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When Women Weren’t People

Novelist Catherine Jones Payne: Sometimes evangelicals struggle to view women as fully human, in reality and in our stories.
| Jun 26, 2018 | 158 comments |

Sometimes evangelicals—like the culture around us—struggle to view women as fully human.

We see this in church cover-ups that protect powerful men and institutions at the expense of vulnerable women.1

We see it in the discrimination and dismissal faced by women living out their callings.2

And we see it in the stories we celebrate, from our beloved classics that feature jaw-dropping sexism to contemporary novels and films that use women as window dressings: nice in appearance, but without much personality.

This week we feature Catherine Jones Payne and her novel Breakwater in Lorehaven Book Clubs. Stop by the flagship book club on Facebook to learn more about this story.

If we look at the early church, we’ll find that our stories weren’t always this way. Many early church sources tell us of the martyrs, both men and women, who sang the praises of God as they faced down death and declared Christ’s victory over the grave.

Take The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Church, a volume compiled in medieval Ethiopia that reflected much-older oral histories. In its pages, we find hagiographies (or “holy stories”) of both men and women. Consider the account of Sara, a Christian woman whose husband denied the faith under fear of death and torture. But Sara would not bend the knee to anyone but God.

Determined that she would not lose her sons to a faithless father, she fled with them by ship to have them baptized by the Apostle Peter. On the way, the ship was overtaken by a storm so violent that she thought they would all drown. So she dug a knife into her skin deeply enough to draw blood and used her blood to anoint her sons with the sign of the cross. Then she picked each of them up and dipped them into the water over the side of the ship, baptizing them. At once, the sea calmed.3

In stories like this one told by the early and medieval Church, women were not portrayed as secondary figures propping up the men around them. Instead, they were shown as fully human in their own right, reflecting that the curse of Eden is being undone and our earthly divisions fading away, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

This would have been news to John Milton. There are a lot of writers I could pick on, but Milton is notorious.

For those who haven’t read Paradise Lost, it’s a seventeenth-century epic poem that tells the story of the Fall—first of Satan and then of humanity. It’s beautifully written, but it takes a deeply misogynistic turn when it narrates the moment of the Fall. In Paradise Lost, Eve alone—Adam is off making a flower crown (I wish I was joking)—is tempted and eats the fruit. When Adam finds her later, he’s devastated and only makes the decision to eat the fruit out of some twisted sense of nobility—so she won’t fall alone.

Are you for real, Milton? All this is contrary to the biblical account! Let me draw your attention to Genesis 3: “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (NIV, emphasis added). Enough said.

Milton’s legacy of sexism has carried down through the centuries.

Perelandra, C. S. LewisCan we talk about C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra? Lewis imagines the possibility of a new creation of a human-like race on another planet in truly Miltonian fashion. The conflict of the book centers on the interactions of Lady Tinidril (the Eve figure), her tempter, and her protector. Here, like in Paradise Lost, the Adam and Eve are separated as the woman, Tinidril, is tempted. When faced with temptation, Tinidril cannot possibly think for herself but instead declares that she will rely on her husband to teach and advise her concerning the tempter’s claims.4

The tempter then suggests to Tinidril that her husband may not know more than she does. This statement, however, is clearly a mistake: it absolutely baffles Tinidril, who insists:

“That saying of yours is like a tree with no fruit. The King [her husband] is always older than I, and about all things.”5

Eventually, Tinidril overcomes temptation, not by analyzing the tempter’s words and finding them wanting, but because a man intervenes to protect her. She is passive, never active.

Fast-forward to today. Walk through the fiction section of any Christian bookstore, and you’ll see that most of the female protagonists live and move and have their being between the covers of romance novels.

Now, I’m not knocking romance. It’s a perfectly good genre that knows its audience, but it focuses exclusively on women’s relationships with men. That’s well and good, but it ought not be our only story—when women’s only stories are romances, we begin to think that having a husband and family is the only thing God made women for.

Wonder WomanThere are other stories about women, however. Despite its setting in Greek mythology, Wonder Woman is one of the most deeply Christian films I’ve seen in years. It’s a major-studio movie, and I don’t know if the director claims any sort of faith. But its themes of duty, strength, and love drove me to aspire to a more life-changing Christianity. Furthermore, it portrays femininity as complex: a fierce, protective compassion willing to fight to make the world better. We’re not used to seeing such deep, profound truths about who women can be, and it left me openly weeping in the theater.

I rejoice when I see that sort of womanhood in books written by Christian authors and especially coming out of Christian publishing houses. Because there really are wonderful books out there that center on women as active, engaged, fully human characters:

  • The Story Peddler by Lindsay Franklin,
  • Scarlet Moon by S. D. Grimm,
  • A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, and
  • The Progeny by Tosca Lee.

All these spring readily to mind.

Another of Tosca’s books—Havah: The Story of Eve—is a flowing, refreshing, beautiful corrective to Milton and Lewis’s fractured tales of Adam and Eve.

When I was writing Breakwater, I made the conscious decision to center the book around a handful of strong women—Jade, the protagonist; Cleo, Jade’s mother; Pippa, their friend; Junia, Cleo’s sister; Yvonna, an antagonist—but I didn’t want to reduce feminine strength to hand-to-hand fighting, a la Marvel’s Black Widow. I love Natasha Romanoff, but I wanted to write women that I could recognize myself in: women whose conflicts are complicated; who engage moral tensions with their intellect, not just with weapons; who come to differing conclusions because of competing ethical frameworks.

Sometimes the women of Breakwater make bad decisions because of inexperience, or pragmatism, or a hero complex. But at the end of the day, they are navigating their waters as best as they can. They can be wrong without being wicked, or right without being perfect. They can be fierce but feminine; steely but nurturing; determined but still sometimes confused. In short, they’re allowed to embody all the contradictions that make up the human experience, just as male characters regularly do.

In the words of Wonder Woman, only love can change the world. But stories matter. Our stories matter. As people of faith write, read, and wrestle with fiction in which women are as fully human as men, I believe we can begin to see each other that way, as people made in the image of God. And to the degree that Christian men and women view each other as co-heirs of the kingdom of God, as one in Christ, can we more fully reflect and enact God’s agape love in the Church and to the world.

“Readers looking for a quick, pleasant read . . . will find that this book swims well.”
— Lorehaven Magazine

Explore Catherine Jones Payne’s novel Breakwater in the Lorehaven Library.

Read our full review exclusively from the spring 2018 issue of Lorehaven Magazine!

  1. Lee, Morgan. “Interview: My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness.” Christianity Today. January 31, 2018.
  2.  Moore, Beth. “A Letter to My Brothers.” The LPM Blog. May 3, 2018.
  3. Barr, Beth Allison. “The Myth of Biblical Womanhood?Anxious Bench. May 2, 2018.
  4.  Lewis, C.S. Perelandra. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print. 90.
  5. Ibid.

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Jay DiNitto
Guest

Boilerplate feminist poopytalk. For every 1 perceived slight against a woman, there are probably 10 against a man; we’re just not socialized to look for it.

This is what evangelicals get for being too nice and offering to set themselves on fire: someone yelling at them to hurry up and strike the match faster.

Matt Mikalatos
Member

Oh boo hoo. Let’s find a safe space for you.

R. J. Anderson
Member

Disagree with the author’s individual points if you think you have better facts and reasoning to offer. I would stop well short of calling WW a “deeply Christian” movie myself (though unlike some of the commenters in this thread, I at least understand what the author meant when she said it).

But when a woman quite correctly and accurately points out that many portrayals of women in literature and cinema are superficial, stereotypical, exploitative and/or do not model what the Bible teaches about women, and makes a perfectly reasonable appeal for more realistic and Biblically based portrayals of women in books and movies, dismissing her whole argument as “boilerplate feminist poopytalk” is frankly disgraceful.

Yes, there are also slights against men in our society. That doesn’t oblige the author to talk about them in this post, any more than she should have talked about slights against Catholics, Newfoundlanders, or left-handed people. If a woman invaded the comments of a post about shallow, stereotypical portrayals of men in literature and cinema to complain that the post was “meninist nonsense” and overlooked all the slights against women, you would think her rude, ignorant, unhealthily obsessed with her own perceived victimhood, and totally missing the point of the article, yes?

Draw your own conclusions.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Women have been WAY more slighted than men throughout history. Pretty ridiculous claim, and also rude and juvenile to call it “poopytalk.” R. J.’s points below are fantastic.

RACHEL NICHOLS
Guest

If you refer to secular society since the 1970’s or 80’s I agree Jay. A lot of misandry going on outside the Christian subculture.

David Bergsland
Guest

Well said. As it says in Genesis, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Mankind is in the image of God, male and female. It can easily be argued that we do not have the full image of God without both male and female. It can also be argued that either are in the image of God. While we see male and female in terms of their obvious differences, God sees a human in His image in each case. Jesus tells us that in heaven, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”

This is a radical change for us, but it shows how the Lord sees us—male or female.

Travis Perry
Editor

Catherine, first off, a story about a woman who is actually a deity from a system of religion other than Christianity cannot be accurately described as “deeply Christian” as I see the world. I mean, yes, we can see Christian virtues in Wonder Woman if we look for them–but I would say that the most meaningful type of parallel a non-Christian story can have with Christianity is when a character sacrifices self for others. Steve Trevor does that in Wonder Woman, but you are not describing HIM as an example of Christianity, but rather HER, unless I’m reading you wrongly.

Second, in Perelandra, Tinidrill is a very important character. And is clearly a good person. True, a man has an important role in helping her, but doesn’t Lewis take a decidedly non-misogynistic turn by having her be in essence the emblem of innocence? Ok, she doesn’t punch the tempter in the face as perhaps Dianna would, but neither does she fall into temptation. I mean, if you are going to call Lewis a misogynist, why not talk about the White Witch instead of Tinidrill? What’s wrong with being a bit innocent and naive? (By the way, Dianna was rather innocent and naive in Wonder Woman–and she naively killed some Germans who were not her actual enemy as a result…in other words, her being more active did not necessarily make her a better person than Tinidrill.)

Yes, I agree with you that physical fighting prowess is not the same as being a strong person. Yes, it’s a good decision to write women characters who are strong in other ways. Yes, I agree that women should be written as rounded people and not stock characters.

But I guess I would say that I feel your judgment on these issues is out of balance. Wonder Woman is no more Christian in any objectively conceivable way that Captain America. Writing innocent women characters is not inherently bad, though of course that should be balanced with other portrayals of women. And it is quite strange to complain about portrayals of women in a format, Christian fiction, in which the solid majority of both readers and writers are women.

You are reminding me a bit of El Quijote here my friend–fighting giants that do not actually exist in the form you see them.

Jo Michelle
Guest

“doesn’t Lewis take a decidedly non-misogynistic turn by having her be in essence the emblem of innocence?”

Um, you realize that’s one of two* deeply sexist tropes in literature throughout western history? The childlike innocent in need of protection, male guidance, and/or rescue – the “damsel in destress.” The angel on the pedestal. She has no agency, and is only there as a plot device for the man.

Tinidrill, particularly, has always bothered me. She’s one of the reasons I don’t enjoy Perelandra. (The main one, though, is who really wants to read about two middle-aged professors trying to murder each other with their bare hands? 😖)

I mean, I love Rafael Sabatini, I’m not gonna lie, but he is one of the worst offenders of this. So I’m not saying I can’t enjoy a story where I can’t identify with any character who is actually my gender, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But, moving forward, I’d like to see new works make the effort. Is it too much to ask for relatable female characters with agency and realistic flaws? I mean, we’re only 50 percent of the human race.

*The other, of course, is the temptress.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I don’t think Lewis got to know women as people until later in life (he married later in life also too). Tinidril is obviously a throwback to Renaissance female characters/tropes like Eve or Una from Spencer’s Fairie Queene, but there are plenty of modern-to-the-time stereotypes scattered in his other works like Mere Christianity.

But the portrayal of women without agency wasn’t created in a vacuum, because that’s how women had to be they were deprived of agency by various societies. Yes they would dissolve into tears/flirt/etc to manipulate men to take care of them, because that’s the only way they could influence their own lives.

Storytime: a friend of the family of my ex-boyfriend died and he was utterly baffled by the widow’s latching on to anyone and everyone to take care of her and performances of woe and helplessness, ’cause it never really hit home for him how women had been raised during the old school of dainty shrinking violets. (Credit to the women in his family, I guess, for doing feminism in their own way all those years.)

Jo Michelle
Guest

I love how, in The Horse and His Boy – a book written much later in life, Lewis sends Queen Lucy into battle, after Father Christmas tells her “no,” in her first book. 😏

Travis Perry
Editor

Whereas I am not interested in depriving women of the modern term “agency,” I think focusing on agency as the most important aspect of a character seems odd to me. I would say the good/evil axis is much more important.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I dunno, without the agency to make deeds or words, you might as well label a houseplant as good or evil. Purity of thought doesn’t really count for much if it’s used to do nothing.

