dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Day Thirty: Whatever you’d like!

Today, I'd like to close off this meme with a recommendation. If you like stories about women, if you like to focus on relationships between girls and women that are collaborative and compassionate, rather than antagonistic and competitive, if you are sick of the way fandom (and the world at large) elevates individual women by tearing other women down, go to [community profile] ladybusiness. There you will find excellent commentary, so many book, TV show and film recommendations that you won't know what to buy next, and a welcoming, friendly community. They also run a sideblog on Tumblr called [ profile] thefriendshipzone, which focuses on instances of female friendship.

Honestly, [community profile] ladybusiness was my find of the year. I am so happy it exists. When I am talking about women's stories, and about feminism, that is what I mean.
dolorosa_12: (ship)
Day Twenty-Nine: A female-centric fic rec

Most of the fic I like is female-centric (the same goes for original fiction), so it was quite hard to make a choice here. I've narrowed it down to three fics.

The first is 'Rabbit' by [ profile] sanguinity. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, with a focus on Jesse Flores. It's such a melancholy, emotional piece of writing, and captures a lot of the tone of the show itself, with its focus on destiny, free will, and the unbearable weight of history and time-travel.

'Mother Tongue' by [ profile] elle_dritch is Earthsea fic focusing on the different women of the series, and on the notion of quiet, unnoticed 'women's work' that Ursula Le Guin explores in the Earthsea books.

Finally, have my favourite piece of fic ever: 'Words In The Margins' by [ profile] Jenwryn. It's a character study of Orihime from Bleach (and I think is fairly canon-divergent), and it's hard for me to explain exactly why it appeals so much. I never watched or read Bleach, but I went through a phase of reading a lot of fic for it about five years ago, and something about this fic really caught my attention. I love that Orihime doesn't apologise for her choices, that she admits privately that she can't explain them even to herself, and that that's okay. I love that it's about monsters and humans, about monsters falling in love with humanity, and humans made monstrous. It's wonderful.

The final day )
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
Day Twenty-Eight: Favourite female writer (television, books, movies, etc.)

Kate Elliott

She's my favourite because her books are wonderful, her female characters are excellent, and she is empathetic and thoughtful about the wider context of her work. But above all, I love her for this:

Even in patriarchal societies of the past (and present!), women who might otherwise have been banned by custom or law from partaking in the public life of politics, power, learning, work and so on still had personalities. I can’t emphasize this enough. People–even women!–have personalities regardless of how much or how little political power they have. People can live a quiet life of daily work out of the public eye, and still have personalities. Really! They can still matter to those around them, they can matter to themselves, and they can influence events in orthogonal ways that any self respecting writer can easily dream up.

Furthermore, with a little careful study of history, one discovers that women found ways to accomplish plenty of “things” big and small, personal and political. Maybe they did it behind a screen, or around the corner, or in the back room or in a parlor, or ran the brewery they inherited from a deceased husband, but they did all kinds of stuff that was either never noticed or was elided from historical accounts. So much of our view of what women “did” in the past is mediated through accounts written by men who either didn’t see women or were so convinced (yes, I’m looking at you, Aristotle, but you are but one among many) that women were an inferior creature that what they wrote was not only biased but selectively blind. Even now, in “modern” day, so much is mediated by our assumptions about what “doing” means and by our prejudices and misconceptions about the past.

That's why I read, that's what I look for in my fiction, that's what I want in my female characters. Kate Elliott gets it.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (sleepy hollow)
Day Twenty-Seven: A female character you have extensive personal canon for

Presh (Galax Arena, Gillian Rubinstein)

I first read Galax Arena when I was ten years old, and I think I've been writing personal canon for Presh in my head ever since. I know where she comes from in China, I know how and why she was taken by Project Genesis 5 into the Arena, I know why she chose to stay silent and close her eyes to the cruelty taking place around her, I know what strategy she developed in order to survive as long as possible (make no friends, give nothing of herself away, trust no one, practice her acrobatics forever, never fall), and I know all her complicated feelings about Allyman. Although it was mostly jossed by Terra Farma, I also worked out what happened to Presh after the last page of Galax Arena, and remain adamant that it was a better conclusion to her story than what we saw in Rubinstein's sequel. (I also maintain that Leeward, Liane, Mariam, Allyman or Presh would have made much more interesting narrators and protagonists than Joella.)

