Wednesday, July 4, 2012

writing strong women: political act or realistic art?

A few days ago, Steve Brust said that with a few exceptions, he tried to keep his politics out of his writing. Elizabeth Bear told him that wasn't so; he wrote strong women, and that was political.

Which made me see a difference in people's definition of political. For Steve and Emma and me, a political act requires choice. We never sat down at the beginning of our careers and asked, "Should we write strong women or weak ones?" We wanted to write realistic women, which meant our female characters had to be as capable as the women we know. For us, writing strong women isn't a political act; it's an artistic one.

To be blunt, some writers don't write any characters convincingly, and some only write one sex well. If you have simplistic ideas about gender, your characters will reflect the limits of your ideas. If your audience shares your simplistic ideas, that won't hurt your career, of course—there are always people who want their facile ideas about men or women validated.

But if you want to write men and women well, you must always test your assumptions. A fine place to start is Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender.


  1. I tend to think that your world view informs your politics and vice-versa so it would be difficult to write about what you believe to be reality without also writing about your politics. I wouldn't really call that a political act, though.

    1. I agree these things aren't tidy. But when anyone says something's political, to me, that means it's intentional. The word doesn't seem useful otherwise. Hmm. I'll grant that things can be unintentionally political--but that has more to do with the audience than the artist.

    2. I think of it more as overtly political like, say, Animal Farm and a more subtle brand of background politics. I don't think the background politics are unintentional, but I doubt the authors are really focused on that aspect of what they're saying.

      A lot of overtly political writing is ham fisted propaganda, of course. This makes it harder, but not impossible, for the audience to misinterpret. :)

      And I wouldn't consider the inclusion of strong women, etcetera, to be political. On the other hand, the identification of them as such by author or audience probably is.

    3. I do think it's impossible to make art and completely hide your opinion of folks who aren't like you, but, yep, for something to be political, I think it needs to have more than a well-meaning, mushy, deep-in-the-background-but-not-in-the-plot agenda.

      Full agreement on yr. last paragraph.

  2. The answers to the questions posed in your title will tell you more about what people mean by the word "political" than anything else ;)