Travis Perry
Editor

Well, it’s a possibly debatable point, but God called all of creation “good” before any part of it had any moral choice. The main way this is debatable would be to argue that “good” actually means two different things–and that moral goodness did not apply to creation before any part of it had a choice. Or you could argue that God or the writers who portrayed God didn’t know what they were talking about and your notion of choice means houseplants really are neither good or bad in any sense, but are neutral.

To keep this short, I’d say that which has not committed evil is in fact good, at least in one sense. So houseplants actually ARE good. As were human beings even before they were made aware of the choice between good and evil in the Garden of Eden.

Though I do agree that choosing to be good is more meaningful that being good “just because,” but I don’t agree a lack of choice makes virtue meaningless.

RACHEL NICHOLS
Guest

Popular culture gives us unrelatable characters with no flaws when it comes to female characters. Mary Sues.

Compare Rey to Luke Skywalker and you’ll see what I mean.

They aren’t all that way. Maybe Wonder Woman is better.

Btw, if a slender teenage girl wallops five brawny thugs who attack her in the woods the writer better give her a magical Macguffin to explain the miracle! That kind of thing isn’t natural. Don’t pretend it is.

Jo Michelle
Guest

So …. what are Luke’s flaws? A lot of the talk of “Mary Sue” is actually people objecting to aspects about a female character, that they’ve historically given male characters a free pass on.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Male Mary Sues are called Gary Stus. So people aren’t necessarily giving guy chars a free pass, seeing as that is a reasonably recognized term. Mary Sues tend to be a common thing in fandoms, though, often because it’s females writing fanfiction and making self insert characters (which tends to lead to a lot of writing flaws inexperienced authors tend to make)

That fandom aspect is probably why the term Mary Sue gets thrown around a lot more than Gary Stu. Fandoms have popularized the Mary Sue character type and thus it’s seeped into popular culture more. (Fandoms are awesome, and filled with many great writers, but that doesn’t mean pesky things don’t emerge from fandoms sometimes)

Personally, I don’t like Rey as a character, but that’s because she’s boring overall, which is kind of how I’ve seen most of the new Star Wars movies. I didn’t automatically think ‘Mary Sue’ when I saw her, but she could probably be called one if a person squints.

People tend to oversimplify what a Mary Sue is, though, so the term is often used incorrectly.

Jo Michelle
Guest

The Gary Stu term is a recent addition to the conversation, and isn’t normally thrown at any character people don’t like, the way “Mary Sue” is often used.

This is why I vastly prefer the term “Author Insert,” which doesn’t come with the gendered undertones of Mary Sue, and is simply more accurate to what people are objecting to.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Hm… I remember Gary Stu being an established term even like over a decade ago when I started roleplaying, so it’s not THAT recent. And people call the male chars Mary Sues as well.

I kinda don’t like to say author insert because it doesn’t address a lot of the things that seem to come with Mary Sues. In fact, those can be two separate things, since a self insert char doesn’t automatically have to fall into the same traps as a Mary Sue.

What’s your exact definition of a Mary Sue, though? People seem to define that term a bit differently, so that alone kind of makes this subject difficult to talk about.

Jo Michelle
Guest

The “moving target” thing about the Mary Sue definition is precisely why I prefer more specific terms, like “author insert,” and others. The very nature of such specific terms forces you to use them more carefully.

Otherwise, “Mary Sue” seems to stand for “character I didn’t like for whatever reason,” and it shuts down the conversation, rather than starts one.

I’m not sure when “Gary Stu” came into existence, but it was definitely AFTER MS became established as a thing, thus the name. I’d have to research more to say more, and I don’t really care to jump down that internet rabbit hole.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

From what I recall, Mary Sue was a term coined from a very specific character called Mary Sue that I guess embodied that character type and was copied by a lot of other people writing fanfiction. So yes, she came first, but that doesn’t negate Gary Stu’s existence and usage, especially if he’s been around for more than a decade at least.

I guess I see the term Mary Sue a bit like the term feminism. Both terms are taken wrong and have baggage to them, but that doesn’t mean people need to stop using them, they just need to start using them properly.

There probably isn’t anything wrong with using terms like feminism, egalitarian, Mary Sue, self inserts , etc. But there are times when people take them wrong and it’s useful to define what one means by those terms at the beginning of the conversation. As long as those definitions are laid out, the conversation isn’t stopped. In fact, sometimes it starts more conversations because it provokes some people to challenge their original assumptions.

R. J. Anderson
Member

Luke is gloriously whiny and I love him for it. “But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” is a masterpiece of adolescent angst (and Mark Hamill’s equally plaintive delivery on “But the sacred texts!” in TLJ is the grumpy-old-Jedi equivalent).

But young Luke’s flaws in ANH and ESB are things like cockiness, restlessness, and impatience, all of which we’re used to indulging in boy heroes because we can see their heroic potential. They’re not really flaws so much as undeveloped virtues, so we smile at them instead of curling our lips in disgust.

Meanwhile, Rey’s flaws in TFA are things like naivety, ignorance, denial (ie. of the truth about her parents), and resistance to change, all of which are quite common to female characters in literature but which we tend to see as contemptible. She also has a hot temper, which is Not Becoming to a Lady, and she has the table manners of a three-year-old, which is not particularly attractive let alone sexy (and for which I will forever bless JJ Abrams, whatever his other faults). Very few of Rey’s flaws are pointed out or rebuked by a Wise Mentor character, however, which is perhaps why disgruntled fans claim she doesn’t have them?

Travis Perry
Editor

The thing annoying about Rey is that while Luke needed to be instructed on how to use the Force, Rey requires no instruction, because she is already all she can be in terms of Force power–she just has to find that out within herself.

She doesn’t need a Wise Mentor character. She is working it out entirely on her own, so far without any serious errors (she still has both hands, for example).

She doesn’t suffer much compared to Luke. She doesn’t need a mentor. She beat the baddie in the first lightsaber duel she was ever in.

That’s why people call Rey a “Mary Sue.”

R. J. Anderson
Member

But her whole point of going to Luke in TLJ (aside from her main purpose of urging him to rejoin Leia and the Resistance) was that she needed a teacher. And once he finally and grudgingly agreed to give her three lessons, he was pretty blunt and even scathing in telling her how wrong she was about the Force. Yes, Yoda says that Rey “has all she needs”, but being the glorious troll that he is, he actually meant that she’d taken the books out of the Force Tree before Luke burned it (we see them in the drawer on the Falcon when Finn is looking for a blanket, and the recent Poe Dameron comics show her trying to read and learn from them).

Everything Rey knew about the Force before she met Luke, she pulled out of Kylo Ren’s mind — the mind of a fully trained Force user. That’s a learning opportunity Luke never had, because his Force instincts lay in other directions. He started by trying to sense objects and make them respond to him, whereas Rey’s first (and second) use of the Force was to make a mental connection with a person.

And you don’t think Rey’s suffered? Up until she meets Finn and finally gets off Jakku, she’s spent her entire life suffering, in a way that Luke (who had his aunt and uncle) and even Anakin (who had his mother) never did. Constantly starving and thirsty, always alone — we’re shown that clearly in the very first couple of scenes we meet her. The events of TFA and TLJ are pretty much the best things that have happened to Rey in her entire life, and there’s been plenty of fear and pain and disappointment (not to mention heartache, once she starts caring for Ben Solo only to realize she can’t save him) mixed up in it all.

Does she really have to lose a body part to be taken seriously? Is that what it takes for a female character to prove she’s not a Mary Sue? I’ll pass, thanks. I’d like to think the writers have hacked up three generations of Skywalkers enough to spare a poor scavenger girl from Jakku.

(Though Rey does have a scar on her upper arm, as of the end of TLJ. It looks like two hands touching each other, which I’m sure was totally accidental and means nothing at all *cough*.)

Autumn Grayson
Guest

When it comes to Mary Sue chars, I’ve noticed it isn’t so much about whether or not they tick the boxes off for having flaws, suffering, etc. Pretty much every character has flaws under certain circumstances, whether or not the author wants them to. And sometimes facing hardship actually makes a character MORE of a Mary Sue.

If a character faces a bully, for instance, the way that circumstance is depicted can make it look like an obvious ploy to gain sympathy from the audience, make the character look brave/downtrodden, make the character look like the better person, or even just to check off the boxes for what a stereotypical protagonist has to go through. It’s fine to have a character be bullied, but if it’s done in a grating manner, where the audience can tell it’s an obvious ploy to gain sympathy, etc. then there’s a chance that the char is a Mary Sue.

It’s also partially a matter of whether or not the circumstances of the story are purposefully and unrealistically bent to make the character look good at every turn. And whether or not the author is trying to make the audience see the character in a way that isn’t substantiated by the story.

I don’t automatically think of Rey as a Mary Sue, but she isn’t a great character either. Pretty much none of the characters in the new series are all that great, actually. Primarily because of poor execution.

Jo Michelle
Guest

“She isn’t a great character either. Pretty much none of the characters in the new series are all that great.”

That’s a matter of taste, my friend.

I prefer the characters in the new. The old always felt flat and uninteresting to me when I finally watched the movies in high school. (I missed growing up with the old – it was a sheltered-home-schooler thing.) I liked the world, but preferred Kathy Tyers’ characters to people it.

(I’m probably the one person in the world who read Firebird BEFORE watching Star Wars, and I liked the imitation more than the original.)

But the Firebird Trilogy were my favorite books from about ages 12-19. 😀

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Maybe. With the new characters, I like the idea of them, just…not the execution.

Jo Michelle
Guest

I can respect that. 👍

R. J. Anderson
Member

“Poor execution” is in the eye of the beholder.

To establish my credentials as a Real Star Wars Fan, I saw the original STAR WARS on opening week in the theatre at the age of seven (and made my Mom put “Leia buns” in my hair for school the next day), read the giant-sized comic and all three novelizations until they fell apart, watched ROTJ four times in a single week, read a bunch of the tie-in novels, paid full adult ticket prices to suffer through all three of the Prequels (weary sigh), and was quite nervous and skeptical at first about the prospect of the Sequel Trilogy as a result.

But despite all that, I spent the better part of TFA with a big grin on my face to finally be back in a universe that really *felt* like STAR WARS, and my heart swelling with love for both the new heroes and the return of the old ones. It wasn’t a perfect film, since it was pretty derivative of the old films in parts (like *cough* Starkiller) but boy did it grab me. The more I thought about it afterward, the more I wanted to talk about it, and the more fascinating and intriguing details I noticed about the characters, visuals and story.

And then came TLJ, which took things to a whole new level and blew me away (even as it enraged other fans who’d been expecting and wanting a very different kind of story than that particular film delivered). No matter what some disgruntled fans may say, there’s a reason that film has the highest critical rating of all the Star Wars films to date, and it isn’t because 91% of professional movie critics are too stupid to recognize a bad film when they see one. And for me as well as many other viewers, it’s the emotional resonance and thoughtful character development that makes that film so great.

So I think what you really mean is, “I didn’t really like the new characters,” and that’s fine. But please don’t insult those of us who see plenty of good reasons to love the new movies and characters by claiming it’s a clear-cut matter of “poor execution”.

Jo Michelle
Guest

Rey’s story arc (her need) is focused on her isolation and lack of parents. Her Force skills are secondary to that, and are not the main focus of the story.

And one thing about her defeating Kylo Ren in TFA:

DUDE. The guy was at one of the weakest moments in his life: he’d just taken a direct hit from Chewie’s hip cannon – he’s STILL recovering from those injuries in TLJ, and he’d just murdered his father in cold blood – causing mental and emotional trauma, whether he’d acknowledge it or not.

So, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, he was LOW. No wonder even Finn had a moment standing up to him.

R. J. Anderson
Member

*loud and sustained cheers*

Thank you for having Sequel Trilogy opinions based on actually paying attention to what’s shown and told us in the films, it’s so refreshing.

Travis Perry
Editor

Yeah, I’ve heard the Chewie’s hip cannon explanation of Kylo’s collapse before. Since I feel I know the effects of wounds pretty well and Kylo Ren did not convincingly seem wounded (I mean he just hit himself a couple of times but otherwise seemed basically normal), I don’t buy the theory. I think we’re forced to face the fact that either he was disappointingly weak as a villain or Rey was disappointingly strong as a hero. Or a little of both.

That’s my opinion, obviously, but the weakness of Luke relative to Vader helped make the Empire Strikes Back the greatest Star Wars movie of all time (in not just my opinion). Rey’s relatively easy strength has made The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi far less interesting that if Rey had been shown to be weaker. Again, in my opinion.

I don’t feel Rey is going through much of a struggle relative to some important previous Star Wars characters. Though she has felt some sadness and isolation–that’s true enough.

Travis Perry
Editor

Hey, good for you to really like Rey, but I think all the backstory scenes of her being alone show her thriving being alone. Doing relatively well. Suffering some, sure, but mostly super-successful under the circumstances. Her main problem I saw was loneliness, but Luke did a lot more demonstration of unhappiness than Rey ever did. We can imagine Rey is just keeping it all to herself and things really are quite bad–but that is using your imagination to fill in the character. It’s not to be found in the text of the dialogue that I noticed, nor in Daisy Ridley’s acting. In my opinion, of course, but millions of people see the character in a way similar to how I do. I don’t think it’s because she’s female and we just don’t get female characters or something like that. I think on the contrary, something is very much missing, but for you it isn’t–because your imagination is supplying it.

