Do I Consider Myself A Feminist Writer?

…is the latest question to come through the anonymous message box.

Oh, boy.

“I don’t discuss my process.”

Oh, wait, I do discuss my process? I’ve discussed my process often, in the past? Well, crap.

Well, the unhelpful mathematician’s answer – that also does happen to be true – is that I don’t consider myself an “X writer” for virtually any value of “X”, except possibly “speculative fiction”. But I guess I owe you, anonymous questioner, a little more than that.

The more detailed answer is “it depends on what you mean by that”.

Do I endeavor to have an appropriately representative number of female characters who are competent, agentive, and not defined as some male someone’s accessory? Do I try to depict a society in which people are judged based on their individual merits and character, rather than by prejudicial stereotypes and situationally-irrelevant epiphenomena (specifically including sex, gender, etc., among many other things), and in which all sophonts (regardless of the aforementioned) enjoy the same natural rights, the same civil rights, equality before the law, and possess equal social opportunities1?

Well, yes, yes I do. I do not necessarily claim that I always succeed as well as I would like to, but it is my intention, and I do think my corpus bears it out.

(But, of course, this is never mentioned explicitly, which some might argue means it doesn’t count. But it can’t be, for reasons of worldbuilding integrity. You never hear a fish say, “my, the water sure is wet today” – because no-one comments on the status quo when it’s been that way for as long as the status has been quo. If you tried to explain the Earth-now way of these things, patriarchy, etc., to an Imperial citizen-shareholder, 95% of them wouldn’t understand what you were driving at, and the remaining 5% of professional sophontologists, adventure tourists, and the like, would nod politely and explain that that sort of thing is indexed under barbarian outworlders be crazy, yo.

This is also why this doesn’t come up even when dealing with said barbarian outworlders. An Imperial confronted by some icky patriarchy out in the Periphery isn’t going to think of it in specifically feminist terms, having neither interior nor historical experience with such a thing. She’s much more likely to think of it as just another rationalization-memeplex cooked up by noxious slaving fuckheads to justify strutting about with their jackboots on, because no rational being could possibly take such ideas seriously in the first place, could they…?)

Am I trying to depict a desirable social model, in feminist terms? (Or, indeed, in any other terms.) Well, inasmuch as I do think a social model in which people are judged by the truth of their talents and the content of their character without reference to the presumptions attached to the morphology of their genitalia would be a great improvement over our present one, perhaps. But I’m a writer, not a social engineer. I’m trying to depict a non-human society that is that way in terms that are true to itself, not as a prescription for how humans ought to live, and that is shaped by distinctly inhuman instincts and ideas.

Am I deliberately attempting to promote that particular viewpoint – as a political viewpoint – in/through my writing? No, and for two reasons:

1. I hate message fiction. To some extent, whatever the message, because subordinating the coherence of the world and the thread of the plot to a message usually makes for terrible, terrible fiction. This is even more the case when it’s a message that I might agree with, because I don’t generally think it helps to promote a particular thing to produce bloody awful anvilicious books about it.

Now, sure, my own views on The Truth Of Things And The Oughts Of Things I’m sure shape my creativity in plenty of ways; such is the nature of the game. But for my money, I’m much better off, and they’re much better off, just letting them come out in the nature of the worlds I shape rather than beating people over the head with sermons about The Right Thing, You Idiots. I’m a writer, a storyteller, and very much not a preacher.

2. I’m an ornery cuss who has never found any political or activist group ever, typically including both sides of any given debate, that I could stomach, and in the past I’ve rarely been shy of saying so. Even – maybe even especially – the ones I mostly agree with. So – whatever my views expressed above may mean for compatibility of desired ends – even if it wasn’t for the message-fiction thing, political feminism wouldn’t have me, and I wouldn’t have it.

All that being said, of course, if someone comes up to me in thirty years and tells me that reading my books as a little girl inspired them to give the finger to toxic social expectations and become a high-powered megacorp CEO like, say, Giléä Cheraelar or a bad-ass space navy admiral like Caliéne Sargas2, I reserve the right to be pretty damn pleased about it.

1. I can’t say social equality, inasmuch as they do practice hard-edged meritocracy to go along with their equality of opportunity, and it would seem odd to say political equality inasmuch as the political equality everyone has in the Empire is the opportunity to be shot in the face for attempting to practice politics. But, hey, anyone of any sex, etc., who tries to practice politics is equally likely to be shot in the face, so.

2. Albeit possibly slightly worried in this case, inasmuch as Caliéne Sargas is a bloodthirsty-and-proud-of-it functional sociopath. But, hey, it takes all sorts.

4 thoughts on “Do I Consider Myself A Feminist Writer?

  1. The eldrae are mentally different enough from human baseline on exactly this point, would they even *have* a diagnosis of “sociopath”, and what would it mean, anyway?

    • My use of language here is perhaps a trifle casual.

      The short answer is: it’s still that particular kind of “antisocial” deviation from baseline, it’s just, well, a different baseline. Eldrae baseline tends to strike humans as somewhere on that spectrum, for all the reasons already covered, but it’s by eldrae standards that the Sargases in general appear overweeningly egocentric, disturbingly casual about killing obstacles in their path even when other solutions are available, and prone to (controlled) homicidal mania.

      (Some are also prone to the uncontrolled variety, but House Sargas knows which side its bread is buttered, and as such that kind usually suffers unfortunate accidents early on.)

  2. I like you you put things, “barbarian outworlders be crazy, yo”. You also reminded me that any time I got upset about a particular “cause” and tried to write “message fiction” the result was a load of crap, and I don’t know why I tried at all because I never enjoyed message fiction, anyway.


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