[personal profile] elizabethmccoy
With apologies to Admiral Akbar...

Ahem. Anyway. I was reading some stuff on blogs, and it triggered me rambling (or maybe ranting) on my personal journal(s), and it's something that's actually got half a chance of being Meaningful and Authorial, so I figured I'd stick it here, too.

Original Subject: Interesting stuff about writing "for boys"...

Which can be generalized -- and I think this is accurate -- into writing "for people."

the complaint that many boys don't read fiction with girl protagonists can be addressed by the same solution that addresses the irritation of many female readers who object to all the shallow shopaholics (or clever manic pixies or wise earth mothers or all the other panoply of girly stereotypes): create a girl who kicks butt.

That's a good start, but only a start.

Let me suggest there's another side to it: it matters, much more than is generally acknowledged, exactly how butt is kicked and how the act of butt-kicking is connected to the protagonist. If you read the classic "boys books" with vast amounts of butt-kicking, like Treasure Island, Captain Blood, Beau Geste, Captains Courageous, Huckleberry Finn, or Have Spacesuit Will Travel, there's a surprising amount about how things are done, detail by detail.

I'm looking at this and looking at a Girl Who Kicks Butt, Korra -- and what is something that gets praised about the series? The moves. They don't just do flaily-arms (except for humor) and random zots of elements that fill the air while someone does fwip-fwip-fwip vanish-and-appear stuff, like much combat-anime has. That style certainly has its advantages -- mostly in animation-speed, betcha -- but we have our jaws hanging open when we see the fluid attack/defend stuff going on in Korra.

Basically, not only is butt kicked, but it's kicked with loving detail and attention to accuracy. And I know I'm eatin' it up!

I think this guy may be on to something.

*makes notes to self*

I think the signal that is shutting out more kids than anything else is the one that says Your relationships are important, your accomplishments are not.

And here... I think it's worth considering that the "traditional girl" is "traditionally taught" that relationships are accomplishments. Which is an interesting thing, because it's both an interesting re-framing of why "girls" eat up relationship-heavy books (they are books about accomplishments!), and it's also a trap. (Please insert a mental GIF of Admiral Ackbar, realizing that the Death Star is armed and operational. It's a trap!)

Why is it a trap?

Because relationships take two (or more) people working at them, and a lot of girls seem to have somehow absorbed the idea that all the relationship work is for her. I dunno about guys. But I've been on a couple of communities and... it's mostly female-socialized people doing the whole "how do I save/change this relationship?" thing. Okay, some of this is the "guys don't talk about relationships in public" thing, probably, but what few guys are talking about stuff? It's... pretty different in tone. In focus. Guys, it seems from my limited experience, are interested in how to start a relationship, but don't seem to feel the same need to "fix" one if there's a problem. At least, not so the relationship is an accomplishment, right there, that you can put on the shelf with a gold star on it.

Hop over to Bujold, perhaps; there's a scene in... Komarr, I think? (If not there, A Civil Campaign.) Where Ekaterin is talking about how she wanted to participate in the "tapestry" of marriage and children. The traditional Vor wife, the traditional Vor family. The creation of a relationship. As an accomplishment. Except her supposed partner in this was Tien, an emotionally abusive jerk whose best quality was "he never hit [her]." And no matter what she did, she could not, single-handedly, turn that relationship around.

Interestingly, she then threw her heart and soul into things she could do. Alone. Accomplishments.

No wonder Ekaterin's proposal to Miles, in the middle of the Council of Counts, hits a serious home-run for some. It's both doing -- it's foiling a plot! -- and it's finalizing a relationship as an accomplishment. (After all, it's Miles, who is willing to make things into team efforts all the time; heck, the problem is not being conscripted into his plots!) And it's also no wonder why it torques off a few readers: it's once again elevating a relationship (which must, by definition, include someone else) to the status of accomplishment (which is defined, in this context, a solitary thing that brings a knowing of competency).

Wander over to RomanceLandia... Relationship As Accomplishment all over the place, no? With a mandated Happily Ever After to put the gold star on and tuck it onto the mantle? And all the consequential (hope I'm using that term correctly...) arguments over whether Romances are denying agency to the women in them, or granting them agency.

Now, I suspect that Mr. Barnes there would not object to the concept of an accomplishment that is a team effort. And a relationship can certainly be framed in that manner! But... accomplishment has this past tense sort of nuance implicit in it. It is something you accomplished (alone or with others). It's done. You may have to do it again tomorrow, but you go to bed and it's done. That tree is chopped, those 16 tons are dug, that Action is Completed.

(Hmm. Compare and contrast: laundry (one never-ending task), washing dishes (another), and mowing the lawn (another). Answers? No, I don't have any answers there. It's midnight! My brain is shutting down now! But compare and contrast attitudes there.)

Meanwhile, relationships. Do you Accomplish a Relationship and then go to bed, pleased that it was a job well done? ...probably not if you want to stay in a relationship for the long haul, betcha.

Am I saying that Relationships should never be the designated Accomplishment in the story? Something that can be discussed in detail and give secondhand competency? Noooooo. There's too much power in the trope to dismiss it lightly. And yet... there's a trap in the trope, that requires equal gravity of thought.

I will have thinkythoughts about this next time I start writing something.

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