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Geeking about my own writing, and gender

I was pondering gender, stereotypes, and my own tendency to get swept along by them, despite four years at Bryn Mawr. My fascination with Auron/Lulu has always puzzled me. Is it just that they're "hot" characters? Did Square-Enix push all the right buttons with Auron's tragic hero hunkitude, and Lulu's cynical Goth boobitude? Why on earth do I keep writing about them? (And "what's with all the het?!" but that's a whole other TMI can of worms.)

Things I've noticed about Love Her and Despair which I've been writing for a year and a half now (!)...

-- Summoner and guardians were ALL MEN until Elma crashed the party. Somewhat unavoidable, since I was trying to stick with canonical characters. So I had a choice between Dona (whom I can't write) or Isaaru (whom I wanted to "rescue" from the travesty that X-2 did to him). Isaaru comes with brothers.

-- A number of strong women, more of them in leadership roles than in a typical Final Fantasy game: Maester Lucil, Lulu, Rikku, Captain Kiyuri (who's disappeared from the story, ack).

-- But still, a lot of women in secondary/supporting roles: Elma, Shelinda (a maester, but not a mover and shaker), Paine. Oh yeah, and Rikku's daughter. Too young to do much, but important in the way that Marlene is important for FFVII.

-- Several female characters are strongly connected to nature, the body, healing, death, living things. On the whole they seem to be earthy, grounded, physical personalities, apart from Lulu who's more sky-oriented (weather, the elements).

Lulu acts as Kali, an angel of vengeance on behalf of Yuna and all of Yevon's victims, but sometimes destroying innocents as she tries to "revolutionize the world" (Utena reference). Mother goddess, death goddess, Morrigan and Valkyrie and Siren. Very slippery stuff here, ranging from blatant sex objectification to the most diligent Sin that Spira has known, meting out punishment on the church for its lies.

I'm reminded slightly of Anthy, trapped goddess in Utena. I hadn't noticed the connection with both of them maintaining wildly prolific gardens (with odd roses) as a form of mute self-expression.

My Rikku's another earth-woman: now a mother, raising a garden and a family and carving out a life for herself and her loved ones. Again, the female characters seem to have a lot of connections with body and earth and healing, although Rikku:life::Lulu:death. She also tends to cut through BS, especially Auron's.

Elma barged into the story without my intending it. Also very body-oriented. She's got a sword somewhere, but she seems to be punching things (or people) a lot, and/or getting up close and physical when there's work to be done. Another kill-the-BS character.

The guys?
They're all about tactics and plotting and planning and guns. Lots of guns, weapons, politics, keeping secrets, fighting with each other, and mistrust. They have little connection to place, physical things; a lot more emphasis on what's going on in their heads.

It's not quite that simple -- Rikku has her grenades as distance weapons, Auron's all about physical combat, and (I hope) I presented Lucil as a military tactician, ESTJ Meyers-Briggs.

I feel a little less glum after thinking this through: maybe I haven't completely fallen into Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a thousand penises" quest. (Come to think of it, the closest thing I've had to a "damsel in distress" so far is Cid.)

There's such a fine line between evocative, mythic archetypes and superficial stereotypes. FFX -- and my own writing -- are rife with both.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2009 10:31 am (UTC)
What's "The Hero with a thousand penises?"

Also, isn't it amazing how you just fall into these things without even realizing...? And then you examine yourself and wind up feeling guilty about the whole thing no matter how legitimate it might actually be?

I personally don't mind the earth-woman type thing, but I tend to broaden it to elemental woman. It's an alternate type of primal power and wisdom and if I'm going to be dealing with feminine tropes, you'd best believe I'm going to be picking the ones I like.
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC)
"The Hero with a Thousand Penises" was my playing around with a book I actually value, Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. He noticed a certain pattern that a lot of world myths and popular stories follow, loosely. Some of it is obvious, like slaying the dragon, but some of it not quite so apparent, like the "reluctant hero" part of the equation where the hero resists the "call to adventure".

I.E. Cloud not wanting to be a freedom fighter, or Tidus not wanting to be a part of "your stories" when they hit the "call to adventure" stage of the story. And the Call often comes from the old Jedi/sensei figure who passes the torch, like Zack/Auron/Obi-wan.

Campbell did writers, folklorists and mythology scholars a great service -- and people studying religion, too, since as he said, "mythology is what we call other people's religion" -- by pointing out some of the underlying patterns, largely (perhaps) derived from human psychology, in the stories we tell.

But psychology and culture are embedded in cultural bad habits. For the same reason Freud got too hung up on sex, Campbell's "universal myth" sometimes seems very male-centric. His "hero with a thousand faces" could be female, since there's very little gender-specific in the patterns he uncovered, but in his discussions and examples, the hero is almost always male. There's also a lot of problematic archetypes like kingship and "rescue the princess" which don't have to be, but generally are, treated as male roles.
Even knowing that, I still tend to follow some of those patterns.

