Roll models

Those are the rotund ones. And yes, they’re in shape. Round is a shape. And they roll better. Some author was burbling on about the need for strong female kick-ass heroines to be role models to young women. Said individual was very proud of writing them. Now, I did battle through one of her books. Heroine beat up men and waded through the wilderness with a great aplomb. She really showed the patriarchy how it is done. Said author is an urban woman who finds Central Park good to look at from a passing cab.

Now, I have been lucky enough to spend much of my life surrounded by women who are legends. A large part of that comes down to growing up around my mother – who volunteered in WW2 and ended up as a Sergeant manning (and I chose that word with intent) shore based Naval guns. She was a tiny woman who drove a 10 ton Bedford up and down a notorious mountain pass every day – before synchromesh gears or power steering. I believe she brought a lot of her troepies to God on that drive. Well, prayers, anyway. She only once let anything stop her – and that was when she would have become the country’s first female geologist, but the wicked patriarchy… Oh, wait. The wicked patriarchy (as the Professor who was head of that department) did everything including personally visit her home to beg for her to continue. It was her mother who said it wasn’t respectable. My mother’s idea of great fun was wandering around the bush collecting rocks. She liked spiders and snakes.

My ideas of the kind of girl I was looking for were definitely shaped by that, and I found her. Female rock-climbers back then made hen’s teeth look common, and she was the best. Curiously my son married a serious climber too. They just sent me pictures from a 1200 foot cliff in Iceland. Oh and she’s also small. Played rugby for her college, but she weighs three parts of nothing, unless sheer determination has mass.

Role models? Damn sure, for a certain type of person. In reality of course, yep, they can deal with wilderness (or types thereof) quite well. Certainly better than at least 50% of men, maybe far more. They’re experienced and smart, and use what they do well, to their advantage. In hand-to-hand combat, not so much – they’re just too small, even if tougher than whitleather. Hell’s teeth, if I was faced with physical threat (and I have been there, taken my lickings and at school anyway developed a reputation for sheer aggression and determination to make beating me painful. They’ll pick on someone else) I want a firearm and lots of range. The same goes for any woman who has a choice. Sam Colt should be a feminist icon.

The urban authoress with the kick-ass female hero… I doubt she’s ever met a single person, let alone known them well, of the caliber I seem to have found myself surrounded with for most of my life (you just have to look around this blog), I suspect that’s because I’ve sought them out, I have little interest in vapid fashionistas and the company I keep tends to be long on active people who enjoy dangerous outdoor pursuits, and low on celebrity gossip.

Thing is… she sells more books than I do. Because people like her are the audience she’s writing for, and there are a lot of them. Yes, role modeling on her ‘kick-ass heroine’ IF they actually did that, would be a rapid way to see natural selection in action… but they’re not actually going to do that. The handful who try will rapidly discover reality and either adapt fast or run back to the shelter of their protected lives.

And as her goal is to sell books… she’s being successful (even if not at what she claims to be doing).

45 comments

  1. Ah wilderness. Where that type must be warned that after the sun goes down, it is dark.

    OTOH, you CAN walk by starlight

    1. And to Babylon by candlelight.

      Eh. It’s straight Fantasy of Power. Realism isn’t the point (and is often opposed to the point). Tell me that John Carter and his Mars aren’t realistic, and I’ll look at you funny. I’ll agree, but I’ll look at you funny.

      The issue is, that too many people wouldn’t know reality if it bit them on the butt.
      Most of the people speaking so loudly about “strong independent women” don’t know what strength *is*. (And think independence is being lonely with a lot of cats.)
      Personally, I like to loudly agree with them, and declare Rose Sawyer (African Queen) and Mattie Ross (True Grit) two of my favorite characters. It’s fun to watch their brains seize up.

      1. I think there are a lot of women who enjoy a power fantasy where we can stand toe-to-toe with the boys and beat the crap out of them if we need to. It’s not the common female fantasy, but it’s definitely one that has enough of an audience you can make money out of it. Some girls like to pretend to be Cinderella, some like to pretend to be Xena, and it’s all in fun.

        The problem comes in this “role model” theory. It comes when you watch Xena or Buffy and start to think that Waif Fu is actually a legitimate combat style. To all of those people, I like to point out that all fighting sports have very strictly enforced weight classes, and this isn’t because those in charge of MMA get a kickback from scale manufacturers. For those who still don’t get the message, hopefully the guy they try to pick a fight with will pick them up and set them down in the other room rather than breaking all their ribs and crushing their skulls.

