Speculative writers often express a disdain for Christian fiction because it is dominated by books in the romance genre and by the peculiarly Christian Amish Fiction genre. Stories in those genres, we so often say, do not reflect reality. They are not authentic. They reflect wishful thinking more than they do the way things actually are.
It is kind of ironic for fantasy and science fiction writers to criticize another genre for not being “real enough.” Of course I say this with tongue in cheek, because I believe that speculative fiction can do what other genres only hint at—our books deal with the spiritual life as much or perhaps more than the physical, emotional, mental life of a person.
So why would I suggest that Amish Fiction writers have something to say that might actually be what readers want to hear, beyond wishful thinking?
My thinking has to do with a blog post I read this morning, “We Need More Weak Female Characters…,” by one of my favorite bloggers, InsanityBytes, who also happens to be a Christian.
IB explained her position:
Well, isn’t it rather insulting to have “strong” placed in front of “female” as if we must now differentiate? Isn’t that just incredibly redundant and rude? Doesn’t it also just scream, the female characters is this book are so not like all the other women, you know, all those limp wristed, wimpy, soggy plates of pathetic femininity we have all come to loathe and despise?
I mean call me naive, but I thought “strong female” was just a given?? What woman is not strong? And really when the world attacks, I’m pretty sure it could care less about you presenting your Strength Credentials anyway. “Listen up world, I’ll have you know, I am actually a strong female character, so thou shall not mess with me…?” Does that even work?
Later she adds
What is with this whole idea that “weak” is somehow the same thing as “bad?” Don’t our stories all begin with a moment of weakness? Isn’t it our scars and our struggles that make us unique? Isn’t it our defects that tend to build our character? How can I even empathize with one of these two-dimensional, plastic characters who walks about like trained prize-fighter in stilettos? Like, I totally question the judgment of anyone wearing a tank top in 40 degree weather, anyway. Chasing bad guys in heels is even worse.
IB has a point, a humorous one but also with serious ramifications. In today’s feminist-driven society, a woman isn’t really quite significant unless she’s doing what a man does. Softball players, for instance, aren’t valued by the press nearly as much as the few women who have attempted to have a professional baseball career. Who makes the press, the female cheerleader who does an incredible, daring high-flying flip into the arms of her teammate, or the girl who becomes the football team’s field goal kicker?
Translate that into stories. Do we writers value women characters only when they do the things men do, or do we have a place for women who are “nothing” but gracious and kind and nurturing and stable and (hold your breath) domestic?
Do we see “weak” women as valuable too?
I think writers of Amish fiction might have a place in their stories for “weak” women. They may have strength of character or spiritual depth that far outstrips the men in their lives. I’m not well schooled in the genre, so I don’t know for sure, but after reading IB’s article, I got to wondering whether or not women can relate to the women in Amish fiction more than they can relate to “two-dimensional, plastic characters who walks about like trained prize-fighter in stilettos?”
I suppose the real challenge for writers is to fairly represent characters of various stripes. All our female lead characters don’t have to be girls that can hold their own with the guys on the team. Nor do they all have to be vulnerable victims that need a man’s protection. Maybe we can get away from the stereotypes of both extremes and write women characters who are, you know, like real women are.
The women I know are amazing because they can multitask, they can wear a dozen different hats every day, they can deal with grief and loss with the same grace that they do gain and applause (which doesn’t come their way very often). In case you’re wondering, I’m describing my friends who are moms, some who also work outside their home. But the stay-at-home moms are no less amazing. Can speculative fiction find a place for these women? Can they be our protagonists? Do we see them as worth the spotlight? Or do our female protagonists all have to do as the men do?