I agree about the elemental aspect of the goddess-archetype.
I've got a lizard brain Pavlovian response to Lulu's eye candy design, but it can't be just that which pulls me to the character; otherwise I wouldn't be so irked with LeBlanc or Dona or other characters where the visuals are even more exaggerated. I love her elemental magic. In game, it's game-mechanical, but it's fun to imagine how that shapes her view of and connection to reality itself. Turn someone like that into into Sin, and boom, you've got seasonal wildfires, ice trees growing in Djose, pomegranates blooming in the deserts of Bikanel, tsunamis and lightning storms.

Hm. And also Persephone, I see.

I don't know. It just puzzled me when I realized I'd given Rikku a bit of the "wise woman in her garden" aspect too, although my Rikku is a very everyday, un-mystical, rooted-in-normal-life "MOoooooM!" figure with a passle of kids.

But I've still got an awful lot of guys running the show, or trying to, in parts of the saga, a deeply-rooted heterosexual backbone to my writing.

Edited at 2009-06-08 04:26 pm (UTC)
Jun. 8th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, I thought it was another actual book that was just riffing off of Hero With 1000 faces. I do know what you're talking about, then.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who disagrees with some of it, though. It's interesting that everybody has a similar structure but I do think it's kind of cheating to say "Some of these characters will always be there except for when they are" and to make the princess the "sought-after-person." Macguffin works just as good!

Pffft, don't compare Lulu's design to LeBlanc and Dona. Just because they're all busty ladies doesn't mean they're all on par as far as design is concerned! And that's an interesting way of looking at it, but I can see how it would be supported even by in-game text, since Lulu is always filling you in on Spira's more esoteric information.

Why Persephone?
Her myth is kind of romantic (I don't mean in a "love" sense) and I quite like pomegranates but I'm far too ambivalent about her/it to ever incorporate it into anything.

Eh, it's never too late to change what you don't like!
Jun. 8th, 2009 11:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, Persephone!

My sense of Persephone is strongly grounded in a sense of her as a chthonic goddess, one who reins over mysteries like her mother. She was a powerful, hidden presence beneath my feet when I walked the broken pavement of Eleusis with red poppies and barley growing up through the bones of old temples. Definitely Persephone's virgin sacrifice/passive victim idea doesn't fit Lulu at all, but in Roman mythology one sometimes gets of Queen Persephone, an aloof yet powerful presence equal to Hades in the underworld. I also think of the Etruscan death-goddess-angel Vanth, depicted as a powerful, detached winged woman who stands over the dead and dying and guides them to the next world.

This is all skittering very far from FFX canon, but I have a mythology degree, and the thing about FFX that caught me was the whiff of mythology.

But one has to be careful to let mythology breathe, and not strap it too tightly into patterns/archetypes/analysis. It resists explanation, like dreams.

And Lulu's National Geographic Explorer facet amused me.

Edited at 2009-06-09 12:04 am (UTC)
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
I need to catch up on some of your latest chapters!

I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing the way things have been written. When we talked about it a couple years ago, it just seemed to make sense where all these characters have ended up in this AU timeline. I don't think you would've been able to avoid it without going a bit OOC or unbelievable/unrealistic. I love what you've done with all of them and it all has come together so nicely. Few people can handle such a collection of unique characters in a story such as this while still keeping it interesting and giving them each an integral part.

And don't worry, I'm always open to helping with getting the voices flowing and I tend to do a mean Dona! :D
Jun. 8th, 2009 06:15 pm (UTC)
"This tale has grown in the telling." :D

You know, we missed Kimahri!crack day.

Your comment gives me an evil, evil thought.
Jun. 8th, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC)
You know, I realized it on the day that it was Kimahri!crack day but I just had noooooo time to do anything about it. :D

Now I'm curious about the evil, evil thought. LOL
Jun. 8th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, I just posted a challenge in kimahri_love, suggesting Kimahri!Dona as a possible crack pairing.

I'm hoping ellnyx will turn on her appalling "Have a Little Fayth in Me" muse which has produced some of the best crack on the web.
Jun. 8th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
you are so evol. :D Ok the muses are getting anxious, maybe I'll put down some notes while I'm on work phone-duty. :D
Jun. 16th, 2009 12:54 am (UTC)
Once I have the time, I really, really need to read this. I also liked this post because I've always thought archetypes were interesting. The FF women have their restraints, but I think the ones in X are perhaps the most versatile and strong in their own rights. Don't worry so much about stereotypes, because if you're true to the characters that's all that matters. Our writing will inevitably be influenced by what's in our culture. Oh, and as a mythology geek, I liked this even more.

I think in our society, strong women who are more action-oriented are becoming more accepted (even if many of them also function as sex objects and can't be stronger than any male main characters), but men who demonstrate stereotypically feminine traits are much more taboo. It's one reason I like Isaaru, because even if he is very strong as a summoner and logical-minded, he has a sort of calm and serene aura. I'd like to see more men who are emotional and connected to nature.
Jun. 16th, 2009 05:42 am (UTC)
Ha. That's probably what drew me to Isaaru as well, although I couldn't put a finger on it save for the fact that he seemed incredibly honorable, yet tricked into doing Yevon's dirty work. I love tasty irony.
But also, he seemed compassionate, and able to see past Yevon's teachings to see the Al Bhed for who they really were.

True to character...that, indeed, is the challenge.
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