Jo Michelle
Guest

Um, there are all sorts of moments when Rey’s emotional barriers drop in TFA, and you can see her isolation and pain. But she’s been alone so long, she doesn’t know how to reach out. So Finn bumbling into her life is just what she needs.

Then, when Kylo Ren really SEES her (or pretends to) and listens, she quickly builds this bond with him.

Maybe, you missed it because she’s a woman, and we hide such things differently. Maybe all you saw was a “girl power” chick and didn’t look any closer.

Regardless, I’ll thank you to not insinuate that you saw the real movie, and I saw what I imagined.

That is treating me like a child. The EXACT problem with the way books have historically portrayed women. And, you know, guys have thought of us.

So, thank you for this real-life example. This is the problem.

Travis Perry
Editor

I’m sorry to disagree with you Jo, but I am disagreeing.

I did see the movie, I did pay attention to the character. I could easily do a comparison of scene by scene of Rey suffering verses Luke Skywalker’s. Luke, mostly whining and complaining to be sure, sees his closest relatives after they were burned to death (which is rather traumatic). Sees his friend and mentor cut in half. Sees a bunch of people getting killed he knew on his run against the Death Star. Fails to defeat Vader in Empire Strikes Back. Has his hand chopped off. Finds out his entire worldview is wrong. AND is repeatedly chewed out by Yoda especially, but a bit by Obi Wan, too.

Rey sees someone she liked and perhaps even saw as a father-figure killed. Spends a lot of time alone. Wishes her family were around. Gets a bit of rough treatment from Luke, but he’s acting like a dork anyway. She seems to be in the right, not him–in contrast to Luke, who clearly needed instruction. Has one friend pretty seriously injured. Is not seriously injured herself. Though she does get captured, which certainly wasn’t pleasant, she escapes largely on her own. Instead of facing the humiliation of defeat, she wins her fights, mostly with very little help.

I think that’s a pretty objective list. To say that the angst for her family and loneliness weighed every bit as heavy as things Rey never faced, such as losing a hand, suffering defeat, and having to face justified humiliation from her masters, is you reading into the character, assigning values to suffering that I (and millions of other people) would not assign.

However, since we’re talking interpretations of characters it isn’t really fair to say I’m right and you’re wrong. Interpretations are just that, subjective.

But I really do think I’m looking at what I actually see the characters doing and saying and you are seeing more than what is just being done and being said. Though I’m willing to concede that it could be my personality as a loner that is talking some as well–I just don’t see loneliness as being in the same category as losing a hand, finding out Vader is your father, and suffering defeat.

In fact, I can easily imagine a person basically thriving in complete isolation, and that’s in fact what I think I see in Rey–with only moments in which being alone even bothers her. I see her as an extremely resilient and essentially well-off character doing just fine in her life, even though she is sad at times, until circumstances sweep her up into a larger narrative.

Yes, that does involve me interpreting what I see, sure. But as I read over the list I read above, I just can’t believe that someone would seriously maintain Rey’s life was as hard or harder than Luke’s. Seriously?

Sure, she goes through some hardship, no doubt about it. But I do think I’m seeing the movie more clearly than you are and reading less into it. And I’m not insinuating that–I’m stating it.

Though I’m also stating that even though I disagree with you and do think you’re reading more into the character, you have every right to do that. In fact, good for you to be able to really care for a character that struck me as seriously overpowered. You no doubt enjoyed The Force Awakens a lot more than I did.

Jo Michelle
Guest

You…. don’t understand humans, if that’s what you think about isolation, rejection, and bonding. 0_o

Travis Perry
Editor

That’s definitely possible, lol. I have spent so much time alone that I am actually an unusual human. So I’m willing to accept the idea that me being odd overly influences my point of view here.

R. J. Anderson
Member

Did you…. not notice the part where she is starving. Where she lives totally alone and to all appearances friendless in the middle of a desert, working all day in the dry heat and climbing around the dangerous interiors of starships, scavenging parts and dragging heavy loads of equipment around, none of which she EVER looks happy to be doing, only to find out (to her visible disappointment and frustration) that she’ll only be given 1/4 portion of a single meal by her master for all that hard work. Where she spends every day marking tallies on the wall of how many days it’s been since her parents left. How she keeps telling herself and everyone else that her family is coming back for her because even though she knows deep down that they aren’t, she can’t bear to give up hope.

Rey’s blatant denial of the truth about her parents and her facade of resilience and independence are survival skills, not evidence that she is a happy loner with a satisfying life on Jakku. The fact that Unkar Plutt almost succeeds in tempting her by offering her food — not money, not a ship, just food — shows that she’s been starving and struggling for a long time.

Just because you prefer to view her as a self-sufficient Mary Sue type who cheerfully bounds through every trial emotionally and physically unscathed doesn’t mean the movie actually portrays Rey as feeling happy, or that anyone who sees her anguished expression and the tears streaming down her face at various points of both movies as evidence of deep, genuine pain and grief is “reading into” her character feelings that aren’t really there.

Again, you are totally free to dislike or be indifferent to Rey if that suits you. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking your opinion is based on anything but personal bias and preference.

Travis Perry
Editor

I saw Rey eating a costly but savory meal, not starving. Being hungry as in being in a position someone could tempt you with food is a position I have been in at various times and I know is a long way from starvation. Now, if she were salvaging bones out of a waste bin and chewing on them with all of her might, boiling them to get any last nutrients she could out of them, if her abdomen were distended in starvation, or her gums were bleeding from lack of vitamins, or her hair falling out (among other things)–those are signs of starvation. None of those things I saw in Rey. That would have been an interesting storytelling choice, by the way. That could have been really powerful. But was not actually in the story.

Look, it’s great you deeply empathize with this character and really feel for her. I don’t hate the character, but the way. I don’t feel for her the way that you do–but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that you really care. On the contrary, as I’ve already said previously, you probably really enjoyed the story much more than I did because of that empathy. I actually feel a bit of envy about that–I would have liked to have enjoyed The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi more than I did.

And I’m not committed to calling her a Mary Sue–in fact I haven’t actually used that term for myself in this conversation. I do think she starts the story overpowered for the tale and/or Kylo Ren is actually an under-powered villain. I think her winning her first light saber battle was a horrible storytelling blunder. I think there are probably several million people who agreed with me on that, while millions of other people seemed fine with it.

By they way, I’m not sure how you will take this question, given your already-established level of hostility–but have you ever lived any significant amount of time alone? While simultaneously being not sure where your next meal will come from? And isolated from all family? I have been in that situation. I don’t see it as extremely desperate. It certainly isn’t fun, though. A person won’t be happy, happy, joy, joy–which is not how I see Rey. I have never said I see her as happy all the time. I actually never called her a Mary Sue, either, by the way, but rather I explained why people (millions of them) DO call her that.

I never called her a Mary Sue, but I do rate the chronic angst of being alone as manageable and in fact, being alone will include moments of joy and satisfaction. It looked to me like Rey was living a pretty successful lonely life. That was my opinion of the character based on things that were shown and not shown. If she had been scavenging for food and eating out of trash bins, my estimation of her suffering would have been much higher than it was. Or if she was regularly getting beaten up, or had to sleep in a pit she dug in a sand dune. But instead she had food (and water), shelter, clothing, interesting work, and hope for the future. Yes, she was definitely lonely, but I rate seeing people you live with every day turned into smoking skeletons as worse–that’s the stuff of post-traumatic stress, the stuff of nightmares.

By the way, Luke’s nightmares (or Force visions) were scarier than Rey’s too. At least for me and I think, well, for most people. Luke cutting off Vader’s head and seeing his own face in the mask–not only was that a premonition of who his father was, it was all about the darkness potentially taking over his soul. Rey’s, I’m deeply sorry, just wasn’t on that level, at least not for me…not to mention Luke seeing his friends being tortured. Does Rey ever see anybody being tortured via the Force? Um, not that I recall.

As a story teller, there is one primary reason I can think of to make Kylo Ren lose to Rey–to defy audience expectations. A Sith who can stop blaster bolts in motion by the Force is in some ways more powerful that Darth Vader even. Rey winning certainly was not expected–I mean, I don’t know anyone who expected it. But I do think that quick “surprise” moment to the audience came at the cost of making Kylo look like he’d been a false threat the whole time, a poser, a Darth Vader wannabe with limited real power.

I’m actually glad that Snoke chewed Kylo out about that–that’s exactly what he should have done as an evil leader, because losing so fast was pathetic and deflated the power out of the entire plot. But then they killed off Snoke minutes after that, leaving us stuck with Kylo Ren as the primary villain, whether he’s a powerful and interesting villain or not. And a weak villain does not make the protagonist seem more interesting, but actually seem less so.

Anyway, I was going off on a tangent there a bit, but of course I read into the characters–everybody does. I in particular felt I had been in situations very similar to Rey’s and that informed how I saw her. But I really do think I can step back and try to be objective and make a short list of suffering, listing events of suffering. Doing so puts Luke far ahead of Rey at similar points in their Jedi careers (if we can call what they do a “career”).

You are free to disagree by putting a lot of weight on loneliness and chronic angst that I would not–but I think you are reading into the story to do so…which is of course, normal. But I can disagree, not just on opinion, but on actual events.

Again, you may think I’m wrong, but please realize that people who disagree with you may have actual reasons to do so. At least at times–it doesn’t necessarily mean we are hostile or evil people.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I personally think Rey could have been depicted better, but keep in mind that everyone handles loneliness differently. I could easily go a month without talking to anyone, but I’ve seen other people that seem to feel quite a bit of distress when they don’t get to socialize on a regular basis, or are separated from those they are close to.

Rey was abandoned at a young age. That likely influenced how she feels about being lonely. If she got to be alone because as an adult she chose to be or because being around other people was dangerous, that is different than a child knowing they were probably dumped somewhere because their parents didn’t love them enough to keep them. A person may or may not be affected by those things negatively, but in many cases, when a child doesn’t have positive, nurturing relationships throughout early childhood, it tends to cause problems and loneliness.

These are all interesting aspects to her character, but I don’t really think the movie depicted all that very well, so it’s harder to actually feel sad with her. The reason I see it that way might be because in other stories I’ve seen plenty of other characters that are lonely for whatever reason and they were depicted a lot better.

Travis Perry
Editor

Hey, anybody who loves Rey, I’m happy for you. I mean that sincerely.

I personally was disappointed–though not with her per se–I felt that Kylo Ren rather collapsed versus her. We can blame that on her or on him or both but I felt the story tore out a lot of dramatic tension by going with Rey winning their duel (her first lightsaber fight) in The Force Awakens.

I entered this conversation with the intent of explaining why some people see Rey as a Mary Sue. Not even at the beginning of the conversation was I saying I see her as a Mary Sue myself, because I recognized from the beginning that not everything was easy for her, though I did say I think she was an overpowered character.

I’m exiting the conversation feeling that I’ve been too hard on the her, maybe she really did go through more suffering and angst than I gave her credit for.

Yet, I still feel that relative to Kylo Ren, she was too strong in their first lightsaber duel. Or he was too weak, or both.

And her victory in that fight has a lot to do with explaining why some people characterize Rey as a “Mary Sue”–and that’s true even though I agree that characterization isn’t fair.

R. J. Anderson
Member

Rey isn’t a Mary Sue any more than Luke or Anakin were — she is, like them, a Protagonist.

How did Anakin, a nine year-old child raised in slavery, end up winning a death-defying pod race against experienced adult racers? The Force. How did Luke, a boy who’d spent his whole life on an isolated moisture farm and never flown an X-Wing before, end up skillfully dodging a slew of fully trained TIE fighter pilots to make a one-in-a-million shot on the Death Star? The Force.*

Rey actually has more in her backstory (ie. scavenging parts, repairing equipment, and fighting for survival in a spaceship junkyard) to justify her various skills than Anakin and Luke or even Han Solo** does, plus TFA strongly implies that she pulled a bunch of Force skills out of Kylo Ren’s mind (including the twirly lightsaber move she ultimately uses to defeat him). But she’s a girl, so she can’t be the actual protagonist of the new Star Wars trilogy, she must be an interloper stealing the heroic spotlight from the men who really deserve it, aka a Mary Sue!

I agree with you that women are physically weaker than men, and that any movie which depicts an average woman defeating a man in a test of brute strength is unrealistic. But Rey doesn’t use brute strength to win, she uses weapons and the Force. She doesn’t make any “grrl power” speeches or put down the men around her, she just acts like a normal human being dumped suddenly into the middle of an adventure. If she were a boy instead of a girl, nobody would think twice about it… and anyway, when did Star Wars ever pretend to be realistic?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to force you to like Rey. If you find Luke Skywalker more believable or relatable or likeable for whatever reasons, that’s fine. But that’s your personal opinion and preference, not an objective fact that ought to be accepted by all. Personally, I happen to like both of them and don’t feel any need to pit them against each other. Why does it have to be either-or?


* Sure, Luke cockily assures his fellow pilots that he used to bulls-eye womp rats in his T-16 back home. But it’s still the Force that enables him to make the final shot.