I suppose you could say that the character has fascinated me for nearly twenty years. At this point, the character as she exists to me is probably 50 per cent Gillian Rubinstein's creation and 50 per cent my own invention, but that doesn't bother me in the slightest.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (sleepy hollow)
Day Twenty-Six: Favourite classical female character (from pre-20th century literature or mythology or the like)

Persephone (Greek mythology)

Look, I'm unapologetic about this. I love any and every iteration of this character (well, maybe not Twilight). There's something so powerful about a mother-daughter relationship that's used to explain the changing of the seasons. There's something powerful about the story of a woman who passes into an underworld, and is transformed and changed. I find it hard to articulate why I love this story so much, and I fear being misinterpreted when I say I identify with Persephone, but it's true. I've always been obsessed with crossing-places, turning points, identifiable moments of profound change, and with visible markers of transformation. As long as I can remember I've looked backwards to identify those tiny moments in my life which had reverberations for years afterwards, which unintentionally shaped and changed me. That's what Persephone means to me.

This post by [ profile] catvalente says it so much better than I ever could.

I can't leave this question without also mentioning biblical figures such as Esther, Leah and Ruth, and Briseis from the Iliad, whose stories have very personal resonances for me for various reasons.

The other days )

Some other cool links today: a friend of mine, Ellie Barraclough (who was a PhD student with me at Cambridge and now has a permanent post at Durham), did a radio programme on 'The Supernatural North", featuring Philip Pullman and A. S. Byatt. In more Pullman news, he's releasing a new short story set in the His Dark Materials world. And I'm going to be raiding this list at [community profile] ladybusiness for book recommendations for next year.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
Day Twenty-Five: Favourite mother/daughter and/or sister relationship

Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls) and Cat and Bee Hassi Barahal (Spiritwalker trilogy, Kate Elliott)

I was really looking forward to today's question, as it is a subject very dear to my heart. I come from a very matriarchal family, have a close relationship with my mother and sister, and generally feel that families like mine don't get much in the way of representation. I want more stories where relationships between mothers and daughters are centred, and I want more stories about sisters who are close rather than antagonistic.

I like both the stories mentioned above because they show women who are very different from one another, but who are extremely close and understand each other well in spite of those differences. I also like that all four women deal with adversity through a combination of wit, empathy and a talent for reading other people and working out what they want. Lorelai and Rory talk at a mile a minute, barrelling through conversations at such a rate that their interlocutors are left baffled in the wake of pop culture references, in-jokes and wordplay. They don't talk like me, and yet they talk like my family, where we can sometimes lapse into our own language, full of indecipherable references, nicknames and reminiscences.

Cat and Bee are thrust into much more dangerous situations, and they handle them with grace and courage, gathering allies and winning people over with their intelligence, pragmatism and clear-headedness. Just as Rory and Lorelai are the most important people in each others' lives, Cat and Bee would defend each other to the death, and it's very refreshing to me to see a sisterly bond written as the most important relationship in these women's lives. (Technically Cat and Bee are cousins by adoption, but they were raised together by the same parents and so their relationship is like that of two sisters.)

One thing that I have always believed — and that this meme is causing me to believe more strongly — is that good stories about women cannot contain only one woman. She can be flawlessly written, a deeply interesting person, and the centre of her own story, but if she doesn't have meaningful connections with other women, I'm not interested. (Hi, Pacific Rim!) That's not what being a woman feels like to me. I have a mother, sisters, female cousins, aunts and great-aunts, and until recently, a living grandmother. I have close female friends all over the world, I have female colleagues and mentors. I also have a lot of men in my life, and my relationships with them are meaningful and important, but they are only half of my story.

That's why this question, and this meme more generally, matter to me. I'm interested in stories because I'm interested in people and the connections they forge, and I'm interested in women and the various types of relationships they experience. I need more stories about sisters, mothers, and daughters, because these are the stories in which I see my own life reflected.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (emily)
Day Twenty-Four: Favourite female romantic relationship

Angela and Holly (The Lynburn Legacy, Sarah Rees Brennan)

This fictional couple is dear to my heart for several reasons. I love how fiercely they protect and defend one another. Most importantly, I love how clearly they recognise each others' boundaries, and defend said boundaries when necessary. They stand up for each other when other members of their group make unreasonable demands, and provide each other space when it's needed. Holly understands Angela's prickliness, her discomfort at being the focus of attention, and her unease with being touched. Angela understands Holly's insecurities, her desperate desire to anticipate others' needs and put them before her own, and her anguish at people's low expectations of her. Both fear abandonment in different ways and for different reasons, and employ different forms of artifice to guard against their fear that they are unlovable.

