Monday, January 26, 2015

Gender Parity and You with Honor Harrington Too!

Gender equality, parity, and representation is one of those things that, when I'm confronted with it, I find myself just throwing my hands in the air and moving on.  It most recently caught my attention when a University decided to cancel the annual reading of the Vagina Monologues on valentines day because it excluded Trans folk.  This is what happens when you have people who lack any sort of critical thinking skills trying to enact societal change.  But that's a tirade for another day.

See my problem with most people's idea of how representation should be handled is that it rings false.  If you demand that for a piece of media every X characters there needs to be one LGBT person then it isn't going to feel natural.  For an example of this you need look no further than the teen movies of the late 80's and 90's.  Or if you wanna make it easy on yourself Not Another Teen movie where they point out the token black guy.  Or how so many horror movies has the near obligatory black guy and how almost always the black guy dies first.  My favorite example of racial diversity gone wrong is the original Power Rangers.  Oh man was that shit ever funny.  I knew that was messed up even in the 4th grade, "Look at how diverse we are!  SO DIVERSE and yet we all have colors to match our steriotypes.  Jocky leader guy is red, boy is blue, black guy is black, all asians are yellow, pink is for girls YAY the diversity!"  Yeah.  See what I mean when you force diversity and it ends up ringing false?  To bring the gender back into focus in the Return of the King when the Nazgoul was saying it couldn't be killed by any man I turned to my friend and whispered, "Hobbit KO incoming!"  I was excited.  It would of fit with the theme of the movie too, small people in events to big for them being brave.  It would of been awesome.  Instead we got, "I am no man" which compared to what it could of been just seems forced.

Alright lets stay focused on gender for a bit.  I've always had a theory of what gender parity would look like in a book.  My theory was that unless a character's gender is important for the medias plot, subplot, or a subtext then the gender itself should be interchangeable and randomly assigned.  For example Han Solo.  There is nothing inherent about the character that demands he be a male.  So make him a woman.  The core character remains entirely unaltered with the exception that he might of ended up in the slave outfit instead of in carbonite.  Similarly if you swapped the genders of Luke and Leia the story itself remains relatively unchanged.  In Star Trek TNG 99% of the crew could undergo a gender swap and the essence off the characters would still remain the same.  

Gender in of itself is not an indication of how a character needs to act unless you are really into propagating stereotypes.  The book "Honor Harrington: On Basklisk Station" is the perfect example of this.  The book weighs in at 432 pages and it has a rather large cast of characters.  Some are pretty flat and two dimensional and the book lacks subtlety and grace. It is a military Sci-FI book where the author took Napolionic navel battles and finagled the technology so that they have been replicated in space and he is a hell of a lot more interested in that than dealing with things like character development.  And yet it feels like when he made each and every character he flipped a coin and assigned their genders that way.  During the book no one falls in love.  There is no sexual tension.  There was a character who once tried to rape Honor but she kicked his ass.  There is tension between Honor and her executive officer but it had to do with the fact that the executive officer wanted command of the ship and was jelous she got it.  Not because she was a girl.  The head engineer was a woman.  So was the ship's doctor and the leader of planet Basklisk.  

The point is that the books simply didn't care care about gender.  The book was about a small ship being given an impossible task and they managed to do it anyway through grit and determination.  Their genders neither helped nor hindered this task and to me this is perfect.  It didn't feel like the author mixed up the genders to meet some sort of quota.  He was much more concerned with telling you about how hyperspace worked.  The mix felt natural and that naturalness is what's going to help people get used to the idea of gender equality going forwards.  I liked the book but in later ones Honor falls in love and gets trapped in love triangles and other stuff and I'm quite frankly not interested in any of that crap.

That said I might end up reading a few more books in the series anyway.  As it stands this first book is a fascinating look at what a world looks like where the differences between the sexes aren't broken down but ignored entirely thus treating everyone equal.  

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