As I’ve considered thinking about Wednesday’s post about the way various women are portrayed in the book “Destiny,” I started wondering what I had hoped to accomplish with the post. After all, it’s not like I expect future authors of the Rogue Angel series to read my post and try to improve the series’ portrayal of women. I simply don’t have that level of influence.
In many ways, I think I was engaging in a bit of navel-gazing, though I consider it much-needed navel-gazing. You see, I’ve never picked up a book and given much thought to how many female characters there were, how those characters interacted, how they were portrayed, or what other notions about women were being reinforced — implicitly or explicitly.
Having spent many months learning more about feminist thought and how society perceives and treats women from fantastic bloggers like Personal Failure, Fannie, Ana, and Mmy, I felt it would be a good exercise to step back, try to see past my own privilege, and consider my reading material in a different light. In effect, I was seeking to become a better ally to women.
I must say, it was an enlightening experience. In the course of seeking to recall the book and write a post about it, I found a number of problematic themes to write about — more than I even originally expected to find. These are things that I would have overlooked normally. Or if I had noticed them at all, I would have shrugged them off as minor things, rationalizing that with such a powerful, independent woman like Annja as the main character, such things couldn’t possibly matter. The kickass woman made everything alright, right?
Well, no, I don’t think so. Positive and negative portrayals of women — or any marginalized group, for that matter — are not mutually exclusive, and the tendency to ignore the latter when the former is present only allows the negative ones to flourish in the culture. So learning to spot these problematic themes is important.
I think for me, the best example of my normal oversight of this sort of thing came from when I went to write the post and could not remember any women in the story other than Annja. I had originally boldly declared that the book failed the Bechdel test on that grounds alone.
And yet, as I mined the book for quotes and details for my posts, I ran into two other women in the story. One woman (Maria) I had forgotten completely. The other woman (the unnamed server), my brain had surreptitiously rewritten as a man, demonstrating that I’m still perfectly capable of assuming that a man is the default human. That was not a comfortable realization, let me tell you. I find myself wondering how many other women in the story I have invisibilized simply by forgetting about them or remaking them into men in my mind.
It would be easy to blame the culture and say that I only did these things because it’s the way my upbringing and experiences have conditioned me to think and behave. While that’s certainly true, I think that’s a terrible excuse. After all, I am a part of that society and my actions contribute to the same conditioning of other people unless I do something about it. And ultimately, I am the one person in the world I have control over.
So writing the post has further awakened me to something about the society and myself that I don’t like. So now I’m looking to change things by changing myself. I am currently in the process of reading “Solomon’s Jar,” the second book in the Rogue Angel series, and I’m choosing to read it more mindfully. I am looking out for female characters so that I can remember them. I’m looking for problematic themes while reading them, rather than thinking about them after the fact. I’m keeping an eye out for whatever messages the book might try to send me. It’ll be interesting to see what I have to say about the next book and my reaction to it.
If I can raise one or two other reader’s awareness, that’ll be a bonus.