** How Han does all the crazy odds-defying stuff he does WITHOUT the Force is the biggest question of all if you ask me, but the recent SOLO film doesn’t even try to answer it. We’re never told how Han got to be such an exceptional pilot, we’re just shown that he is.

Jo Michelle
Guest

YES! YES! YES!

Travis Perry
Editor

I find that the wanton destruction of some stereotypes is not necessarily an improvement. The old trope of casting women as kind, caring, sweet, and non-aggressive may deny them some agency, but it is not misogyny. If only men would be cast in that mold more often!

What is wrong with being kind, caring, sweet, and non-aggressive?
(I personally am all of the above, except the last one. I can be pretty aggressive. Especially when defending what I think is true.) 🙂

R. J. Anderson
Member

Nothing is wrong with being kind, caring, sweet and non-aggressive. But if that’s all female characters in literature are ever allowed or expected to be, it makes it difficult for those of us who have to work (and pray) hard to be kind, caring, sweet and non-aggressive to believe we’re looking at a real woman instead of an porcelain angel.

Also, may I suggest that the woman who dropped an upper millstone from the wall at Thebez onto the murderous Abimelech’s head — an act which was very much in God’s will — would probably not have claimed “non-aggressive” as one of her qualities? Nor would Barak and Deborah have been singing the praise of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, if she’d merely offered General Sisera a soothing cup of milk and a nice lie-down and refrained from driving a tent-peg through his skull.

In short, non-aggressiveness is only a virtue in certain contexts. And when a woman is faced with a violent and evil person who means to harm her and/or the children or other vulnerable people she is trying to protect, as in many heroic fantasy and SF stories, being non-aggressive may in fact be the least wise or compassionate or faithful thing she can do. She probably won’t be able to beat such an enemy in combat unless she has superpowers or a secret weapon, but there’s nothing unfeminine or unworthy about a woman fighting evil. Eve’s problem was that she was too kind and sweet toward a serpent who was deceiving her, not that she wasn’t kind and sweet enough.

Travis Perry
Editor

My concern here is that feminists blasting old stereotypes about women are in effect denying that being kind is a virtue. As such they wind up praising characters who have the choice to be evil and chose to be evil over characters who don’t have much choice but who are essentially good. That, I think, is an anti-Christian position. Obviously this is my opinion, but a Garden of Eden without a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would not make Adam and Eve evil people because they could not choose–or worthless, or however people are thinking of it.

In other words, I would say agency is not a virtue in and of itself. Characters with agency are not necessarily to be thought of as better people than ones without it who are otherwise virtuous.

Though I agree women should not always be stereotyped as innocently virtuous. That would be ridiculous.

But I’m rather concerned feminists seem eager to throw out the virtue of kindness in favor of praise of agency.

And yes, there are women who acted as warriors. I’ve been a Soldier myself–and it’s as a soldier I offer the opinion that the necessity of war (and I do see it as a necessity at times) is always tragic–that war is a curse upon our species. And that kind, altruistic characters who refuse to fight should not be despised for so being, because fighting really is so terrible–and that’s true even if such characters happen to be women.

That’s where I’m coming from. I hope that makes sense.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Huh, I wouldn’t label agency as a virtue, either.

Travis Perry
Editor

Technically you didn’t label agency as a virtue, but you did label it as a prerequisite for virtue to exist. Which I would say would make it more important than virtue, if virtue cannot exist without it. (Agency would at the very least have to be equally important as virtue in your logic.)

Me saying that you treat agency as a virtue in and of itself is not me running off on a tangent. It’s based on me paying attention to what you actually said.

So, can virtue exist without agency or not? If it cannot, then agency itself becomes a virtue–or quasi-virtue. Which I don’t agree with, because I believe it’s possible to be virtuous without agency. At least to some degree.

Jo Michelle
Guest

This is where I come down theologically: No. I don’t think virtue can exist without free will, or in this context: agency.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Eh, I think of it as like a catalyst or an enzyme for virtue. Like in nutrient absorption diseases, you can keep shoveling in nutrients and supplements, but without the chemical means for your cells to make use of it, you can still starve to death.

I don’t know that that makes agency MORE important than virtue, tho.

Jo Michelle
Guest

I wouldn’t say it’s MORE important. I’d say it’s a prerequisite. That you can’t HAVE virtue without agency.

But agency without virtue makes you a villain. So you can have one without the other, but that won’t be good for you or anyone else.

Travis Perry
Editor

Enzymes facilitate reactions that would happen anyway by making them happen more efficiently. Enzymes do not actually change the inputs or outputs of reactions. Though it is true that under some circumstances a reaction would not happen at all without an enzyme, the basic system of possible chemical exchanges exists without the enzymes.

So I would say it does not follow to say good cannot exist without the ability to choose and then also say choice is like an enzyme for good. Because that would imply good happens anyway (or has a tendency to do so), but the enzyme of choice makes it happen more effectively or obviously.

Actually, that describes my position. I think good can exist independently of choice, but choice makes the contrast between good and evil sharper–it enhances what I could call “the good reaction” (to borrow from chemistry).

So, yeah, I can buy the idea of choice being like an enzyme for good. But I would not agree with you on what being an enzyme actually means.
FYI.

Jo Michelle
Guest

I don’t see anyone saying kindness is not a virtue. I also didn’t see anyone praising characters who choose evil.

We’re praising free will over, well, robotics. Or houseplants.

And apparently God didn’t think the garden was complete without the Tree. Otherwise, I don’t think He would have put it there.

This is also deeply rooted in my theology. I’m strongly freewill.

I DON’T believe you can EXPRESS any virtue without the power to do the opposite.

I DON’T praise characters who CHOOSE the opposite. To chose evil is, often, to choose the path of least resistance, so characters who CHOOSE to be good and kind are, in that moment, also heroic and strong.

And we’re all writers and readers here – it’s writing 101 – CHARACTERS WITHOUT AGENCY AREN’T FUN TO READ/WATCH.

Why is this even an a discussion?

Travis Perry
Editor

We’re having this discussion because I don’t agree with you. Example: Perelandria–I actually enjoyed reading that book. Even though it had a major character without much agency. Because it just isn’t necessarily true that characters without much agency cannot be interesting.

And you do in fact seem to think a character with altruistic motivations and kindly intentions who has little agency is a lousy character. Whereas a character with agency, whether or not a virtuous character, is a better character. That’s a value judgment I would not necessarily agree with.

We are disagreeing on our values here. Which is OK for us to do.

So be aware that your position is not the only one. God cannot do sin–the Bible plainly states that. Yet God is good. I think that Adam and Eve can be characterized as good as well before they had choice.

Though I agree having a choice makes the difference between good and evil more meaningful, I would say being good is a set of characteristics that are objectively desirable no matter how a person acquired them. Being born kind and altrustic, if such a thing were possible, is not less good than choosing to be good as opposed to being evil.

Though the contrast with evil definitely makes that good stand out more by contrast. That’s certainly true.

Jo Michelle
Guest

You think I’m unaware that I’m touching on one of the most hotly debated points of theology since, well, Calvin?

(Although, if I remember correctly, this was actually debated well before him. Even the Greeks had this debate, but in terms of Fate, with characters like Oedipus.)

I would argue that one of the points of the whole Biblical story is to give God the chance to PROVE that He chooses to do good (e.g. Romans 5:8).

But, in this case, I’ll let G.K. Chesterton say it best:

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point — and does not break.”

And yes, I’m well aware of the controversial nature of this claim.

Travis Perry
Editor

Hmmm. I’ve never seen that G.K. Chesterton quote before. It’s quite interesting. Something for me to think over.

Though my first reaction is to say that I don’t think God actually has a rebel side. But I will have to think on the idea for a while.

Anyway, thanks for also understanding the basis for my objection on this point. I appreciate the consideration expressed.

Jo Michelle
Guest

“kind, caring, sweet, and non-aggressive” are only virtues if the character is shown to actually choose them. If the character is completely unable to be cruel, cold, and aggressive, then she’s a robot. She’s not a virtuous person.

This is actually tied to the philosophical argument about free will, predestination, and why God planted the tree in the garden. Did God want us to have the chance to choose FOR him, in the presence of a second accessible choice?

Travis Perry
Editor

The argument on moral goodness requiring choice is a wise direction for you to take this conversation, but I just don’t agree that being good requires a choice. Creation was called “good” by God long before any part of it had a choice. We can argue that form of goodness wasn’t moral goodness, but I don’t see much of a practical difference. In terms of morality AND usefulness, beauty, form and function, all of creation was “good” and remains good until it falls into evil. Human beings are not longer born full of intrinsic goodness without any taint of wrong, but that should properly been seen as a tragedy–which it would not be if the state of moral innocence that Adam and Eve had was in fact worthless prior to them being offered a choice.

My opinion of course, but I think it makes sense.

Jo Michelle
Guest

I think creation – e.g. mountains and trees and flowers, can be good, not because THEY are good, but they were made by a being who CHOOSES good. And that being chose to make them well.

But to have a creation with VIRTUE, then that creation must, in the image of the creator, CHOOSE good.

I posted above, but no, I don’t think you can have virtue without choice – free will. This is where I stand theologically, and I’d argue that the other option renders the epic story of the Bible equally un-story, because it strips the central hero of any “risk.” And so renders that hero without a means to show his courage.

But that’s a discussion for elsewhere.

Travis Perry
Editor

I think your position is not true, though I understand it and it’s a time-honored one.

God actually does not have the choice to be evil–but is nevertheless good. I think the truth of this idea influences many other topics.

notleia
Guest
notleia

kinda off-topic: Don Quixote the novel was actually making fun of old chivalric tropes like the kind Lewis drew on for Perelandra.

Travis Perry
Editor

Kinda off topic, but yeah, Lewis and Cervantes did not exactly agree about chivalry. But Cervantes was actually making fun of over-the-top ridiculous novels of knighthood common in his day. He was not making fun of chivalry per se…and in fact rather winds up glorifying chivalry to a degree by the end of his novel.

Cervantes was a realist rather than an idealist on chivalry. But I would say he wasn’t really making fun of all chivalric tropes.

RACHEL NICHOLS
Guest

Innocence is not naivete nor is gentleness weakness. And women ARE the weaker sex. Just science.

God loves the foolish and the weak….

Jo Michelle
Guest

In the case of literature, “a state of innocence” equals “child,”* and as Christians, women are called to be “mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4) And 1 Cor. 13:11. So “woman = child” is not Biblical.

To be gentle, you CAN’T be a doormat, or without agency. To be gentle, you have to have the choice/chance to be “ungentle.” Without that choice, it’s not gentleness. It’s just not being strong enough to be ungentle. That’s called being weak.

So a character who is UNABLE to be ungentle isn’t gentle, she’s weak, and that’s no credit to her.

*As a group, children are the only ones who are spoken about as being in a state of “innocence,” and therefore, if a woman is the same, she equals a child. THIS was an actively promoted idea for 100s of years in Western culture, so when it shows up in classic literature, this is EXACTLY what the writer is saying.

Travis Perry
Editor

It should not be seen as a vice to be so unaware of evil as to not know about it (i.e. be innocent). Though I agree this is really a luxury and not realistic in the world of sin we live in. Still, it does not make sense to me to despise essentially good characters because they are naive.

Having agency does not automatically make a character a better person than not having agency. I could give clear examples of what I’m talking about, and the first thing that leaps to mind comes from what I already alluded to in Wonder Woman, but I don’t wish to be offensive, so I’ll forgo writing out my thought.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Maybe it’s not so much that people are truly angry about the ‘lack of agency’ or ‘pure innocence’ of a character, but rather that that seems to be their only character trait. If people could instead write ‘pure’ characters in a complex, three dimensional way, that would be very interesting. A ‘pure’ character would come across a lot of challenges and there would be negative results of that unblemished innocence, both for themselves and others.

R. J. Anderson
Member

I actually think Kenneth Branagh’s CINDERELLA does a good job of this. Ella is unflaggingly kind and optimistic, but it costs her. It’s definitely not easy. She suffers because of her commitment to having courage and being kind no matter how others treat her, and there are moments where she is clearly tempted to wonder if she has made the right choice or only doomed herself to lifelong misery. Yet she continues to do the right thing, and in the end she’s vindicated.

But Ella is a very particular personality type in a very particular kind of story, and to expect that all or even most female characters should behave as she does would be neither fair nor true to reality. Nor are such “role models” of feminine virtue the best (let alone the only) way to teach and encourage virtue in women generally. They may in fact only encourage us to believe in the humanistic idea that we can be good through our own efforts, or the deterministic (and fatalistic) view that some women are just born with the desire and capacity for kindness in a way that others are not.

I love Ella, but I also love stories about girls who have to struggle to know and do what’s right, and who sometimes make the wrong choice before they learn how to make a better one. Because that’s what most of us do.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I don’t know if I’ve seen Branagh’s Cinderella, so I can’t comment on it, but other than that I definitely agree. I love the idea of three dimensional ‘pure’ female characters, but the cool, dark, skilled female chars that have been through a lot are awesome too, along with female chars that are somewhat in between. And, of course, it’s fun to see guy chars anywhere along the spectrum between ‘pure’ and ‘jaded’ as well.

