Default Hero Love! (And what you can do to combat it.)

There’s a lot of sexism in scifi and fantasy circles.

living_under_a_rock_by_lorainz-d3kh26bIf you weren’t aware of this… well, I’m not going to tell you you’ve been living under a rock, but seriously, there’s some pebbles in your hair right… there. Yep. Some twigs, too.

So, there’s a lot of sexism in fantasy, which bites because it’s supposed to be a genre that reflects the deepest desires of human ambition and imagination. We make our own realities in fantasy. And while I write contemporary romance and enjoy it, I will always identify myself as a fantasy writer first. It’s my first love.

Yes__I_live_under_a_Rock____by_TsukiMizuNow, I’ll be completely honest: I feel a bit insulated from a lot of this stuff. I don’t belong to SFWA, nor do I feel any real desire to join. From the beginning, I was true to my hermit ways and published indie. In fact, part of the whole idea behind going indie from the start was, “Doo to doo… I’m just going to sit over here in my cave and write what I want to write and have it edited and publish it and try to build a reader base over time. La dee da… don’t need to be part of professional organizations or societies or whatnot, because I’m just over here writing… la la la.”

And so, yeah, I’m kind of isolated in my little corner, writing my books and publishing them, and I don’t HAVE to pay attention to a lot of it. I don’t have to meet publisher expectations. I choose my own covers. I market my stuff the way I want, and I like that control. But then, the longer I’m out there, the more readers I have, the more I am—willing or not—part of this community of fantasy writers.

And you know what, that’s pretty awesome in a lot of ways, so when stuff like THIS happens, it’s on my radar. When awesome writers like Delilah S. Dawson write smart, brave posts like this, I pay attention. I feel convicted, because I haven’t put my own voice out there. And when Chuck Wendig calls things like he sees them and tells everyone not to be a dick about things, I hear that.

So here’s my own small contribution to this very necessary conversation.

I probably have more male readers than you think for a romance writer. Inevitably, their letters start off with, “I’m probably not your average reader, but…” (It’s OKAY, guys. Give in to the romance! It’s good stuff.) And usually their letters are pretty cool! I can’t complain. Sure, a lot of them would prefer a bit more blood and guts, but none of them complain about characters not doing what they want or complaining about my female characters “being such a bitch” to the hero.

Yeah, I get those letters, too. And they’re NOT from the guys. Nope. Those letters are from female readers.

And ladies, I’m calling you to the carpet on it. Let’s call out the guys for their sexism when it’s deserved, BUT let’s not pretend like having all the girly bits means you can’t be a sexist or feed into a sexist culture. This is OUR problem, too.

King-Aragorn-aragorn-7625302-1024-768

Aragorn! Dreamy fantasy hero! (Not perfect.)

And I see it ALL OVER fantasy romance circles. I see it on Amazon reviews for books (not just mine, lots of them). I see it on my Goodreads feed. I see it on Facebook.

“OMG!!! I loved [Dreamy Fantasy Hero] but ewwww, why was the heroine so horrible to him? I mean, sheesh, if she’d just done what he told her to she wouldn’t have been in that situation/fight/dangerous situation.”

That’s right, girls, be quiet and sit down. Do what the big boys tell you, and don’t complain about it, even when you’ve been thrown into a mind-bending new world of urban fantasy. Be quiet and do what the alien creature tells you! It’ll all be okay.

Are you guilty of this kind of thinking? If I’m honest with myself, I’ve been that way at times. Don’t be this reader. When you’re writing a human in an alien world (which is really what most urban fantasy starts with, even if the human in the alien world is the reader) a period of adjustment is normal. Not every character is going to start out kicking ass and taking names. Would you?

Eowyn_RotK_20

Eowyn! Awesome fantasy heroine! (Not always nice.)

And even when you get away from the newbie characters, and talk about really amazing, powerful females, human or not, this happens:

“UGH! Why couldn’t [kickass vampire/shapeshifter/other fantasy heroine] just see how much the hero loved her? I mean, is she blind? She was such a bitch to him!”

