Monday, December 24, 2012

Guest Post: Feminism in Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

It’s easy just to look at the cover of THE FRIDAY SOCIETY and assume “This is all about girl power.” And that would be a correct assumption.  But there is more to supporting girls and women in the story than just the obvious kick-buttery.  Wait.  Kick Buttery.  Mmm. . . butter . . .

Let’s delve, shall we?  What were some of the elements I actively included in TFS to make it a real story about feminism and strong female characters?

1. A strong female character is a strong character.  

What I mean is we have got to the place where, in an attempt to demonstrate that female characters are strong, we make them invincible.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with a girl/woman who can kick butt.  But to have her be the best without any flaws, any weaknesses, makes her less of a person.  Humans are flawed.  To create a female kick- butt character that always wins makes her as much of a type as the damsel in distress.  She is not a three-dimensional character.  And when you have books/films/television shows where you still have only a token woman, but now she kicks butt, that’s no better than when the token woman was there to be rescued.  She’s still a token.

What I wanted to create were girls who were kick-butt but also flawed.  Who made mistakes and overcame them.  Because, also, while it’s important to see girls/women as people first, their gender second, it’s just as important for girls/women to see that they can overcome making a mistake, that they are allowed to be flawed and they can still be totally awesome.  I blogged more about the art of creating a quality female character here:

2.  Three girls who actually get along and stuff.

Something else I’ve noticed (and I’m not the only one) is that even when one sees a strong female main character, she is often the only one.  Often she is surrounded by secondary female characters whom she doesn’t get along with, who represent negative qualities (let’s not get into the slut-shaming thing at this moment, but yeah, also that) not possessed by the main character.  Likely there will be secondary male characters whom the main female character gets along with better, who understands her better and whom she respects.  Usually too the other lead in the story (if there is one) will be male.  

There is also often the perpetuated stereotype that even when girls/women are friends, they are still mean to each other.  The term “frenemy” is only really ever used with regard to women and their relationships with each other.  Evidently we are supposedly always catty with each other, stabbing each other in the back, nice one minute, mean the next.  It’s not the same as the beauty that is the bromance.

Well, I call BS.  I’ve never had that relationship with my female friends. And I have a lot of them.  Some of them have lasted my entire life. Thus I wanted to have more than one female main character, and a story where girls/women interact with each other.  But I also wanted to represent a female friendship like the one I knew. The only one that, in my opinion, is actually friendship. I wanted to show girls who liked each other, supported each other, and got along with each other. Who were able to laugh together and work as a team.  

So that’s what I did.

3.  The Bechdel Test

What is the Bechdel Test?  This is the Bechdel test.  From Wiki:

The Bechdel test is used to identify gender bias in fiction. A work passes the test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

The reason this test is important is that most contemporary works of fiction – be it film or literature – fail this test.  Women, as I said above, tend to be a prop in the story about a man.  To further complicate things, even films or literature about women and aimed at women fail this test, because ultimately the story is about finding a man, or their love lives, etc.  Women as gender-neutral.  Women discussing other issues other than romance or men. That’s a very rare thing indeed.  Which is why I love THE GOOD WIFE so much.

I should add that there is nothing wrong with a work being centered around romance and finding a man, but the problem stems from there being very few examples of women engaging with each other about anything else.

It’s pretty easy for me in general to pass this test with most of my writing.  First, I tend to write multiple female characters into most works I write, and second, my female characters tend to be working on something that has nothing to do with a particular boy.  I am not a romance writer, I am an action-adventure writer.  So it’s a lot easier for me to write something that has nothing to do with men.  Now this doesn’t mean I don’t have characters talk about boys too.  I mean, it’s very fun to talk about boys, and the girls in THE FRIDAY SOCIETY totally talk about them occasionally.  But they also talk about other things.  Like why all these scientists in London are being murdered . . . and how they can stop it.  And also how they can save the city from certain destruction.  And how they wish they could be something more than just assistants.  And stuff.

