This leads neatly into my next personal commandment for urban fantasy:
Enough already with the perverse, nonsensical gender-based tropes!
I know this isn’t unique to this genre, but come on now — can we please finally get rid of the faulty belief that strong equals male, and weak victim equals female? I’m so sick of seeing the evil of villains demonstrated through their body count of helplessly raped and murdered young women. As I note in my Firestarter What Don’t We See?, we have this repulsive and short-sighted tripe demonstrated clearly enough by comic book writers (who have less than a month to put together the next installment) and computer game companies — which are heavy on young male programmers but less invested in story. Frankly, I expect more from a novel’s author.
Armstrong supports this absurd cultural trope of women being invariably weaker / more fragile / less strong-willed than men, as I’ve mentioned above. Unfortunately this ghastly double standard is clearly demonstrated yet again in Andrews’ first book, Magic Burns, where a particular villain captures a man and a woman known to the heroes. He gleefully tortures the terrified woman to death on the telephone to the heroes… then simply breaks the legs of the man. WTF?! Surely the author is not so shortsighted as to believe men cannot, for example, be raped? For that matter, what is this peculiar obsession with only males leading shapeshifter packs? Not only is that demonstrably nonsense in our own world, but were I a female in one of those packs, I’d be downright insulted by the clear insinuation that female status is achieved only by a metaphorical “sleeping up the corporate ladder.” At least Hamilton’s wolf-shifter packs had females working out their own status, instead of relying solely on becoming the mates of high-ranking males.
This common misconception regarding only males being able to wield power is demonstrated again in Andrews’ book by the “People,” who are a powerful and shadowy faction of necromancers. Their leadership consists of three individuals: two male and one female. I was bored but unsurprised to see the two males barely sketched in visually as they did all the talking — while the female was lushly described in titillating detail as she stood on the sidelines like an obedient secretary. I found myself wondering: if the authors so believe this weird trope, why did they bother having a female protagonist?
For that matter, why is Andrews’ supposedly tough-as-nails protagonist (I can’t really call her a heroine, considering some of her behavior) so often depicted in the eyes of those around her as nothing more than a potential sexual tumble? At some point every male in the story with a sex life either propositions her, threatens her with rape, promises to use her as a breeder, or all of the above. After a while of this it became almost stultifyingly dull, especially since I don’t know of a single fictional male detective (or other job equivalent) who is surrounded almost exclusively by exceedingly powerful females, many of which seem to feel a need to beat him up in order to prove dominance, and almost all of whom seem to see him mostly as either a sex toy or a breeder. If we don’t have to put up with this peculiarly sex-obsessive view of life when reading of a male protagonist, why is the author so short-sighted as to believe that’s all there is to being a female protagonist?
I understand there are likely to be many who feel this is but art imitating life, but frankly I just don’t buy that nonsense any longer. Firstly, life imitates art too, so why not deliberately change such a stupidly damaging meme? Secondly, we know (even if many people would rather not think about it too hard) biology is not destiny. Surely there’s more to a female protagonist than her gonads and her ability to survive near-constant male hazing? I’d like to be able to empathize with, or at least like, the heroines in these stories, but it’s incredibly hard to do so when emotionally they feel no different than a man with tits that everyone (for some inexplicable reason) wants to screw.
Another related variant on the tired old chestnut of Stupidly Wrong Gender Tropes is the depiction of any matriarchy / matrifocal group as obsessed with kinky sex. In and of itself, kinky sex doesn’t bother me; kinky sex used purely as titillation, or to show supposed perversity, emphatically does. For example, Hamilton’s series had the hyena shifter alpha be a gay man who was into irresponsible BDSM. He wouldn’t allow any female humans to be bitten, since he knew hyena packs are usually female-led, and he didn’t want to lose his position. In Andrews’ case, the hyena shifters exemplify this as well: they’re into kinky sex, and are the only pack led by a woman — because, as they state in the book, hyenas are a matriarchal species. I found myself wondering once more: why is Andrews picking and choosing so selectively regarding biology? -and more importantly: why are people apparently so desperately afraid of female leadership?