We have Default Hero Love, ladies. And I get it! I LOVE my fantasy heroes. I try to make them awesome, so you’ll love them, too. But being awesome doesn’t mean being right all the time. or having the right to be loved for that reason alone. So don’t be that reader, either. Love your heroines as much as your heroes. They should achieve mutual awesomeness together! (And not just mutual… nevermind.)

If we’re going to call the guys and the institutions out for sexism—WHICH WE ABSOLUTELY SHOULD, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS—then we need to be honest with ourselves, too.

I write romance. In a lot of scifi and fantasy circles, I’m dismissed for that alone. Because romance is the girl’s genre, so it’s not taken seriously by the “real” writers. (Oh, hi there, institutional sexism.) But maybe there’s no better place to talk about sexism and misogyny in fantasy, because we write about relationships. And relationships are messy. There are all sorts of power dynamics at play, and the search for love and respect and personal fulfillment is pretty universal.

Incidentally, I refuse to apologize for writing romance. Love, and its fictional exploration, is too important for that.

Zoe and Wash! Perfect SciFi relationship is perfect.

Zoe and Wash! Perfect SciFi relationship is perfect. (Not conflict free, but perfect.)

Maybe this won’t be read by very many, because I am in my little cave, writing what I want, minding my own business. But hopefully, this will strike a chord with someone. Maybe it’ll get you to think a little more. I hope so. And if it does, let me know. And keep supporting those writers who put themselves out there and write kickass men AND women in fantasy.

Thanks for reading,

Elizabeth

P.S. Yes, I said I was going to post the prologue for the new book today, but this felt more important, so the prologue is going up tomorrow.

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23 Comments

  1. Personally, I absolutely love your books and wouldn’t change a thing! I agree with you…don’t be That Reader! Everyone is different, every relationship is different and therefore in keeping it real…every character and relationship in books should have the same strengths and weaknesses as real life. Real life is not pretty most of the time. It’s hard, there’s conflict, human error, etc. I like it when it’s written real and not so much fairy tale expectations! Keep up the good work Elizabeth! 😀

  2. Elizabeth,
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on sexism in fantasy fiction. I find that same sexism runs through a fair amount of fiction that involves male-female relationships, especially if romance is involved. I sometimes think that the gender equality movement may be part of the reason.

    I’m not sure anyone really knows their ‘role’ anymore and that the ‘sit down, and let the big boys handle it’ theme that runs through a good deal of fiction writing may be an unconscious expression of longing by both male and female writers. For men, it may be a desire to return to the ‘good old days’ and for women a desire to return to the time when they were taken care of and protected.

    Lest you think I am speaking against gender equality, rest assured that I am not. I am old enough to remember the time when women were to be seen–and the view had better be good–and not heard. I would never want to return to those days, but I am willing to admit that seismic shifts leave the landscape unsettled.

    I am sure that you are aware of the controversy surrounding the end of the SVM/Sookie Stackhouse series. While you may choose to disagree with me, I’ve always believed that Charlaine Harris gave us a strong female character who, though uneducated, was an independent thinker and unafraid to put herself in harm’s way to protect those that she cared about, often at great personal cost. Therefore it was incomprehensible to me the criticisms and personal attacks that were leveled at Mrs. Harris for her choice of ending. Those most upset would have Sookie with Eric regardless of his actions in the last three books. To me, this is another example of sexism in literature: a woman’s needs are always secondary to those of men. This is a view to which I cannot subscribe.

    Anyway, thank you as always for sharing your perspectives and talents. I look forward to hearing more from you.

