three-dimensional, well-rounded characters compared to Joffrey and the others. Maybe Martin’s intended moral was “there are no worse monster than human”, but still… sometimes I felt, that Joffrey and co have a rightful place in D&D drow(!) society (again, Martin is incomparably better writer, than thos of game literature). And do not get me started on the slavers of the third book… they are so over-the-top in sadism, that they are just tasteless (and the character of the slave seller is played for laughs… he is essentially a charicature).
    And sometimes the difference between a real character and a stereotype is that how well-rounded is said character.
    Okay, sorry for the off. However, I am not a little bit fed up with the notion, that GRRM is the king of fantasy, and those who do not like everything in his works, just do not understand it fully. GRRM is a nice, sympathetic guy and a good writer… but his work is not flawless. That is okay. But then, why shall I endure for the umpteenth time, that if I do not like something about his novels, the problem is with me?
    (And because I do not wish to derail the topic, this will be my last post regarding the characters of Martin.)

  71. Ben,

    There’s a simple way for you to voice your opinion on this without “mansplaining” or “whitesplaining” — just don’t assume. If there’s something you’re not sure about, like whether the people talking about something have read the book or not, ask. And since your own opinions are “colored” by your masculinity, acknowledge your own bias and consider how that impacts the way you see Sansa, etc. This comment thread is a conversation between commenters as much as it is a place for people to respond to what I’ve written. (The comment thread on “Dreaming Awake” isn’t; notice I didn’t respond to anyone there. Just didn’t feel conversational about that one.)

    It also helps if you do address specific people, because then you’re not generalizing too much.

    And since I’m not talking on the Dreaming Awake thread — I’m sure that communications officers on real ships do a lot more than just answer and send hails. (Just like I’m sure captains on real ships don’t sit around and point which way the ship should go, go off on dangerous missions, etc.) But in TOS Star Trek, all Uhura did, aside from the occasional time she got to kiss Kirk or sing with Spock, was answer the phone.

  72. Sabine,

    I think the femme fatale isn’t a stereotype yet; I don’t think we as a society assume all or most women are femme fatales (yet). It’s still just an archetype. But I think it’s an archetype that’s rooted in men’s fears of women, and their (irrational) perception that women’s sexuality is a weapon intended to cause them harm. They think this even of women who aren’t out to “harm” them, and often react with anger and fear when a woman triggers their desire by her actions or just by her existence. So naturally they would fear a woman who does intentionally use her sexuality as a weapon. I think it’s telling that nearly all the famous femme fatales in literature — the ones who created the archetype — were written by men.

    In the Inheritance Trilogy I tried really hard to avoid that archetype, because it might not be a stereotype yet, but I do think it’s a bit of a cliche. -_- I don’t think I succeeded — in retrospect it occurs to me that Shahar Arameri (the original one) was essentially that, although she was less “using her sexuality to manipulate” than she was obsessive and stalkery. Also, the younger Shahar edges close, with Sieh (although she genuinely loved him, so I don’t know if that makes a difference). But I took care to avoid it with Scimina and Yeine, both of whom are blatantly sexual women, but who don’t use their sexuality to manipulate.

  73. I haven’t read all of every comment here about Game of Thrones, since I’m trying to avoid spoilers. I haven’t read it. I’ve watched the first season.

    I can see that all of the female characters are strong, in their own way. As I said before, they know what they want and they go after it. (It may turn out to be a bad thing to have or a bad route to take to get it, but that doesn’t matter. That’s what makes a compelling story.) However, I never said I particularly _liked_ any of them. Are we supposed to like these characters, the female and males ones both? I’m trying not to get too invested in any of them, since some of them have shown themselves to have very short lifespans or to be capable of doing really despicable things.

    Which is not to say I don’t enjoy watching them and that I don’t have my favorites. They’re just.. most of them are not good people. (Judging by my personal and societal standards at any rate.)

  74. Really enjoyed this article. One of my favorite shows is The Great Queen SeonDeok. The main-character-heroine ends up in a war situation, but she’s actually horrible at fighting. She saves a lot of people’s lives, though, because she won’t give up on getting out alive, won’t give up on others, and manages to inspire them to keep going. In short, she can’t fight, but she has *amazing* leadership skills (which later enable her to become Queen; it’s a historical drama). I’m pretty sure in US show, she would have had to be the best fighter to Make A Point, but I loved that she was able to be strong/awesome in some *other* way. The show’s full of women who are strong in a variety of ways — which also made for a broad, interesting cast and awesome, epic storytelling.