        1. There women who enjoy the power trip fantasy… but there are a lot more who push back going “Ugh, this was fun when Terminator did it in 1984. It was overdone when Laurell K Hamilton put a fresh twist on it in 1993. But it’s freaking idiotic, everywhere, and completely played out at this point, and we’re tired of the two generations of Wymyn (hear them whine and call it roar!) who’ve grown up soaked in this story and think it’s actually true.”

          At this point, I don’t know if the editors pushing it and authors coming up with it are still trying to push it in the name of feminism, or if they’ve actually lost contact with reality, swallowed the trope whole, and think it’s “normal.”

          1. Of course, in the original Terminator, Sarah Connor wasn’t some kind of superwoman. She was brave and determined, at least once she fully accepted the crazy that her life had become, but I don’t believe she even got into a physical fight with anyone, let alone won one. She defeated the Terminator using her brains, luring it into the factory and using the machinery to crush it. I seem to recall that there was more of the “I am woman, see me beat everyone up” in Terminator 2, and then with the successive movies, leaning harder and harder into “Grrrrl! Power!” though I haven’t seen any of those. (Off topic, but I’ve always thought that the original Terminator was a perfectly self-contained movie and should not have had any sequels).

            I do think most of the editors and authors believe the trope at this point. I doubt many of them have any experience with actual physical fights, and so their brains fill in the details, probably without even realizing what they’re doing, using the examples from fiction they’ve seen. I think most of Gen Z would say that it’s sexist to assume a small woman couldn’t win a fight against six burly guys.

            1. In the movie “Romancing The Stone”, the opening scene is a scene from a book the female Main Character was writing.

              Her character threw a knife killing the Bad Guy.

              In the actual movie, the Main Character tried that stunt against one of the Bad Guys. He easily avoided the thrown knife. 😈

            2. Most do, and most readers do. I’ve mentioned elsewhere running into the actual male and female strength ranges in Mil-Std-1472C was a major shock to my view of the world.

              Even though I knew men tended to be stronger than women, I had not realized the difference was that large, and I still haven’t entirely figured out how to handle it in my worldbuilding.

              At least according to the mil-std results, it’s about a 2x difference for a randomly selected fit individual.

              Based on the Olympic Weight Lifting records, a top performing male of the same weight class will be about 30% stronger than a top performing female, and males top out at a 30% higher weight class.

              It’s a really big difference.

        2. Minimal contact sports (mine was Tae Kwon Do) score on a legal touch, rather than take-downs. Speed is more important than strength. So, to LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD, the analogue to weight class divisions is age divisions; young adults are going to be faster than seniors. (There are other factors as well; I’m 6’2″, and twice went up against much taller opponents who could make contact while staying out of my reach.)
          But SPORTS are NOT the same as FIGHTING, and the playing field is NOT level in fighting: “Sam Colt should be a feminist icon.”

      2. That you show people a shot of the last T Rex fighting in WWI and instantly get complaints that the helmets are wrong, the gun model is later, and that’s a jeep, thus proving it’s WWII, may not be realistic but it’s reality.

        There was a Chinese artist who said that the easiest thing to paint was a ghost, and the hardest, horses and dogs. I add that putting all three in the picture changes nothing except making people judge the ghost more sternly.

    2. You can, but you’d better be careful and go slow. We walk around 11pm every night and I’m grateful the pavement is smooth. Where it’s not (and I know EXACTLY where it’s broken and uneven) I have to be careful or I’ll break an ankle.

      Despite this being an alley in town, this road is turning itself into gravel and the township is letting it.

    3. Except for that one full moon night camping where the moon was so full that I wanted my sunglasses so I could sleep. Really full that night. Would not go away.

  2. It makes me wonder if there would be an interesting story based around one of those super powered female combat monsters having to learn to deal with a daughter who is not, and is, in fact, resolutely normal?

    I suspect that could go to some really dark places though. There is a significant slice of the male/female dynamics and taboos that are driven by the reality that any guy any girl is likely to meet will be significantly physically stronger than her, and I’d expect any female character who that is completely not the case would have real trouble understanding why those are there, and the ramifications of ignoring them.

    1. Add a Nice Guy uncle-type. Maybe even older than the mother, just to avoid shipping issues.

      Ooh, and make him an Actual Monster, then do the “him running around frantically trying to teach the kid how to Normal” when she’s got both plot armor, Aura Of Innocence and the really bad guys who look at that and go PREY all fall over themselves running away because look at the big, scary monster!

