Where have the strong women gone?

I’ve now read my first real “vampire” book.

Okay, so it’s a werewolf book with vampires, but I’m told this is *the* genre these days. Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn. Not bad, not bad in a lot of ways, but past annoying in others and I was thinking of ranting a bit and putting the rant on my blog. You see, I bought the book to get it signed by Ms. Vaughn at Bubonicon this fall despite the fact that I’m not much into the werewolf or vampire craze, and despite the fact that she stated on one of the panels that she really didn’t like people like me, specifically, women who say they aren’t feminists.

Not that I take that personally.

What got me to bring the discussion of Kitty here to ASHC was watching the latest installment of Poliwood on Pajamas TV. Poliwood with Lionel Chetwynd & Roger L. Simon - Nov. 21st. Roger and Lionel discussed the way that women are portrayed in movies and how that has changed over time.

In essence, they argued that the “strong” women in movies today aren’t strong at all. If I were to summarize those 20 minutes of conversation it would be to state that a woman can only be as strong as the man in a movie. Reducing the stature of the male lead does not elevate the woman lead, it reduces her as well. It’s the Unbreakable principle. The premise of the movie Unbreakable was that a hero had to have a villain, and a villain had to have a hero, and the power of one was dependent on the power of the other.

Reducing men in order to make women seem stronger is only part of what is going on (and I think it’s pretty obvious that this is going on). The other part (or one other part) seems to be redefining strength so it doesn’t seem “male”. This results in what Lionel calls “strong” women in movies who are actually “miserable, whining, spoiled, self-centered…”

To tie this back to Kitty somewhat… the theme in this light little novel of the supernatural is the way women have sometimes justified abusive and controlling situations in their own minds, about the obsessive need for love and affirmation that makes them subsume themselves and their own needs and desires and how incredibly unhealthy this is. It’s the age old question: Why will a woman stay with her abuser?

The supernatural societies described by Vaughn take this dysfunctional dependency to the extremes. The werewolves have their Alpha, the vampire families have their Master, and it’s part of the disease. Kitty must ask permission for the simplest thing and lives for any hint of affirmation because she loves the Alpha so much. And the Alpha does his best to keep her weak and submissive. He’ll love her best if she stays a “puppy.”

Kitty does break away. She finds something she’s not willing to give up, and she learns to stand up for herself. In the end, she breaks away from the control all together and heads out on her own.

After listening to Lionel and Roger I realized why the end of the novel was so unsatisfying to me. One or the other of them remarked that traditional, stereotypical male values, honor and self-sacrifice, etc, are no longer portrayed in movies or television. The real problem with that is that those things are *female* values, too. And if you stop portraying them, then women aren’t portrayed with those values either.

Kitty eventually finds that confrontation with her abusers is unavoidable. I thought I was unhappy because she didn’t win. Now I realize that I am unhappy with the ending because she didn’t want the responsibility of her pack. There were two choices after all… Kitty could win and would have to become the pack Alpha, or she could lose and have her independence.

Let me be clear that a lack of ambition is not weakness. Kitty did not want to be Alpha. What made her seem weak, still, was that she didn’t want to be Alpha *because* she didn’t want responsibility for the pack, which she saw as control and domination. It was, really, all about her. Not once did she think about the pack members who would be left to deal with the abusive Alphas. Maybe Kitty grows up more, there are a lot more books so she has a lot of time to develop as a character, but for now she seems self-centered and a bit whiny. Not because she lost the last fight, but because she felt it was wrong to want to win.

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