  75. Very interesting & thought-provoking rant, N.K. And I’ve also enjoyed reading the discussion that followed. Thank you!

  76. In regards to ASOIAF and how I see it.

    Sansa is one of the most sympathetic characters of the book while her story starts somewhat unsympathetically. That changes in near the end of GOT. And she becomes strong in her own ways, and highly sympathetic. And of course supportive of her family. And she does think about Arya positively in some of the next books. Of course she, like all characters of the books still have some flaws.

    Arya starts as a perceptive, tomboy, potrayed rather sympathetically but in later book her story takes a turn for the darker. In general GRRM tries to twist storylines and characters. Most often for the darker but at times the character does discover something about themselves and become in some ways stronger or wiser.

    Brienne is a strong woman but she manages unlike most characters who are written to be a streotype and lack depth she seems like a real woman to me and feminine, her own vurnerabilities, desires. I understand what drives her. She is admirable for being perharps the truest knight in the series and seems like a better character that similar male characters of different fictional series.

    In relation to this discussion of strong women, I think Brienne manages to be a character who works as a strong woman without feeling cliche or stereotypical.

    Samwell Tarly is often described by some as a feminine male character and he is portrayed rather sympathetically and Westeros opposition against him is portrayed unsympathetically.

    Asha Greyjoy is portrayed as the sanest and wisest of the Ironborn claimants of the Ironborn leader position.

    As for Catelyn, I was surprised when I saw others reactions towards her and learned that she is hated by some before her uncat phase. Perharps some readers who overreact in her not liking Jon. Some react wrongly in my view unfavorably to the fact that GRRM has her be in favor of peace while Robb is in favor of war. In favor of trading her children rather than seeing girls of less worth than a man, or wanting to advice Robb than staying at home. Or mostly for her two controversial decisions which I agree are controversial. I think she is a good tragic character and she was a strong character though not martial and also feels like a real person and a woman to me.

    And so on, so on. Personally I think most characters of ASOIAF are rather good. Well developed with depth in them. And so are the women. I don’t think the way GRRM writes his major female characters is particularly problematic with perhaps some few exceptions. Although there are possibly some exceptions with his male characters as well where a few of his male characters might not be as good as the majority of his characters. Some of his villains in general are over the top evil, I don’t have a problem with that but I understand others who do.

    In conclusion I would recommend ASOIAF to someone who likes good female characters or wants good female characters.

  77. Ms. Jemisin, I don’t know where to begin. Let me start off by saying I am a Conservative. I know, I know, I’m a racist who hates women but loves big oil and banks. I hate animals and I love guns. This is how I feel I am stereotyped after having read just a few of your posts. Now, here is what I feel about you (again after having read not only this post but several others), you are a very intelligent woman who is brilliant with words, who is gifted with the ability to eloquently translate thought to paper, screen, and page. You have worked tirelessly to achieve tremendous success. In many ways you are a pioneer for black authors who aspire to become published in the fantasy genre. You have proven it is not only possible to become a published black author in the field, but that it is also possible to stay around for a while. :-)

    I have also learned that despite your accomplishments, despite your legions of fans, despite your followers of this very blog who applaud your every word and your every belief no matter how illogical or blatantly racist it may be, you live your life defending the fact that you are black. Along the way you deride Conservatives opinions as simple minded and well “racist.” You may think that you have Conservatives and Liberals all figured out and you very likely are a “Liberal”, excuse me, Democrat, but you should know that the party you align yourself with views you as a vote and a donation. Nothing more. While you likely support the President of the United States for standing up and saying “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon” black babies and their mothers were being gunned down by black teenagers in Chicago. If this President is truly interested in helping the black community why would he not wield his power and authority to aide Chicago in cracking down on the black on black violence there? The problem isn’t white people holding down black people, the problem is that black people with influence never, ever do anything to break the mindset that black children have no chance of being successful because the system favors white people. In fact, black “liberals” with power and influence use their position to remind blacks that the system doesn’t benefit them, that we need to “change” it all to make it fairer for them. The truth is that the system, a system that Democrats continue to support, is designed to foster a dependency of blacks on the government. The Trayvon Martin shooting is perfect example of how this agenda is pushed. Look at all of the misinformation that was reported by the media in the weeks after it occurred. The 911 calls were edited to foster the belief that Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon because he was black. Then, as I said above, the President comments that “Trayvon would look like his son” which reminds everyone that it’s black versus whites. Not to mention the media reported, and you Ms. Jemisin insist still, Zimmerman is white. How you can call a man who is brown skinned “white” I’ll never know. Although under this belief I guess our President, whose mother is white and father is black, is also white?