On a more meta level, I love this couple because it's comprised of a lesbian and a bisexual girl (who is identified as such). While each comes out at different times in the series, their stories are not 'coming out stories'. Holly is a point of view character in the third book, and that also makes me happy. I like Holly and Angela because they are Holly and Angela, but their representation is an added bonus.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Day Twenty-Three: Favourite female platonic relationship

Aria, Emily, Hannah and Spencer (Pretty Little Liars)

I think I've already established why I like this show so much in other posts, but I will reiterate it here: it puts the fears, dreams, friendships and stories of teenage girls front and centre. Most importantly, it takes its four teenage main characters seriously, and, by extension, its teenage target audience. Aspects of the show are over the top and ridiculous, but there is a truth at its core, and no matter how preposterous the dangers the girls face, there is always an element of truth to them. The seriousness and damaging effect of the stalking, bullying and abuse these girls experience — whether it is at the hands of shadowy forces on the other side of a computer screen, or known figures from their circle of former friends and classmates, or attempts at control by their fathers, siblings, partners or male authority figures — is never denied or minimised.

At the same time, the girls' greatest defence against this abuse is always shown to be their love and support for one another. When they believe each other, when they fight for each other, when they combine their very different skill sets and work together they are their safest and strongest. The danger never really goes away, but as a team they are able to stave it off for a little longer and face it with a little bit more preparation the next time around. It's so important to me that the relationship between these four girls is never portrayed as bitchy or competitive: they have different areas of interest, different talents, and even different tastes in romantic partners, so they're never competing in any arenas. Indeed, the bullying behaviour of their friend Alison, whose disappearance and reappearance drives the plot forward, largely consisted of playing the four of them off against each other. They are able to be themselves without her, because the dynamic of their group shifts and it becomes cooperative rather than hierarchical.

I cannot emphasise how powerful this central friendship and story of four teenage girls is. The continued success of Pretty Little Liars is an utter delight to me. I wish it had existed when I was a teenage girl, but it's still pretty fantastic to see it as a woman in her late twenties.*

The other days )

*My Tumblr tag should give some indication of how much I adore this show.
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
Day Twenty-Two: Favourite female character you love but everyone else hates

Katrina Crane (Sleepy Hollow)

I've been waiting for this day to come around almost since I started this meme. I have so many feelings about Katrina, and have always been utterly infuriated at how she is received by Sleepy Hollow fandom.

It's sort of understandable, since she's very inconsistently written, and in the first season in particular she wasn't given all that much to do, but the amount of vitriol leveled at her is still, to my mind, disproportionate and unjustified. Unfortunately, I fear poor Katrina has found herself on the wrong corner of a fandom love triangle. In other words, she's the victim of shipping preferences.

One of the elements of fannish culture that I find most frustrating is the way it always seems to sell female characters short. If they're not being ignored altogether, there seems to be an oddly Highlander-esque attitude to female characters. In other words, there can be only one. Only one 'well-written, strong female character', only one object of the male lead's affections and so on. This is both inconsistent and extremely transparent. Female characters who aren't interested in the male leads or likely to be shipped with them (siblings, lesbians, older women) never come in for this treatment.

Katrina has the misfortune to be married to the male lead of Sleepy Hollow, but the majority of the fandom would prefer to see him with Abbie Mills, the brilliant young policewoman who is, like him, a Witness to the end times. As a result, fandom's hatred of her is intense. If they're not complaining about her uselessness they're loudly wishing for her to turn evil. (The transparent motives for fandom's hatred are immediately obvious given that Abbie's sister Jenny, who has no interest in Ichabod, is never discussed in such terms.)

I resent this fannish tendency to make everything a zero sum game. I resent the implication that if one woman is strong and beautiful and clever all others must by extension be weak, useless and ugly. I want no part of a feminism that needs to tear one woman down in order to build another up. There is room enough in Sleepy Hollow, in all fandoms, in life itself, for more than one woman to be amazing. There is love enough for Abbie Mills and for Katrina Crane.

ETA: It has been pointed out to me (with a great deal of aggression, and somewhat proving my point) that I spend this whole post whining about the fandom and don't really talk about why I like Katrina. I will concede that I probably should have done that.

So. I like Katrina because she's an example of a particular character and plot trope that I really enjoy. Namely, a woman working on the side of good, undercover in the bad guys' camp, feeding information back to the good guys. But it goes further than that. What I like in particular is how this kind of female character plays on the arrogance and delusions of the bad guys and highlights the depths of their self-deception. If they stopped to think for a single second they would realise that these women have no possible reason to love or respect them, and are disgusted and appalled at having to hang around with them. But they're so deluded and overwhelmed by their own power that they can't see this. (Other characters of this type: Marion in the BBC Robin Hood series, Noriko and Marala in Romanitas, Sansa Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones, Nina in The Americans. Sally Lockhart has a moment like this at the end of The Shadow in the North. I'm hoping Kore in Spartacus is this type of character, but I suspect not. As you can see, they don't always a have particularly happy time of it.)