      Maybe have her learn because she goes and tries to save people?

      This would make a really good anime, honestly. You could do one of those teaching Telling Bad Guy Boys From Scary But Good Guys type signs, very heart warming.

      1. Not quite the same thread but it makes me think of some ancient river God turtle ending up raising some human girl, possibly because her parents drowned in his river.

        Could go a lot of different directions with that: surprise you’re dad comedy, how to raise a not feral child, civilizing the wildman/wilderness, what do you mean dad is scary? etc

    2. Oh, can have the Very Sad Opening that Monster Uncle has custody, because the mom died saving the girl– that sets the expectations for how badly this can go, *and* lets you have a lot of motivation.

  3. I want a story that makes me feel good about myself. I’m not athletic, I’m bookish and chubby but fascinated by Oute Space. Have spacesuit, will travel, that’s me. Makes me feel as if a bookish and chubby guy can actually be a hero, somehow. That’s why Harry Potter sold so well: all the picked-on kids, the unpopular kids, the nerdy-bookish kids dreamed of being a Secret Wizard who would totally Show Them.

    Tough chick lit, same concept, different audience. No more realistic than my spacesuit or Harry’s spells. But profitable.

  4. I remember hearing a Real Life story about some woman at a party was claiming to a man that she could beat him up.

    Apparently, he got tired of it so he picked her up, took her to another room, left her in the room, and left the room shutting the door behind him.

    It may not have actually happened but sounds more realistic than some books. 😉

    1. Something I’ve long wondered is if there ever was a real life case of some 5′, 120-lbs soaking wet woman convinced that ‘Waif Fu’ is realistic trying to flatten a 6’6″ 250-lb goon with a punch and ending with her getting sent to the hospital by them.

      1. I won’t be surprised if there are Real Life cases like that.

        Of course, they won’t be Headline News. 😦

      2. Theodore Dalrymple recounted the story of a teen who was convinced she could hold her own against her abusive boyfriend and his saying otherwise was sexist.

      3. The woman playing Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2 was supposedly so confident in her training that she kept pestering Hugh Jackman to punch her “for real.” When he finally did so, he knocked her unconscious with one hit. (Mind you, this is 20-30-yr-old incident, I may be misremembering.)

  5. This is a particular peeve of mine nowadays. I am 5 feet 3 inches and for most of my life I weighted maybe 110 lbs (sometimes less). It’s gotten to the point where I avoid books with those spunky women (usually petite) who out fight all comers in books like the urban fantasies mentioned.

  6. Indeed – my daughter is a 5′ 9″ woman, and when she was in the Marines, she was about 135-40lbs, fighting fit as it were. When she was evenly matched with a guy about her size/weight for an exercise bout, she said that it was all she could do to fight to a draw with him. She’ll be the first to say that Waif-Fu is not a realistic thing…

  7. One of the problems with the waif fu role models is that they avoid EVUL guns. “See, she can win with magic martial arts and doesn’t have to use that icky gun.” This is especially important in modern urban environments, because we know guns are especially EVUL in big cities.

    The last thing they want to show is an ordinary urban stay-at-home mom or wage-earning mom using a gun to defend herself, and having everyone react like that’s the right thing to do. If a woman uses a gun in modern times, she has to be military or police or undercover or someone special.

    Granted, that’s the case for men too. But we’re talking about role models for women.

    1. There . . . might be a reason why several of my characters are quite willing to “resort” to firearms of various calibers.

      1. I have a work in progress where the heroine is told that without magic, she couldn’t fight like she does, and she retorts that without the sky being all the way up there, dragons couldn’t fly and would have to walk like everyone else.

    2. Joss Whedon is one of those who LOVES the waif fu trope. He’s also rumored to be, shall we say, not terribly respectful of his female stars. There have been times when I wonder if those facts are related.

      1. Mr. Whedon does appear to have run his mile, particularly with Charisma Carpenter.

        One might suspect his tastes in ‘recreation’ tend toward the socially unacceptable.

    3. I saw people saying that the tape of the Marine taking down the armed robber in the convenience store proved that no one needed a gun.

      Yes, a trained, fit, healthy man with good situational awareness managed to take down an idiot with a gun but so little situational awareness that he brushed by the man. And the accomplice fled in terror. It was a good feat, but there’s no denying that the situation was perfect to allow it.

      1. Hmm. I remember that story. My takeaway was that it proved that you have to be a Marine to take on an armed man without a weapon. But I’m sure there were people who said what you’re talking about.

