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Portrayal of women in fantasy 
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Malekith's Best Friend
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I did not want to derail the thread about Morathi even further, let alone ress the thread with a tangent discussion... So I'm starting a new topic on this.

I did not know Patrick Rothfuss, until I was linked this video. This video alone will probably have me read his works now :P


I'd say his view applies to the WHFB world and stories as well. I have been reading more Warhammer Fantasy books lately, and I find myself discouraged by the utter lack of more profound characters, especially when it comes to female characters. If we look at the Sundering compendium, then it's all about men with 1 chapter (the smallest one) being about Hellebron... who's behaviour is portrayed as a deranged teenager. Malus Darkblade starts with a strong female character riding by Malus' side. She also disappears from the story rather quickly.
The book of Nagash is a male exclusive story, aside from Nefertete, who doesn't exactly manage to dodge clichés. Men do the fighting, dying, plotting, politicking and so on. The Khaine book (novel) shows a brief moment of respect for Ystranna but that lasts only a single battle.

Admitted, I don't exactly look for profound depth in the WH books and mostly read them for easy entertainment. But even then it can't escape notice that there isn't just a problem with the portrayal of women, there's a serious lack of them. The WH world seems big enough to excuse the inclusion of old cliché archetypes (both male and female) because it's big enough to leave room for other, stronger characters. Maybe that's why I find the complete void of stronger characters, especially when it comes to female characters, almost disturbing.
I reached a point of saturation.. well.. boredom even, of the overload of boy stories since so few male characters ever seem to have reach (emotional) maturity. I try to find more stories with "real" women in them but can't find any.

Contradictory as that may sound, I enjoy how Dark Elves are portrayed. Firstly, because the Dark Elf army used to have no qualms about women in the army and have them pick up military, or warrior roles. I always loved that. That aspect of them has weakened lately, leaving women generally to "magic" and "psychotic" roles... but still there's traces of better times.
Added to this, the Dark Elves are often played as the counter part in a story in such a way that it welcomes the superficial, almost comical nature with which they bring about pain, destruction and depravity. I enjoy that role because it is supposed to imply a "good" alternative by contrast. Except it doesn't seem to contrast to anything good at all. There's no "better" whole, less superficial alternative.

Anyhow. I thought I'd share the video, my say on the subject and end this lengthy (egocentric) monologue with the cliché question to pretend I want to have a dialogue with you:
"What are your thoughts on this?"

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Wed Feb 11, 2015 7:06 pm
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Haven't yet watched the video.

For me, the clue is in the title; "fantasy". It is fantasy written by men for men. More specifically for teenage men, and in a context of selling toy soldiers.

So I don't have the same expectations for GW stories, or other similar level sword and sorcery, as I do literature. Just like I don't expect the male cast of romance novels to behave in the manner I would.

Not that I wouldn't want to see better female characters, just that I don't have high expectations. For better female characters we would need (1) More female writers and (2) More male writers without any gender hang ups :P

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Wed Feb 11, 2015 7:42 pm
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The no women in The Hobbit thing is pretty crazy. I was reminded of it after seeing the movie recently and realizing how many female characters they added.

Overall, I can't help but liken this conversation to the more notorious example being brought to popular attention in the video game industry, highlighted by the farce that is gamergate.

A complicated problem with many layers and no easy solution, but broader gender representation and participation in all aspects of the hobby seems like a necessary part of it. How many female writers does GW have on staff? Artists? Sculptors? Kind of a chicken and egg situation though, if you've got an environment that tends to discourage equal representation in the first place.

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Thu Feb 12, 2015 6:39 am
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Chicken and egg... maybe so. I don't know many sculptors, but I know a few artists and read enough books to know there's no shortage of women in that business. Or at least with the talent to be in the business. Take, for example, the Liveship Trilogy by Robin Hobb (real name Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden). A brilliant trilogy btw, with plenty of strong male and female characters. She publishes under "Robin Hobb" like a sort of brand name, but also picked a more androgynous name to lower the barrier to read the books, where it would have been assumed more difficult under her own name.
I follow one artist's work a little more closely. She published her work under a male (sounding) name for a time because she recieved more positive feedback under that name than she did under her own name. Apparently it's more acceptable for men to draw knights, orcs, and sometimes half naked people than it is for women to do that.

As for Gamergate and the video game industry, we can expand that to the IT industry in general. That's a world I know quite well, being a software engineer by education ;) I started my studies in a class with 6 girls and 141 boys. To me, that's a clear example of an extreme gender bias and image that has little to do with competencies: 5 girls and 22 boys passed their first year.

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Thu Feb 12, 2015 9:21 am
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I think there is one more important reason for this. Classic fantasy tales are based on the medieval era of the real world. How many influential women can you name, starting from the ancient nations and ending with WWI? There were some, but I think that for any one of them you could easily name three or more important men from the same nation. And if you restrict yourself to the Middle Ages, the disproportion will be even bigger. Of course, there were women who were doing politics, manipulating their husbands, leading closters or something but this is a far thinner range of things to do.

While I have not done a proper research on this, I think that this effect persists even if we look in mythology. Is there a female ancient Greek hero that can compare with Achilles, Herakles, Theseus or Odysseus? Even Orfeus was a man.

As a result, we all expect "heroic" people such as knights or kings to be male. If you change their gender you (I think) have to justify it somehow. Otherwise, you go from "just some random knight" to "some knight that is female just for the sake of being female". Therefore, I feel that every female character (of this type) needs to be written with more care that a male character in the same position.

By the way, I think the reverse is true for some stereotypical female positions. A male nurse sparks attention as much as a female knight.

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Sat Feb 14, 2015 10:08 am
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While I certainly understand your point (I think), I feel that:
1) We shouldn't perpetuate 'bad' history into fantasy literature for tradition's sake.
2) Our perception of history isn't necessarily accurate. In my science department, there was an active movement to highlight the work of women in history who are otherwise "ignored". It's not a small contribution. Even Einstein's work comes up in this. Sure, you may have an easier time "naming" 3 dudes for every woman, but if we dig a little deeper the odds might be more challenging. The reason is largelly perception. Your very WiFi and many computer concepts are the brainchild of women yet we somehow only remember Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Recent research indicates Viking troops (migrants, as they are labeled in the research) also included women, linky. It turns out older research simply assumed they were men. It's not my claim that foot soldiers in the past had as many women as they had men. But if we look a little deeper, we see that our history isn't as deprived of women as our perception of history is.

I'm not asking for every story to have a mandatory balance between genders. If you devise a story of 4 dudes and then an editor comes along and enforces a writer to put a woman in there, then yes.... you'll get the disastrous, vapid, 'doesnt fit' woman in there.

I am claiming though, that the imbalance between genders in WH is unnatural. I simply can't imagine a world so big, so large, with so many nations, cultures and conflicts that there isn't a single interesting woman in there worth writing about. You named 1 vs 3. I'd gladly take the 1 woman for every 3 dudes in WHFB right now.

Take Malekith's book and his conquest of the colonies. The main protagonist is Malekith, but very very little of his entourage was set in stone. Yet somehow they all end up being men. Maybe the writer had a very intricate story in mind for each and every one of his Lieutenants but I doubt it. So why woudn't he have rolled, say, a D6 for each gender to know how many lieutenants/captains Malekith would have, give them names and take it from there?
Unless Malekith hand picked every single one of them, discriminating by gender, that roll is more likely to end up with a natural balance between genders than the "women don't exist" world we end up now.

I'm not even asking for equal representation (though that would be great IMO), but just to bring a tad, just a tad more diversity. Just to try it :P
Heck, it needn't even be true in every WH society. The WH world is big enough to include all the clichés and more interesting female characters. G.W. could offer both and let the audience decide. I know I'd be a fan... And who knows, perhaps it might bring more women to the table too!

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"I move unseen. I hide in light and shadow. I move faster than a bird. No plate of armour ever stopped me. I strike recruits and veterans with equal ease. And all shiver at my coldest of whispers."
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Mon Feb 16, 2015 4:15 pm
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Will look forward to viewing the video later - interesting discussion. To your initial post, I thought Lhunara in Malus was a well handled character. The female shade character too, even. As you say, all in all, Dark Elves are one of the better races in terms of male/female balance - though it clearly skews to stereotype frequently enough, as with Malus' various sisters.

Compared to Dwarves and Skaven, we're a real poster child for gender equality. I always thought it a shame that female* Skaven didn't feature more prominently as characters - their society/fluff feels to me like it would really benefit from them, adding another dimension of intriguing, scheming and betrayal. Perhaps that's where I'd say Warhammer falls most clearly short of its potential on this front. (*EDIT - I mean female Skaven that play the same roles as male Skaven, look the same, do the same stuff, etc. - not the actual canon female Skaven in the form they take there).

One feels the less immediately physically attractive the stereotypical female of the race might be, the less likely they are to appear. That's clearly the male bias of the paradigm.

Not sure if anyone plays L5R rpg/cards - that always felt like a well balanced setting gender-wise.

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Tue Feb 17, 2015 12:55 pm
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death hag is literally on a cauldron of blood. how much more sexist can you get than to give her a chariot which is essentially a MASSIVE piece of cooking equipment? :lol:


Tue Feb 17, 2015 1:48 pm
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I now watched the video - great points, going to check out some of his books and give one a spin.

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Tue Feb 17, 2015 11:30 pm
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Quick follow up, veering slightly OT - I have grabbed his "The Name of the Wind". Saw me through a transatlantic flight a 2 hr queue for a taxi in snow-ravaged DC. He writes well. Like it. Only a couple of female characters so far, though the main one encountered is nicely rounded out and believable. I'd recommend him.

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Sun Feb 22, 2015 2:53 am
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I think it really varies on the inspiration of the fantasy world in question. GW's is very traditional, pretty much Tolkien-esque through and through...devised in the 80s when men/boys were considered the only real audience for wargaming (Oh, GW and their research skills). With a medieval inspiration behind a lot of it, you see a lot of men...it mirrors our own history and warfare that you'd see in the middle ages.

I think there needs to be a conscious effort to make fantasy more equitable. I've been playing some of PP's War Machine recently and its characters and models tend to have a better gender balance than GW's games (with the possible exception of the Eldar/Elves, who have typically had quite a strong female contingent). A number of the Warcasters are female and several are key to the ongoing plot in that universe.

When you look into the broader fantasy genre, you see the likes of Bioware's Dragon Age (granted, more of a RPG) where you can play as a woman, deal with several powerful female characters...and so on. Typically when playing a computer RPG I'd typically start out as what I'd consider the 'default' style - a male soldier or warrior. These days I tend to opt for female rogues since it's a bit more interesting to play as (and given the time investment, means a 2nd playthrough is not as required!).

I think games (or books etc.) without the long history of something like Warhammer can break away from the male-driven cliché, just look at the various female characters in something like Game of Thrones.

I think the likes of GoT will get more women aware and interested in fantasy settings which, in turn, will result in more emancipated fantasy fiction and media. It just takes time.

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Mon Mar 02, 2015 4:39 pm
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At the risk of taking this off title topic, and borderline threadomancy, the experiment noted above has paid off - his book's are excellent, and a strong cast of better rounded than usual female characters is very much present by the end of "The Name of the Wind". I'm onto the second in the trilogy, and strongly recommend them.

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Thu Mar 12, 2015 9:25 pm
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Sounds cool. Will have to check them out at somepoint.

- Btw, when do we get to read the first flatworldsedge novella? :)

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Thu Mar 12, 2015 10:08 pm
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Daeron wrote:
While I certainly understand your point (I think), I feel that:
1) We shouldn't perpetuate 'bad' history into fantasy literature for tradition's sake.


Completely agree. One of the big points a fantasy is to gain freedom to tell a better story; gender lines shouldn't the hindrance they are considered. Good characters should be the only rule in writing fantasy. Good characters only.