4. Being smart, logical and able to solve problems.

We’ve come to accept that girls can be smart.  This is good.  But there is still a lot of stereotyping when it comes to girls that they lack the ability to be logical or problem-solvers. I find it so truly bizarre – being a logical problem-solver myself, but also watching many, many other women being the same.  So it was important to me to show that my girls had these qualities as well.

5. The looks thing

So, I really struggled with this when creating my girls.  Should I go for the stereotype of the superhero as aspirational and make my girls conventionally attractive? Or should I go for my feminist message and make them still attractive (ultimately as cheesy as it sounds, I really do think there’s beauty in everyone), but more, you know, like how my friends and I were in high school: a bit of alright but also a bit of a teenaged mess (and I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, a size zero).

Ultimately I decided on aspirational because I did want to play to some of the superhero tropes (though it’s nice that my book is set in the past which means that curves were what was considered the height of beauty, so I didn’t have to make them a size zero to achieve this).  But what I also decided to do, to counter my “look it’s another book about pretty girls again,” was not have them be insecure about their appearance.  It’s something I find particularly frustrating in some books/films/TV shows.  There’s a girl who will go on and on about how plain she is, and yet at the same time all the guys are totally in love with her at first sight, etc.  Or worse, the character is described as “too skinny” and with wild hair or something, trying to make us think the character is unconventionally attractive, when we all know in this day and age skinny = ideal body type (which I don’t agree with in the least, but we know to be unfortunately true), and wild hair is usually just considered wonderfully thick and amazing.  And of course she’ll at some point find some dress that just looks fabulous on her, and her hair will be tamed and all will be stunned at how suddenly beautiful she is.

I think this attempt to make the main character not think she is pretty exists for a couple reasons.  

A) It demonstrates what we all feel: insecurity.  Whether we are on top of the world or not, having doubts about ourselves is natural in humans.  And let’s be perfectly honest, girls in particular feel insecure about their appearance thanks in no small part to the media that are constantly bombarding them.  It’s so hard to see ourselves as beautiful sometimes that whole self-esteem advertising campaigns need to be organized. 

B) Girls are taught that being proud of themselves and saying so is being full of themselves.  That it is arrogant to think well of ourselves, and even more so to say it out loud.  Especially when it comes to our appearance.  We must achieve, but we must be humble about our achievements.  We must look like air brushed magazine covers, but we must not let anyone know we think we look good.  

So what I did was make it a simple fact.  My three girls are beautiful.  This does affect how the men around them interact with them, especially with Nellie, but as far as the girls go they neither obsess about how amazing they look, nor do they put themselves down.  They know they look good. It doesn’t make them superior to others, it’s simply a fact of life, now let’s move on to something more important.  Like London maybe getting blown up.

6.  The kicking butt thing.

Because despite what I said above, girls can and do kick butt.  Literally.  I know female fighters, stunt performers, and almost all of my instructors for my mixed martial arts cardio class at the gym are women.  I don’t like it when kick-butt replaces personality, but, darn it all, when it’s one part of a complex person, it’s totally and completely awesome.

About the Author:
(from Goodreads)

Adrienne Kress is a Toronto born actor and author who loves to play make-believe. She also loves hot chocolate. And cheese. Not necessarily together.

She is the author of two children's novels: ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN and TIMOTHY AND THE DRAGON'S GATE (Scholastic). Her debut YA novel, THE FRIDAY SOCIETY, launches Fall 2012 from Dial, Penguin.

She is a theatre graduate of the Univeristy of Toronto and London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in the UK. Published around the world, ALEX was featured in the New York Post as a "Post Potter Pick," as well as on the CBS early show. It won the Heart of Hawick Children's Book Award in the UK and was nominated for the Red Cedar. The sequel, TIMOTHY, was nominated for the Audie, Red Cedar and Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards, and was recently optioned for film.

She is also one of the founding members of the geektastic website Hardcore Nerdity

About the Friday Society

Release Date: December 6th, 2012
Number of Pages:
Publisher: Dial

Be your own hero.  
An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns –and the heroines who use them all 
 Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician's assistant. The three young women's lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.
 It's up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.
 Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.


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