And characters that struggle in the manner you mentioned are awesome. In fact, ‘pure’ characters should struggle with that just as much, if not moreso, than the average character. The stereotypical ‘pure’ character tends to have a hint of naivety, which should technically lead them to make mistakes or at least feel confused over what the right choice is at times.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I don’t grok you. Agency, in this context, means having the ability to make choices. If you don’t even have the choice to make good or bad choices, then it’s all meaningless. It’s where my houseplant comparisons come from, that you might as well praise a houseplant for not going out robbing, murdering, and jaywalking, because it’s not like it has any agency to do otherwise.

Jo Michelle
Guest

YES.

Travis Perry
Editor

I just explained this, but in short, I don’t agree. Lack of choice does not make virtue meaningless.

And you’re quite right to say you don’t grok me. At least not most of the time. And it’s not because of our gender difference and it’s not because you’re dumb, because you’re not. Though I do think you tend to lay out easy answers you picked up somewhere (you seem to have a really good memory) rather than thinking over what I’m actually saying.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Maybe it’s more like lack of choice means that the person isn’t necessarily virtuous in the first place. Without choice/agency/whatever, perhaps that person is a ‘neutral’ entity, rather than a good one.

If someone is kind simply because they are incapable of anything else, do they really get any virtue points? At the very least, simply following programming isn’t as impressive as overcoming one’s sin nature in order to be good and virtuous.

Jo Michelle
Guest

Yes. Exactly. I don’t think Robot = Virtue.

It might SHOW the virtue of the creator for not making it destructive and evil, and instead making it protect and take care of people, but only Choice = Virtue.

Jo Michelle
Guest

So, these answers ARN’T a woman’s own, and she’s not THINKING about what you’re saying?

First, yes, most of this has been said and argued about for thousands of years. That’s how human thought works in our world of thousands of years of books. You’ll be hard pressed to say anything truly ORIGINAL.

And as I also posted above, thank you for the real-life example of a man calling a woman a child.

This is why we object to these portrayals. Because they affect real-life people’s thoughts about other people. And thoughts about people affect actions toward people.

Thus the title: When Women Weren’t People.

R. J. Anderson
Member

“You tend to lay out easy answers you picked up somewhere…”

Did you… really just tell Jo that she’s parroting other people’s superficial arguments because she isn’t capable of making intelligent points on her own?

“…rather than thinking over what I’m actually saying…”

So she’s only disagreeing with you because she doesn’t have the attention span or self-discipline to understand your arguments?

Belittling and condescending to people with whom you disagree, however polite you may be about it, is not kindness. Nor is it the way to have any kind of civil or productive discussion. I think I’ve seen enough.

Travis Perry
Editor

I’ve been disagreeing with Notleia for a long time. Over many topics.

I base what I say on what I have observed. I do see her as parroting arguments–please note in this thread she repeated the idea that Protestants have trouble with collective guilt (which I actually find an interesting idea) that men have trouble expressing themselves, and several other notions that she did not come up with herself.

And as for my behavior, I am a bit of a hard person to explain. I’m not particularly polite–but I actually am deeply empathetic. Yes, I know from what you quoted above you are probably not open to that possibility. Still, it does happen to be true.

And I kinda not-so secretly hope that Notliea will eventually actually pay attention to something I say and consider it instead of shooting off a reply. I actually think it would be to her benefit for her to do so–though my statement has been influenced by me getting rather tired of her skimming what I wrote and firing off a reply. Which is indeed what she seems to me to do. (She probably has an enormous IQ and is only using half her brain at any given time. I mean, only halfway paying attention.)

Oh, by the way, my comment wasn’t to you and was not really your business, but that isn’t a major issue with me. You felt you needed to say something, you said it, fine. But to conclude “I think I’ve seen enough” would be to draw the wrong conclusion. In my honest opinion–because if all you have seen are my comments on this post, you haven’t seen very much. And I’m not actually a walking stereotype.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I try to cite my sources. Also if someone has split more and better ink over a subject, I like to refer to them rather than try to reinvent the wheel, so maybe I am fundamentally lazy 😛

But to be fair, I think you look down on me more because I’m a pinko liberal rather than because I’m female.

Tho I do wish you’d been more inclined to believe me when I was telling you stuff about agriculture. Agriculture Senpai had reasons to reject your agriculture speculations as impractical. Agriculture Senpai was not disagreeing merely for the sake of yanking your chain.

Travis Perry
Editor

Notleia, it was our conversation on agriculture, in which you said quite a lot about the risks of grains catching fire that I had already accounted for in a previous answer and which you continued on about for several comments, even though I had already accounted for it, which gave me the strongest evidence that you only halfway read what I write.

You skim what I write and then your prodigious memory pulls out an answer to what you think I was saying and you plop it down. Quite often, the answer you fire off is only a partial match (at best) to my actual words.

I’m quite sure you’re capable of reading and understanding what I say, but you often don’t do so. Which I guess I find rather annoying (though maybe I shouldn’t).

I think though your misses aren’t just because you’re skimming. You also err because you think you already know what I’m going to say, because you think you’ve got me figured out.

A recent example: while I may disagree with “pinko liberals,” I don’t routinely accuse them of not really paying attention to what I’m saying. (I don’t routinely accuse women of that, either.) I accuse you of it, not because of some stereotype I put you into as a typical member of whatever-it-is-you’ve-got-me-pegged-as, but because you’ve demonstrated multiple times that in fact, you’re only paying partial attention.

Catherine Jones Payne
Guest

Please don’t put words in my mouth, Travis. I didn’t once refer to Perelandra or Lewis as misogynistic. I save that word for conversations about That Hideous Strength. 😉

An innocent character–of either gender–is fine, but Tinidril is interesting because in writing her, Lewis is writing a perfect, unfallen woman. This is his opportunity to describe idealized womanhood, what it might look like had sin not entered the world.

At the very least, it’s troubling that Tinidril cannot think much for herself and relies on men to interpret very basic things for her.

We don’t see much of her husband, but when we catch a glimpse, he is described in almost godlike terms. He, too, is sinless and innocent, but you do not get the sense that he would have been vulnerable to the tempter’s influence. After all, isn’t that why the tempter went after the woman alone rather than the pair together or the Adam figure?

Travis Perry
Editor

Um, OK. Sorry for conflating you portraying a story you feel did not show a woman as a person (I’m taking that from your article title) into a misogynistic story. I suppose I’m reacting that way because I don’t quite like your disdain for the character.

Though I do admit she had little agency–she was in fact more like a battlefield than a person in that sense. But I think she came off as a good and wholesome character nonetheless.

That’s what I’m reacting to–a sense I get from some people that the modern virtue of agency in a woman is more important than the virtues of being good and wholesome. I definitely take issue with that notion.

No, she was not a “real” person. Neither, as far as I could tell, was her husband. (Though yes, she could have been portrayed with more intelligence and probably should have been.)

By the way, for what it’s worth, the NIV does not in fact close the case as to whether Adam was with Eve when she was tempted. He was with her when she ate, but there is no sure evidence to prove either way if Adam was around or not while she was tempted. From what I’ve seen.

And the New Testament does in fact say Eve was deceived when Adam was not (I Timothy 2:14). Though, unlike Milton, I don’t think that makes Adam noble for going after her–it rather makes him guilty in a way she was not. She was deceived–he willfully chose to do wrong. That’s why the verbiage about guilt entering the world in Romans is fixed on Adam and /not/ on Eve, from what I see in (Romans 5:12).

So I guess I see Lewis had some grounds for perceiving the woman to be more vulnerable than her husband…

Kirsty
Guest

Re That Hideous Strength – admittedly I’ve only read the abridged version recently, and I’ve a feeling the longer version may be more problematic.

But what I did notice in the abridged version is that the good guys seem less sexist. They live in a group that’s about half & half male and female. They organise their household and share the domestic chores on egalitarian terms – which might seem normal today, but not back then.

The bad guys are almost entirely male. Excepting Fairy Hardcastle, who is a very masculine woman. And the men don’t appear to genuinely respect her – while calling her by her rank to her face, they refer to her as ‘Miss’ behind her back.

Jo Michelle
Guest

Make a post about the need for realistic female characters in books?
Two white guys comment within the hour to tell you how you’re wrong. 🙄😆

notleia
Guest
notleia

I’ve read some articles (will bother scrounging them up to link on request) about how Protestantism focuses on sin as an individual problem and never as a systemic problem, so that makes Protestants feel weird and defensive when faced with systemic sins like racism and sexism (“Well, I’M not sexist/racist [ergo, it’s not MY problem]…”).

Of course, being men, they can’t just feel weird and defensive to themselves, but need someone to soothe them. /only partially sarcastic.

Jo Michelle
Guest

This is very true.

RACHEL NICHOLS
Guest

If a man made such a condescending remark like “being women, they can’t just feel emotional, hysterical themselves, but need to get together and complain” I don’t think you would like it. I guess Social Justice outweighs the Golden Rule here.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Now, now, they’ll never learn to regulate their own emotions if you run in and do it for them /mostlyjoking

Travis Perry
Editor

This is actually a kind of interesting point. It may be this is an actual influence of Protestant thought–but all problems are in fact solved at the individual level. I do believe that–so if I see racism, I confront the racist individual. If I see bad reasoning on gender, I also confront that.

It seems I would spend a lot of time confronting. And I actually do. Though I’ve mastered a way of doing so in a calm, gentle tone, that unfortunately does not come across in writing very well. (Though I’m not always as calm or gentle as I want to be, to be honest.)

Anyway, I’m still here, reading these comments, and having a conversation about me in front of me that disparages me is really very rude. It’s an individual sin that I’m confronting individually.

In a gentle, patient tone. With a smile. 🙂

Cody
Guest
Cody

Out of curiosity, why do you see that as a fault on the part of protestants? (I’m assuming you think it’s a fault. Pardon me if I’m mistaken.) It sounds like a refreshingly practical attitude. Many people spend their time angsting about the problems in the world they’ve inherited (like privilege) instead of their own vices, the ones they could potentially change. If people would be more like protestant there would probably be fewer systematic evils in the future.

I’ve never heard a social justice warrior admit to a fault on their own part, only to a fault on the part of their group. I have heard protestants do so.

notleia
Guest
notleia

“Fault” seems too strong a word to use, but it’s definitely something they could be better at.
Like the Slacktivist had a blog post (site seems to be down or I’d link to it) about whether it was a sin to stay wealthy. Not that it was a sin to earn lots of money, but whether it was a sin to hoard vasts sums beyond what you could reasonably use in a lifetime, if you don’t buy stupid rich-people junk.
There are studies that show an income of about $75,000 per year is the tipping point at which more money will not make you any happier. And even if we went with a generous $100,000 income, there’s plenty of people who make more money who just sit on it when that money could be redistributed (I know, I know, Marxist buzzword) to benefit so many more people than some schmendrick with a fleet of Porsches.
So, to complete the circuit on my analogy, some privileged white guy just floats around on the unearned laurels of his privilege, rather than using that privilege to help the less-privileged, is not exactly villainous, but is kind of an oblivious dudebro. Tho more points get shaven off if he’s a willfully ignorant dudebro.

Actually, I would posit that being willfully ignorant is more of a sin than merely having privilege.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

As someone of a Protestant denomination, here’s my take on the matter. Looking at things from an individual level is important. It helps people take personal responsibility and change the only thing they are directly able to control: themselves. No one can force everyone around them to change, but they can improve themselves and make sure they treat everyone around them fairly as possible. Everyone is responsible for their individual actions, because that is what they have control over, and thus no one should be punished for something they didn’t do, regardless of what group they belong to.

HOWEVER. Even though people should only be responsible for what they’ve done right and wrong, that doesn’t mean they can’t, won’t or shouldn’t help others. If someone is in trouble, or there is a broken system in place, they should help fix it because they want to make the world a better place. But they should help because they care about those around them, not to atone for sins committed by their ancestors or perfect strangers that happen to be labeled as part of their group.

So, a lot of times, when people say ‘I’M not sexist/racist’ it isn’t that they are flat out refusing to do anything to make things better. A lot of times they are just reacting to what feels like a false accusation. You can’t expect people to not behave in a defensive manner when they are accused of something they didn’t do.

In my personal life, I try to be fair and kind to everyone, regardless of their group. I refuse to be blamed for something I didn’t do wrong, but I still try to help others and be there for them when I see an opportunity to do so. Maybe the fact that I try so hard to live a good life is why I am less willing to accept blame for something I didn’t do. If someone is honestly trying to do their best, why would they accept being treated like the greatest evil that’s plagued humanity?

Cody
Guest
Cody

Sadly I’m not in the position to help people suffering because of sexism and racism. Some people in the world, I believe, should be ashamed of themselves because of how their racism and sexism impacting other people’s lives. (For example, a recent article on this site mentioned how the actions and certain Star Wars fans and movie producers hindered an actress’s career and likely the careers of other non-Caucasian actors.)

