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Sunday, January 04, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 5 - Young Female Fantasy Fiction

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who got into a spot of trouble. She was rescued by a prince and they got married and lived happily ever after. The End.

Oh. You've heard the story before? Yeah, never mind the lack of detail, I might be a few dozen millennia late for that to be an original story.  Indeed, that story and a few variations (knight in shining armor instead of prince, for example) have been told over and over again, I think probably since shortly after language evolved enough complexity to tell it.

I have a number of alternate plots.  She could've been saved by the big-hearted pauper and then gone on to starve on the streets.  She could've been saved by the kindly serf farmer and then died from infection after giving birth to her second child.  She could've been saved by a courageous merchant who then fell afoul of the king and was beheaded forcing her into a life of prostitution to stay alive.  All of these would be much more realistic (and in my opinion better) stories, but no, the big favorite is that she's saved by, and then marries, wealth and power, and then lives happily ever after. Yeah, right, like that ever actually happened. Nonetheless, that's the favorite fantasy of the ages.

True love's first kiss usually makes a showing as well. How can anyone feel true love at their first meeting? Well, the prince is such a better catch than anyone else in the kingdom that I'm sure the young woman did indeed feel true love.  For the prince, it was probably true lust.  Close enough for government work.

In the modern age of feminism, you would think stories like that would be banned or at least rewritten.  They are, to some extent.  For example, Disney's Tangled is a rewritten version of Rapunzel to have the savior be a reforming thief, rather than a prince.  However, books are one area where feminism has had minimal impact.

One of the genres I like to read for fun is Science Fiction/Fantasy leaning towards Fantasy.  Think Harry Potter. Or maybe King Arthur and Merlin.  The Fantasy end of the genre is overwhelmingly populated with the story I told above.  Except it wasn't necessarily "once upon a time" (it's often set in modern times) and instead of a prince, it's a superhuman alpha-male.  Or two.  Or more. All fighting over the girl.

Unlike the young women in stories of old, the young women in these stories have few, if any redeeming qualities.  They're usually whiny, bitchy, weak, incompetent, untalented, and the plot generally is built around her continually doing really foolish and stupid things that puts her in mortal danger requiring repeated rescues by the alpha-male(s) at great cost to them.  She sometimes has agonizing difficulty deciding whether or not to be in a "relationship" with the alpha-male hero, and if there's more than one interested in her, it's a heroic struggle on her part deciding which, if either, to commit to.

The alpha-males are not only the strongest superheros ever imagined, they're also intensely loving (they'd give their lives for her), tender, emotionally intimate, incredibly devoted, impossibly patient (they'll wait for her forever if they have to and if she chooses the other alpha, that's okay - they'll still be there for her), and of course handsome, talented, etc.  Even though she has no or few redeeming qualities, they love her because, well, um, just because.  Maybe just because she exists.

One of the most popular fantasy romance is the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer and closely follows the above description.  But it is neither the first nor the last of its kind.  In the sub-sub-genre of paranormal romance, Amazon lists 95,338 titles, most from "indie" authors, and from what I can tell, most of those were written since 2010. From what I can unfortunately tell, over 80% of those follow the above description pretty closely.  I use the term "unfortunate" because so many of the books have descriptions that sound pretty good, so I read (at least part of) them, before becoming frustrated with reading about yet another completely lame young woman.  At this point, if it's a female author and a female protagonist anywhere in the realm of Science Fiction/Fantasy, I won't read the book. Ever.

95,338. That's just paranormal romance and doesn't include other teenage girl romance titles. Hundreds of these books are released every day and hundreds of thousands or even millions (on the days surrounding a popular release) of young women finish reading one of these books every day. Why would any self-respecting female author write something with such a weak and incompetent young woman?  Because it sells, that's why.

This post is an interlude in this series, just a tidbit.  It may be a puzzle piece in the War of the Sexes, it may not be.  If it is a puzzle piece, I don't really know how it fits.  Perhaps it's a primary persistent fantasy of a substantial percentage of teenage girls since the beginning of time/language, which might indicate that the feminist narrative will always find some competition in the female psyche of a substantial part of the population (after all, it's always members of the patriarchy that comes to the rescue). Perhaps teenage girls going their own way (from men) have nothing else to do and are retreating into this fantasy reading.  Perhaps teenage girls are influenced by these books and end up with unreasonable expectations about men fueling the War of the Sexes.

Or perhaps it's just entertainment, though at best, certainly not entertainment of which feminists would approve.

16 comments:

erp said...

Bret, you forgot about the most important point of the prince charming genre. All the girls were princesses, even if they didn't even know it. I loved this stuff when I was a little girl knowing in my heart I was a princess too and that my prince charming would come along -- and he did!