    4. It seems to me that stories with the waif-fu fighting model work best if the aforementioned Waif is an exception, not the rule. That there are actual normal people around who have to do it the hard way. Which makes it a more ‘this is awesome… if you’re That Girl, but kids don’t try this at home’. Honestly I think it’s a virtue of the Chosen One tropes. Getting the balance right can be a trick and a half though.

  8. This reminds me of a book on rape prevention I read back in high school. The author warned that, minus a gun, there were only two ways for a woman to make ABSOLUTELY SURE a man wasn’t going to maim her after hitting him. Take out an eye, or crush his genitals.

    He also mentioned one local rape prevention attempt sponsored by some guy running what I’ve heard called a ‘McDojo’, I.e., very showy and ineffective martial arts. Someone, a local black belt, was so offended by this they started stalking the women who took the lessons and, after beating them senseless with his martial arts, assaulted them.

  9. Sigh… I know women like the ones you talk about, and I WISH I could shoot half as well as they can. Sam Colt DID provide the equalizer, and there is nothing wrong with a female character using one, rather than unrealistically kicking somebody’s ass…

  10. Story idea: feminist women achieve a majority in the legislature; announce guns make society dangerous for women; ban guns to empower women to live safely; urge women to rat out men in their lives who fail to turn in guns. Law-abiding gun owners comply but armed criminals do not; crime skyrockets; women complain to legislators who impose a dusk-to-dawn curfew; law-abiding citizens comply so armed criminals shift to daylight carjackings; legislature bans driving cars to keep women safe. Women complain about being trapped at home; legislature imposes Safety Companion requirement – women can leave house during daylight on foot only if accompanied by an unarmed male relative escort. Several dozen fundamentalist religious leaders in the Middle East die laughing. Sam Colt rolls over in his grave.

    1. There was a short story close to that in Milo Yiannopolous’ “if things keep going this way” anthology. Let’s just say that the ending wasn’t really happy. (Heck, I think only one of the stories had anything close to a happy ending.)

  11. “Some author was burbling on about the need for strong female kick-ass heroines to be role models to young women.”

    Yes, and doesn’t that become grating after a while? How many times in your entire life has kicking some guy’s ass been the one, perfect solution to a problem?

    1. And how many times in my life (I’m 41) have I been told that women need good ass-kicking role models, or role models in science or math or basically anything. How long do we have to keep telling young women they’re just as good before we start asking why people think it’s necessary to tell them what is self-evident to them?

      1. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the majority of women out there in Canada and the USA -hate- math and science. Local engineering university (Waterloo) has a huge program to fill up their ranks with females, virtually all of the ones they get are Asian/Indian, most of those are foreign students. Not to put too fine a point on it, very few white Canadian females crossing the stage at graduation this year. I counted four or five from the entire program, 500++ grads.

        All them there white girls out there, really not too excited to be in sciences. Certainly not willing to put in the work to get that 4.0 GPA the schools are demanding. Asian kids? Oh yeah, they’re all about the marks.

        1. Because when you give them an equal choice, women tend to overwhelmingly choose for things that are *not* math and science.

          When it’s a matter of ‘can I survive here’ or ‘What must I do to best support my family’ (ie, cultural pressures) they can do it. I wonder how many Asian / Indian women *enjoy* their maths and sciences.

        2. At least US side, the gals who are all about the sciences and have an option, aren’t all about the kind of girls who go into it for Girl Power.

          <= among those who Ran Away Fast. Years of being the punching bag for those twits didn't make me want to pay for the privilege.

          There's just too many options that don’t involve being scolded for being too much like the guys.

          1. “aren’t all about the kind of girls who go into it for Girl Power”

            This. Guys go into math and science because they like math an science, or because they think they can have a good income there.

            Women *used* to go into math and science because they were really, really liked math or science.

            And feminists (of which I used to consider myself one — now, they’ve gone too far into crazyland, and it takes more time to identify what I do and don’t agree with than just to say I’m not one anymore) did NOT LIKE women who were into science or math for the reasons the guys were. Like foxfier said, we’re too much like the guys. If we’re not in it for GRRL POWER, we’re not real women or real feminists.

            Okay. Have it your way. I’m not a feminist. Happy now?

    2. I remember best one story where the heroine, captured by a giant, was scornful of the princesses he had killed because they hadn’t rescued themselves. No one worth anything ever needs to be rescued!

      And I knew Nemesis was not lying in waiting for her, which was what made it so stupid.

      (There are times when Superman‘s needed rescue)

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