Gender Themes in My Writing

I have been interested in writing this article for some time, but never could find an appropriate lead in to it. Last time my illustrator and I talked, he told me of an incident that seemed an appropriate enough way to bring it up.

My illustrator has gone through some tough times. He just got out of a bad relationship, is getting swamped at school, and is generally not having the enjoyment out of life that all of us crave. He still has not lost his sense of humor, and recently found this picture which not only explained his desires and fears for a new relationship, but also gave him a much needed laugh.

The Husky Story

My illustrator posted this picture for a quick laugh on a forum he attends. Unfortunately, someone took it the wrong way. The first comment was a three post long rant by a user who, for whatever reason, took it as sexist.

‘Why does it only focus on the brother, the ex and the father? Why is it women are only measured by the men in their lives? Do you think women are property?’

My friend was understandably quite upset. As for me? I was both confused and saddened. You see, I am a very passionate supporter of women’s rights, and have been for many years. To take such an innocent joke picture featuring a bunch of dogs and pick it apart like this doesn’t do the movement any favors, a movement I have a deep personal connection to.

I have been blessed to know such extraordinary women. My grandmother taught me how to gut a fish, and my experiences fishing with her are among my favorite memories of childhood. My stepmother served three tours in the middle east when I wouldn’t be able to survive even one. And last but not least, one of my best friends in the world, good old mom.

My mother worked her fingers to the bone as a doctor in the United States Air Force. While saving lives with radiation oncology, she eventually climbed the ranks to become a full blown Colonel, all while raising two kids as a single mother. Hell, she didn’t even wait for my stepdad to propose to her, instead taking the initiative herself. My stepdad was a wreck for a while, but with her help, he was able to kick his alcoholism and has now been sober for over a year.

When you know such incredible women, you can’t help but be a little passionate about women’s rights, and be saddened when a few bad apples sully the reputation of such an important movement. Knowing these women has been one of the best parts of my manhood, and to see them get marginalized for nothing more than their gender is something that would upset anyone. These experiences also have an effect on one’s writing, whether or not you are aware of it at the time.

For those of you who are unaware, there is this little thing called the Bechdel Test. Originally only used with films, it has since been adapted for use on books and videogames as a way to see how inclusive a story is with the female of the species. It consists of three questions.

1, Does a story contain at least two women?

2, Do they talk at one point?

3, Do they talk about something other than a man?

There are many stories that adhere to this standard. Psycho, The Guns of Navarone, Alien & Aliens, and so forth. But one of the troubling trends is how infrequent these examples are. Do I think it is due to any malice on the part of the storyteller? No, not really. Sometimes adhering to this standard could actually be to a story’s detriment. Stand By Me for example works so well due to its all male cast, as the film recaptures the feeling of boyhood prior to getting interested in girls. Likewise, some unexpected movies actually pass this test. The original Friday the 13th for example, half the cast consists of women, and they meet regularly to talk about a variety of topics other than boys. Doesn’t mean it is a groundbreaking film for women.

Honestly, there are a lot worse things that women have to deal with, but equal representation in the media does help. Being interested in these issues, I decided to take a look at my own writing to see if it adhered to this standard. To my pleasant surprise, it does.

City of Wolves for example, both of the lead characters are female. Jordan Childs and detective Jennifer Steele talk many times, and are much more interested in doing what it takes to find a serial killer than swoon over boys. The final act goes even further, when Jordan is captured by the killer and Steele leads the others to rescue her. Ironically, Jordan gets out of the situation without any help, and the two women unite to rescue Jordan’s younger brother from the madman’s clutches. Two females teaming up to rescue a male. That is something you don’t see that often.

In my latest script, outdoorsy Nancy Satler strikes up an unlikely friendship with the young Tina Meyer in the aftermath of armageddon.The two form a special two sister kind of relationship, finding great comfort with each other in a crumbling world. Their friendship eventually comes to a tragic end amidst the protagonist’s complete mental collapse.

As for Zhyx, the saga of the Great Red Wyrm, it passes best of all.

Major-Celice-Hulayen-Arietta

Major-Celice-Hulayen-Arietta

Professor-Graga-Blondie-Kelpla

Professor-Graga-Blondie-Kelpla

Saar'Jya

Saar’Jya

My main cast is pretty evenly drawn, with a male lead, two supporting male characters, and three supporting female characters. The female characters are all shown to be strong, authoritative and capable. Major Celice is this story’s equivalent of Han Solo. She has been a soldier all her life, and is one of the most lethal, unhesitating, and stubborn characters in the cast. Professor Blondie is the very definition of an overachiever, with careers in teaching, archeology, history and many more I have not figured out yet. Saar’Jya, a deity and the Matriarch of all dragonkind birthed the entire legacy of the dragon species, and remains one of their most revered figures, in spite of her excessive snark.

These three not only meet and talk many times, but they are instrumental in getting the story started. Every great story has their version of Hagrid bursting through the door of a seaside cabin to meet a young harry Potter, or Gandalf stopping by the Shire to see his friend Frodo. These three are to Zhyx what Gandalf was to Frodo.

Celice knows the world is going to end, and spends much time talking with Blondie how to stop it. It is then that the two come up with a risky solution to their little problem. They need firepower. They need something strong, something big, and something that has half a chance of beating the unspeakable horror that bears down on their tiny world. Something like a dragon.

With their mutual wizard friend Sparks, they scale one of Tygan’s highest peaks to summon the Matriarch from the divine beyond, and ask her if there is a wyrm who maybe, just maybe, will join them on their quest. Saar’Jya is intrigued by their little plan, and provides them with the name of the dragon who will become Tygan’s last great hope. She tells them of Zhyx, where he is, and just what they can do to bring him out of his slumber.

Make no mistakes. This is Zhyx’s story. It is his journey from a cruel tyrant to a brave savior. It is his emotional trip from living a sad, bitter and lonely life to a life of adventure, selflessness and courage. But had it not been for the supporting characters taking the chance, Zhyx may well have spent the rest of his life rotting atop his collection of treasure. For that, Celice, Blondie and Saar’Jya deserve special recognition.

I will always be passionate about women’s rights, and I still do my part to chip away at the plights that plague women. I may not be able to pick up a sign and picket. I may not have enough money to donate. But I can write. I can write roles for girls and women and say ‘No matter what anyone tells you, you can do this just as well as anyone can.’

I write that because it is the truth, and truth is what the best stories are made of.

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