  3. That was a great post, thank you. I’d seen a lot of comments on other authors Facebook etc and wasn’t sure what was going on so I took time to sit down and read your links. I think its great female authors are standing up and it made me realise we as readers should do the same. I read what I love to read, not what anybody tells me, but I have to confess to not always admitting to everybody what I am reading. When I was a teenager I swallowed bookshelves whole in every genre, then started to get picky, there were a few years I read only thrillers and crime, then I did a phase of reading ‘literature’. I then had my kids and couldn’t stomach anything other than chicklit with a fluffy happy ending, as life is so depressing when you’re up half the night! Last year I discovered urban fantasy via Twilight (I’m not ashamed any more!) which led me to you and some awesome others, but I have found a lot of people stick their noses up when you tell them you’re reading about vampires/werewolves. So I’ll make my stand and tell them they should try it too! I have actually recommended you to several friends and they’re all fans too now.

    I just wanted to add I love the way you write, the character driven stories and the way you make contact with us the readers, it makes the experience going from being something like 2D to 3D.

    P.S. You’re still my absolute favourite 🙂

  4. Sorry meant to say that books are judged by readers based on sex of author and genre of book, and female authors are often seen as ‘lesser’ in some literary way. It’s time we readers support what we consider as great fiction, in every way we can.

    • I got it, Sarah! Thanks so much for commenting. And I hope readers sample all kinds of fiction! Not just that which others may see as more or less valuable. Lots of great books to read in the world. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Another great post on this topic… I also wasn’t aware until late last week about the whole deal, but after reading a few of these posts it just blows my mind that in this day and age we still have this going on. It’s sad.

    Like Sarah, I’ve discovered the world of urban fantasy/paranormal romance via Twilight a few years back, and I am not ashamed. I’ve since have read a variety of authors who write about werewolves/vampires and such – I like it. And it eventually led me to you! It saddens me that anyone should judge anyone else on what they like, especially if they themselves have not checked it out! We all have different tastes and interests – so we should be free to enjoy what we like.

    I also agree on your point about judgement passed onto the heroes and heroines, who act a certain way. I probably have been guilty of it sometime myself, but nonetheless it is a great point. I think I’ll think twice in the future! 🙂

    Thank you again for your wonderful writing, this great post – continuing the conversation, and taking a stand!

  6. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, that is one of the reasons I enjoy your books so much. You have strong, independently thinking women for your heriones and I love to see how they manage their relationships with equally strong men without losing themselves or their ability to make their own decisions and have their own dreams and opinions.

  7. Dear Elizabeth, my compliments to you.

    I am 100% with you in this.
    Being Mexican, I live in a pretty sexist culture and sometimes I feel like “the black bean in the rice”. I once was asked what kind of man I wanted and I said – a man – but what kind of man? they asked again – if I have to explain that, you are not the kind.
    My point is, I totally agree with you that it is time everyone understood what being a woman or a man really means.
    A long time ago, I read a book called “The Princess who believed in Fairy Tales”. We are brought up to believe that we should play gender roles pre established by a long gone society way of thinking. And please, don´t get me wrong, I am not talking about values, those are timeless. I am talking about real world, real expectations, development, teamwork, partnership and above all respect amongst human beings, regardless of gender.
    We as mothers are very much to blame because we (inadvertibly sometimes) imprint in our children those pre-established gender roles. Time to change… all of us.
    I have found that the strongest the woman, the more she needs a safe haven. Not a boss, not a father, not a son, not a master. But someone that values her and respects her and is there to be her complement and stands by her as she grows.
    Some (like me) if they don´t find the above, choose to be by themselves, because she knows she can handle most everything. But she will always leave a little door open in her heart in case that man, not a selfish and conceited prince, arrives.
    And the man, a real man is not the handsomest or the wealthiest or the macho brave.
    A real man is the one that listens, that is true to his word, that is empathic, that is willing to face his mistakes and correct them and above all understands that his woman is a vital part of himself and respects her and loves her so truly, that backs her up in her development.
    And you know what, it is the same around. And trust is the hardest thing to earn and the fastest thing to lose.
    Neither is perfect, and that is what the other is there for. To make a better whole.

    There is an old proverb here in Mexico. “La mula no era arisca, la hicieron a golpes”
    “The mule wasn’t unfriendly, she was beaten into becoming one”

    Your books are precisely for those kinds of men and women. The real ones, the ones with the least common sense of all… common sense. And all those in the “literary communities” that don´t understand that well, how should I put it… not everyone “grow” the same way.
    As my Dad always say. There is a lot of smart people, but only a handful of wise ones in this world.

