Grittiness and Sexuality in Fantasy

Foz Meadows has a very interesting post, On Grittiness and Grimdark:

[E]liding the genre’s political dimensions is especially problematic: grittiness is only a selective view of reality, not the whole picture. Yes, there’s pain and despair and suffering, but not exclusively, and when you make grit a synonym for realism – when you make an active, narrative decision to privilege specific, familiar types of grimness as universals – then you’re not just denying the fullness of reality; you’re promoting a version of it that’s inherently hostile to the personhood and interests of the majority of people on the planet. (And in that sense, it doesn’t seem irrelevant that the bulk of gritty, grimdark writers, especially those who self-identify as such, are straight, white men.)

If your idea of ‘grittiness’ includes misogyny (for instance), it’s more or less inevitable that your female characters will not only encounter systematic sexism, but necessarily be scarred by it, because if it were possible for them to remain unscathed by such an integral aspect of your preordained notion of grittiness, then by the rubric of gritty = honest, they would be unrealistic characters. Which means that, with the best will in the world, you’ve committed from the outset to writing women whose lives and selves are damaged by men – and while, as a female reader, I don’t object to encountering such characters, I do object to the assumption that these are the only female characters you can realistically write.

Grittiness has its place in fiction; as do representations of existing inequalities. But when we forget to examine why we think certain abuses are inevitable, or assume their universality – when we write about a particular prejudice, not to question, subvert or redefine it, but to confirm it as an inevitable, even integral aspect of human nature – then we’re not being realistic, but selective in our portrayal and understanding of reality.

Read it all. Read the comments. Then go read Kate Elliott on What Is Your Consensual Sex and Love Doing In My Epic Fantasy? (Livejournal.)

To my mind, we lessen the story we are telling about human experience if we do not include and see as worthy all of human experience, especially including positive depictions of sex and love. What kind of world do we vision if we only tell the ugly stories about such intimate matters?

(I believe it’s laziness and a puritan cultural streak that sees – consciously or subconsciously – sexual intimacy as something punishable that drives the ubiquity of the portrayal of sexual violence in fiction. But I’m a rabid man-hating hairy-legged feminist, so what do I know, y’know?)


A couple of other links:

Maureen Kincaid Speller takes Ghost Planet – of which I couldn’t get past the first page – apart:

Ghost Planet is novel as frightfully efficient storytelling machine, with all its plot points lined up neatly, its characters popped out of their moulds and trimmed, its language oiled and functional, the whole thing so overworked as to be stripped totally of absolutely anything that might make it interesting. It’s not terribly good science fiction, and it’s definitely a dull and predictable romance.

Meanwhile, the latest Shadow Unit is excellent. With poisonous spiders. Maybe I’ll get paid soon (*eyes Strange Horizons*) and have enough to donate.