I Have a Ruler

How do you measure a book? Are you automatically attracted to slim, artsy looking volumes? The thicker, the better? Do you like your books dressed up in sexy covers and chapter headings, with those oh-so-sheer maps at the front of the book?

Lately, I seem to be picking books that are highly esteemed, written by men, and have well-defined, limited roles for the female characters. So, I think it is time I got out my ruler. Perhaps even my balance. These books have been measured and weighed and found wanting.

I want women in all their glorious roles, in every shape and size, of every age, fighting every battle imaginable, and reacting very humanely. I want them to fail, be evil, react rationally, care more about the weapon in hand than their hair. I want them ambivalent and complicated and torn by many loyalties. And they need hobbies other than visiting the spa or daydreaming about a marriage proposal.

I recently finished The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. The tale was new and mysterious to me, about personal growth and wisdom. It was short, but with such an enchanting background and wise nuggets that I felt it was a 500-pager.

In short, a young shepherd wants to travel. In his wandering in Andalusia, Spain he meets a gypsy woman who tells him to seek his treasure at the pyramids of Egypt. He then meets an old man who tells him to follow his personal legend – seeking this treasure. He does cross the Mediterranean and into the deserts of Egypt. In those deserts, he meets several other men that are either 1) seeking their personal legend, 2) on the quest to fulfill their personal legend, or 3) have fulfilled it.

I could read this book 3 times and not absorb all the beauty, oddities, and wisdom of this book.

Yet, I don’t want to. I have no place in this story because I have a vagina. I am not the Minor Role of Dream-Interpretting Gypsy, nor am I the Other Minor Role of Romantic Interest. None of the women, few though they are, have a Personal Legend in this tale.

Next on my recent list is Robert Heinlein with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. All the women are beautiful and viewed sexually. Sure, some of them have brains and voice, but it is always coupled with good looks, perfect makeup, and nice breasts. I really enjoyed this story, once I set aside being miffed about the sexualization of all the women.The plot was intriguing and moved along at a great pace. Future tech and concepts were introduced with enough detail to visualize the environment, but didn’t bog down the tale.

And yet, I have a few questions. Since the men out-numbered the women on the moon, why aren’t they, the men, sexualized? Since the men have to compete for the attentions of the ladies, shouldn’t personal appearance play a large role in this?

I want to see the bulk of men in such a tale strut, preen, have body waxes, fuss over hair products, and even apply a light coat of makeup. I want them to worry that their thoughts and feelings won’t be considered if they can’t first grab the attention of the ladies by the bulge in their pants, sparkling teeth, and coy glances.

However, such a ruler has sharp edges, and can cut both ways.

Maybe I should just look for some well-balanced books. Suggestions?

About nrlymrtl

DabofDarkness.com; Round Table Farms; WovenHearth.com organic farming; reading scifi/fantasy, historical fiction, mysteries; cooking good stuff; weaver

11 thoughts on “I Have a Ruler

  1. I wish I had a good answer for well-balanced books, or even books that tip in favor of the ladies; but I also would like to volunteer that while the protagonist in The Alchemist is male, I have found my own personal life journeys marked by the same arcs and discoveries. Am I interpreting my life through a male lens, naming/explaining experiences in the language of archetypes like The Hero’s Journey, when I should be seeking a heretofore undefined feminine experience? Is it “ok” for me to find analogous patterns between The Alchemist and my own life? And would any man ask questions like these?

    • Absolutely yes. Parts of The Alchemist resonated with me greatly. I really wanted to like this book.

      And if the roles were reversed, say a young lady decides to travel, and meets all these other women on their personal quests, while the men are cast solely in the role of Romantic Interest, then yes – men should/can/will ask these questions.

      People are people no matter what set of unmentionable bits they were born with, and I tend to appreciate books that reflect that.

    • Whether the protagonist is male or female, I think we will always find far more differences than likenesses between our own experiences and drives and those of the character. Human beings have many more ways of being different from one another than gender. And isn’t it often the differences that we find interesting? And of course there are almost always at least some resonances. Still it would be terrific — and fair! — to have more strong female central characters to balance the scales in what is obviously an important aspect of humanity. Like you, I would appreciate recommendations.

  2. “And would any man ask questions like these?” Lucinda, you said a mouthful.

    Maureen Murdock wrote a book in which she attempted to document the way Hero’s Journey shifts in a fully-realized female character (called, pithily, The Heroine’s Journey). Some interesting insights there.

    But I agree that women can find themselves in any heroic character–even while I agree that envisioning fully-realized female heroes (whether or not they are protags) is apparently harder than it seems, because it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

    • Good point. I like to ponder this – is it harder to write a well-rounded character of the opposite sex? Do women do this better than men because, in general, we have had to operate in a ‘man’s world’ for generations?

      • I wonder about that, too. What I can tell you is that an increasing number of up-and-coming men are writing female protags. It is a generational phenomenon: almost every instance of this I’ve seen so far is 30 or younger. And naturally those guys are mostly still cutting their teeth in the business. Their results, of course, vary–but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when this wave begins to crest on the shelves of your local bookstore.

        As a writer, I find male characters at least as easy to “find” as female characters. But it’s necessarily left as an exercise for the reader to determine how successfully I actually execute them…

        • I’m finding this too, it may be a generational thing.

          There’s a lot of good material out there. For me it’s just a matter of not wasting my time on the chaff.

      • I don’t think that women necessarily write better than men in any way. I’ve read plenty of short-sighted books with dumb characters written y women. It may be a strange artifact of the publishing industry that unbalanced characters are more easily found in the genres we enjoy the most.

  3. lucinda said:
    “Am I interpreting my life through a male lens, naming/explaining experiences in the language of archetypes like The Hero’s Journey, when I should be seeking a heretofore undefined feminine experience?”

    yes. that. exactly.

    sometimes I feel like I’m betraying my fellow women because I typically don’t care about a characters gender. I just want to read a really good book.

    • In a great book, I loose myself in all the characters, no matter the gender. I would say both these books are good books (and not great books) because they both make a deal about gender instead of letting people be people. I can still relate to stumbling thru life finding my personal quest or getting swept up in history bigger than oneself even tho there is a gender bias. But I would not call these great books because half the human species is excluded, in different ways, in each.

  4. These are all interesting and good questions and they need to be asked again and and again forever from every angle. TV of course is hopeless. Even something as wonderful as Doctur Who is giving me tics. Except for the very end of the very latest season: Who’s ready for a male Companion?

    I have given up on reading anything with stupid characterization, whether that’s short-sighted gender, race, or age. Good age diversity in books–that’s my peeve nowadays. There’s so much good material out there that why should I waste my time?

    That Mary Renault from last moth put a whole new twist in my panties about gender. (The Last of the Wine) Women = cattle, literally.

    Try the Skeen series by Jo Clayton, (I’m repeating myself, no?) Also Julie Czerneda, Jack McDevitt, Iain M Banks, Sarah Zettel.

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