Often these types of characters — Katrina included — have very little choice about the situations in which they find themselves. I really enjoy watching the way she finds little pieces of power, small spaces that she can carve out and exist in, in defiance of the forces arrayed against her. Sometimes indirectness, circumlocution and a kind of slantwise assertion of control can be a powerful complement to direct confrontation, and I like that Sleepy Hollow has characters who embody both types of defiance.

But I must admit that the real draw of characters like Katrina is the moment in which they throw off the mask, choose their battle and declare themselves to the villains. 'How could you possibly think I could love you?'/'For what other reason do you think I was hanging around?'/'I have always been working against you!' and so on. It's a moment of cathartic justice, although unfortunately in most stories it never ends well for the woman revealing her loyalties.

Katrina is a particularly unsubtle example of this character type — after all, Sleepy Hollow is not exactly subtle itself — and her ruse is so clumsy that her captors look particularly stupid. I do think the writers made an error when they had Katrina escape and join Abbie and Ichabod — why spend an entire episode grappling with how the three of them work out how to work as a team, only to send Katrina away again once they'd solved this problem? — and the less said of the mystical pregnancy trope the better. Ultimately I think Sleepy Hollow would work better as an ensemble show with Abbie and Ichabod as clear leads and Jenny, Irving and Katrina as their sidekicks (i.e. more along the lines of Buffy than The X Files). But if we can't have that, I would like Katrina to continue to run rings around her captors (well, at least around Headless; Henry seems to know her game), and to save up her wrath for that one moment when direct confrontation becomes unavoidable.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
Day Twenty-One: Favourite female character screwed over by canon

Kendra (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

The thing that frustrates me most about Kendra is that of all the show's wonderful recurring tertiary characters, she's the only one who feels as if she was just written to give Buffy character development and feelings. Buffy is generally excellent in terms of recurring characters - even if they only appear in three or four episodes, they feel fully human, with understandable motives, fears and developed personalities.

But Kendra is something of a blank slate. She has only two obvious personality traits: her fondness for the rules, and her lack of social ties. In other words, she is only remarkable in the ways in which she differs from rule-bending, social butterfly Buffy, and she serves to illustrate that Buffy is right in her choices. Kendra's rule-following makes Buffy look intelligently flexible and adaptable, while Kendra's apparent disconnection from other human beings makes Buffy look warm and protected by the support of her friends and boyfriend.

Now, Buffy is the protagonist, so other characters are always going to be used to move her plot forward and help her develop as a character, but Kendra is the only character who gives the impression that that's her sole purpose. And there's no reason why she had to be written in this way. Faith, the slayer who follows Kendra, is also written as a foil to Buffy, but the show also manages to show us why she is the way she is, and why she makes the choices she does.

As it is, Kendra shows up for a couple of episodes, makes Buffy feel inadequate before reinforcing the rightness of Buffy's choices, and then dies in order to illustrate the seriousness of what Buffy faces in the season finale. It's a profoundly unsatisfactory character arc - if arc is even the right word - and I can't help but feel that the character was a wasted opportunity.

The other days )

Also, I have been thoroughly enjoying the late autumn weather here in Cambridge, so have a few photos of yesterday's frost.

Photos behind the cut )
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
Day Twenty: Favourite female antagonist

Mona Vanderwaal (Pretty Little Liars)

I just noticed that this meme (which I copied from someone else's journal) uses US spelling. I've gone through and changed it on this entry, so from today onwards it will be British spelling, but I'm not going to go back and change every other entry. So just imagine those letter 'u's in 'favourite'.

Pretty Little Liars knocks it out of the park in terms of female characters. It's got a great quartet of heroines, complex female love interests, mothers, sisters, female friends and frenemies, all of whom are given rich interior lives, and believable (at least within the soap operatic universe of PLL) motives, fears and aspirations.

And its female antagonists are something else. The show rests on two mirrored themes: female friendship and female enmity, and I could've picked any one of a handful of complicated, antagonistic girls for today's portion of the meme. I picked Mona because I find her thrilling to watch.

She is cruel, but with the capacity for kindness, mentally unstable but perceptive when it comes to understanding what drives other people, observant, watchful and chaotic all at the same time. In this show, which in its essence is about teenage girls making and remaking themselves and trying to control other people's perceptions of them and the stories they tell about themselves because they are unable to control anything else, Mona reigns supreme. She transformed herself, she manipulated others into believing so many lies, and for several years she was able to control her own story. She is one of the few characters in the series with the guts to stand up to queen bee (and master manipulator) Alison DiLaurentis, and one of the only characters able to see through the lies the quartet of protagonists tell about themselves.

