Jim Hines’ call for guest blogs about representation in fiction got me thinking. And the folks who have posted over there since have kept the thoughts coming. Seriously. Go check out the last several guest posts on Jim’s blog. They’re great.
Another thing that’s added to my thinking is the latest kerfuffle with the gatekeepers of “real” science fiction. Some folks have been remarking that when all the old farts die, the sexism/racism will die with them.
That’s not how it works. Assuming that the only sexists/racists/homophobes/trans*phobes/etc are old guys is lazy thinking. And assuming that at 51, I’m one of those folks? Well, that just pisses me off.
It also makes me want to do my best to wreck spec fiction by writing about people who aren’t all straight, white men. Which brings me back to the matter at hand.
I didn’t see myself that much in the books I read as a kid. Science fiction and fantasy, mystery and horror, you know the drill. Pretty white male-centric. So I had to fit myself in, pretending that I, too, could be Frodo or Holmes (although Doyle did give us Irene Adler who I will always adore). For the longest time, I figured that was pretty much my only option: shoehorn myself into places I was supposed to be, because girl.
As I aged and read more, I realized that there was a lot more fiction out there that did include me, at least until I hit a certain age. Then things got dicey again. Middle-aged women in fiction, especially spec fic?
Yeah, good luck with that. Middle-aged and older women, when they do appear in spec fic, are rarely the main characters. They’re the mom/grandma/wise woman who can be kind/nurturing, evil, or simply Dame Exposition. Rarely does she get to do the cool stuff.
Although on the younger side of the spectrum, we do get some fun. I was thrilled when Star Trek: Voyager appeared with an older woman in charge. That was cool as hell.
As a matter of fact, twenty-some years ago, the Star Trek franchise was doing all right by older women with several characters in ST:TNG.
And yet, still, even older women don’t have much. Other than Lwaxana Troi, are there older women characters in spec fic who are still obviously sexually active (and aren’t treated like a joke)? When I put a call out on Twitter for spec fic suggestions, the one old woman everyone brought up? Yeah, you guessed it.
Nothing against Granny Weatherwax (or Terry Pratchett), but we need more of these older badass women. They’re interesting, I think; they’re complex and they have problems/skills the younger generations don’t have.
But what does all that matter? A character in a book can’t be everything for everyone. Why should it matter if you have to shoehorn yourself in occasionally? I guess the thing is, for me personally, that shoehorning has happened in my life a lot more than occasionally. And the tropes that surround middle-aged and older women in popular culture make me feel that not only am I asked to disappear, but if I refuse, the consequences are at the least embarrassing, and at the worst, dire.
That’s one of the reasons I wrote my novella “To The Edges” and why what I’m really advocating for here is a multiplicity of voices. I would love it if speculative fiction was so diverse, everyone had the choice to play with as many shoehorns as possible as well as finding it easy to see themselves in the stories they read.
While I didn’t mean to turn this post into a sales pitch for the anthology my novella appears in, why not, you know? If you want to read stories about older women, you’d do worse than to check out the tales in Winter Well.
My contribution’s main character is Zedalia Bleakstead, a mixed-race woman well into her 50s who has to deal with being laid off, dreams of fire, and a dystopian US that just keeps getting worse. So, she moves to Iowa to be a cowboy. Sort of. No, really!
But she’s not the only older person in the story. We also have her husband, her best friends, and her sister (oh, and her uncle). There’s only one young’un with a storyline in the tale and she’s in her thirties. It was kinda fun to write with that as one of my self-imposed guidelines, figuring out how older people would deal with drastic life changes.
Not to say that Winter Well is the only book you should read if you want to read about older women. There are more. Check out the articles below for more ideas. I’ll be putting up a list of the books we discussed on Twitter soon, as well.
- Sleeps With Monsters: Where Are the Older Women? (lots of good suggestions in the comments)
- Writer’s Craft # 88 – Aging in Sf/F
- Aging in SF/F – book and story list for the #FeministSF Twitterchat
- “‘Tis not right, a woman going into such places by herself.”* – A Book List
*The title of this post is from the Joni Mitchell song “Songs to Aging Children Come” from her 1969 album Clouds.