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Meme: Five women...

Forgive the introspection, but I saw shaggydogstail's list of five fics she'd written about women, and I got to thinking about the women I've included in my stories and the issues I'd had writing about them. (There's a whole separate discussion we could have about why I'm writing mostly m/m slash or m-centic gen and why women don't figure as strongly in my fic as they do in my life, but we'll leave that for another day.) I'm going to try to raise some general issues about writing women below, so don't worry, you don't need to have read the individual stories to read this discussion.

Quick disclaimer? I don't think the fics actually *do* everything I say I wanted them to do (i.e., my analysis is stronger than my fic, and sometimes includes ideas that never made it onto the page). But these are some of the issues I was thinking about while writing or rereading them, for whatever that's worth.

1. Minerva McGonagall in A House Divided. This is story about Minerva's attempts to get a twenty-year-old Sirius to reconcile with his dying father. Ultimately, we learn that the attempts were misguided; Sirius has been disowned by his family and his father did not want to see him again, after all.

I think one of the most difficult issues I have writing about strong women is dealing realistically with strength; it's all too easy to make characters like Minerva or Lily not only strong, but morally upright and unrealistically consistent. (Something I do myself on occasion, as with last night's fic. *cough*) What I was trying to get at here was a Minerva who was both very strong but also on the wrong track--sympathetic to arguments by various Black family members that families should stay together, suspicious that Sirius might be the one unwilling to reconcile. She's brave and fair-minded but not always in the right, and I tried to see her as someone who might be admirable, nevertheless. It's surprising sometimes just how much I want Minerva to be stronger (tougher, wittier, better) than the other characters.

2. Hermione Granger in The Unusual, Exceptional, and Statistically Remarkable Hermione Granger, Age 21. This is ostensibly a coming out story about a post-series Hermione who gets together with Pansy Parkinson, but it's also about Hermione's coming-to-terms with a life that will be defined by personal--not just professional--accomplishments.

This isn't so complicated, but it still strikes me as an issue worth mentioning: I haven't yet met a woman who didn't have something to say about the difficulty balancing work and family or personal identities. It sounds so cold put that way, but I think the lived experience of not-wanting-to-be-defined-by-one-or-the-other is an emotionally charged issue for many of us. Hermione is suffering from too much success in one part of life and not enough in another, so she was fun to write about. (And hopefully she'll forgive me for mocking her concerns ever so gently.)

3. Remus/Rita Lupin in The Universe is a Procession, a remix of this fic by busaikko. This is a post-series story about a fortysomething Remus living in the Muggle world, contemplating a gender change and falling in love with an exiled Severus Snape.

I had real difficulty with this story, and not just for the obvious reasons (that is, the transgender themes, which I'm not sure I handled very realistically). The dynamic of the story is that Remus is uncertain about his own gender status but always a step more comfortable with it than Snape, who's attracted to him/her despite himself. Remus is very aware of this attraction and plays to it. It was astonishing difficult for me--someone who's always been aggressively uninterested in her appearance--to imagine this, to take Remus' attention to make-up and clothes seriously, as part of the way he is redefining himself and relating to Snape. Also, this turned out to be a story of love being (more or less) blind to gender, which was an issue I was and still am rather conflicted about. I'm not sure how successfully these themes come across in the story, but I have a lot of affection for the fic and its protagonist because they were so hard to write.

4. Arabella Figg in Voldemort's Return: A Love Story. Batty, cat-loving Arabella Figg overcomes her fears to befriend a werewolf and watch him fall in love, if only from afar.

I've been thinking a lot about women in supporting roles in RL lately, and this fic was an exercise in taking a minor character and her contributions seriously. Arabella is an elderly Squib, peripheral in canon, and only partially aware of the Remus/Sirius romance blossoming in this fic as she slowly befriends Remus. I think inadvertently this fic became a backhanded commentary on the (often supporting) role of women in slash, in which I was bidding for the reader's affections with Arabella while doing the minimum on the Remus/Sirius front. My compromise involved trying to remember that slash (and gay men's culture more generally) isn't necessarily so exclusively male as we sometimes make it out to be and developing a polite but genuine friendship between Remus and Arabella.

5. Bellatrix Black Lestrange in Fumbling, Stopping, and Starting, a remix of this fic by sambethe. Bellatrix doesn't get that much screen time here, but we see her twice, once as a young women, at odds with Andromeda over her impending marriage to a Muggle-born, and again in the afterlife, when she and Andromeda reconcile.

Bellatrix's defining characteristic here is her cruelty; she's a touch too mean in her dealings with her family, and even after death she's hard to take. I see her as quite similar to Sirius in many ways--ideological, aggressive, judgmental, and cutting. This doesn't really come across in the story, but I'm interested in the way that these qualities are admirable in one character/gender and frightening in another. I realize the main reason Sirius is admirable is that he's made some good choices and Bellatrix is frightening because of her devotion to the wrong set of ideas, but surely there's an odd gender dynamic at play here. Just a bit?