But if I posted a bunch of stuff on social media about how bad those people are, I’m afraid I would start acting like Jay Dinitto and Jo Michelle. I’d complain bitterly all the time, get uptight at the slightest bit of criticism and become just as whiny and thin-skinned as my opponents. I’ve decided I need to limit expressing my moral outrage on social media to only once a year or so. Hopefully that will help me avoid the temptations of self righteousness.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

“I’m afraid I would start acting like. . . Jo Michelle”??? Sounds rude and uncalled for, to me. Also pretty ironic when compared to the following two sentences you wrote. Come on. . . let’s try to be kind and respectful to each other, no matter what we think of another’s behavior.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Hm…so you mean that you don’t feel like you can personally help other people much because you feel that if you try, you’ll act too bitter and self righteous to actually help anyone? If so, even just working past those feelings so that you can engage people in a calm and constructive manner is helping other people. I have quite a temper myself, so I know from experience that simply working through that and learning how to be calm and constructive toward others can be more effective than we may initially think 🙂

Also…talking directly about the issue isn’t the only way to fix it. If an author doesn’t like the lack of representation in stories, for instance, they don’t have to yell at people or make personal attacks on authors they don’t like. Instead, they can write and publish a story that embodies what they feel is proper representation.

Cody
Guest
Cody

There are very few black people who live near me. Most of the women I know work in industries, like libraries, where women are generally accepted. So there’s very little I, myself, can do to help those people get jobs that they might not normally get in my country. This is especially true since I’m not really in the position to give anyone a job. I can’t even hire someone to mow my lawn for me.

My saying what I did about people who talk a lot about social problems online is based on my personal observance including my observance of myself. Some of the things I’ve said people who hold positions I despise have horrified and embarrassed my friends and family. Plus it seems to put me into the habit of pondering how morally and intellectually superior I am to my opponents instead of how morally and intellectually superior other people are to me. Of course, there are people who can habitually debate on the internet without falling into these traps. I’m inclined to think you’re one of them and I offer you my congratulations.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Thanks 🙂

I’m not in a financial situation where I can help people either, or employ anyone directly myself, but sometimes we are more powerful than we think we are. It takes a lot of hard work and creativity, but eventually, we can get there, whether it is learning to communicate better or finding a way to make life better for other people. I try to write stories that help people understand both sides of issues better, and present possible solutions to social problems, so that’s part of my effort.

What country are you from, if you don’t mind me asking?

Cody
Guest
Cody

The United States of America. I agree there are a lot of ways people can improve life for others with work and thoughtfulness.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Ah, I see. I’m from the US as well 🙂

I know you struggle with letting your anger get the best of you when it comes to social issues, but the fact that you are aware of it and are trying to handle it in some way or another is a good thing, and not something a lot of people are willing to do. For what it’s worth, you seem like a nice person 🙂

Jo Michelle
Guest

Man, I wasn’t going to keep this going, but, wow. I’m the face of social justice now? I’m…. I’m …. flattered.

😀 😀 😀

I really don’t deserve that – I think Matt Mikalatos is much more deserving of that title. Go read something he’s written about this – really. He says this stuff way better than I do – no, really, go read him: http://www.norvillerogers.com/author/mattmikalatos/

No? Okay, let me give this a try:

This is the dark side of Western individualist culture: it’s the ability to say, “someone else is hurt, that’s sad” and go on with one’s day, rather than to feel: “someone is hurt – so we all are hurt.” (‎This is Biblical –> Romans 12:15)

Now, I’m NOT saying Western culture = bad. But I’m saying we’ve gone too far from center, and this lack of value for community has started to rot us away at our core. We see this in the “loneliness epidemic,” addictions, and suicide rates.

And this is also the issue we have to work past to address systemic issues like racism and sexism.

Since I’ve got a pony in the race on sexism, I’ll use racism as an example:

I didn’t choose to be born white. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you are white, or white enough to fit in. (If you weren’t, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.) Which you didn’t choose either.

But being white gave us a starting point that was ahead of someone of color. And at each point in the “footrace,” we were given little advantages that no one told us about. We naturally assumed we were doing well (or failing miserably) all on our own merits. Because that’s what our culture told us we were. That’s the core “tenet” of individualism: “you do you,” rather than: “you are the sum of the work of your ancestors, you are one piece of a whole (the community).”

But we’re missing all the ways our parents, and their parents, and their parents, set us up to succeed. Or more simply, all the generations of white people who gathered wealth and made this country specificity for white people to succeed.

(To quote the great Lin-Manuel Miranda: “A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor / Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor / ‘We plant seeds in the South. We create.’ / Yeah, keep ranting / We know who’s really doing the planting” –> Slavery was one of the things that built the US into something that could win independence from Britain, and then go on to become a world super power.)

Again, neither of us choose this. We aren’t guilty in our cultural understanding of Guilt/Innocence, which is what western/Protestant thinking is so based on, so this message creates extreme cognitive dissonance.

Because we only have the guilt/innocence dichotomy through which we view the world, we hear: you are guilty. So we argue, no, we’re innocent.

But that’s not the issue at hand. It’s communal guilt that must be faced and addressed. You didn’t ask for this. But this is the world in which you were born.

So the question becomes, when you find out that a whole group of people, because of their genetics, have been systemically* given “handicaps” through this whole “footrace,” what do you do?

You can start by calling it out wherever you see injustice, and making everyone around you uncomfortable until enough people begin to change, rather than waiting for those who are facing the injustice to say something. They’ve tried. No one listened. That’s what “privilege” means: to be someone that people are more likely to listen and respond to.

*There is a wealth of research on this. Do you have the courage to read and listen to your brothers/sisters in Christ who are minorities and just read and research what they say about this? I’d suggest starting with Rasool Berry: http://www.rasoolberry.com/ and Lecrae, as they both come from an evangelical background.

Or, you can close your eyes and try to ignore the fact that you didn’t win the footrace on your own, and tell the people of color who lost to just try harder next time.

Honestly, I rarely engage with random people on the internet, but I know SF is a small enough community that maybe, I’ll actually make someone reconsider his/her preconceptions about the world just a little.

It was this very site that years ago pushed me to think that maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to feel guilty for liking books that use magic, and maybe, just maybe, Harry Potter won’t lead to demon possession. xD

So now I’m hoping to see the same slow sea change happen when it comes to issues of justice with the writers and readers who hang out here.

Call me angry if you will. Obviously, because we aren’t face to face, you’ll never hear my inflections as I write this, just as I won’t hear yours. And let’s be honest, I love snark as much as the next random person on the internet. :[]

But honestly, this discussion has been fun, as it’s mostly pushed me to discover what it is I love about Rey’s character so much.

Please, don’t dismiss what I’ve said out of hand. I used to be right there with you. And this website was the beginning……. huh. Maybe Harry Potter IS the gateway drug to the dark side? xD

notleia
Guest
notleia

High five, face of social justice!

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

If we don’t hurt when other people hurt, the problem is that we’re not close to Christ. Social justice is desperately needed, but divorced from our love for people, it’s hollow. So, I agree, and I think we need to go even further. They’ll know us by our love. . .

Jo Michelle
Guest

I agree. But what is love? It’s a concept we’re really good at hiding behind.

James 2:14-20 – it’s talking about faith, but I’d argue that love works the same way.

“They’ll know us by our love.” I recently took a class in apologetics, and for a final paper, I had to interview 10 people who weren’t Christians, and write a paper about their thoughts on the existence of God and the value (or lack thereof) of the Bible.

Interestingly, NO ONE I interviewed (my neighbors in my apartment complex) didn’t believe in God, and I live in a “liberal” mecca on the US West Coast.

BUT they all refused to see the Bible as important to live by, BECAUSE of how it was used to hurt them or how they saw it used to hurt whole groups of people.

They didn’t have a problem with a God. They had a problem with those who claimed to follow him, and who were marked by an ABSENCE of love, care, and empathy.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. D:

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Agreed, and amen. 1 Corinthians 13. And James 1:27. This is why we can’t call ourselves Christians and campaign for social justice (or holiness) with bitterness and rudeness. “Keep oneself unstained from the world.” Using bullying tactics to bring about change just unravels itself in the end. Let’s be bold. Let’s be true. Let’s be kind. Let’s be meek. Let’s be strong. Let’s stand for the afflicted, let’s visit people in their affliction, let’s stand by them practically, and live out our faith in actuality as the entire book of James demands us to. It’s impossible apart from faith. Apart from the Holy Spirit. And so we need each other to encourage each other towards those ends. I daily strive to do this, and have a feeling you do, too. Let’s love Christ more, and love people better. Blessings, sister!

Jo Michelle
Guest

I think we almost agree, but there’s one thing you said that I’m going to give you a little push back on.

Sometimes, strong words need to be said. Especially to those who are teachers in the Church. Galatians 2:11-14.

And I’d say those who write books – fiction or not – and/or write teaching blog posts, count. Namely, the SF community right here.

Strong words don’t necessarily equal bitterness or bullying. But we often equate “you said something that made me feel bad” with “you’re a bully.”

Too often, “you’re being bitter” and “you’re being unloving” are used as weapons by those with power to silence those with less or no power.

I’m not doubting your motives here, but I’m asking you to be cautious before saying such things. Even with the best of intentions, this:

“This is why we can’t call ourselves Christians and campaign for social justice (or holiness) with bitterness and rudeness. ‘Keep oneself unstained from the world.’ Using bullying tactics to bring about change just unravels itself in the end.”

This taps into the hurt caused previously by others who’ve worked to dismiss pain and silence voices that made them uncomfortable.

Again, I strongly suggest looking up with Rasool Berry and Lecrae have written/said about this and being genuinely seen and heard by the evangelical church. Or….. not. 😧

This article by Berry is a good place to start:
https://rberryblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/11/dr-piper-lecrae-facts-about-white-evangelicalism/

Berry has been on staff with a well-known evangelical missionary organization that is predominately white, for 17 years and counting. He’s “one of us.”

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

I’m never going to be cautious when saying “be kind to people, don’t be bitter, don’t be rude, don’t use bullying tactics to try to change the world.” We can criticize just fine without stooping to sinful tactics and attitudes. You don’t have to agree. But that’s where I’m at, and that’s where I’m staying. And that’s what the Bible calls us to.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Also, I actively listen to Lecrae and John Piper and what they have to say. Piper and Voddie Baucham are two of my favorites. I read the article by Piper when it first came out, and now I’ve read the article by Berry. Thanks for sharing!

Jo Michelle
Guest

🙂 👍

Cody
Guest
Cody

I assumed your tone based on your frequent use of caps. They’re generally used to mean shouting. I’m just going to say quick that (a) there’s very little in your comment that I disagreed with
(b) it sounds like you’ve heard a lot of white people complaining about what they perceive as injustice on the internet and it hasn’t changed your mind so I don’t see why you think any number of people can change theirs
(c) it wasn’t just you whom I specifically described as whiny or bitter sounding. I also mentioned a commentator who disagreed with you.(Interesting how no one has noticed that.) You took opposite sides of an argument but, much like the pigs and the farmers in Animal Farm, you sounded exactly the same. That is why I’m suspicious of flame wars on the web however noble the cause.

I didn’t want to keep this up either so I’m just going to close by saying that a reason I don’t want to align myself with social justice crusaders is because they have a habit of apologizing for the things which they are not responsible for. An apology for something you didn’t do is really a boast about how much better you are than those who did. Of course, not all social justice crusaders have this habit. That is why (to use your language of individualism vs community) I may admire individual crusaders but only individuals.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

There are systematic injustices that need to be addressed, but there’s a few things about what you said that I’d like to point out.

For one thing, in spite of systematic injustices, personal choice is still an equal or perhaps even greater factor when determining how one’s life will go. I’m half white and half Latino, and I’ve seen how choice has affected both sides of my family. One of my aunts, for instance, (who’s fully Latino) ended up in a bad marriage in her younger years (an accidental choice of marrying the wrong person) but now she’s doing very well for herself because, instead of choosing to let her bad circumstances ruin her, she got out of her bad situation and did what she needed to to take care of her kids and improve her life. She’s always been the kind of person that starts off at the bottom, and then works her way up to the very top. She’s very successful and makes more than my white father does. I’ve seen so many other instances of choices making or breaking the lives of my extended family. Race didn’t determine any of those choices either.

When I hear people say ‘Whites automatically have a good start in life just because they are white, and non whites are automatically victims’ I start to wonder if I’m supposed to see myself as a ‘privileged’ person, or if I’m supposed to be seen as a victim. From what I’ve observed, people tend to answer that according to whatever will help them win their argument.

I’m not ok with being labeled as ‘privileged’ or ‘handicapped’, because I want to be seen for myself instead of my race or gender. Race and gender have done little, if anything, to influence the things I consider ‘successes’ in my life. Being part white didn’t magically imbue me with the ability to write, draw, or come up with business plans. Being Latino does nothing to hinder these goals, either. Most of those things are self taught through practice and research.