Janel Parrish playing Mona is an absolute joy to watch, and I hope to see a lot more from her in the remainder of the season, and the series.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
Day Nineteen: Favorite non-human female character

Cameron Phillips (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)

Do you remember this meme? I'm sorry for completely dropping the ball on it, but things elsewhere got so hectic that I lost the will to blog. Anyway, I'm picking this meme up again today.

Can a cyborg be said to have a gender? I don't care, because I'm going with Cameron anyway. Certainly the other characters in the show call her 'she', and that's good enough for me.

One of the things I love about Cameron is that, just like the human characters on the show, she grows and changes, and lives, even if she is made of wires and metal and computer chips. Her motives are opaque, and the other characters frequently wonder if they should trust her at all. In Cameron the show's theme of the tension between fixed destiny and free will finds its purest expression: she was literally created for a single purpose (to kill John Connor, and, by extension, all the hopes of humanity), and then she was remade for another. However, as the show progresses, Cameron reveals that her old programming is returning, but that she is actively fighting it and choosing to defend John (and humanity) because it's what she wants to do.

Summer Glau, the actress who played Cameron, has said that she had her own interpretation of what drove Cameron and where her loyalties truly lay, but that she wanted to leave it up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. It's certainly possible to read Cameron's actions as antagonistic or at least as muddying the moral clarity of John's cause. However, I've always been of the belief that once Cameron developed the ability to override her own programming, she developed something close to a moral compass and the ability to perceive and understand emotions. Once she had these, she was unable to avoid empathising with human beings.

I've always felt strongly that where most stories of human and non-human interaction fall down is in the characterisation of the non-humans. Writers always feel that they have to make them essentially humans with fangs, humans with wings, humans made of metal and so on. This, to me, is wrong. Human morality is tied up with human mortality. If you live forever, if you're invulnerable, if your existence isn't even really living, why would you feel things in the same way as a human being? I prefer it when non-human characters regard humanity with a sort of baffled wonder, and if they grow in their understanding of humanity while never becoming human themselves. This is Cameron Phillips in a nutshell. Every note in her interaction with her human charges is perfect, and my only regret in her characterisation is that the show's cancellation meant viewers never really got a chance to know what moved and drove her.

The other days )

Also, please check out my latest post on my reviews blog. It's an essay on The Fall, and I'd be interested to discuss it with you either here or on the post itself.
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
Day Eighteen: Favorite non-warrior female character

Mai (Crossroads series, Kate Elliott)

Today's question is an odd one, in that almost all the characters I like aren't warriors, so I decided to interpret it as 'favourite female character who is essentially the antithesis of a warrior'. I've written frequently about Mai on my various blogs, so I'll keep today's entry brief. Suffice it to say that Mai embodies several characteristics I tend to latch onto in fictional favourites.

We first encounter Mai as a merchant's daughter, living in a trade town that is occupied by a mercenary band led by the exiled noble, Captain Anji. As far as occupations go, it's fairly reasonable, in that the people are able to go about their daily lives without much intrusion and Mai's family is able to retain something of its privileged position under the new regime. Mai is a seasoned market trader, managing her family's stall and very good at persuading people to buy their products. She's also adroit at managing her rather difficult family and carving out a place of calm for herself among the more domineering and aggressive personalities of her relatives. Her talents lie in managing people, keeping a 'market face' on at all times, understanding the needs and desires of others and persuading them gently in a direction that is beneficial to her and hers without people perceiving that they are being manipulated. One thing Elliott does that I appreciate is that she emphasises that Mai's abilities in this area are a skill that she has learned, and that they are valued by those around her. Indeed, the mercurial Captain Anji decides to marry Mai because he wants to embark on a military campaign and recognises that Mai's skills are necessary to smooth his path with the people his mercenaries will conquer.

Once she's married to Anji, Mai does indeed put her skills to use forging ties with the local people by encouraging marriages between Anji's men and local women and helping to establish markets, trade routes and farms. In most cases, especially early on in the series, it's Mai's skills that are more necessary. The region into which Anji moves his army has been wracked by civil war and chaos for quite a while, and the people are quite happy to live under his rule, once Mai's diplomacy has been put to use showing them that they will be able to resume ordinary life, growing crops, building, making crafts and selling them. It's very rare in fantasy novels for talents like Mai's – what I normally term 'mercantile behaviour' — to be presented in a favourable light, and I've always loved the fact that Elliott made them heroic and highlighted their significance.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
Day Seventeen: Favorite warrior female character

Sulien ap Gwien (Tir Tanagiri Saga, Jo Walton)

I've written before about my love for this series, and how I feel it's the best interpretation of the Arthurian legend I'm ever likely to encounter, but I haven't written all that much about its protagonist and narrator, the war-leader Sulien ap Gwien (yes, in this universe, that is a woman's name, even though Sulien is a Welsh man's name, and ap is used for male patronymics in Welsh. Just go with it). Sulien is brave, loyal, practical and enduring, comfortable leading a charge of horses or carousing in a campsite, terrible at making small talk and at standing up to her mother.

