A recent Slacktivist thread briefly (as of the time of this writing) touched on the subject of women in writing, which naturally got me thinking about my own writing. For those who don’t yet know, I’ve been in the long process of writing a novel (which, as of posting, stands at 35,000 words and 62 pages in Word) which began as a semi-satirical take on premillennial dispensationalism (or is it dispensational premillennialism?), the belief that (in varying order) Christ will return, the faithful will be raptured away and the rest of humanity will suffer several years of tribulations, often featuring the rise of an antichrist figure. Originally intended to be an inversion on this story wherein the antichrist is the protagonist doing battle against a tyrannical and evil deity, my novel-to-be evolved into something else.
The gist of the tale is now that thanks to the media, getting hysterical messages about the end of the world to the masses has become easier than ever, leading to huge numbers of people constantly thinking about it, usually with a particularly Christian spin (turning this into a story about the Apocalypse, as opposed to, say, Ragnarök. No love for the Norse). Eventually, the constant messages become a kind of meme, a collective unconscious obsessed with all things world-endy. All this subconscious obsession is constantly shaping and molding the metaphysical realm, altering the physical world in accordance with the hopes and fears of humanity. Now tuned to Apocalypse AM Radio, the spiritual world takes those agents already affecting our world (global climate change, natural disasters, orbital decay) and cranks them up to eleven.
It wouldn’t be Christian if Heaven and Hell didn’t factor into it, though, so we get a rapture and the rise of demonkind. Because the metaphysical world can alter reality in retrospect, however, their version of God is one that groups such as Westboro Baptist Church (no link; if for some reason you don’t know of the WBC, you may not wish to Google their hateful, vile antichristic creed) get raptured while — well, let’s just say it’s a given that Jesus of Nazareth would have probably gone to Hell. Hell, in fact, is populated by more innocent people than not, so when Hell opens to allow Satan to rise and subjugate mankind — there is no Satan, no antichrist, at least not as anyone would recognize it. The Hellkind, in fact, engineer the only means by which humanity escapes extinction as the world continues to collapse.
Fast forward a few centuries and we open with a half-demon young woman by the name of Lindsay Fraser. At 35K words, Lindsay is already one of my most favorite characters. She’s somewhat of a bookworm with a deep interest in history, an introvert who’s been stung by young love and a natural at magic. Opposite of her is a young demon who calls himself Decimonius (although this is not his real name and he merely uses it because he thinks it sounds like an Impressive Sorcerer Name), the village’s newest instructor of magic, a master in his own right who rose rapidly into the realm of teaching. Between them is a shameless extrovert named Tania, the kind of obnoxious flirt who can walk through the men’s shower room just to borrow a bar of soap.
So far that’s a pretty traditional theme for a fantasy romance story. She’s obviously going to fall in love with him. After all, he’s like her, but a little less mature (in a loveable way, I’m sure) and competent enough to be both a teacher and a lover, right? It especially seems typical when both “Des” and her friend Tania seem to alternate in bullying her to open up and be social, to flirt and be receptive to attention, yadda yadda. However, let me break this down as I’m seeing it.
Protagonist: Lindsay. Obviously.
Foil: Tania. Her easy expressiveness, exuberance and implied promiscuity is completely at odds with Lindsay. Her bullying, rather than encouraging Lindsay to open up, causes her to close in further. Lindsay deals with the cognitive dissonance of wanting to close up and being attracted to Des by pursuing him, rather than by letting herself be pursued. The more Tania thinks she’s getting her way by encouraging the two of them to flirt and spend time with each other, the more Lindsay is actually hardening her shell and craving things on her own terms.
Antagonist: Decimonius. Their relationship, while often fun, affectionate and generally pleasant, is actually built on the kind of basis you would ordinarily think of as battle tactics. It’s all about everything being Lindsay’s way. Locations, behavior, even conversation topics are all on her terms. To prevent herself from being hurt or mocked, she insists on being in control of the relationship, placing Decimonius’s needs and desires in an adversarial role.
So does this mean she’s just, excuse the term, an alpha woman? The HBIC (Polite version: Head Broad In Charge)? If it stayed this way, maybe, but a lot of this is meta and all of it is transitory.
Bang! Explosions! Nothing like a little conflict to cement their relationship. Raiders attack the village and Decimonius pulls the KnightInShiningArmor role out of his back pocket and gallantly asks Lindsay to stay out of this. After all, only men should have to engage in combat! Women, well, even when they’re not delicate… how could a man live with himself, knowing he’d let something happen to the woman he loves?
Of course she disobeys him. She goes out and participates in battle, and actually holds her own quite well. Not only does she not get hurt, she eliminates two of the most dangerous opponents on the battlefield: the first is an enemy mage, the second is a rather large cannon. I should hope I don’t have to explain why the cannon is symbolic, but the mage might be a little more subtle. When she defeats the mage, Lindsay is establishing dominance over the field of magic–Decimonius’s field–and then by destroying the cannon, Lindsay is further symbolically emasculating him. To make matters worse, she even points out that with her skill and the fact that she’s in less danger from dying than he is (half-demons can be resurrected with magic, but demons cannot), it would make more sense–in fact, she insists it’s necessary–for her to protect him.
As you might expect, this doesn’t bode well for their relationship. If this were strawman (strawwoman?) feminist literature, Des would be falling over himself to tell Lindsay how wrong he was and kowtowing to her new dominance. Since I try to write a little more three-dimensional characters than that, Des is definitely not taking this well. His masculinity has been insulted. Obviously, if they’re to have a future together, they need to find a more egalitarian way of perceiving their relationship. She needs to stop seeing him as an antagonist on which she’s been forced and he needs to stop seeing her in the false dichotomy role of submissive female or emasculating wench.
I wonder what that means when another male enters the scene who is naturally submissive, even–oh noes!–a bit effeminate? How do you think Lindsay will react to him? Decimonius?
What started out as a poke at Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins seems to have become an interesting conflict of gender behavior models…