If my indie publishing business becomes successful, I don’t want people to look at the white half of my lineage and be like ‘Oh, you didn’t REALLY earn that. The only reason you’re successful is because of white privilege.’ (Cause seriously, I don’t post pics of myself online, so hardly anyone will know what my lineage is when they first read my stories) Neither do I want them to say ‘Wow, you’re a Latino woman. It’s so amazing that you managed to accomplish anything in this evil racist sexist country we live in’. As if any success on my part should matter primarily because I succeeded ‘in spite of being in an under privileged group’.

I know you don’t mean what you said in that manner, but sometimes that’s how it comes across when people talk like that. Downputting the personal choice aspect and latching primarily onto the systematic injustice part breeds a sense of helplessness and victim mentality that keeps people from going as far as they are able. Yes, there are systematic injustices, but there are also opportunities for those willing to search out and seize them.

Keith
Guest
Keith

This sounds sexist and racist…shame on you! Trying to discount someone’s opinions by stooping to name calling is beneath you. If you cannot not argue politely, then perhaps you should take a moment and collect yourself. It doesn’t matter if the comments were left by a turnip and a toaster oven, if they are due respect.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Oh look, a call to civility being used as a silencing tactic.

Travis Perry
Editor

I’m a man, but you have no idea how much I’m white or not. (Though race is actually imaginary anyway.) And even though I am a man, I assure you, I am a human being, and I can comment if I wish to do so. Just like you can comment. 🙂

notleia
Guest
notleia

Honestly, if we were to make a guess informed from your displayed privilege blindness, you’re pretty darn white. It’s not really that privilege blindness is your “fault” per se, but you’ve not really done anything to get better (“woke,” according to SJW jargon). (Also too there’s your profile pic.)

Kirsty
Guest

And that’s both sexist and racist. White guys have a right to say you’re wrong, just like anyone else. Not because they’re white guys, but because they’re human.

Allen Steadham
Guest

Hello Catherine. First off, congratulations on writing “Breakwater,” it sounds interesting!

Secondly, I can appreciate that you found Wonder Woman’s portrayal engaging and powerful, which is sadly lacking in too much entertainment. If you received encouragement and strengthening of faith out of it, that is good — but I would offer that Wonder Woman is more about faith in humanity than faith in God. Wonder Woman does not lean on Zeus (nor should she!) or anyone but herself. She is devastated by the loss and sacrifice of Steve Trevor (who she fornicated with), but then her determination is to protect humanity with her gods-given power.

I would agree with you that too often in literature, there has not been strong female representation. Most of that is due to historic and cultural biases which we are only now escaping. But we are escaping them, so there is room for positivity on the subject.

Lastly, I hope you like my books when they come out next summer. “Mindfire” and “Jordan’s World” each feature strong female protagonists and supporting characters in their respective speculative genres of superhero and science-fantasy.

Thanks for writing the article. It was an interesting read.

Lelia Rose Foreman
Guest

Huh. I never read that into Perelandra, one of my favorite books. Nor did I see the Christianity in that marvelous movie, Wonder Woman. And as I think about it, I still can’t see it. The next time I read Perelandra, I’ll try to see if I can find that misogynism that goes beyond character differences.
I can highly recommend Breakwater, Story Peddler, Scarlet Moon, and A Time to Die. I don’t know about Progeny and Havah, as I have not read them yet.

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

The feminist club in this post aside, if Wonder Woman (and yes, I’ve seen it) is one of the deepest Christian movies ever made, one wonders indeed what planet you live on and more importantly, what Bible you are reading. WW is a demigoddess, the daughter of Zeus, of whom it is stated created man in his own image, by an Amazonian mother — are you implying this is somehow reminiscent of the Virgin Birth? This worldview has absolutely nothing to do with the worldview God gives us in His Word — we are to have no other gods but Him, and Zeus He is not, nor is He in the habit of fathering bastard children. The worldview of WW is not truth, it is mythology, and it is exactly the kind of thing Paul warns us will happen when Christians stop listening to the truth and wander away from the faith into mythology. II Tim. 4:1-4.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I interpreted it as meaning that WW was a model of an exemplary Christian, not necessarily as Christ.

Matt Mikalatos
Member

On the other hand, the apostle Paul uses a play and a poem specifically about Zeus in Acts 17 to make points about the one true God.

From “Cretica” by Epimenides, as Minos speaks about Zeus:

“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.
But you are not dead. You live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.”

And then he quotes from the poem “Phaenomena” by Aratus:

“Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbor are full of this deity.
Everyone everywhere is indebted to Zeus.
For we are his offspring.”

(see Acts 17:28-29)

Catherine is doing the same thing here, using pagan mythology (actually heavily Christianized pagan mythology… the story as told is more similar to Christian stories than the original Greek ones) to show the strong undergirding of Christian values and insights about God.

P.S. it’s unlikely Paul is referring to “Greek myths” or “mythology” in 2 Timothy given the context of what he says in I Timothy 1:4 and 4:7 and also Titus 1:14 but rather to stories and fantastical theological narratives being spun by contemporary Jewish theologians.

Catherine Jones Payne
Guest

I’m always a fan of your insights and analysis, Matt. 🙂

Travis Perry
Editor

Matt, nice use of quotations. But I think while we have to admit that Paul is not above “being all things to all people” by some very light quoting of Greek poetry (using paraphrases that don’t actually mention mythological figures), if you do a side-by-side comparison with the quantity of his quotes from the Hebrew Bible versus quotes from elsewhere, you’ll see the president he set was a very small one indeed.

Though I’m not saying we are forced to imitate Paul. I would actually say we have freedom of conscience to a degree here. But let’s be very clear about the example Paul set.

And while we can see some Christian ideas in Wonder Woman–I agree there are some–since there are actual real live neo-Pagans who worship Greek gods and goddesses around in the world, I’m a bit uncomfortable with superheroes who are deities. (Yes, I feel that way every bit as much about Thor as I do about Dianna.)

R. J. Anderson
Member

I agree with you about WW not being a Christian allegory in any sense, but I don’t see any evidence that the author means us to compare Diana’s conception with the Virgin Birth, let alone promote the worship of pagan gods as you seem to think she was doing. Surely it would be more useful to read what she actually said about the movie’s “themes of duty, strength and love,” and its portrayal of femininity as “complex” and “a fierce, protective compassion willing to fight to make the world better,” than leap to the most heretical and offensive possible conclusion?

As for “the feminist club in this post” — for the love of heaven, can we please stop throwing “feminist” around as an epithet.

If an author calls herself a feminist and bases her arguments on feminist philosophy then you can call her a feminist (although that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s wrong — she might still be making a true and reasonable point even if you don’t like where it’s coming from).

If she merely happens to be a woman who argues that instead of being portrayed as sexy temptresses or delicate porcelain flowers, women should be written as three-dimensional human beings because that’s how the Bible talks about them, she’s making a perfectly legitimate point.

Dismissing any posts or comments by women or sympathetic to women as “feminist” is a cheap, dirty stick to beat Christian women with, and it needs to stop. We know what you mean by “feminist” and it isn’t what many of us believe at all.

Catherine Jones Payne
Guest

I’m not usually a fan of direct allegories. So no, I wouldn’t try to contort a work of fiction into paralleling the Virgin Birth. But I think WW’s themes are not only compatible with the Gospel but in many ways articulate important facets of the Christian life.

I’m of the mind that fantastic stories can illuminate truth without explicit references to God or overt parallels to the events of the Bible. All truth is God’s truth, after all.

For the vast majority of us, Greek mythologies are fantastic stories that we are in no way in danger of believing as fact. I might not commend Wonder Woman to a convert from (exceedingly rare) modern-day Hellenism, but there are few stories that I would recommend without hesitation to everyone from every background and set of life experiences.

At any rate, WW strikes me as far more Christian than many labeled-as-Christian movies that actually preach a form of prosperity Gospel. But that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

Lauren
Guest
Lauren

Great article! I would love to see more articles like this featured here — lately it’s seems the content has been a little dry. (I still read several times a week though.)

I’m also looking forward to reading your book — because mermaids and strong women, sign me up! 🙂

The women as people message is so important, especially in Christian culture where we have strayed so far from the many female heroes and even warriors of our legacy.

I know especially when I was a teenager, many of the Christian romance books left me feeling very depressed, it often seemed like if you hadn’t met the man you would marry by 18, then in Christian fiction, then you would just be the maiden aunt or something (this was in the 90s, I know it’s improving).

Lucky for me, I went to college, joined the workforce, got my own place, and recently met a great guy. But I’m really glad I’ve had my independent years to find out how strong and confident I can be.

And I feel for the other homeschooled girls of my cohort who didn’t go to college, couldn’t find jobs, and are stuck in the dependant model that is hard to break free of.

Also, as an aside, I too loved Wonder Woman!

notleia
Guest
notleia

Now you can be all of 25 before you’re labeled as a weird cat lady! /s

But joking aside, yeah, Christian culture has a real problem with what to do with people who don’t get married and pop out kids within a few years of high school.

Kirsty
Guest

I guess that depends on the Christian culture – what kind of Christian, what country, etc. Getting married straight after uni is not uncommon here, but I wouldn’t say the norm either. And I’m 41 and single, and no-one seems to have a problem with me!

notleia
Guest
notleia

Okay, I’ll get more specific: the version of Christian culture as seen in the rural American South.

Even once I was able to commute to a church of a size large enough to support a singles’ group, half those people had kids from previous relationships, so half my supposed cohort I did not actually have much in common with, because kids suck up all your time and brain-space.

Most of the church ladies just don’t know what to do with you since their go-to conversation revolves around kidskidskids and most of their socializing that’s not at church happens at their kids’ activities with fellow parents.

It’s like trying to socialize with sports fanboys when you don’t follow sports, except worse.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Catherine Jones Payne– what do you think of Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing, then? I thought she wrote some profound fiction with amazing female characters in her Earthsea saga (the first book excluded–that’s a male-focused book). Thanks for the thoughtful post! I do think there’s always going to be a place for weak women as characters, just as there is always going to be a place for weak men as characters. Dependency is not a bad thing. We’re all dependent. That’s the central point of Christianity. But I agree that agency for characters is important, and if we systematically remove agency for female characters, that’s a sexist bias entering into our work. Which really is arbitrary and reasonless, and also bad writing. At worst, it can be full-blown misogyny, but I hardly believe that’s the most common reason. We tend to focus in on people who are like us (although, in my books, I’ve featured very strong female protagonists with good agency). Erego, male writers who don’t have any significant female friends aren’t as likely to give prominent, active roles to female characters. It’s not inherently sinful. Though it can be. Most of the time it’s a lack of good perspective and balance. And we (meaning males) need to be thoughtful and open to hearing perspectives like yours without bashing. Likewise, the reverse dialogue should be there, because there’s no balance without it. I find my wife often needs to balance me. And vice-a-versa. We can swing from the chandelier as both misogynists and feminists. I see a bit of both going on in the comments section here. Got to say, though, Matt Mikalatos and R. J. Anderson have piggybacked on your post with some very great, insightful comments. Others too, just have limited space here! Blessings. Let’s be kind to each other.

Catherine Jones Payne
Guest

I need to read more of Le Guin’s books! So far I’ve only cracked open her short stories, which are lovely.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

A Wizard of Earthsea is fantastic, and a great starting point for understanding the later books. But Tombs of Atuan comes to my mind immediately. It’s about a woman who’s locked in a dark, ritualistic, abusive mold, and she breaks free from it. I thought Le Guin’s commentary on womanhood and manhood throughout the entire series was very beautiful. I love her writing. . . I haven’t read The Left Hand of Darkness, but that’s another of hers that strikes gender roles hard. Her sci-fi is very cerebral and dry, though. Her fantasy’s easier to read, IMO.

Matt Mikalatos
Member

I love all the Earthsea books!

notleia
Guest
notleia

The Left Hand of Darkness is a pretty good one, with a sexist narrator put in a non-gender culture (they only morph to a sex for breeding purposes, the narrator is referred to as a “pervert” because he’s always male).

Another one along that line is Ann Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice.” All the pronouns used are feminine. There are characters who seem to be male, based on further clues from the text, but the majority of characters could actually go either way. The plot is pretty basic social justice fodder, but it’s still interesting as an interaction between reader and text, seeing how your assumptions about genders work when given very few clues as to biology.

RACHEL NICHOLS
Guest

Have you read Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis? He writes about an ugly woman who never marries and engages in sword fights, economics, diplomacy and all that other stuff that monarchs did back then. Orual is a sympathetic, witty, intelligent woman. Since she dies a virgin she is not defined by her relationship to a man–but all the men and women in her kingdom. Charles Williams also writes about strong, smart women. Like Chloe Burnett in Many Dimensions.

I too am sick of the stupid romances. As a smart, ugly, awkward woman I never could identify with those pretty dolls all the men fell over themselves courting. I learned to find my identity in Christ alone. I read the Bible and thought provoking fiction and nonfiction. Till recently I have had to look to older works or secular writings for decent fiction. So thankful for indie publishing! Now Christian writers aren’t hemmed in by stale hack formulas.

Catherine Jones Payne
Guest

I love, love, love Till We Have Faces! It’s my favorite Lewis book by far. When critiquing Lewis’s portrayal of women, it’s important to note that early Lewis and late Lewis–the transition takes place sometime in the 1950s, corresponding pretty closely with his relationship with Joy Davidman–are VERY different conversations.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Wow, that’s strange. Never knew that. I just started reading Perelandra, so I’ll be on the lookout for the way he portrays females in that and (hopefully soon) Till We Have Faces.