The brilliance of this series lies in how its Arthur-figure and his struggle to rule is depicted. Although he is a nobleman, his birth is no better than that of several other claimants. He is a good leader and respected by his followers, but their respect is due to the fact that they understand what he's fighting for: a united kingdom in which a leader of his power and charisma is unnecessary. He doesn't represent some knightly or nationalistic ideal, but rather fights to create laws under which all are equal, a safe land for farmers and craftspeople and markets, a multi-ethnic community that understands why raiders from the Ireland-analogue and Anglo-Saxon-analogue regions might need to go across the sea in search of wealth and plunder. This recognition of the concerns of those who are not noble and who don't carry swords extends into the ongoing military campaign, and Walton continually stresses that establishing secure lines of communication, building up a network of food caches, maintaining roads, accurate maps and so on are as tactically crucial as leadership on the battlefield. The work of those who conduct peace negotiations, forge alliances through marriages and dinner-table diplomacy, or who simply provide a neutral space for unlikely allies or former enemies to sit down over bread and wine is also highly valued.

I've spent a lot of time talking about Urdo, the Arthur-figure, because it's necessary to understand what he's all about if you want to understand why Sulien is loyal to him. She believes in his cause. She has grown up knowing nothing but civil war, raiding parties and the collapse of society, and in Urdo she sees hope of something more. She finds freedom and purpose as a military leader under him, but she understands that she's not fighting as part of a warlord's hired muscle, but at the vanguard of social change in order to usher in a more safe and equal society. Sulien understands that before you have peace, you must have justice.

I'm not normally one for warrior characters, particularly those who are part of an organised, hierarchical military. They normally seem too conformist and loyal to hierarchies or flawed leaders beyond all reason to appeal much to me. But in the Tir Tanagiri Saga, the loyalty of Sulien makes sense, because Urdo is someone worth following, and his vision is one worth fighting for. I've always found it a great shame that not many people seem to have read this series, as it is glorious.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
Day Sixteen: Favorite mother character

Catelyn Stark (A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones)

Sorry to have dropped this meme for a few days. It's just been very hectic recently and I didn't have the time to give blogging my full attention until today.

My Catelyn Stark is a weird amalgam of book!Catelyn, show!Catelyn and idealised-character-I-have-created-in-my-head!Catelyn, so please bear that in mind. She's one of my favourite fictional characters ever, for several reasons.

I think we've established over the past few entries of this meme that I have several qualities that I adore in fictional characters: characters who make compromises, practice diplomacy, and try to give people what they want if it means their survival and the survival of those they love, characters who are fiercely self-sacrificing in the face of threats to their loved ones, characters whose pragmatism is often ignored by others but later shown in the narrative to have been the correct approach.

In other words, Catelyn Stark. She is much more savvy than her detractors - within the text and among the fandom - normally give her credit for. She has a caution and a better ability to read people than most of the men around her - certainly her husband, and her son Robb - so she often comes across as fairly Cassandra-like, dispensing advice that is ignored, offering warnings that should have been heeded, and more willing to make way for allies' or enemies' demands if it means she and hers live to fight another day. All this caution and flexibility is because she is motivated by a single desire: to ensure her children's survival. I've always got the impression that Catelyn would have preferred to stay out of the way in the North, secure in Winterfell and taking no part in the political machinations of Westeros. But once her husband and children pulled her beyond Winterfell's walls, she made the best of a bad situation, and threw everything into first her husband's and then her son's cause.

Catelyn's detractors always hold her treatment of Jon Snow against her, so I will end this post by addressing that. I'm of the belief that Catelyn's attitude towards Jon - who is, at least in her mind, her husband's illegitimate son, and the same age as Ned's first legitimate son with her - is shaped less by his existence and presence in her home and more by Ned's continued refusal to let Catelyn in on the circumstances of his birth and conception. It's the secrecy, rather than the unfaithfulness, that causes her to feel the way she does, and even though some of the things she says and does to Jon are completely inexcusable, this does at least make sense of her actions and feelings.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (emily)
Day Fifteen: Favorite female character growth arc

Emily Fields (Pretty Little Liars)

Today's post is short but sweet, because the arc concerned is relatively simple. Emily is my favourite character in Pretty Little Liars, and her story never fails to make me happy. She started the series deeply closeted, paralysed with fear at how her parents and friends would react if they knew she was a lesbian. Pretty Little Liars is a show about how teenage girls' secrets can be used to control them, and each of the four main characters began the series with one central secret, the revelation of which was their greatest fear. Emily's was her sexual orientation.

