Guest Post: “Women + Power” by Foz Meadows

Foz Meadows

 

About Foz Meadows

Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer and poet. In 2014, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe; she is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate, and a contributing reviewer for Strange Horizons and Tor.com.
You can find Foz online at fozmeadows.wordpress.com, and on Twitter @fozmeadows.

 

Women + Power

Something I’ve always liked about the Kill Bill films – and I’m aware there’s plenty of fair critique to be made of them – is that they show women fighting:

  1. about something other than the “right” way to be a woman or over a man;
  2. skilfully; and
  3. in a way that actually disturbs their appearances.

It’s not that I’ve got some particular yen to see women battle it out on screen; it’s just that overwhelmingly, when those fights do happen, it’s shot with an eye to preserving their physical beauty. Their hair stays unrealistically coiffed in action sequences; their designer clothing is never despoiled; their injuries don’t leave scars or bruises. Even in the midst of rage and fury, women are still expected to look nice for the camera, and it drives me nuts. But in Kill Bill 2, there’s nothing sanitised about that ugly, brutal, final fight between Elle Driver and Beatrix Kiddo: it’s close quarters, violent and bloody. Their hair does not stay perfect. They get filthy and wounded. They fight dirty. And for a very long time, that was pretty much the only example I had of women in combat that wasn’t either waifu-stylised karate ballet or Hollywood fauxtion where the actresses never look anything other than sexily dishevelled. (The other formative example was Captain Morgan Adams in Cutthroat Island, a grossly underrated and gloriously trashy pirate film from my adolescence: Geena Davis did her own stunts, and there’s never a point where she doesn’t look exactly like a sweaty, pissed-off woman who’s simultaneously having great fun setting fire to everything.)

And now, all of a sudden, we have Peggy Carter going through men like a wrecking ball with whatever blunt object is nearest to hand, Imperator Furiosa getting dirty and angry and brutal in the service of her mission, and the new Ghostbusters fucking with ghosts in a gloriously unsexualised action sequence, to name just the obvious examples – and without exempting any of those narratives from criticism on other counts, I’m thrilled by this new acknowledgement of the fact that women don’t have to look pretty all the time, and especially not in combat.

Not, of course, that we’re anywhere near unseating the default, and nor is the problem restricted to the physical aspects of fighting – or, indeed, to physical combat at all. As per point a) above, the fact is that most narratives still find it easier to show a single woman engaged in sexualised, unrealistic combat than to show two women fighting in any capacity over something that isn’t a man or the “correct” expression of womanhood. The forthcoming film Bad Moms is entirely about this last, and as much as the part of me that’s internally screaming about my toddler’s behaviour is on board with that, I can’t quite get past the fact that the central conflict isn’t mothers vs unfair societal pressure, but Good Mothers vs Bad Mothers; and no, the intended subversion of what “good” and “bad” means in context doesn’t make it a better schism. Maybe I’m being unfair to the film, and both sides will team up at the end – I’d certainly be on board for that. But right now, I’m sick of how often I see female-centric films pitched as either “woman seeks man” or “women fight each other about womanness”, and rarely anything else.

Because here’s the thing: while women certainly can and do fight about men and the “right” way to be women, it does an incredible disservice to an entire gender to act as though that’s all they ever fight about, or even most of it. Right now, you’ve got a continuum for female/female disputes in visual media with “hitting stuff while pretty” at one end – the presentation of which is largely coded for straight male viewing fantasies – and “competing with women for male attention and/or feminine kudos” at the other, with those narratives contrastingly coded for straight female consumption. There’s precious little middle ground, and at base, it’s a failure of imagination: an inability to imagine any other way that women might fight, or with who, or for what reasons.

Because most fights, whether physical or discursive, are ultimately about power in some form: who has it, who wants it, how it’s used, and why. And if we collectively conceive of women as being people whose only real power exists in a domestic sphere, who can’t or shouldn’t compete for power with men, but who can fight each other for certain, limited types of power in male-dominated spaces, and who otherwise have no reason to fight or argue for anything except, maybe, the protection of their children, then our stories aren’t going to show a wide range of female characters or interactions, period.

Let women be passionate, angry, vengeful, ambitious, longing, competitive, stubborn, prideful, political, complicated, messy, determined. Let them wield power of all kinds; let them want power of all kinds. Let them gain and lose it, and try again. Over and over and over.

And watch how your stories get better as a result.  

 

About An Accident of Stars

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

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