And Rachel! I agree! Thank God for indy publishing. It’s cracked open the creative doors big time. Also, thank God for publishers like Enclave! And communities like Speculative Faith.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I’d agree about Till We Have Faces for the most part — except about the character of Psyche. She’s waaaay too idealized, and it puts her square in the Madonna/Una/pedestalized woman trope.
Orual is great, and even Redival and Batta have a foothold in realism when dealing with a sexist society, though Lewis gets a little too Jungian stereotype with Batta.

Catherine Jones Payne
Guest

Maybe I’m giving Lewis too much of a pass here, but I’ve always thought Psyche was idealized because we’re seeing her through the lens of Orual–and the fact that Orual idealizes, even idolizes, her is one of the central points of the book.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I’d agree with you for the most part, but the part when Orual tries to persuade her to come home from the Mountain has a lot of off notes. (Tho the bit with the rain is pretty brilliant.) In a lot of ways it’s a redux of Tinidril’s dialectics.

Shaun Stevenson
Guest

Thank you for sharing this, because as evidenced by many of the comments, it’s important for people to remember. We need to support stories with characters that are fully-realized whether they are men, women, kids (especially kids, everyone wants to relegate them to one of three categories: helpless, brats, or innocent. Talk to kids for five minutes and you’ll learn they are MUCH more complex than that). I also think we need to read classic literature, but read it with a Biblical lens. As the husband of a librarian, my wife has taught me the importance of information and non-censorship. It’s important to see where we have been, where we are, and where we’re going and ask ourselves the question: “Where does Jesus want us to sit with this?”

I always remember my grandmother sitting me down and telling me that not only was Jesus the Savior of the world, but “Jesus also came to free the slaves and raise the women.” The way that the Bible treats women as compared to other ancient literature is so different. Women in the Bible are presented as real people with real lives and real ability to be who God has called them to be.

We need to read Scripture, wrestle with it, and do our best to ask questions of the text without a personal bias getting in the way.

Josiah DeGraaf
Member

Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this article! I’ve enjoyed many of the positive examples of womanhood you held up in this article and agree that women have been under or misrepresented in the past in the literary world (esp. in spec fic). However, I had a couple thoughts about your interpretations of Milton & Lewis.

I agree with your interpretation of Genesis 3 that Adam was with Eve when she was tempted, but I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that Milton is a sexist for believing otherwise. (I do believe that Milton was a sexist… just not for that reason.) Many biblical scholars question whether the “he was with her” line applies to the whole situation or only when he ate the fruit. I don’t think the arguments against his presence are strong, but it seems like a leap to me to suggest that one side of this interpretive debate is sexist. Especially when there are more obvious examples of Milton’s misogyny. (E.g. his “Hee for God only, shee for God in him” line.)

I would also question this interpretation of Perelandra. Tinidril constantly repels Weston’s attacks and holds her own in the debate. As the narrator remarks: “…Up to this point the Lady had repelled her assailant. She was shaken and weary, and there were some stains perhaps in her imagination, but she had stood.” It doesn’t seem fair to claim that she was only saved by a man when she proves herself to think more clearly than Ransom. During the debates, while Ransom at times knows better due to his experience, Tinidril at times is wiser due to her innocence and, as the narrator describes, holds her own. To be sure, the debate ends when Ransom decides to remove the temptation. But I think it’s critical for Lewis that Ransom attacks Weston only /after/ the Lady has proven her ground against the tempter and not beforehand. While Ransom takes an active role, he’s also the protagonist of the story and it’s natural for the protagonist to have an active story role.

Anyways, like I said earlier, I agree that there’s some history in fiction of women being portrayed as only secondary characters propping up the men around them, and I agree that this is unhelpful. But I’d question whether these two are the best examples of those tropes in fiction.

Jo Michelle
Guest

I think you missed the troubling parts. It’s not just that a man saves the day, or whether she’s capable of repelling Weston’s verbal attacks on her own, but the “pre-fall” relationship depicted between her and her husband:

To copy and paste from the blog post:

“When faced with temptation, Tinidril cannot possibly think for herself but instead declares that she will rely on her husband to teach and advise her concerning the tempter’s claims.

The tempter then suggests to Tinidril that her husband may not know more than she does. This statement, however, is clearly a mistake: it absolutely baffles Tinidril, who insists:

‘That saying of yours is like a tree with no fruit. The King [her husband] is always older than I, and about all things.'”

This is clearly a one up/one down relationship, with her as subservient to him.

Josiah DeGraaf
Member

It’s hard to reconcile a statement like “Tinidril cannot possibly think for herself” with what happens in Perelandra. Lewis says that “often the Un-man was unexpectedly repulsed by some simplicity which it seemed not to hve anticipated” and after Weston presents his extensive argument for why the Tinidril should make a grand sacrifice and specifically explains the meaning of the word ‘creative’, “she told the Unman that it was younger even than Piebald, and sent them both away.” (Ch. 10 in both cases.) This strongly suggests that she is using her own reasoning. She isn’t only saying that she believes this because her husband told her to. She’s using her own reasoning and innocence to rebuff Weston’s arguments.

Regarding Tinidril’s claim that her husband is always “older” than she is, my understanding is that Catherine’s main point was that “[Tinidril] is passive, never active.” That’s what I’m responding to. I’m not necessarily defending Lewis’ brand of complementarianism showcased here and elsewhere since I disagree with Lewis on this point. What I am contending is that, regardless of how ideal the marriage roles here are, Tinidril is still an active, thoughtful, and reasonably-fleshed-out character.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I agree with a lot of this, at least from the standpoint that many authors don’t write their girls chars as three dimensionally as they should. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know how to, honestly. I’ve heard a lot about how the author of Naruto has a hard time writing girl characters and romance, and how that negatively impacted the way he wrote the main girl char in that series(Sakura). Sakura’s character arc would have been good, the problem is that the author seemed not to know how to present her story line very well, so she just came off as extremely annoying during the first Naruto series.

It sounds like C. S. Lewis wrote many different types of girl characters, and that his perception of women may have even evolved over time. It’s hard to fault the guy for that. Personally, I don’t mind these tropes/character types existing. If there is a naive girl char, that’s fine. If there’s an evil girl char, that’s fine as well. The only problem is when those are the only tropes that exist, or when authors insist that that is exactly how women are in real life, and we as a society are steadily moving away from that toxic mindset.

A challenge for authors, though, is that ‘Good female characters’, (in this instance, ones that promote modern gender equality standards) is a bit of a moving target. Growing up, ‘feminist’ characters were ones that trained in swordsmanship, often because they liked it for some random reason and their whole life was focused on proving themselves to men. Also, they tended to reject most everything ‘girly’, and would avoid being ‘like other girls’.

Now days, however, I see people criticizing that stereotype as being kind of anti woman. People say that old trope did nothing but stomp all over feminity as if it was bad to be a woman and like ‘girly’ things. Additionally, some might see that trope as subtly telling girls that they are only worth something if they fit with the tomboyish ‘warrior woman’ personality. I do agree with that criticism to an extent, and the warrior woman trope does bug me for other reasons(if a char is supposed to be strong and independent, it’s usually annoying when their entire existence is centered around proving themselves to someone that makes their life difficult.) Though the ‘warrior woman’ or ‘not like other girls’ trope isn’t always bad.

Guys and girls are different, but authors sometimes end up hindering their writing process when they harp on this too much. Sometimes people are like ‘how do I write a good girl char?’ almost as if they’re trying to write some alien species that thinks a million times differently. At the core, though, we’re all humans. We have innate personalities, which make us respond to stimuli in a certain fashion. That gives us life experiences, which shape us as a person. That should be foremost in our minds when writing either gender. A lot of writing problems would be solved if we wrote guy and girl chars with that in mind.

R. J. Anderson
Member

Very well said!

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Thanks 🙂

Kirsty
Guest

Certainly in all the books I read growing up, the main girl character was a tomboy of some sort. Nothing wrong with tomboys, but stereotypically ‘girly’ characteristics were always seen as negative.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Yeah. It kind of feels like today’s stereotype busting, progressive writing methods will be tomorrow’s prejudice filled stereotype sometimes. At least judging by how the warrior woman trope used to be good, but now people are criticizing it.

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

Re Lewis’ depiction of the Green Lady: we forget that she is not human. She is an alien. So she would not think, act or speak like a human would. She is also unfallen, without sin, perfect in the day of her creation. She would not think, act or speak as we do therefore. And last of all, just because she does not think, act and speak like a contemporary male-hating American twentysomething feminist makes Lewis guilty of “sexism” only in the eye of the beholder. Let those things sink in. Thank you.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Pffffffffft.

Tho the butthurt is amusing, it does bring an interest question of where Tinidril falls on the continuum from Relatable to Completely Alien. Star Trek aliens are largely of the relatable types, tho in different series it’s Spock or Data or Odo or Seven who are just unrelatable enough to make us ponder the human condition.

But I think Tinidril is more stereotype than just alien.

Jo Michelle
Guest

I think Dan Olson of Folding Ideas addresses HG Ferguson’s core idea in the best way I’ve seen:

https://youtu.be/AxV8gAGmbtk

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Another thing to consider with this conversation is the context of a story and what it is trying to accomplish. I’m not necessarily speaking to a lot of the classics mentioned here, since I haven’t read most of them or done research on the authors. But many stories back then had characters that tended to represent things and ideas, rather than be an exact replica of what real humans are supposed to be like. Now days, we expect stories to be ‘realistic’ and represent people in a realistic, three dimensional manner instead of characters simply representing concepts and ideas, and thus that may be hurting our interpretation of stories in some cases.

Jo Michelle
Guest

Even in that context, the authors were making a statement about people. If a certain gender was always used to represent something, it was because they believed that gender does, in a way, represent that idea. Such stories, then, further propped up those hurtful ideas.

No one is arguing against reading these stories, and interpreting them as the author intended. We’re simply asking people to also recognize how these stories were used to prop up hurtful ideas, to address those ideas, and to do better.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I’m not denying that that is the case sometimes. But the fact that many older characters are often representing things and ideas instead of being exact replicas of humans still needs to be considered. Our modern context is very different than it was back then, and sometimes that makes us interpret stories differently than they were written to be. I’m not saying that harmful stereotypes don’t exist in older stories, but we probably still need to take a more nuanced approach when interpreting them.

Another thing is that sometimes an author DOESN’T always use gender to embody certain ideas, but they can still get accused of sexism anyway simply because of one character and their behavior. Remembering that a character may simply be representing an idea rather than their whole gender may be a way to remind ourselves to judge authors and their characters more objectively.

I’m not saying that these stories never caused harm, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t misinterpreting them sometimes simply because of our modern context and expectations.

R. J. Anderson
Member

Jo, I can’t find an e-mail address or other way to message you, but if you’re on Tumblr or Twitter, please friend me @rj-anderson. 🙂

Jo Michelle
Guest

I sent you a friend request on Facebook – I hope that was you. 😬

Mike
Guest
Mike

Not sure that Wonder Woman, the movie, is a real good place to look to.
She gets her strength from her father, her motivation from her enemy, and her catalyst from her romantic interest… all men.
She does get her martial training from her aunt, but the movie shows that it is entirely useless and only the power she got from her father matters.

As to Perelandra, in the Biblical account, Adam is cursed because he “heeded the voice of his wife and ate”. In CS Lewis’ version, she listens to the husband instead. Adam should have been the one to know better, as he was the one that God directly spoke to.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

I’ve always thought it was because Adam didn’t trust that God’s words were enough, and incorrectly told Eve that she could not even touch the fruit, lest she die (even though that wasn’t what God said). That puts all the weight of responsibility on Adam. However it happened, we know the weight of the responsibility for the Fall is on the first man, not Eve, and that the weight of the responsibility for sin lays on each man and woman.

Elisabeth Wheatley
Guest

Glad to have your recommendation for Tosca Lee and Lindsay Franklin. I see things a little differently on some points, but definitely agree the church needs to stop being a boys’ club. Looking forward to PROGENY and just downloaded your book!

notleia
Guest
notleia
Travis Perry
Editor

So, who would be the creepy person the Captain Awkward article refers to in the context of the comments section of this Speculative Faith article? Who would be the one who makes offensive statements about whole groups of people that their friends politely put up with when they probably should not?

In recent conversation, I’ve talked about Rey, about Perelandria, and disagreed with you and commented about you not really answering what I say. You, on the other hand, spoke in broad terms about Protestants, white men, and the rural South. (Though I guess since Protestants, white men, and the rural South really ARE all identically the same and really ARE all bad makes your use of stereotypes OK.)

Though in fact both you and I were challenged by others in what we had to say–in fact, I think pretty much every point of view offered in the comments on this topic were challenged by someone.

So, actually, the “creepy guy in a group of friends that nobody challenges when he says offensive things” theme in the post you linked doesn’t apply to this conversation we’re having in the comments of Speculative Faith at all. Not one bit.