The nature of the show - with one of its themes being that secrets will eventually come out, and the only way to protect yourself against this is to control the narrative, to control the story you tell about yourself, and to reveal your secrets at a time and in a manner of your choosing. Emily manages this only partly - she's essentially forced out of the closet by forces beyond her control, but once her secret is out, and once she sees that it hasn't ruined her life, that her friends still love her, that her family (after some initial ugliness) still loves her, and that sky hasn't fallen, she seems to grow in confidence.

One of the things I find most refreshing about Pretty Little Liars is that of the four girls, Emily, the sole lesbian, is absolutely beating away love interests with a stick, whereas her heterosexual friends have far fewer options. It's a nice reversal from how such things normally happen on TV shows.

In terms of Emily's arc, what I find the most satisfying of all is that it's not simply a coming out story. Her coming-out happens very early on in the piece, and she's pretty comfortable with that by about mid-way through the first season. Rather, her arc is about confidence, standing up for herself, and not letting bullies walk all over her. Emily is like a frightened rabbit at the beginning of series, and by the fifth season she is fiercely brave, and will go to any lengths to keep those she cares about safe. Most importantly, she's learnt to stand up for herself. She's clear about her boundaries, and if those boundaries are violated, even by people she loves deeply, she calls them out and walks away. At the same time, this hard-won bravery is never at the expense of Emily's kindness and empathy, and words cannot express how much I love seeing a character whose kind heart is her strength, not her weakness. At one point in the series, in fact, the girls' faceless tormenter makes some cryptic threat about 'taking out the weak link', and everyone just assumes it's Emily, because the soft-hearted one has to be weak, right? And the 'weak link' ends up being Spencer, the cool-headed, razor-sharp rationalist of the group. I love what that says about strength.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (teen wolf)
Day Fourteen: Favorite older female character

Sarah and Mimi Bernstein (The Girls in the Velvet Frame by Adele Geras)

Today is a double-header, but it's not really cheating as the two characters are from the same book and act as foils to one another.

The Girls in the Velvet Frame is the story of Sarah Bernstein, a Jewish widow raising five daughters in British Mandate Palestine. The family live in a great deal of poverty. The oldest daughter, thirteen-year-old Rifka, has to work in a bakery to supplement her mother's income, and although the family is far from starving, there's lots of talk about wasting food and having to eat into savings for the smallest treats. Sarah puts a brave face on, and her daughters are tough and cheerful, but even the youngest of them knows that all is not well.

Part of the problem is that Sarah's oldest child and only son, Isaac, immigrated to New York and promptly dropped off the face of the earth. There have been no letters from him, and Sarah doesn't know if he's even alive. Much of the plot of the novel is concerned with the daughters finding a way to get in touch with Isaac in order to ease their mother's mind on that score.

Sarah followed the path expected by her community. She married young, supported her husband while he pursued a scholarly life, and made every sacrifice possible in order to ensure her children's comfort and bright futures. In some ways she's quite a passive character: she never complains or tries to change her precarious situation (beyond working harder, sacrificing more and trying to instill particular values in her daughters), and all the actions are taken by her resourceful daughters. Nevertheless her strength shines through.

If Sarah is passive and conventional, her sister-in-law Mimi is the exact opposite. By the standards of her day and community, Mimi has led a scandalous life. She never married, but travelled all over Europe, having all kinds of adventures and romantic entanglements, which she never tires of relating to her adoring nieces. (They're most horrified to hear that she once ate a meal in France consisting of 'chicken actually cooked in a cream sauce', which is of course as far from kosher as it's possible to get.) She always dresses in glamorous clothes, floating scarves and jewellery, her face painted exquisitely. Her house is always full of sweets and little bowls of sugared almonds. Her nieces love her, and find her house a welcome contrast from their own genteel poverty.

One thing I find particularly refreshing about Mimi is that she speaks frankly to her nieces about the benefits and disadvantages of her chosen lifestyle. Her eleven-year-old niece Chava is particularly adamant that she will never marry, and that she will follow Mimi's footsteps, and Mimi is very encouraging of this. But she also points out that she is sometimes unbearably lonely. However, when Max, one of her old flames, arrives on her doorstep seeking to pick up where they left off twenty or thirty years ago, Mimi ultimately turns him down, saying that she would have found being a wife to anyone completely stifling.

