“Not another discussion about strong women in fiction! Haven’t we covered this topic a billion times already?”
This is the response I imagine some of you will have to today’s Chronicle. I’ll even toss in a few eye rolls and heavy sighs for the sake of drama. Relax, I’m not going to talk about strong women in fiction. I am going to talk about women in fiction, real life superwomen, and why we need to keep having this conversation.
In my last post, I talked about the Creative Ink Festival and one of the panels in which I would participate: Real Life Superwomen. I’m not sure I can adequately I can express my excitement at spending an hour with four women who I admire and respect, any of whom I want by my side when the zombie apocalypse happens. But I can tell you that out of a weekend jammed full of fantastic programming, I believe this is one of the most important discussions of all.
In the past two weeks, without any concerted effort on my part, I have watched a man accused of assault and harassment by more than 20 women walk away free; I have seen professional female athletes driven to sue for fair wages, women who make four times less than their male counterparts despite bringing in $20 million more in revenue; I’ve heard one of the leading Republican presidential candidates announce that women who have abortions should be punished. Sadly, that’s just the tip of the gender imbalanced iceberg. Just an average week.
And in the world of fiction this year, we are still watching female superheroes trotted out in ridiculously impractical boob armour or not being trotted out at all when it comes to movie merchandise. Every inch of progress—thank you, Jessica Jones—is accompanied by miles of “Are we seriously still doing this in 2016?”
For me this means that the conversation about women in fiction isn’t over, it has barely begun.
The idea for the Real Life Superwomen panel was simple: Gather a group of women with real “action hero” skills, who also happen to write fiction, and put them in front of an audience.
One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that women have only become heroes and warriors very recently. Kameron Hurley’s brilliant, Hugo Award winning essay, We Have Always Fought, digs into this myth.
Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing – anything – women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong. Women – now and then – even made a habit of peeing standing up. They wore dildos. So even things the funny-ha-ha folks immediately raise a hand to say, like: “It’s impossible women did X!” Well. They did it. Intersex women and trans women, too, have fought and died, often misgendered and forgotten, in the ranks of history. And let us remember, when we speak about women and men as if these are immutable, somehow “historical” categories, that there are those who have always lived and fought in the seams between things.
Women have always fought and we are still fighting—it is long past time for us to be seen and heard.
For several years I swung a hammer by my husband’s side. It wasn’t a glamorous job but I picked up a load of useful skills and I now feel confident with just about every power tool imaginable. But one part of the job I loved was those moments when kids would look over and see me in my work boots, gloves, and tool belt. They would see me hauling or cutting lumber, operating a jack hammer or a sliding compound mitre, or maybe leveling a fence post, and I knew exactly what they were thinking. I knew their brains were adjusting to this new paradigm: a woman doing a “man’s” job. The same goes for the times I would hop off my dirtbike and remove my helmet to reveal…gasp, a girl! I even love the memories of my young nephew coming out to watch me fight in Karate tournaments way back in the day, witnessing his aunt kicking and punching and loving every minute of it.
These small moments matter. These small moments bring change.
May 8th will be one of those moments. When I sit down next to my fellow panelists, we will be living examples of women who fight, who swing swords, shoot arrows and bullets, wrestle, kick, punch, ride horses and dirtbikes, women who dare. This will not be just another discussion of strong women in fiction, this will be real strong women, women who’ve sweat and bled and passionately pursued what they loved no matter how unladylike it may have seemed to the rest of the world.
And who are these superwomen? I’m glad you asked!
As advertised, we have a mounted combat specialist and instructor in JM Landels. Ever watched a movie with an exciting swordfight on horseback? Well, JM does that for real! We have no shortage of martial artists. Setsu Uzume studied kenjitsu, iaido, and kobudo before taking up mounted archery, and actually trained in a monastery in rural China. T.G. Shepherd (also known as Lisa Gemino) has been training in mixed martial arts and a host of weapons-based martial arts for 25 years. Sandra Wickham made the move from professional fitness competitor to MMA black belt–holy high kicks, Batman! And yours truly has a black belt in Karate plus a host of other adventure sports training such as stunt driving and scuba diving.
Here’s a few more details…
JM Landels wears nearly as many hats as Bartholomew Cubbins: writer, editor, artist, equestrian, and swordswoman are just a few. She is the author and illustrator of the fantasy novel Allaigna’s Song: Overture and is currently finishing the second book of the trilogy. She is the managing and production editor at Pulp Literature, and head of the Mounted Combat Program at Academie Duello in Vancouver. After acquiring her degree in Mediaeval English Literature she went to London to get a Ph.D. in English but instead dyed her hair pink and joined a rock band. If you think this was a wise move, this is the magazine for you. She currently splits her time between working on Pulp Literature, managing Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, and teaching Mounted Combat for Academie Duello.
T.G. Shepherd lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia. By day (and night shift) she is a mild-mannered communications operator for local law enforcement; the rest of the time she punches people for fun. She has been training in mixed martial arts, the weapons based art Kali (double stick, single stick and knife), boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for twenty five years and enjoys being able to do more pushups than the teenagers in her gym (www.tacticalfighting.ca). Her fantasy novel As A God—due out in June 2016 from eTreasures publishing (www.etreasurespublishing.com)–is much informed by her life-long passion for martial arts and springs from the desire to see a fighting woman portrayed—from heart to mind to body—with more realism than much of the genre.
Setsu Uzume spent her formative years in and out of dojos. She also trained in a monastery in rural China, studying Daoism and swordplay. Setsu studied kenjitsu, iaido, and kobudo before taking up mounted archery. She is a member of Codex and SFWA. While she has dabbled in many arts, only writing and martial arts seem to have stuck. She blogs at katanapen.wordpress.com, and is on Twitter@KatanaPen
Sandra Wickham‘s friends call her a needle crafting aficionado, health guru and ninja-in-training. Sandra’s short stories have appeared in Evolve, Vampires of the New Undead, Evolve, Vampires of the Future Undead, Chronicles of the Order, Crossed Genres magazine, Locothology, The Urban Green Man, Tales from the Archives and Luna Station Quarterly. She blogs about writing with the Inkpunks, is the Fitness Nerd columnist for the Functional Nerds and slush reads for Lightspeed Magazine.
And in case you don’t know me…
Kristene Perron has been shot, stabbed, drowned, run over and thrown from a building. During her ten years as a professional stuntwoman, she learned all the interesting ways a person can get injured or die and then applied this unique education to her fiction. She is the co-author of the adventure science fiction series Warpworld, the 2010 winner of the Surrey International Writer’s Conference Storyteller Award, and a 2015 Writers of the Future finalist. Her friends wish she would stop talking about cats.
My hope is that the audience will leave not only with some solid ideas for more accurate portrayals of women warriors or even of women in action scenes, but also with some of the old thinking and misconceptions stripped away.
And maybe the conversation will continue long after the panel has ended.
No matter what, we will keep fighting.
Want to join us? Check out the Creative Ink Festival website for details. See you there!