Except stories in patriarchies already exist by this point, see. It’s all there if that’s what you want. And I really feel that what kids need is to be shown how things should be, now, rather than a constant stream of ‘obviously this is bad, but everything does it including real life so it’s probably normal’. And people mimic what they see, a sad fact of life.
Same with queer/POC/trans/etc representation. All marginalised categories. Because normalisation is the single most powerful tool there is in creating social acceptance or lack of - when Russell T Davies wrote Queer As Folk, he said that images of men kissing (and more) would get complaints, but nowhere near to the extent that two men holding hands or having dinner would. As long as it was two guys banging each other, most homophobes would just put it down to ‘horrible disgusting fetish, what is the world coming to’. But when it was showing homosexuality as a normal thing? When it was presenting an actual relationship, like one that het people have? When it showed, in fact, that it’s not just a sexual fetish, but a completely valid life choice no different from your own…?
Well, holy fucking shitballs they did not like that. That scared them. And it rightly scared them, because it was normalising homosexuality. And that’s exactly what we need now, not a carefully hidden-from-the-kids reference that implies it’s something sexual and sordid.
I wholeheartedly agree.
My kids are exposed to such stories that normalise LGBTQ people and it is normal to them. I have a transwoman friend, who they’ve seen outwardly transition, so when my youngest met another friend’s genderfluid son (possibly trans girl, he hasn’t made that decision, but he’s only 4 now), his reaction was “oh, he’s just like (my trans friend)” and that was the extent of it. By making these things normal, we internalise them as a society, and accept them.
Which is why things like female representation in comics is the way it is: roughly 30, 35 years ago, new artists started drawing them more and more twisty bendy booby butt, and other new artists followed that model, and it became normal that this was the way women were drawn. It’s become internalised, and it’s also why some people believe it’s pointless to try and change an internalised system that feels it’s always been that way.
Society’s perception of what is normal is dictated by how individuals are educated. And it can take years, generations before we start seeing change, either positive or negative, but change does happen, mostly through younger generations. And education (not just in school) is key.
I remember hearing about a variation of this argument during the early days of feminist fantasy, and you can see it playing out in the first few Sword & Sorceress anthologies. If you want to write a feminist heroine, is it better to show her triumphing over societal sexism and misogyny — or to put her in a world where those don’t exist?
Writers have tried both. Some writers have tried to do both simultaneously: take a character from a gender-egalitarian or matriarchal society, and throw her into conflict with a patriarchal society, or vice versa. You get really good stories either way, of course — and both have powerful messages. One says “These problems can be defeated.” The other says “These problems don’t have to exist at all.” Which is, of course, a much more radical statement … and, significantly, one that puts the onus on the society to change, rather than on the individual to overcome something unchangeable.
Which brings us back to OP’s first point: stories set in patriarchies are everywhere. And we may need those, but we need way more of the other kind than we have now.
Focusing on gender: thing is, right, I’ve been writing this novel on-and-off for the past few years, and it’s set in an egalitarian society. The two people who have been reading it in that time to give me feedback and tissues for when I sob with the futile despair of it all are my husband and one of my best mates. Both are very well-educated, highly literate, feminist people, who are very well-versed in feminist theory.
Now, a thing I did when writing each scene, in an attempt to maintain parity, was to alternate which gender a new character was; if a random baker in the crowd says a thing and is male, then the random blacksmith to wander past next has to be female. I’m including a broader gender spectrum in the next draft, but for the first ones, that was how I did it.
Both keenly felt that I’d put far more women in than men until they counted.
And that’s the simplest example in this, because we don’t know what egalitarian societies look like. And I just… if you’re teaching someone to make a paper aeroplane, do you just tell them all the faults of other aeroplane methods and then leave them to piece it together as best they can? Or do you fucking show them how to make that god damned fucking paper aeroplane the right bloody way? And when lengthy YouTube videos and essays and books exist already about how poor aeroplane design leads to bad aeroplanes, do we really need any more?
And the analogy then falls flat, because the final point is: why the hell am I, a woman, expected to find patriarchal stories fun and enjoyable and entertaining?
Because I don’t. I really, really don’t. Especially when the overwhelming majority of these stories merely uses the patriarchy as an interesting flavour. Like… so, let’s take Game of Thrones. A story set in a patriarchy, rape and domestic abuse abound.
Let’s imagine for a moment that, instead of this being a society featuring misogyny as its perfectly acceptable moral flaw, it was racism. Specifically, this is a story with trans-Atlantic slavery - this is a story where white characters are explicitly first-class citizens above black second-class citizens. Black characters are bought and sold as part and parcel of life, deprived of education and other opportunities, used as bartering chips in political conflict, and can be legally raped, abused and murdered by white characters. That’s the social set-up.
And now imagine the story plays out pretty much as it does. Several people want to rule this land. Most are white, one is black. None of them plan in any way to dismantle the racist society they live in at all, not even the black one. Slavery will very much continue. The best you get is that some are a bit more lenient towards the black characters. Even the bad white ones are written to be sympathetic and complex, though, so their racial abuse is generally overlooked. Occasionally, some of the black characters say spunky things, and many of the black characters are really strong and well-written, and so everyone agrees that it’s a great anti-racist show.
… is it, though? If that got written and commissioned, would we be touting that as a great parable of how bad racism is? Is that what it’s doing, or is it just going ‘so slavery and racism are generally bad, aren’t they? Normal though’.
(And that’s in no way a perfect analogy for a whole host of reasons, nor am I trying to suggest that one marginalisation is worse than another; just that this is a specific problem I take issue with which primarily affects gender-based marginalisation. There are, of course, plenty of other ways in which racial representation is much, much worse, since to use the same show as just one example, at least there are actually female characters in GoT, which is more than can be said for POC most of the time.)
In any case, this is just picking gender as a big example because I really, really hate patriarchies, but yeah. Everyone suffers from the underlying point, which is that we seem to have decided as a society that the only True and Worthy and Honest media is one that only portrays a struggle, and have forgotten that
- This is normalising the damn struggle
- This is not educating anyone about how they should behave
- HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THAT PEOPLE MAYBE DON’T WANT TO BE CONFRONTED WITH THIS SAME SHIT THEY HAVE TO LIVE THROUGH IN EVERY SINGLE FUCKING PIECE OF MEDIA THEY CONSUME and also
- The single most important tool we have is to normalise things ourselves (see above).
Anyway, yes, sorry, I seem to have ranted on a bit.
No no don’t apologize, that was a beautiful rant. In fact, it was so beautiful that I’m gonna reblog it. :D