Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Not Anti Feminist, Just a Fantasy

I stumbled on this interesting discussion over at the AAR Reviews message board. Anything that features J.R. Ward, her books, or discussion of either will pull me in immediately. But this struck a particular chord.

For those who don't want to wade through the entire thread or the second thread that continued the discussion, basically it involves some readers who find it hard to lose themselves in the world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood because it is such a male-dominated set-up. The stories feature very, VERY manly men (okay, manly vampires) and situations that place women firmly in the damsel category. In Ward's world, male vampires are driven to protect females of their species, and this results in a definite gender imbalance where females are often seen as and/or treated as decorations or property.

Others bemoan the fact that Ward has offered up polygamy as an option for her vampires, and while some males take advantage of the ability to have more than one mate, females generally do not. Again, a gender imbalance.

And one poster pointed out - rightly so, IMO - that of the three books so far, the story itself really hasn't deviated from a simple plot. Male meets female. Female is in danger. Male rescues female and takes her to his cave home. Wild monkey love ensues. Female lingers in bed while male runs off to fight the bad guys, and maybe female helps a little with this. The end. While my biggest complaint of the BDB series is exactly this sameness in plot, everything else is so darn good this is more of a nitpick. It's like chocolate - no matter what you do with it, it's still chocolate but it's so good you'll eat it all the same.

As for the gender imbalance in Ward's world, at the risk of having them come to take away my Modern Woman of the New Millenium card, I don't mind it. Not at all. Sure, I wouldn't complain if her heroines were beefed up a little as far as what they get to do in the story, as I find that by far the weakest part of the series. But I give Ward a pass on her less than extraordinary heroines because her heroes are so over the top. Ward has said over and over that these men live inside her head, that they are real to her and she simply the conduit to telling their stories. I think that providing heroines for these men to love is kind of secondary. Not that she goes so far as to insert Generic Heroine into each hero's romance. But the females are definitely not the ones clamoring for attention on the page.

I don't have a problem with that. I tend to read romance novels for the heroes. I ask only that the heroines aren't TSTL and that they actually do something to warrant the love of the hero.

Too, the type of hero Ward writes about simply isn't politically correct in any setting but medieval. They are men who are protective and violent and possessive. They are warriors, whose job it is to protect their species from extinction. They see women as the weaker sex - which physically women are - to whom it is their responsibility to keep from harm. Since such a man would be ridiculed in contemporary society, she's given them a world of their own where they can be who she imagines them to be.

And I get from Ward's stories a sense that where the men are the physically dominant creatures, the ones who work up front and center, loud and in your face, it's the women who are the true strength behind the scenes. The calming influence, the beings that keep these men from becoming the animals their very nature would call them to be if left unchecked. In the depth of the love and devotion they inspire in these fierce, hardened men, these women are far more powerful.

If you'll recall (if you've read the books), it is stated that once a male has chosen a mate and they've performed their bonding ceremony, the male is considered the property of the female. She owns him. He is hers to do with as she pleases. And the males are happy to serve.

Not to mention the pure hell Zsadist suffered at the hands of his mistress, a woman who owned him in ways too horrible to describe. Talk about your imbalance. If females have the power to control the lives and fates of the males in their world and it is not unknown for some to abuse this power, I don't know that it can be said that there is an imbalance weighted toward the male end of the spectrum.

That seems to be the crux of it for me. I find true imbalance occurs when one sex or the other abuses the power that they have, using it to oppress the opposite sex. I don't get that sense from the BDB, that the men abuse the power they have over women. Yes, each sex does have some distinct gender roles they are called to play. And yes, these roles are a bit more traditional than what we currently view as the way things should be to be considered fair and equal. But I don't think it makes them inherently wrong. I don't think I would call Ward's world anti-feminist. Both sexes enjoy powers and rights unique to their particular sex, both exert equal control over their mates.

And I don't think it makes a person un-PC or fundamentally misogynistic to enjoy Ward's books just because they take place in a fantasy world where men are men and women are not. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fantasy of men stepping up to the plate physically to take care of the women they love.

No comments: