Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Tales from the Brass Bikini: Feminist Sword and Sorcery - Paula R. Stiles

"Decades before the tough, gun-toting vampire hunters with their sassy tats, navel-rings, and strange attractions to undead sexual partners from the other side of the fence, Sword and Sorcery (excuse me - "Heroic Fantasy," we're calling it, now) was the unapologetic ghetto of feminist fantasy. These heroines, who did not care one hoot whether they were drawn like men with tits or not, were powerful sorceresses, cold-blooded mercenaries with magical and Freudian blades, lusty queens, even lustier pirate captains, and female Conans who wore almost nothing into battle. If you wanted your feminism with a hefty dose of mindless, bloody action, S&S was your first stop. As a young tomboy growing up in the 70s and 80s, I ate it all up with a bronze dagger. Unsurprisingly, this subgenre is a morass of bad attitudes. Some of them have been progressive; Sword and Sorcery is one of the first genres to present lesbians as perfectly acceptable protagonists. Some of them have been anything but: rape, and its frequent use as an origin story for heroines, being an especially troubling subject. Plus, the many ugly tropes that women writers of the 70s brought to the subgenre from Romance appeared in their very writing styles. Too often, the authors spent more time on describing their characters' clothing and ornaments, or the (not always male) love interest's pretty hair, than on action or world-building." 4.5 out of 5