Mimi and Sarah have spent their entire acquaintance being quite distant and frosty to one another. This is mainly due to animosity on Sarah's part. She has always thought of Mimi as being frivolous, selfish and a bad influence on her daughters. I've also always felt that Sarah found Mimi's life choices to be a subtle criticism of her own conservative life path, although this is never made explicit in the story. But by the end of the book, the two have found common ground, and are able to feel mutual respect and even love for each other. I'm always pleased to find stories where women whose approaches to being a woman are very different are not pitted against one another, and where very different choices made by very different women are treated with respect. I first read The Girls in the Velvet Frame when I was seven years old, so maybe it was the origin of such attitudes for me.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (Default)
Day Thirteen: Favorite female character in a book

Noviana Una (Romanitas trilogy by Sophia McDougall)

Noviana Una makes me want to be a better, braver person. What she endures, what she achieves, and what she becomes are so inspiring to me that I struggle to find the words to describe it. Spoilers for the entire trilogy follow, so I've put them behind a cut.

Romanitas trilogy spoilers )

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (sister finland)
Day Twelve: Favorite female character in a movie

Ree (Winter's Bone)

Looking back at all the entries I've written for this meme so far, I think I have a type, or at least a few types of character that always appeal. Ree shares several qualities with my other favourites, most notably a very specific kind of bravery. It's a passive bravery: she endures, rather than acts, and she carries the burdens of those around her because others can't bear to. Her father is a drug dealer who's long since vanished from the scene, her mother is suffering from untreated mental illness, and her community has closed its doors to her. Ree is the only person trying to keep things together for her younger brother and sister. When it looks as if her family will lose their house unless she can find her father, Ree refuses to give up, and she embarks on an emotionally harrowing quest to bring him home.

I spoke in my entry on Peaky Blinders that it was a show about trauma, and male violence, and the way the women in the community tried to manage that violence. Winter's Bone explores similar themes, although Ree is too worn down, too cut off to have the power to direct and manipulate male violence in the way the women of Peaky Blinders do. Rather, she seeks to contain this violence in the hopes of keeping it from her door. As she continues her search for her father, she is exposed to greater and greater danger and ever increasing violence, as it leads her into corners the community would prefer to keep hidden.

The whole film has a sort of mythic quality. It deliberately emphasises the elements of katabasis in its story, as Ree's search for the truth takes her further and further away from light and hope. There's a fabulous scene towards the end of the film in which a group of women take her in a small boat on a river in the middle of the night, like some kind of Appalachian Persephone or Inanna. The river is inky, Ree is fearful, the women are stern and offer no comfort, and the whole thing is shot like a journey to the underworld.

Winter's Bone is not a very hopeful film, and you get the sense that the when the credits roll, Ree has succeeded only in keeping the storm at bay for a little longer, not that her life has much chance of improving. She should be able to endure all the torments the world throws at her, but she shouldn't have to.

The other days )
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
Day Eleven: Favorite female character in a children’s show

Suki (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

In a show full of fabulous female characters, it's hard to pick a single favourite, but I think my heart belongs to Suki. I like how assertive she is, how she refuses to be bullied, devalued or mocked, and how she demands to be taken seriously. I also like how she stands in contrast to some of the more emotionally extravagant characters on the show, so that while someone (usually Sokka) is flailing around in a panic, Suki just quietly gets stuff done. (The two-part episode 'The Boiling Rock' is an excellent example of this.)

ATLA is a show concerned with trauma, child soldiers, and teenagers having to clean up the mess created by previous generations, and its various characters demonstrate myriad ways of dealing with the effects of these complex problems. Suki's approach is a kind of cautious belligerence: she's not going to go out seeking battle, but she will fight fiercely when those she cares about are threatened. While lacking in the supernatural 'bending' abilities possessed by so many other characters in the show, Suki is by no means defenceless, and takes on a leadership role, guiding a team of fan-wielding martial artist girls in defence of their island.

In shows with supernatural elements, I always tend to gravitate towards to the characters who lack superpowers, and ATLA is no exception. There's always been something that appealed to me in stories of completely ordinary individuals trying to find ways to navigate societies (or social groups) filled with superheroes. When such stories are well written, the superpowered individuals always end up viewing the abilities of 'ordinary' individuals in their social circles as being powerful in their own right: ordinary humanity becomes extraordinary. Some of my favourite moments in ATLA involve other characters recognising Suki's talents: Sokka, who accepts defeat at the hands of a pack of fan-wielding girls with humility and good humour, Zuko, who is grateful for Suki's presence in the Boiling Rock prison, and, above all, Toph, whose life is saved in the final battle by Suki's timely arrival in an airship.

Whenever I watch ATLA, I always get very emotional over the fact that its characters are so very young, and have such terrible burdens placed on their shoulders. Their resolve and bravery humble me. Although the show makes a big deal of physical courage, it carefully highlights other, quieter forms of bravery: the ability to respond to fear and trauma with kindness and friendship, and the ability to forge connections in a world that prefers separation and mistrust. Suki exemplifies all these kinds of courage.

The other days )


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