The stories we shouldn’t be telling
I don’t really know how much of a “trend” this is, but in my casual, work-avoiding browsing of current events I sure have seen a lot of stories about “trans” women, i.e. men who have decided to call themselves women, running away with the prizes in women’s sporting events. Apparently the Doctrine of Infinite Sexual Mutability trumps minor considerations of reality, such as the fact that individuals who were “men” up to and throughout adolescence before “transitioning” are going to be bigger, faster, stronger than actual women in later life, regardless of how they manipulate their testosterone levels.
So? What did we expect?
The First Reader likes to watch cop shows and spy shows, and he likes me to watch with him. I’m not sure whether that’s just because he enjoys seeing me scream at the TV or whether that’s a minor fringe benefit. In any case, over the last few years I have seen way too many episodes depending on “90 lb. young woman wipes the floor with 250 lb. man because…” uh, because she is an expert in some obscure martial art that we never ever see her practicing? Because he wasn’t expecting her to be able to fight? Because she’s the good guy and the plot demands it? I’m pretty sure ALL the episodes boil down to that last reason, and I’m not totally unsympathetic to it. It certainly increases the range of stories we can tell if we get to assume that an attractive, slender young woman can work on an absolutely equal basis with her colleagues in some violent profession. If we never have to think, “Well, the bad guy wants to get away, so obviously he’s going to charge at the girl and knock her down… oops, why was she there in the first place?”
And the (Unrealistically) Strong Woman trope isn’t limited to TV shows, or I wouldn’t be griping about it here. I have read – well, I’ve started to read – too damned many military sf novels that portray women in combat as the absolute equals of men. I don’t mind if the writer wants to posit a high-tech future world in which battles are fought only via computer, and she with the fastest fingers wins… though you’d better make it convincing, and don’t get Captain Mary Sue involved in ground combat halfway through! I can sort of put up with a story that has Sergeant Mary Sue benefiting from mysterious physical augmentation – though the amounts of handwavium and unobtanium necessary to make Sergeant Mary Sue a combat infantry leader leave me dizzy.
But way too often I pick up a book that promises a strong female lead… and offers me a fairy tale world in which the only thing “different” is that we’re all going to pretend that women, not significantly physiologically different from today’s women, can fight on an equal basis beside men, also not significantly physiologically different from the men of today. Private Mary Sue can carry as much ammo and supplies as Private Marty Stu and can endure the same debilitating combat conditions. None of the men in her unit are the least bit dismayed by the prospect of seeing a woman wounded or mutilated. And, one assumes, they’re perfectly willing to visit death and mutilation on a woman who happens to be fighting on the opposing side.
Is this a world we really want to live in?
And if we pretend so very very hard that women are absolutely physically equal to men in armed combat, can we be surprised that the society we live in expects us to extend that pretense to athletic contests?