    Last thing I want to add is from Reuters. I encourage everyone to take some time to read it. It comes six weeks after the shooting and it reveals the truth of who George Zimmerman is. Who his parents are. Who his wife is. Who his friends are. And the events that occurred in his neighborhood prior to Trayvon being shot and killed. If you think the media doesn’t have an agenda after having read this, I’m sorry.
    (Reuters) – A pit bull named Big Boi began menacing George and Shellie Zimmerman in the fall of 2009. [snipped by Nora -- Adam, posting the entire article violates Fair Use under US Copyright law. Not sure if you knew that, but if you could instead send me a link to the article you're referencing, an excerpt, or an actual reference, I'd be happy to include that in your comment.]

  78. Adam,

    You seem to be making a whoooole lot of assumptions about my beliefs, my beliefs about your beliefs, and black people in general, for whom you seem to be treating me as an official representative. In the process you’re attributing statements to me that I’ve never said, made statements about me that couldn’t be further from the truth, and just generally rambled on a bit. It’s hard to have a conversation when you do that.

    So if I can suggest instead that you ask specific questions about actual things I’ve said, then I’m happy to try and address those.

  79. I’ve rambled? I’m making assumptions? You make assumptions about Conservatives, as you did here:

    “Conservatives love Sarah Palin because she shoots things, and Ann Coulter because she thinks women should never ask for help, and should tote guns (and vote the way their husbands tell them). We celebrate images like this one, which has been all over my Facebook feed this week. We warn that the Republican “war on women” will “awaken the sleeping giant””

    You link to an article that besmirches Sarah Palin as a vile, disgusting hunter of wolves and another article that portrays Ann Coulter in an equally negative light. You also say that I, a Conservative, love Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter because of those two reasons. That’s an assumption, is it not? And a rash assumption is it not?

    You also make the assumption of why George Zimmerman was concerned with Trayvon Martin’s presence in the neighborhood he lived in with his wife. You say it was a racist bias toward blacks. You make this assumption without ever having spoken with him. Without taking time to know him. And then you insist that Zimmerman is white. Even though he is half white and half Mexican. Does this not mean Barack Obama is white? His mother was white and his father black?

    Listen, I should have approached a different tact in discussing these disagreements with you. I apologize. I look forward to discussing this with you further. Thank you. :-)

  80. Adam,

    Do you think wolf-hunting is vile and disgusting? Because I didn’t say that, and neither did the article I linked. Do you think Ann Coulter is vile and disgusting? Again, you’re not speaking to anything I’ve actually said.

    I did say that conservatives (when you capitalize Conservatives, are you talking about the political parties? Please note that I’m not very familiar with the politics of other countries; I’m only speaking about American lower-case-c conservatives here) love Palin and Coulter. Maybe the word “love” is hyperbolic, but invitations and financial support certainly constitute political love, and I don’t see Rachel Maddow getting cushy pundit gigs on Fox News or repeated invitations to speak at CPAC. But if you prefer, I’ll amend my statement in the post: “The vast majority of American conservatives love Sarah Palin…” Better?

    And I’ve made no assumptions as to why Zimmerman was concerned about Trayvon Martin. As I said in the post, this is irrelevant. I also noted in the post that it didn’t matter whether Zimmerman was white (although he is; his mother Peruvian, not Mexican, and she’s a white Peruvian). Again, please engage with what I’ve actually said, not what you think I’m saying or want me to say.

    As for Barack Obama, I have no idea why you’re bringing him up, but since you asked, I think he’s whatever he chooses to identify himself as. That’s black, so he’s black.

  81. Your opening post was derisive of Republicans in this country. You linked to articles that were one sided in their approach to the issue. Anyone who were to actually read them would come away with a less than favorable opinion of Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. If you’re going to write a post about how women are portrayed in fiction that is fine, but why do you have to reference two Republican women, female soldiers and George Zimmerman? You’re just another in a long line of successful Americans who believe the consumers of your garbage should think like you do and when we don’t we should be cast as ignorant and uncultured. Good day, Ms. Jemisin.

