awesome women and urban fantasy

May 5, 2010

There is a movement afoot, in which awesome women declare their awesomeness.

To the women out there:  Go ahead, try it.  But here’s the kicker — don’t apologize for it.  Declare yourself without cutting yourself down.  Accept a compliment without immediately denying the compliment.  Like, you know how when someone tells you you look nice today, and instead of saying, “Thank you!” and glowing, you say, “Oh, thanks, but I just threw this outfit together, and I wish I could figure out something better to do with my hair, and. . .”

(Costumers are especially bad about this.  “That gown looks great!” I say, and they immediately point out the part where the seam went wonky and the fact that the neckline doesn’t sit right.)

(Also, this branches into discussions of Impostor Syndrome, of which I might have much to say at a future date, because this is something I grapple with all the freaking time.)

This is something that women are trained to do:  be humble, deferential, don’t brag, don’t stand out, don’t promote yourself.  Because everyone knows that a woman who brags and puts herself out there is a bitch, right?

I’m bringing all this up partly because I think it’s a really cool movement, and partly because I see this with urban fantasy heroines.  See pet peeve #7 on my list of pet peeves.  The urban fantasy heroine is often/usually the strongest person in the whole book.  In the whole series.  She’s the chosen one, master of all these powers, with men and women falling at her feet, and the mystical powers of the universe aligning at her beck and and call.

She is, in a word, awesome.

And then she starts going on and on about how homely she is, how all the other girls are better looking than her, how psychologically damaged she is, how she doesn’t deserve all the great guys throwing themselves at her, how she can’t handle all the great power at her command.

There’s a level at which this is character development:  the reluctant hero taking on a mantle she didn’t ask for and she didn’t want.  But there’s another level at which this is an awesome woman denying her awesomeness, much the same way that many women will deny their accomplishments by explaining that, well, saving all those children from the burning bus wasn’t that difficult because the emergency door was already open, you see, and…

Urban fantasy heroines, declare yourselves!  Say, “You know what?  I really can kick ass.  And that’s awesome.”

21 Responses to “awesome women and urban fantasy”

  1. Marissa Says:

    Characters like that are why I’ve stopped reading many authors.
    I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who was happy with herself *just* the way she was- and that’s normal. However, none of the women dwell on their imperfections over, and over, and over, until you shoot them with a staple gun.

  2. carriev Says:

    I hear you. We don’t all have to go around thinking we’re perfect. But we all have talents and accomplishments and it’s okay (nay, even necessary) to OWN them.

  3. David Says:

    THANK YOU! Sometimes, women wonder why men stop saying nice things to them. Ladies – we ARE trainable, and we DO listen…but we don’t speak “woman” very well. When you say things that another woman would understand as having a different meaning than the words might suggest, we don’t get that (yes, there are few very common ones we do understand – repetition equals retention). You keep acting like the compliment doesn’t count, we stop providing them.
    And the most annoying variant of this (to me, anyway) is the version where compliments do NOT EVER count, if they come from YOUR man (husband, boyfriend, whatever). From some other guy, and you glow like the sun. From your guy – crickets chirping. Or “he’s just saying that because he has to”. Or “he just wants sex”. You know, we might actually LIKE your hair that way…
    Sorry about the rant – sore spot.

  4. carriev Says:

    David, I think you can help with this by saying things like, “No. Really. _You’re awesome_” when the woman in question starts to get down on herself. (And if she bursts into tears, that’s okay.)

    It’s hard to imagine when you haven’t lived it, but many women get a lot of cultural pressure from a very early age to _feel really bad_ about themselves. It’s hard to overcome.

  5. David Says:

    Carrie, I’m 50. Been there, done that, including the burst-into-tears part. Sometimes it gets through, sometimes it doesn’t…but it gets through FAR more often when I’m not the significant-other male. No, not quite accurate – it NOTICEABLY gets through FAR more often. The disconnect you noted really is worse when it is HER guy saying the nice things. Every single man I know well enough to talk to about this has made the very same complaint – spouse or girlfriend, it’s always the same – “When I tell her, it doesn’t count.”
    Some guys stop trying when you do that to them enough.
    Most of us have been rejected or ignored enough times by ladies over the years that we get immune and keep doing it – when we still care.
    I’ll never stop trying to get through, but honestly, it feels like rejection, like you’re pushing us away, when we’re YOUR guy, and you make it visibly clear that compliments from us are meaningless…even if you secretly like them on the inside.
    Still, it’s only a variant of your topic – the point you made, that awesome ladies need to shut the heck up and TAKE a #$%^& compliment gracefully, is a very good one, and I hope you can make it catch on.
    One of the harder things to do, for someone who is truly special and/or amazing, is to MAKE THEM SEE IT. Even if for just a brief moment.
    When the lady I care about tells me I make her feel special, I point out that she IS special – what I do is hold up a mirror that shows her.
    Egad – that’s not ME deflecting a compliment, is it?

  6. Mom Says:

    Then why is your blog category Shameless Self Promotion? Shouldn’t it be I’m proud of me self promotion?

  7. Anon Says:

    Well said.

  8. Mom Says:

    Woops – typo. “I’m proud of myself self promotion”

  9. Joe the trucker Says:

    Your on the money here. I think this may not be a gender specific problem. It crosses the lines, start making the same kinds of compliments to your male friends and watch for their response, it may surprise you. I think it’s about self esteem.

  10. David Bowles Says:

    I would also submit that technology has rendered arbitrary patriarchy completely obsolete. Anyone can pull the trigger on a gun, which is now how most combat is resolved. Women are still at a disadvantage in hand to hand combat, but that is now relatively rare.

    This disadvantage did not significantly degrade the contribution of female soldiers in the Soviet army in WWII, so I think its safe to say that the same would be true today.

    Of course, most American vets I know find women in combat to be anathema, but when under assault by someone like Nazi Germany, I think even they would change their minds really quick. Maybe not, though. They are kinda macho and stubborn :).

  11. carriev Says:

    American women soldiers are in combat situations RIGHT NOW. There is no “front line” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and women soldiers have been awarded combat citations in those arenas.

    In my mind, the argument is over.

  12. David Says:

    I just happen to be a veteran – retired USAF Master Sergeant. While you always have idiots who can’t overcome their prejudices, by and large the military mind tends to be practical. When you show up as the new guy (or gal), everyone is skeptical (unless you show up with a history we can find out about). As soon as you show us you can pull your weight, you’re not going to make extra work for the rest of us, we can COUNT ON YOU…
    You’re one of us. Color and sex and everything else are irrelevant (except, of course, for the familial teasing and nicknames).
    Do women sometimes have to shine brighter to become one of the team? Yeah. But so do small men (who also tend to overcompensate – look in an infantry squad, and the trend is usually “biggest gun carried by smallest guy”). Life isn’t fair – what a surprise.
    This mindset is similar to others in life-or-death professions – police, firemen, ER staff. Whether you can cut it is more important than whether or not your plumbing is internal or external.

  13. Chris Says:

    As a dude I’d just like to take a moment to say to Carrie and any other women reading this – YOU’RE AWESOME!

  14. Rich Baldwin Says:

    Totally. I think the simple answer is that it’s best to write characters that are like well-developed real people should be: awesome in many ways, not so awesome in others, and pretty much aware of where they are each of these things. Perfect characters whose only flaw is denying their perfection = annoying. Perfect characters who are aware they are perfect = boring, and probably even more annoying. Real people aware of their greatness and failings = now we’re talking.

  15. carriev Says:

    Chris — thank you!

  16. David Bowles Says:

    I’m glad to see the responses, because women are awesome! It upsets me that the self-esteem of women in America gets trashed to sell merchandise and services.

  17. Catoote Says:

    One of my favorite things is when I tell my daughter she’s a great kid, she’ll turn and smile at me and say “I Know!”

    Her confidence in herself is a wonder to me. Thanks for reminding all of us that it’s okay to say, “I Know!”

  18. Jenn Says:

    You’re right. And it is getting quite tiring to hear how the heroine is ugly and undeserving.

    One thing I’ve noticed in looking around trying to explain the genre is that women’s self depreciation is pointed to as part of women’s humor style. Not that you can find much on women’s humor (humor is not a popular category of serious study it seems), but it does explain some of the frequent re-occurrences in modern fiction, as the sassy, wise-cracking woman is the template.

    For example, I agree with the others about the Shameless Self-Promotion category, but I’m betting you chose that tag because it’s amusing, and humor is a good way to connect with people.

  19. Tim Pratt Says:

    Yep. It’s prevalent enough in the genre that when asked how my urban fantasy heroine stands apart from others, I usually answer, “She DOESN’T have low self-esteem. In fact, she always thinks she’s right, even when she’s wrong.”

  20. carriev Says:

    What I _really_ hate is when it’s so obviously contradicted in the text — the heroine keeps talking about how plain and unattractive she is, but every single guy in the book wants to get her in bed.

    This is a highly psycho-analyzable genre…

  21. Pamela Says:

    Tim Pratt – your heroine is ultra cool. 🙂

    Actually, it’s just bad manners to contradict someone who’s just given you a compliment. Even if you’re thinking, “well shit, is this person newly blinded?” you don’t have to say EVERYTHING you’re thinking. You should get in the habit of swallowing such thoughts and say, “why, thank you”.


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