Double standards – a “Strong Female Character” retelling of Star Wars

The first Star Wars movie (now called “A New Hope”) opens with a poor farm boy who wants to be a pilot. Luke embarks on what’s known as “the hero’s journey” complete with an initial refusal of “the call” to be a hero, and a mentor. Classic stuff. I’m a fan of the original version.

In terms of plot, we start out with the protagonist reacting to things. Then as the story moves along, the protagonist is no longer just reacting, but calling some of the shots, even if he’s not in charge. This is standard plot-structure stuff. For Luke, this midpoint change occurs aboard the Death Star where he appeals to Han Solo’s enlightened self-interest with the promise of a reward.

What does this have to do with double standards?

I’m so glad you asked. I’m going to tweak all the so-called feminists out there who demand that our stories be told through an exclusive “feminist” filter. Why? Because, frankly, I’m sick and tired of their attempts to redefine what makes a strong female character (SFC).

Let’s hop to the end of the prequels and have Ben deliver Leia to her family on Tatooine instead. She grows up on the farm. Let’s give her the same skill set.

Leia is a poor farm girl who wants to be a pilot. But she can’t. Because the oppressive patriarchy, via her uncle, won’t allow it. She’s practically a slave. She has to do chores and she’s not allowed to go out and have any fun. How will she grow to her full potential with such unfairness around her? She has no agency. She’s a weak character because she doesn’t cast off the chains of patriarchy. She’s weak because she doesn’t run away and chooses to stay in such an oppressive environment. So what if the family took her in and raised her? That wasn’t out of love. Obviously it was for the free labor she’s expected to provide.

The uncle bosses her around. She doesn’t get fair wages, or any wages at all. In fact, sometimes she seems like a prisoner as she’s told she can’t leave the homestead until her chores are done. It’s so sexist on Tattooine. The aunt is always cooking. She doesn’t work outside the home. At least she did’t bother to have any kids. Phew! Not barefoot and not pregnant. Go, Beru, go.

So now, Ben shows up. Leia refuses “the call.” We cheer. She said no to the patriarchy. We’re so proud. But wait, then she changes her mind. Boo! Didn’t she get the memo? You can’t change your mind and choose to go along with your oppressors. That makes you weak. Never mind that there’s no story, or at least not the original story. We must show our girls positive role-models at all times because messaging is more important than Story.

Ben and Leia go to Mos Eisley and run into Han Solo and Chewbacca. Han Solo is a cocky SOB. Yuck, he’s such a cowboy. No hipster glasses, no hipster skinny jeans, no man-bun, and double yuck — a gun! Eek. It might hop up and kill someone on its own. Why isn’t the Mos Eisley cantina posted with a “No guns” sign? Obviously anyone with criminal intentions will see the sign, see the error of their ways and give up their weapon. This would be such a better place without all those nasty blaster things.

And what’s this?  Ben is calling the shots, negotiating terms, overriding’s Leia’s valid concerns that she could buy her own ship for what Han Solo wants. Sexist pigs! Yes, she could fly it herself. Just ask the womprats. They’ll tell you how good she is. Sheesh. You think these guys have never seen a female pilot. What does a woman have to do to get recognition around here? Damn those glass ceilings.

Despite not calling the shots, Leia goes along  (no agency again) and they end up on the Death Star. Even here, Han Solo is being difficult. Now that Ben is not around to pull rank, Han’s back to thinking he’s in charge, disrespecting Leia’s agency yet again. But Leia gets an idea. Han is a greedy SOB. She appeals to his avarice. And it works. What? She manipulated him. You can’t do that. You can’t show women getting their way through manipulation! She should’ve kicked his ass, forced him to go. She’s the biggest, baddest, kickass female around. She fights her way out of things just like a man would. Why, she’d take those toothpick arms, and despite being half Han’s size, toss  him around like a rag doll. And Chewbacca. Pfft!! He’s only a wookie. And he’s obviously compensating for something by open-carrying a crossbow around all the time. She’ll show him who’s boss.

Seeing the light on romance

I have to admit, the last person I thought I’d see with an essay in Ardeur: 14 Writers on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series was L. Jagi Lamplighter.

I’d read several of the books in the Anita Blake series after a co-worker got me hooked. I did not stay a devotee of the series. I honestly can’t recall where the series lost me, and I really didn’t think much of it. Most series romances lose me a few books in. “It’s not you. It’s me.” Honest.

Lamplighter was someone whose reputation I was aware of and whose short stories I’ve enjoyed. I may or may not have read her back when I was reading just for pleasure (and the fact that I can’t recall if I had or hadn’t isn’t noteworthy either, trust me–ask me what I had for dinner last night; go ahead, I dare you!). I do miss the days when I never had to worry about reading-as-a-writer. Reading-as-a-reader is more fun. Honestly, if you love reading, and you’re considering writing, turn back now. “Danger, Will Robinson, danger.” (This is not a condition unique to writing. Beware of turning any avocation into a vocation.) But, I digress…

This enlightening essay is called “Dating the Monsters: Why It Takes a Vampire or a Wereguy to Win the Heart of the Modern It Girl” and here’s a woefully brief excerpt. To my happy surprise, said essay wasn’t about the failings of men. I almost did a happy dance.