Well, that makes everything sound very didactic, doesn't it? *sigh* It wasn't meant to be. As always, I'm interested in your thoughts on these subjects.

Also, I'm collecting memes again, both five favorite fics and five fics with women. If you did one for your own writing, please comment and let me know?

Five favorite fics:
schemingreader, inksheddings, busaikko, liseuse, such_heights, bronze_ribbons, paulamcg, mauvaise_etoile, lupinslittlesis, minnow_53

Five fics with women and girls:
shaggydogstail, snegurochka_lee, bronze_ribbons, a_t_rain, snorkackcatcher, krabapple, nimbus1944


( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2007 08:41 pm (UTC)
I did the five favorites, here, but this is the first I've heard of the five fics with women. I have not written many fics with women at the center.
Mar. 8th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I just saw the one on Shaggy's journal that got me thinking. I'll post more if I run across them. M.
Mar. 8th, 2007 09:08 pm (UTC)
I am ashamed to admit I have written very few fics about women outside of romantic entanglements. I'm not sure why. And these days, my fics are simply full of men. Ah well.

I did the five favorite fics meme, though, and came up with seven. *g* It's here:

Mar. 9th, 2007 12:02 am (UTC)
And these days, my fics are simply full of men. Nothing wrong with that! *shrugs* There are all kinds of reasons why we do what we do; I'm not too concerned about this issue. Thanks for the link! M.

Mar. 8th, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)
I did the 5 favourites meme: http://busaikko.livejournal.com/72539.html

Now you'll have me spending the morning rereading! (hee - good thing!)
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:04 am (UTC)
Oh, excellent, thank you! I saw yours earlier, and it had the rather unfortunate effect of making me reread Ten Aprils, not the best thing for a busy week! But otherwise wonderful. M.
Mar. 9th, 2007 04:41 am (UTC)
Hee! Perhaps I need to make a Cliff's Notes edition of 10A. Or turn it into a few random Dumbledore words: "Fruitcake! Baby! Love!"

I'm having fun reading through everyone's five favourites. Very interesting!
Mar. 8th, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC)
Ahh, you and Shaggy remind me how much I really want to write more women in fic. I have a whole host of things started on my hard drive and I really should do something about them. It irks me somewhat that I find myself finishing the fic with men and boys first mainly because I think my fandoms are pretty male-centric. I have no idea of that is true for fandom in general or not but my end feels to be very much about the boys.

Even yesterday glass_icarus asked if I might try and write something from one of G.G. Kay's books and my brain automatically went to two brothers, even though there are two incredibly strong women about whom I could write. It frustrates me a bit.
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:13 am (UTC)
Ah, but strong women doesn't necessarily make for good fanfic: look at Lily and Minerva, who are both great characters with a major role in the plot, and yet we don't know enough about their universes to do much with them. It's hard to write about the HP universe from a woman's perspective because canon is developed in relation to men--Harry, Tom Riddle, Dumbledore--and women (like characters of color) tend occupy peripheral positions.

Not that we can't spend time developing these characters anyway, but it's an issue.... M.
Mar. 9th, 2007 03:35 pm (UTC)
It's something I like about the way both you and Maggie write Minerva, that you allow her to be human. I'm a big fan of letting female characters be - be flawed, be vulnerable, be different from me, be other than we wish them to be.

I sometimes get the feeling - and it's just that, an occasional feeling, nothing more - that many fic writers are uncomfortable letting women characters be vulnerable. And yet invulnerable characters are so uninteresting. Hence, lots and lots of fic about vulnerable men.

Mar. 9th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
I sometimes get the feeling - and it's just that, an occasional feeling, nothing more - that many fic writers are uncomfortable letting women characters be vulnerable. And yet invulnerable characters are so uninteresting. Hence, lots and lots of fic about vulnerable men.

I think there's something brilliant here... M.
Mar. 8th, 2007 11:15 pm (UTC)
I did the five favourite's here.

Your comments about Bellatrix made me think about Pansy (well, there are very few things which don't make me think about Pansy really) and her portrayal in canon. I think it boils down to the similarities between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins and the way that the same traits are either noble or evil depending on which house you're in. No one mocks Hermione's devotion to Harry, who could easily have been a Slytherin, but Pansy is mocked (in canon) for her devotion to Draco (who I personally think could easily have been a Gryffindor.)
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)
*nods* I suppose that's the aspect of canon that's still very children's lit--at some point you have to stop analyzing the characters and accept basic assumptions about the way this world works--Gryffindor vs. Slytherin, for example. Not all Gryffindors are good and not all Slytherins are evil, but you have to accept the fact that most are in order to understand the logic of the exceptions. Thanks for the link! Maggie
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:28 am (UTC)
This is true. It still irks me though. I want this universe to be shades of grey. But then, that is what we have fanfic for I suppose. It means we get to write these women and their stories and their personal journeys in a way that makes them relevant and interesting to us.

