The Issue of Gender
This is the fifth in a series of articles that explains the inspirations that led to "The Rose's Thorn." Warning, there are spoilers in this article; so if you want to remain totally unspoiled, please do not read this until you have read all the way through the book.
Women and entertainment have a very sordid history that spans decades and centuries. I think it’s fair to say there’s a lot of sexism when it comes to the objectification of women in art, sports, movies and fiction. Our world in general is and has been a patriarchal society from the very beginning where the worth of a woman was based on either their appearance or their ability to bear children.
When it comes to fiction, you can look far in the past where we have the depictions of women in Arthurian legend and the idea of courtly love where the females were the highest pedestal on which to worship. In some sense, courtly love gave some of the power back to women, but it was still in such a damsel-in-distress and superficial beauty kind of way. Yes, things have gotten better as we’ve progressed as a society, but there are still so many problems in the way we objectify women. One very funny and yet serious example of the issue still lingering is in this funny post by Jim C. Hines.
One of the things I wanted to do in this book was to give a fair shake to the ladies. In “The Rose’s Thorn,” the sexism still has to exist because it is a world not unsimilar to ours, but I was interested in exploring what it means to be a woman during that time. As a caveat, yes, I am indeed a guy, and you can argue whether I did a sufficient job of creating a three dimensional character who happens to be a woman. But I tried.
Obviously the biggest thing I wanted to do was make the cover art a bit different than the standard fare. Instead of a stunningly beautiful girl on the cover being a badass, Isabella is more of an androgynous figure who perhaps isn’t the standard beauty you’d expect from the femme fatale. This is the struggle Isabella faces: she does not want to be associated with the standard definition of being female as seen in her disgust with all the other women in the story, but perhaps acting like a male all the time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Much like we talked about last week, the conflict is that she’s looking for a middle ground between what it means to be a female and why it is that power is always so naturally associated with male.
With our society’s idolization of “lookism,” it might be easy to say that both males and females are often judged upon their looks above everything else. This is why everyone on TV and movies are generally very attractive, but if you look further for women, the roles start diminishing rather quickly as they get older. Suddenly Heather Graham who was once looked upon as sexy lead in a movie is now finding herself playing mostly moms. As well, less attractive males seem to be more successful than less attractive females because there are a variety of roles for men that don’t rely on “lookism.”
Back to the book, one of the things I made an effort into touching on was the role reversal of Christopher and Isabella. Christopher is definitely more “girly” because of his sensitive nature and inability to fight whereas Isabella is much more blunt/colder and is a badass with a sword. She is often mistaken for a guy because of her behavior. Now, I’m not going to push this topic to the ultimate conclusion that gender roles are meaningless, because I don’t believe that, but I’m a big proponent in the middle ground. Even if traditional general qualities are seen as “manly” or “girly,” I think there are definitely lessons that we can take from each other to becoming better human beings and more considerate of other people.
Still, the fact remains that sexism is still alive and well today. Despite all the progress we might have with Title Nine or the Nineteenth Amendment, it’s not an equal playing field when it comes to men and women. Honestly, I sometimes even get caught up in sexism because it is so prevalent in our society. However, Isabella is an expression for me to say that we can still fight for gender equality (not gender superiority in either direction), and we can strive for something better. To be something better. Even if that road is long and arduous still.