This probably won’t be of any interest to anyone but me, but I had to verbalize it.
So I got some flak over at spnanonhaven over my presentation of Mary in my Big Bang fic I Think Therefore I Am (link to the thread at spnanonhaven is at the end of this), which got me thinking about female characters in SPN and fandom’s relationship with those female characters in both canon and in m/m slash fic.
Here are my thoughts about my own fic specifically, about the comments made on spnanonhaven and also some general ponderings. These are my own subjective thoughts and feelings.
In RL, I absolutely and unashamedly position myself as a feminist. I grew up in a very traditional society where I felt that I had to fight really hard for my own space as a woman. As a teenager, my early feminist icons were Germaine Greer and Erica Jong (through books taken from the bookshelf of a hippy aunt whom I adored). As an adult, I am in a position where I am on occasion treated dismissively by boys and young men who have very little respect for female authority. I have to work hard sometimes to counteract that prejudice.
So I was surprised, bemused and slightly horrified when I read the first nonnie’s comment about my supposedly “gratuitous villainization of the only main female character” in my story. I won’t reiterate my response on the thread, but I just want to react to the wording of both “gratuitous” and “villainization”. My characterization of Mary was necessary both narratively and thematically. She is the narrative causal agent which allows for a chronological shift in the story so I could show Sam and Dean as children, and then as grown men. I didn’t want her decision taken from her by the male-dominated Geneticore regime. She makes her own hideous, immoral choice; she isn’t pressurized into it and she isn’t a passive victim of this society (although, of course, everybody is ultimately victimized by it).
Thematically, she is supposed to be a condemnation of a society which defines women primarily through their ability to have children, as breeding machines; both the original women and the breeder female clones. In my head, she was sort of an equivalent character to Serena Joy in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, although the characters’ ability to have children is reversed.
I tried to write the dystopian context of the fic as a backdrop only. At the center, the story is about relationships, and yes, they are primarily male-centric relationships.
After reading the comments at spnanonhaven, I thought to myself perhaps I had missed an opportunity to balance Mary’s characterization with another female characterization, perhaps that of Risa (who shares leadership with Dean at Camp Chitaqua), but, as a writer, I’m not particularly interested in Risa. That doesn’t make me sexist. If I was going to write female characters, I’d rather write Buffy or Audrey from Haven or Olivia from Fringe (I have a thing for strong, capable female characters with underlying vulnerability who kick ass and are good with weapons :)
I understand the criticisms levelled at my story in the context of the gender problematics that surround SPN fandom and slash fic. I do. And I am not egotistical enough to think that authorial intention trumps reader response. Because that is NEVER true.
However, I think that in fandom we need to be careful of attempting to censor our writers by making reductionist assumptions or viewing everything through a rigidly imposed filter. The other nonnie (whose tone was a lot more strident) proceeded to categorically inform me that writing an unsympathetic female character in a male-centric slash fic was a “problem” and that there was no need to subvert maternal stereotypes because canon does that already - as if I was too ignorant to see the self-evident truth of this. Another nonnie then jumped on that bandwagon saying she wouldn’t read the fic because my comments showed that I had no real grasp of canon characterizations. SIGH.
I think the assumption is that I somehow unconsciously wove in the “bad, manipulative woman versus good, heroic man” trope into my fic and needed to have it pointed out to me by more perceptive, open-minded readers - not that I wrote a fic where I assumed readers would automatically see the feminist thread in a larger tapestry of male relationships and masculinity.
Thoughts about gender reversal...
I hadn’t really considered it before but in one of my comments at spnanonhaven I proposed a different canon mythology where John dies in Sam’s nursery and Mary becomes the problematic parent on an obsessive revenge mission. I’m thinking of writing that. Karen Singer will replace Bobby. Ellen and Jo will be there, possibly also Missouri, Pamela, Tamara, Sherriff Mills etc.
Oh, the possibilities! An entire cornucopia of female characters with Sam and Dean at the narrative center :D