The Fantasy stuff must serve a purpose if girls are reading it. It may be comforting for them to think that this great guy will love them, die for them, etc. even though they're pretty ordinary.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

To take one counter-example, in The Hunger Games the girl clearly does not follow that pattern.

Trying to remember the last fantasy books I've read with women in leading roles, most did not conform to that either.

A common theme they had was that the girl was usually, at least at some point of the story, confused about her feelings and so on. Since that was valid for both male and female authors, I guess we can agree this is a universal truth: no one understand women, not even themselves.

Bret said...

erp,

In what I think is the most famous one, Cinderella, she was not a princess. A noble, maybe, but not a princess.

Bret said...

Clovis,

Yes the Hunger Games is different and even has a female author. I did mention that a mere 80% (or more) are stories with the lame females so yes, there are others. Also, the Hunger Games is not a paranormal romance. Perhaps the percentage is lower in dystopian romances.

erp said...

Bret, princesses are states of mind, not necessarily royal consanguinity, but if I recall Cinderella's situation as a step child in the house of the evil step mother was never explained in detail. The facts of her adventure, i.e., pumpkin that turns into a royal carriage, the glass slipper, etc. is evidence enough for us believers to recognize, as the prince did, that regardless of her present situation, she’s obviously a princess leaving hope to the rest of us scullery maids.

Those fairy tales were moral lessons first and foremost. Be a good girl, do your chores well, etc. and your prince will find you. Remember the one where the prince searches the realm for the neatest, in the literal sense, girl to marry. He finds her in the poorest most miserable hovel which was scrupulously clean because of the dearth of possessions and she is revealed as the princess he's been looking for. :-)

Prince Charming, of course, being a metaphor for a better life in the future and I doubt any girl (I certainly didn’t) reading those fairy tales connected wealth and power with their “lived happily ever after.” A castle somewhere far away was much more accessible to our imaginations than a pseudo-Tudor style house in Scarsdale or a Porsche.

Notice the difference. Today’s literature for girls apparently depicts them as hopeless, miserable, licentious, immoral, dumb victims without lessons on what to do to make a better life for themselves, even if by today’s standards those fairy tale lessons were lacking, and looking for their prince in all the wrong places.

I’m glad I didn’t have to grow up thinking that was my future.

erp said...

I actually read the first Hunger Games book at the request of my then 15 year old granddaughter who liked it very much.

I was appalled.

She's a very smart girl and I'm confident she'll figure out her future very well, but it's sad she relates to this mindset at a time in life that should be full of joy and wonder, not carnage.

Bret said...

erp wrote: "I was appalled [by the Hunger Games]."

Makes Orwell's 1984 look like a walk in the park on a nice day, eh? Yeah, 15-year-old girls are who love, love, love the Hunger Games. That's all my daughters' friends talked about when they were that age and it first came out.

Even Katniss shares a moderate amount with the lame girls I describe. Sure, she's brave and good with a bow, but she's foolish and impulsive (she signed up for the games after all), and is rescued by the patriarchy (Peeta and Gale), each of whom was willing to give their lives for her even though she's kind of mean and indifferent to them.

erp said...

Bret,

I haven't seen the movie, but saw an ad in which she's gorgeous, in fact, looks very much like my granddaughter minus, of course, the nude photos on the internet (I hope).

I haven't continued to follow the story, our girl's off to college in the fall and I guess gone on from Hunger Games, but I am curious.

How does it end?

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

She and the resistance defeats the former dictator (Snow), but she also kills the chief of the resistance (Coin) because she murdered innocents for the cause too.

And she ends up with Peeta: take notice, Bret, the beta male.

I've read the series and utterly regreat doing so. I try to keep up with more recent fantasy books, but they are often cheap material.

And those are the best sellers. Among the second and third tiers (like the ones Bret is probably trying among those 95,338 books) it only gets worse.

erp said...

I don't mean how the personal relationships end but, Note: often the beta male turns into the prince as in the story of the Frog Prince -- it's truer than you thought.

How does the outcome of the world end? Everybody happy with socialism or do they revert back to the wild west of individualism?

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

They implement a perfect Ayn Rand society and live happy everafter.

Now you are wishing you've read the whole series, aren't you?

erp said...

What's an Ayn Rand society?

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

That's actually a good question.

In an optimistic day I'd say it would be much like a Blade Runner (director's cut) society.

And you?

erp said...

Blade Runner?

Clovis e Adri said...

Yes, the movie. Have you ever seen it? If not, I recommend.

erp said...

Thanks you, but I'll pass.