Lamplighter offers tremendous insight into what sweeps Romance readers off their collective feet and how the “needs of drama” differ from the “needs of culture.”

I agree that these needs have been at war and I think they’ve claimed the metaphorical lives of many stories that would’ve otherwise been great. And not just in Romance (or in romance) but in all kinds of fiction.

In short–so that you’ll seek it out for yourself and benefit from Lamplighter’s extremely well-written reasoning–this essay is about what makes happy readers. So, if you’ve just finished the latest “must read” with the fastest, smartest, biggest, baddest, kickass female protagonist out there, and you’re wondering what that awful aftertaste is all about, then set aside some time for this lone gem of literary criticism and insight.

 

 

Turn yourself into a lab rat… For science!

I got the following email today. If you recall, a year ago I put up a scientific survey for an actual scientist friend of mine. (I’ve toured his lab, he is doing some crazy Matrix brain stuff in there). He is doing some fantastic work though, which has the potential to help millions of people.…

via FOR GREAT SCIENCE! — Monster Hunter Nation

When words don’t add up

I understand word count limitations. I really do. After administering a contest, how could I not? First, you have to be able to do an apples-to-apples comparison, and second, there are still–despite numerous sacrificial offerings consisting of REM cycles, fluffy cotton sheets, and clock parts–only 24 hours in a day.

So here I am, happily thinking I’ve actually managed to create a product to spec. I’ve carefully considered each and every word, sometimes sacrificing the distinctiveness of character voice by removing an “unneeded” adverb here, or an “unnecessary” adjective there, but I’ve come in under my limit and it’s time to move the product to the required submission format.

I write in Scrivener, an excellent product I can’t recommend highly enough. I love it. Take the time to learn to use it, if you haven’t. It’s well worth the effort, just keep in mind it’s NOT a glorified word processor, so don’t treat it as such.

Thing is, Scrivener uses the MacOS text engine to generate the word-count tally. I use the handy Project Target feature and set my word-count limit in advance. Another cool feature is that you can set it up to automatically track session word-counts (across multiple scenes/documents/chapters) and even calculate those targets based on how many days you have left before your deadline. Did I mention it’s a powerful tool? 

And like all tools, it’s great at what it does, and then it has quirks.

Once I transferred  the product from Scrivener to .docx (or .doc or .rtf) format, the word-count tally changed. By a lot. Well, by 95 words. Ninety-five precious words that I had to gut, washing out my character’s voiceyness, her eccentricity, her uniqueness. I watered her down for NOTHING! Grrrr….

Yeah, yeah, I know, if I didn’t butt up against the word count, I wouldn’t have this problem. And I’m working on this, having recently submitted a story that was half the maximum word count. HALF, people. HALF! So, see, I’m making progress.

I’ve run, yet again, into a Mac vs. PC undocumented feature, also known as … a bug. The two operating systems define what makes a word, differently. It comes down to hyphens and apostrophes, and probably some other stuff, and as far as I can tell, there’s no solution for it. The nice tech support people at Literature and Latte (Scrivener’s creators) responded to my question promptly and with great detail.

My main culprit is hyphens. For example, “on the second-hand couch” reads differently than “on the second hand couch.” The hyphen is there for clarity so the reader doesn’t trip over “hand.” Until I’m done, I won’t know how many single- and multiple-hyphen words I’ll have. Yes, I hyphenate multiple words together–Don’t judge me!

Adverbs and adjectives are usually the “easiest” to delete, and I know there’s an anti-adverb contingent out there, complete with a manifesto of words to look for in your writing with an eye toward removing them — things like “just” and “probably” and other quirky words that tag your character and give them some personality so they don’t sound like an automaton that swallowed the CMS.

If you’ve been wondering what I mean by voiceyness, then take a look at all the words in grey. Those are all, technically, unnecessary. Some of them are repetitive. Some are unneeded modifiers. Some are pure, unadulterated opinion. But if you read the post without them, I bet you get a different “feel” for the post and its author. Don’t you?

 

 

The color of the Sun

This is one of those things that everybody knows, right? You’ve known since kindergarten. White sheet of paper. Yellow crayon. No problem.

I know it’s so because I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve read about “Earth’s yellow star.” It’s one of those things we take for granted or that we take on faith. A lot of things are like that today. Everybody says so, therefore it must be so. Especially if they stand up in front of a classroom, or if it’s been published in a book. Or they’re wearing a lab coat. Especially if they’re wearing a lab coat. Pffft!

The Sun is a white star. And yes, it’s the Sun. Just like the Earth is the Earth unless you’re speaking of the soil stuck to your boots, in which case you can go ahead and write “earth.” It’s capitalized if it’s a name just like it’s Mars, not mars. Or Moon, not moon, unless you mean a generic moon. Or a generic sun as in a “million suns.” Or Jupiter’s outer moons. But I digress.

Don’t take my word for it.

http://solar-center.stanford.edu/SID/activities/GreenSun.html

If your VPC (viewpoint character) has never seen the Sun except through dust and he thinks it’s orange, that’s fine, but if your VPC is a starship captain or a scientist or an omni narrator, he really ought to know better.