When I was about 8 or so, I discovered my dad’s collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books in a box in the basement.
I was a voracious reader, so I sat down and read them all, over the course of a week (maybe longer…I was 8, and now I’m “mumble-y ‘leven plus” years old, so I can’t really say, at this point, how long this took) and I loved them.
It wasn’t that long afterwards that I discovered C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
And I was hooked. Science fiction and fantasy took hold, rooted itself inside of me, although, looking back, I realized that I’d been primed for it through countless books of fairy tales and a healthy dollop of dinner time conversations about real science, and the ongoing Race-To-The-Moon being played out on the evening news.
It’s no surprise, given that and the academic family background, that I ended up as a fantasy writer.
Lately, what with the influx of women writers into the field, there’s been an attempted backlash.
Male fandom is increasingly perturbed (okay, maybe that’s the most polite and/or weakest word I could use here) about the proliferation of SFF works that feature not the “John Carter” heroes bravely giving their all to rescue a sex object, but interesting women with agency, tackling problems and solving them without the aid of some more knowledgeable and brawny guy stepping in to save the day.
They are put off by books that deal with the relationships between people, rather than novels that are designed to showcase the superior technology that allows for space travel. They balk at reading about women in command of weapons-systems that can wipe out planets. They weep, as they read the back cover blurbs, unable to find works that they can “relate” to.
They have even, in some cases (#notallmen), organized campaigns to stamp this awful trend out.
It doesn’t need to be like this, of course. But to change this attitude will take some work on male fandom’s part.
They will need to learn, as generations of young women have done before them, to put themselves into another gender’s shoes.
I mean – do you think I loved all those Barsoomian tales because I wanted to be kidnapped by Martians and wait around for someone to save me? Do you honestly believe that I identified with Haja, a slave?
I assure, I did not ever think more than a nanosecond about those women, because it was obvious that Burroughs didn’t stop even that long to think about them.
I saw myself as Carter.
And I was not alone.
So, guys: when you open a novel and realize that the protagonist does not have massive jolts of male hormones coursing through their veins, and that they do not own the testicular equipment you do, fear not.
You can learn, as countless women have over the last century, to ignore the pronouns, to redesign the “hero” in your mind, and finally, to see the human-ness in all of us, on the page and off.