    I admire you more because of the way you decided to manage your work and you have gotten the response you deserve. Don´t let anyone make you doubt.

    Why do you hate me?- asked the firefly – because you shine…

    Respectfully
    Mosha_Sch

    P.S. I am kind of a hermit too… when my 3 girls and my grandson allow it

  8. Thanks for speaking up, and thanks for the post. I’d heard rumblings in the community, but had no idea the discrimination was as severe as it is. Your post and the links have been a real eye-opener. Thanks.

  9. THANK YOU. I have a feeling you’re referring, at least in part, to Eric/Sookie fanfiction. I got so tired of everyone saying, “Eric is PERFECT. Why can’t Sookie just see that?” Uh, because he’s a jackass sometimes? That’s what makes him complicated and interesting? And her, too?

    I’m with you. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times, but we absolutely need to call this out more often. Not to get too women’s studies on you, but I sometimes look at comments on my FF story, and think, we are so male identified. We are so desperate for this fantasy love that we forgive everything. And while abusive relationships are COMPLICATED (I’ve been in one, I know), I think it’s this imperative–to forgive and deny any negative characteristics in our lovers–that gets us stuck in those relationships. We need to call our lovers on shit and trust that we’ll stil be loved. Personally, this is one of the things I like about your books.

    Fantasy heroines: They’re just like us! Complicated and loveable!

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

    • This is something very pervasive in a lot of paranormal romance, original and fan fiction. And I love what you’re saying: Fantasy heroines. They ARE complicated and lovable! That’s why we like reading about them.

      Thanks, Heather!

  10. I just read your Elemental Mysteries series and I loved B. I always thought I didn’t like most of the strong male leads in romantic fantasy books but you made me realize something. I can like them if they are paired with an equally strong female. What I hate is when I read about unequal pairings and the female gets bossed around and takes the hero’s crap all the time. I absolutely loved Beatrice and how she called Gio to task when he made mistakes (even when he didn’t agree they were a mistake). I loved that she had her own opinions on things. I loved the way they grew to rely on each other in a mutual fashion without an imbalance of power.

    I wish there were more stories with strong females and balanced healthy relationships. I am thankful there are writers such as yourself that are providing us with this. I am sorry and saddened to hear that you guys have to take negative comments and treatment for it. Unfortunately I am not surprised.

  11. I think it’s awesome that you pointed out that sexism can be perpetuated by women as often as men — it’s something that every individual needs to acknowledge within his or her self. I don’t often fall for “hero love” but I know that’s rare, and I see how others do get caught in that (damn you, writers, for making such sympathetic yet flawed male characters 🙂 ). I also think it’s awesome that you have male fans, that write to you, nonetheless!

    • I love ALL my readers, Molly, (All of whom are more brilliant than average, of course.) but I’ll be honest, I have a soft spot for the guys. Nothing cooler than a man who is confident enough to read romance. 😉

  12. I just saw this and had to comment. I actually read a few other series regarding vamps, shifters and weres and couldn’t figure out why the authors from each series made it so that the women in the stories fell in love with men almost immediately. While I understand that what I’m reading is supposed to be fiction, shouldn’t I at least feel a little connected to it. In my mind I just keep thinking…this would never happen, I wouldn’t react this way. I know I’m reading about creatures and situations that are supposed to be what I find unbelievable but somehow these relationships are the most unbelievable parts of the stories. It annoys me more when they run in series that every single female follows the same pattern.

    I love that your heroines and heroes each have their own timeline and story to follow before they figure it out, just as every day people have their struggles in relationships and coming to grips with finding or acknowledging that right person in their lives. It makes the stories so much more believable and a lot less cookie cutter. I think it helps us connect (men and women) to your characters and draws us into the stories. I have read both the elemental world and cambio springs series and love that life and love aren’t easy because, realistically, they really aren’t.

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