(I also did a conglomerate International Women's Day post here.)
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:35 am (UTC)
True. I was just saying to Kris above that there's not canon to make Lily or Minerva good for fanfic--and then I caught myself and said what am I thinking? I'm all about discovering the untold stories. *sigh* Or at least I try. *heads over to see your post* M.
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)
I'd say you do a rather wonderful job at the untold stories, personally.
I think that the chance to do that is the thing I am most grateful for about this universe and Rowling's writing. She's given us so many interesting little things and characters to play with and whilst it would be nice if she'd tie them all up and go back to them, I'm not going to complain about the fact that we get to.
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:03 am (UTC)
You really are one of the very best at writing the women of HP, and that list of your fics just proves it. That's interesting what you say about Minerva and strength, because too often "strong" becomes synonymous with "masculine" and I always think that's a shame. =) I'm really enjoying all the women's stuff flying around on LJ today, thanks for adding to and collating it!

Oh, and as for memes, my five favourite fics post is here.

Mar. 9th, 2007 12:24 am (UTC)
So glad you enjoyed! Thanks for the link! Maggie
Mar. 9th, 2007 04:28 am (UTC)
Couldn't resist...
5 fics w/women: http://bronze-ribbons.livejournal.com/93603.html

5 favorites:

It strikes me that my list of women-fics is peppered with quite a few "I should" statements ... which some of my more militant friends would argue is a depressingly female affliction (e.g., a manifestation of constant self-criticism, never quite feeling one's doing enough, etc.). Rather than bore you with that meta/navel-gazing, though, I think I'll copy this comment into my "plots" folder and turn it into a story instead (someday...). ;-)
Mar. 9th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, excellent, thank you, just linked.

I think I'll copy this comment into my "plots" folder and turn it into a story instead (someday...)

*smile* Good point. Funny how things are not quite so grim in fic? Maggie
Mar. 9th, 2007 05:15 am (UTC)
My five fics with female characters, plus five bonus recs for other people's fics:

Mar. 9th, 2007 03:21 pm (UTC)
Perfect. (Lots of good reading material coming out of this meme.) Thank you! M.
Mar. 9th, 2007 12:46 pm (UTC)
Despite the fact that I've only ever written one short story and a few chapters of a long fic from a woman's point of view (and an OFC at that), I have the presumption to dare ask if you'd mind me friending you... :)
Mar. 9th, 2007 03:23 pm (UTC)
Despite the fact that I've only ever written one short story and a few chapters of a long fic from a woman's point of view (and an OFC at that)...

*laughs* I'm not so strident, really! Of course. I'll do so, too? Maggie
Mar. 9th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)

Mar. 9th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)
I returned to comment after making my Five Favourite Fics entry, so I could give you the link, and I’m happy to see you’ve already added it to your list. Thank you!

I also want to say I admire your interest in focusing on various (female) characters in your fanfic. What you say about each story here makes it look fascinating. I think I’ve read only “Voldemort’s Return: A Love Story”, and you know I love it, don’t you?

I must have written more about original female characters than canon ones, and Lily is the only one I’ve used as a viewpoint character (in These Acts of Love). Perhaps I feel more comfortable about making men vulnerable i.e. fascinating.
Mar. 10th, 2007 01:29 am (UTC)
No trouble! I was happy to see your post.

Perhaps I feel more comfortable about making men vulnerable i.e. fascinating.

Did you see la_onza's comment above? I think quite a few of us are more comfortable doing that. I'd never thought about it this way until I saw you two saying so, but now that makes a lot of sense.

I also have a weakness for well-written female original characters. What's not in canon, we'll create! *smile* M.
Mar. 10th, 2007 03:35 pm (UTC)
Sent you this link last night, but don't see it, so in case it got lost or scrambled on the way...

Mar. 10th, 2007 04:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, excellent! Thank you! I loved Luna's list of missing items, by the way. Maggie
Mar. 11th, 2007 01:02 pm (UTC)
I did the five favourite fics (at the top of my journal, March 7). It'll probably be backdated soon, but it's still there now.
Mar. 11th, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I went back and reread a few--that's the fun part about this meme--and think Love Stories might be my favorite among your favorites. Sirius Black's Schooldays is funnier, but nothing is better than a teenager with a crush so overwhelming he doesn't know to do about it except minimize the damage. M.
Mar. 11th, 2007 04:40 pm (UTC)
LS is definitely the best story on the list; and I must admit that my favourites do change with my mood. On Wednesday, I liked the snuggly stuff. Today, I'm quite astounded by some of the ones I picked... They'd definitely be more serious, even angsty, if I did the meme today, though I'm not doing it twice. :D
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )