Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Misogynist or Misanthropist?

My newfound comprehension of Mormons makes me see pretty clearly how Orson Scott Card feels about women--or anyway, how he addresses them in his books. That is, they can be good people (chiefly by being good wives and mothers), but they are weak and ignorant, and need protecting. That's overstating the case, but if he wasn't understated, it wouldn't have taken me this long to figure it out. Rachel & Leah of his Women of Genesis series brought this one home.

And this has made me think about male writers who address women. It's not the kind of thing I usually notice; I suspect that's mostly because I'm less aware of the differences between men and women than some people. Everyone is "people," and then whether you're a man or woman will have an effect on what kind of person you are. That sounds kinda sickeningly simplistic, but the personal insights behind it are not the point here.

The point is some books in which I've disagreed with people on how men write women (I can't speak to how accurate women are when they write men). For example, She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb. I might be the only person I know who thought that was NOT a very good depiction of a women. It was a very well-written person, especially for someone so troubled and messed up, which is hard a hard thing to do appealingly with your narrator and protagonist. I don't think I would have any complaints if everyone hadn't ranted about how well the male author wrote the female character. I don't think she was very specifically female at all--if anything, I felt a disjoint between the fact that her personality was formed by sexual abuse (in her early teen years, not as a young child) and the aggressive, active, self-sabotaging attitude of the character. Not that women aren't that way, sometimes, but for a book lauded as having a feminine sensibility, I wasn't convinced.

Let's see, then there's The Color of Light, by William Goldman. Possibly the only people who have read this book are the ones I've lent it to, but I've loved this for a long time. Mostly this is because William Goldman is a hilarious and brutal writer. When Jo borrowed it, though, her reaction was, "He doesn't really like women, does he?" which was the first time I realized that all the female characters in the book were pretty messed up in one way or another. I brooded on that for a while and then realized that ALL the characters were pretty messed up; the reason the women were notably unredeemed was mostly because Chub was the only redeemed one at all. So that's men 1, women 0--not a great score for either team.

(Two Brew wasn't redeemed--he was just rich and funny)

As a partially relevant side-note, I've always thought Stephen King wrote women in a style that I would call poor but likeable. He thinks women know something he doesn't--have some grasp of Truth or Humanity that any man (or at least King himself) lacks. But I find that kind of appealing, in a flattering way. Heck yeah, I have a deep grasp of the cosmos. I'll take that kind of credit wherever I can get it.

And then there's Orson Scott Card. I retain my fondness for Ender's Game, and I'll say that I enjoyed Enchantment, Homebody, and Speaker for the Dead. But these Women of Genesis books, besides tricking me into thinking I knew Bible stories when I really learned Book of Mormon stories, are full of men who, even when they're CLEARLY WRONG--within the context of the story--are treated as right for being men. And when women are right, they're still just women. It makes for a weird imbalance of character.

I was quite old before I thought of myself as a girl. I mean, I was never a tomboy (though I wanted to be), but I think there are a lot of moments that make people identify with their gender that I'm missing, either because of how I grew up or because I've always been a little dim that way. But I've often felt like I was watching these interactions involving gender with a certain objectivity. I wonder if that's at all valid, or if everyone feels that way.

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