Hey, folks. I was riding the ol' pallet jack at work replaying a few scenes from the "Epoch" story arc (or episode if you will) from a "Genmakoken Winter/Dragon Spiker" crossover
and I were in collaboration over.
Well the scene itself pretty much has Dahak capitol being attacked by two sets of enemy forces while Hol Holling (male lead of the scene) rushes off to save Theadora our would-be "damsel in distress". A conventional setup right? Danger befalls woman. Man rushes to be her savior, kiss kiss, happily ever after. But the scene doesn't quite play out to conventional specs.
The more I replayed it in my head the more I began anylizing it from more than point of view of someone trying to entertain himself at work, I was dissecting it from a technical perspective. Now forgive me if any of this gets self indulgent. This article is merely for the purposes of picking my own brain and inviting anyone reading to get a few pokes in themselves.
The scene follows Hol dashing through the chaos of Dahak Capitol set ablaze, fighting off enemies and the limitations of his own body to rescue Theadora from certain peril. When he finally reaches her, he finds that she is trapped beneath a pile of flaming ceiling supports having been standing beneath them when the upper floor collapsed.
Now in a more "traditional" setup. Hol cleverly frees her and sweeps her away to safety but here is where the narrative deviates from the norm. Theadora was not trapped beneath the burning wood because she was so imperiled that the danger clouded her good sense and froze her solid thusly requiring rescue from someone with the stomach for such danger (usually a man in this scenario). Its revealed through a supporting character that she was only trapped because she saw to it that everyone in the building was safely out before she herself was about to depart.
Before that point it had already been established that Thea is a capable and intelligent person who would hold her own aswell as tend to the physical and emotional wellbeing of other characters around her. So not only does the story present her as someone quite capable of taking care of herself, it establishes her as a character outside the role of some pretty object to be obtained by the male lead of this particular happening. Even when Hol does reach her, he is quite active in rescuing her but it's mainly through his coaxing of her dazed brain to free herself from the pile of burning wood because no one among the four characters present had the level of physical prowess she possessed to be rid of the debris. (Thea has super strength) And when they become trapped in the burning building its she who ultimately preserves the lives of all four characters by bursting through the roof to "safely" land upon the street. She may have been carried to safety in Hol's arms afterword but she had a VERY active role in her rescue as well as the buildings' inhabitants, and never waited for any male character to be her savior. Pining for him at a tower window while being powerless to do anything until he arrived.
The more I thought about Theadora as an actual character outside of being a tool or plot device the more I started thinking that most if not all female characters I write have these same qualities. During that same event across the city while Thea's "rescue" was taking place. The Lady Duchess Cyril Fengriffin
who had been charged with rescuing citizens and bringing them to a safe zone charged into a burning building to free two children from the flames. She finds them on the fourth floor and just before the floor collapses she scoops them up and springs out of the window into the night. After a near miss of the outstretched canvas below the window she continues without even stopping to catch her breath.
This led me to further dissect Cyril as a character leading me to remembering what "Nostalgia Chick" said about gender of characters being incidental. That a character should be a character before their genitals decide who and what they are. I've always practiced that but it never cemented in my mind until I heard her say that. Cyril is a prime example of this. She's not only The Duchess of a small duchy called Redmaple, she establishes a council there who are elected representatives of the people's wishes and they pretty much govern Redmaple. This character is pretty much responsible for establishing a sort of democracy in a heavily imperialize land while she herself runs an orphanage out of her modest schloss. Only interfering with governmental procedures when necessary and even then with grace, tact, and civility.
Well read, polite, and an endless font of practical knowledge and is quite skilled with a sword. This character is a person. Someone with identity outside of a vehicle to drive us to the next plot point. Cyril could be male or female. Her gender I feel is quite incidental... but The Duchess did end up being female which led me to further ponder why I mainly make the characters with the most substance female. Am I unconsciously a feminist in some capacity? Or is it more likely that the female as a creature can simply be more versatile as the base gender of any would-be fictitious person you wish to create?
I suppose I should elaborate that thought a bit more. What I mean by "versatile" is what an audience could view as "realistically" acceptable behavior from a character. I approach this from a mostly American cultural perspective with full understanding that what ever the social "normality" is in The U.S. may not be viewed the same way in another country but at our cores people are basically people wherever you go.
For example if an American audience watched a character swagger into a room full of demon ninjas, dropping a lit cigarette, kill every single ninja demon in an epic acrobatic battle wielding an eight foot muramasa engulfed in green flame, and kissing the person they just rescued all before the cigarette hit the ground... wait... I just blew my own mind with that epic visual. Oh... the combination of characters might be a little restrictive in that scenario if you care what the majority has to say. From the common American perspective, a male character kicking ass then taking that kiss from a female character is what the kids are calling "BADASS". Now If a male character layed that smackdown and took his kiss from another male character it would most likely take a lot of the audience out of it.