  82. Adam,

    Oh, sorry — I thought you wanted to have a conversation. If all you wanted to do was rage at me because you don’t like my tone, I wish you’d said so at the outset; I could’ve saved myself some free time. Ah, well.

  83. @Adam “You’re just another in a long line of successful Americans who believe the consumers of your garbage should think like you do”

    Hmm… when I bought Ms. Jemisin’s book on Amazon, I don’t remember having to fill in a questionnaire about my views on US politics before I was taken to the download page. There was no foreword telling me what I should think in order to be allowed to read it. I didn’t feel that her book preached any political agenda, nor was I forced to visit this site and read her opinions, let alone agree with them.

    It seems pretty clear to me that her fiction is separate from her blogging, and in fact it’s you who have a problem with authors expressing views you disagree with on their personal websites.

  84. About Trayvon Martin and Zimmerman: that this young man was murdered is horrific, no ifs, ands or buts.

    If I might, though… when I lived in a major city on the East Coast (not NYC), I saw a *lot* of tension between local black folks and Latin American immigrants. There were incidents of gang violence – but propagated by adults – on both “sides.” (I’m kind of a both/and person, and hate reducing things to x vs. y. Anyway…)

    I knew local black ministers and churchgoers who were very concerned about the hostility felt in the black community toward Asian and Latino “outsiders” – that there was racism within the local black community.

    I’m white, so maybe I don’t have much leeway to be writing about these things, here or elsewhere. But I believe they exist – and further, that there are stereotypes held by people of *all* colors and ethnic backgrounds.

    Do I think white racism and racist attitudes toward people of color *and* people of other ethnicities is prevalent in the US? Yes.

    However [pause for breath], I don’t think any human being on the face of this earth is exempt from – at very least – the *possibility* of having prejudices/being prejudiced toward others. It can be about money and social standing (aka class) or color or religion or education or gender or sexual orientation and God knows what all kinds of potentially lethal combinations of the above (plus more than I can think of right now – fill in the blanks, right?)

    I think Zimmerman is Hispanic (or Latino). When I 1st saw his photo, I was amazed that the media was characterizing him as “white.” He’s dark-skinned enough to be treated badly by a lot of white people, believe me… and yet, that doesn’t mean he is *not* prejudiced toward black people… which, along with the “looking for trouble” attitude + gun in hand = a very tragic end for Trayvon Martin.

    *

    About “strong women”: I don’t know if anyone commenting here is familiar with James Michener’s historical novels – he was very popular during the 1960s-late 80s. He was notable – in a bad way, imo – for his reliance on “strong women” tropes. He ran this into the ground – not that his male characters were nuanced, but oh my – the women were ALL “strong.” Every single last one (unless they were meant to be “bad,” somehow).

    It got to the point that I had to quit reading him because his characters were so incredibly predictable – and one-dimensional. (I’m a woman, and his “strong women” shtick got to me.)

    But then, if you look back at some of his earlier work (Tales of the South Pacific and his 1st hit novel, Hawaii), you’ll also see some pretty nasty attitudes toward people of color. I think there is a direct relationship between that and his later reliance on “strong women” characters, actually. But that’s a whole blog post in itself!

    Re. “strong” characters (male or female): I guess what hits home for me is strength of character and moral/ethical conviction – as well as compassion. Anyone can brandish weapons and throw fightin’ words around – that’s not “strength,” it’s (imo) macho showoff-ism.

    I really hate the way many writers (Andrew O’Hehir at Salon.com, I’m talking to you!) seem to want to stereotype women characters – in O’Hehir’s case, that means that he keeps insisting that Katniss Everdeen is “coded lesbian” because she bow-hunts to feed her family and doesn’t fall for either of the guys who *might* conceivably become “love interests.”

    Hmm… the latter sounds a good deal like Real Life to me, and as for the archery, I just… [speechless], because I live in a mountainous area and a lot of women hunt; some are bow-hunters. That makes them [drumroll] women who hunt, not lesbians or non-gender-normative whatevers.

    Ms. Jemison, I love the way you hit back at stereotypes in your novels, and I so appreciate the dialogue here. Thank you for allowing us to bat ideas around.

    [off to finish Kingdom of the Gods now...]

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