Daeron wrote:
2) Our perception of history isn't necessarily accurate. In my science department, there was an active movement to highlight the work of women in history who are otherwise "ignored". It's not a small contribution. Even Einstein's work comes up in this. Sure, you may have an easier time "naming" 3 dudes for every woman, but if we dig a little deeper the odds might be more challenging. The reason is largelly perception. Your very WiFi and many computer concepts are the brainchild of women yet we somehow only remember Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Recent research indicates Viking troops (migrants, as they are labeled in the research) also included women, linky. It turns out older research simply assumed they were men. It's not my claim that foot soldiers in the past had as many women as they had men. But if we look a little deeper, we see that our history isn't as deprived of women as our perception of history is.


Yes and no; whilst history does most certainly regularly forget the contributions of women to particular fields of development, our understanding of warfare is quite nuanced and knowledgeable. We dedicate more history and memory to warfare than any other field of human development.

The peoples of the Steppe made some use of women in warfare, particularly the Sarmatians who were the basis of the Amazon myth. The mongols had a number of strong female military leaders also and used their women in combat and to defend the tuman camps.

The Vikings had their shield-maidens undoubtedly who would have fought in the front lines of war, given the nature of battle at the time. As did the Germanic tribes before them, though less in the front lines and more in an auxiliary role, though the Romans in particular feared them.

There have been Egyptian and Chinese female generals, the odd Macedonian or two, the odd samurai woman, but you are dealing with exceptions to the norm by a very large factor, quite easily 99% to 1%.

So I'm not surprised or necessarily disappointed that women don't factor in to the warfare of fantasy more than they do. Bearing in mind one of the things I really like about the Asrai army is that there is amost 50/50 parity between male and female in the rank and file units.

What I do get disappointed about is poorly written or contrived characters. If female warriors are the exception to the rule, and they are, they should naturally be exceptional. To me it is more important that the female characters you see steal the show when they are in a scene than how many scenes they are in per say. Because quite literally that is the most accurate and likely thing that would have been happening. People who are the 1% are exceptional and that should be celebrated in history and fantasy more than role parity or closing role parity. So in the example of Malekith's court, perhaps you only get 1 female character but she bestrides the court like a juggernaught because she is so exceptional. Now if that is Morathi in a persons view, well ok, if not, well ok. But that's just my view on it. We don't get engineers and doctors and craftsmen told to us in warhammer really, we get warriors (mages included in that) and truthfully told they are probably over emphasized compared to a strictly historical sense of warfare. Which is perfectly fine in my books. Valkia, the Everqueen, Morathi, Hellebron, Ariel, Naith, Dechala, Drycha, Naestra & Arahan, the Fay Enchantress, Khalida, Neferata; you would literally never have in history a time so rich with female warrior heroes that are world renowned. But again, how well are those characters used, how well are their tales told. That is what bothers me, not the numbers, the quality.

Ronda Rousey is MMA's biggest star right now; why? Because she's a gorgeous woman who bestrides unarmed combat like an arm-taking, body throwing juggernaught; that attention is natural. If you're not putting that level of interest into your female characters in fantasy, that top 1%, then I'm a critic.

And this is coming from someone who has a black belt for a wife that came closer to knocking me out than all of the men I train with and a daughter that has been shooting a bow since 18 months old, swing wooden swords at 2 and karate at 3; but I love exceptions to the rule more than the rule itself.

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Sat Mar 14, 2015 11:30 am
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Makiwara wrote:
Ronda Rousey is MMA's biggest star right now; why? Because she's a gorgeous woman


Image

I come here to escape the Rousey hype :|

I'd like to see her fight Cyborg ;)

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Sat Mar 14, 2015 2:30 pm
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T.D. wrote:
Makiwara wrote:
Ronda Rousey is MMA's biggest star right now; why? Because she's a gorgeous woman


Image

I come here to escape the Rousey hype :|

I'd like to see her fight Cyborg ;)


Well, I apologise for the hype; however to my point. ;)

Image

Image

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBP1uz7cBrk

She'd beat Cyborg, especially now she's under the microscope with PED's, one round armbar.

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Sun Mar 15, 2015 12:16 pm
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Thanks for the pic :) It's her personality that turns me off though.

And you'll notice I didn't predict the fight. Just said I'd like to see it ;)

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Sun Mar 15, 2015 1:14 pm
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