Now to avoid backlash I honestly have nothing against homosexuality. I've written characters who are gay and the only bearing it really has on the story is who they may be inclined to flirt with. That and some other more complex reasons that deal with sexual obsession to gain compliance but thats off topic. I've always lived by the philosophy that if you can find someone in this world who can make you happy for 30 damn seconds it doesnt matter what anyone else thinks. I'm just saying based on observing southern attitudes on the subject for the past decade, we've still got some social growing to do.
Anyway my point being before that little aside is that if a female character made her some demon sushi with that oversized blade we'd accept her taking her reward kiss from a guy without giving it a thought but still bestowing upon her the status of "BADASS" and if she took that kiss from another female character not only would she retain her "ULTIMATE BADASSERY" she would have just blown every mind in the room in what many would consider the best way possible.
(Sigh) How did I go from establishing democracies to demon slaying lesbian makeout sessions?
I guess my ultimate point in all that was that people expect things of either gender whether they are aware of it or not and I find character development like female sexuality is far less linear as opposed to dealing with males. I believe a character should always be written without the constraints of what others will perceive but there is a point where people may be taken out of the story. I often hear negative comments about male characters for crying. For having a simple human bodily function in response to a genuine emotional or physical need to do so. It sometimes seems that a man is not considered a man unless he yields to no pain and sheds no tear.
This is where we get into "Mary Sue" territory. When a character is supposed to be so badass that he or she is impervious to the emotional and physical world around them thusly having them be in no real danger from any existing antagonist that the narrative would suggest is a threat. This kills any sort of conflict. Yeah I can admit that this kind of entertainment does have its charm when you just wanna numb out and be entertained by explosions for an hour and a half but it could never stay with you like good ol' plot littered with challenges to overcome for the protagonist.
I say that to say this. No one ever questions an emotional display from a female character. I know that sounds sexist but think about it... Have you ever heard anyone say "Why is that woman emoting?" I think since women are less restricted when dealing with emotion they are thusly more in tune with them and easier to write as the badass demon slayer... as the doting mother... as the character who can slay a dozen men and then have a good cry without being dismissed using derogatory slurs that are so pathetically commonplace as to have lost all meaning.
From another perspective many see the male gender as the rulers of whatever our little minds may create and it carries much more weight to see female characters as rulers and warriors. I suppose I can back that thought to a small degree. I personally don't believe for a second that any one gender "rules" the world. Its more likely that we're all just perpetually making fools of each other and any third party who has the misfortune of observing our little joke only got a couple of chuckles out of it before getting intensely annoyed and tuning us out.
I guess I, like so many other writers and artists are just products of a time when gender roles aren't so explicitly defined as they were fifty or sixty years ago. Long gone are the days where a woman had no choice but to heavily depend upon a man because of the lack of options open to her and this change is very much reflected in modern writing. Even when the events of these narratives take place in periods or settings where the roles of men and women were clearly defined.
Thats why I never understood all the flack Disney took for allegedly attempting to train generations of young girls into falling into their "proper places". I have no proof that this isn't true. Mankind is a backward little thing that remains unfit by its own abstract concepts and standards and is prone to such absurdities, but from a practical perspective the stories they featured in their films were themselves born of times that just don't share the social norms of the past few decades. We all know that they took some creative liberties but if they were going to be at all faithful to the source material they'd have to conform to the main archetypes of those stories and some behaviors would come across as extremely antiquated. I think they took the hint and bred a new breed of princess in recent years. I still maintain if I'm to give it any more thought that the artists just wanted to create and the suits just wanted to market something to make money. I can swallow that a little easier than a conspiracy to brainwash a crop of compliant little house frous who'll implicitly trust anyone (seriously... read the real Snow White... She's a dumb ass. Natural selection was trying very hard to tie up that loose end). Besides its nice to take a bit of wisdom from something but never let a single idea shape your entire being.
I was also thinking that my actual art may contradict my philosophies regarding deeply thought out female characters. While I can not deny that most art I do of these same characters who cary themselves as intelligent and strong individuals commanding dignity and respect from the other characters around them are often posed in what most would view as "disrespectful" but think about that for a moment.
Everyone has to some degree a differing opinion of whats sexy and what is not. Speaking from my own male perspective, we men folk are not limited to but are heavily based in what we can physically see when it comes to sexualization of a subject. I'm not making excuses and I'm not saying subtlety cannot be sexy because it very much is. I'm merely stating that showing a little flesh doesn't necessarily mean a character should be reduced to a bimbo because of an artist depiction.
I have no pretense of breaking any new ground with the way I write but I wonder if the clear and simple goal of rescuing a "mcguffin" disguised as an actual character is still something favored more than characters a little more complex than just being a reward for the protagonist. It all really boils down to personal preference I guess. What do you guys think? Any examples of your own work or the work of others is more than welcome.