Monday, January 21, 2013

Challenge The Stereotypes

There is a role for women in SF and Fantasy, and it usually involves wearing as little as possible. Men, on the other hand, have to be rough, tough, handsome and wear as little as possible. Just like in real life.

Yes, I know novels are a form of escapism, but do we have to be so far from reality? Mainstream movies and TV shows are full of beautiful people with perfect teeth and bodies. Real life, on the other hand, is full of women with stretch marks and men who can't control their waistlines.

One fantasy writer, Jim Hines, has taken to striking poses commonly used in Fantasy and SF artwork and turned them into...well, take a look for yourself.

[Image copyright held by Ace Books/Amy Hines, copied from BBC website]
He uses these images to help raise funds for the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation, alongside poking fun at the industry that produces these unrealistic poses and body forms.

He's not alone. Joss Whedon was recently asked why he always has strong women in his shows. He replied, 'Because people like you are still asking that question'. If you look at his output there are strong female characters everywhere, but, sadly, often played by actresses with perfect teeth and bodies. C'est la vie.

I've tried to change things by having a balding, middle-aged man and a chubby woman as lead characters, but I wonder if we are drawn to the stereotypes? Maybe that idea of escape is what we long for, but do we really desire to be that thin, that muscular, that perfect? Is life so bad we wish to escape that far? Or are these images used as a marketing device to entice men to lust after, and then buy, the product?

Challenge the stereotypes in your writing, try ordinary characters in difficult situations and see what happens.


Al Diaz said...

Someone told me in Baywatch there was not a single common person. They were all perfect and beautiful, including the people that was visiting the beach.

DRC said...

Ah Baywatch! Yep. The beaches were filled with perfect

It's nice to have variety and a realistic feel to people but then sometimes you need to take in account their surroundings and environment. What food is on offer and what do they have to do as a living? Sometimes these can equate to the character's physique. In a world where food in sparce (not a Macdonald's in sight) and hard labour a must, an overweight, lazy and realistic man wouldn't quite fit. Now balding and the likes, on the other hand, are facts of aging and should be taken into account :)

Martin Willoughby said...

Al: That I can easily believe.

DRC: Context is all, but are the bodytypes we see in films and in Fantasy correct in context, or just the marketing department's imagination?

Gabriel C. Taylor said...

Yes, I'm not a huge fan of the physical perfection stereotypes either. I can't say that I haven't used them, but at the same time I try to keep them realistic. A good example of this, I think, is the Harry Potter series. Not one of the three main characters were ever given attributed with an overabundance of good looks, etc. Something I really appreciate about those books and that I try to keep in my writing. As I stated before, I still use the stereotypes from time to time, but never without a reason, and rarely without strong character traits to make them as real as possible.

Jeff Hargett said...

Never discount the power of flesh when it comes to marketing. :)

Martin Willoughby said...

Gabriel: Nothing wrong with stereotypes and perfection in the right place. It's the overabundance of them that bothers me.

Jeff: And that is what seems to be driving it. ;)

Emily R. King said...

Fun post, Martin! Challenging stereotypes takes some deep thinking. I find thoughtful plotting helps rid stories of cliches.

Bish Denham said...

I agree. So many YA novel covers have these absolutely beautiful white females on them that don't seem realistic to me.

I'd like to see Ramona as a 16 or 17 year old.

Rena said...

Yes! physical perfection is a killer. So much so that I'm afraid my frumpy super hero isn't going to go anywhere because she is more of a pear than an hourglass. C'est la vie. But what kills me--absolutely insane--is on TV shows where they have scientists and all the women are in their early twenties and all the men are in their early forties. Makes me want to scream!

Peggy Eddleman said...

The best kind of writing comes from challenging the stereotypes. My favorite are definitely the ordinary characters that we can all relate to.

Dana said...

First, that is an awesome picture!

As for the use of stereotypes, I think it's all for marketing, sadly.

Anonymous said...

Interesting challenge and challenge accepted. Thanks for the brain jolt, I needed it! :)

Martin Willoughby said...

Emily: I don't plot much, but I do spend time on the characters. That way the plot follows more naturally...I hope.

Bish: And what kind of image is that presenting to teenagers?

Rena: The TV casting is abysmal. They have both eyes on marketing to single men.

Peggy: The best kind of writing yes, but does that sell well enough for publishers? We should revolt en masse!

Dana: Marketing-led books are killing the publishing industry, not digital books.

MiMi: I look forward to seeing what the challenge brings forth.