Saturday, 3 December 2011

Still too much tradition

Even though it might not have shown recently in my main blog, I am an avid read and enjoy novels of various genres regularly. And, as I also write stories belonging to most genres I enjoy reading, I am also quite aware of the rules, guidelines and traditions of those genres. Here my thoughts on some concerning women in the lead.

Strangely enough, especially the Science Fiction genre still seems to be very traditional. Female leads usually only feature in stories focused on future society. Space explorers and adventurers on strange planets are male, women only come in once a planet gets colonized. Then they might be important or tell what the author has to say about society. The ‘fun’ part, however, is for men only.

Fantasy is very similar, especially the classic high fantasy and the ‘sword and sorcery’ novels. Male leads are active, warrior, thief, wizard or a bit of all. Female leads most of the time are more subdued – or there are no female leads at all. Being evil, however, provides a woman with a more active role, but ensures she will not live to see the end of the story. Choices are ‘weak, but surviving’ or ‘strong, but dying’.

Horror novels traditionally have a weak female lead, but there have been changes over the years. Women take a slightly more active role there by now, female vampire hunters, for instance.

At the same time, horror and fantasy have been undermined by romance novels of lately. By keeping up pretence of being a real horror or fantasy story, the romance has taken over, turning traditional monsters into ‘good’ (or at least ‘not as evil’) versions of themselves, so the heroine can fall in love with the vampire, werewolf, dragon (in human form), demon or whatever, without having to pay the ultimate price. Or, of course, we have the ‘weak’ heroine allowed to fall for the valiant knight.

A different story with mystery and thriller novels. There has always been a place for the female detective in the cosy mysteries. Ever since Agatha Christie, female characters have taken over investigation while the quite often male investigator prove too incompetent or too prejudiced to solve the crime. In thrillers, the female lead does not have such strong a tradition, as the more action-oriented story of the thriller seems to ‘demand’ a male lead. However the team Rizoli/Isles in Tess Gerritsen’s novels proves easily women can do the job, too. The same goes for a host of other novels. The reason? Most likely the fact that more female writers have taken up the genre now.

There are still some traditional structures to break up in some genres, while others have left quite some traditions behind by now. Maybe one day I can help to break up the traditions in other genres.

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