"Why do you write strong female characters? Because you're still asking me that question." - Joss Whedon
As I was considering the various topics on which I could blog today, the post of a friend, fellow Richmond writer, and fellow U.S. Army officer Kevin Hanrahan slid across my browser. It was titled "Reasons Why Women Shouldn't Be In Combat Units," and nothing gets my blood movin' in the morning quite like really strong coffee or a topic I feel strongly about.
I clicked over to his actual post and--whew--he's on my side of the issue. He does what I consider a very effective job debunking the reasons he mentions, so I won't repeat all that here. Now, I do think that, from a sociological perspective, the American public isn't quite ready to deal with having women in roles that are specified for combat. But that's our fault, not the women's. As Joss Whedon pointed out, people still ask the question about strong women.
Two examples from my own West Point experience, just real quick. First, it rained on our graduation. Not the light spring drizzle type of thing, but a full-on, dime-sized-drops downpour. Traditionally, that means the graduating class will see combat. After, of course, we saw each others' underwear choices through the thin white linen heavily-starched pants that were part of our formal summer uniforms and that became see-through when wet. I don't remember the name of the guy who stood in front of me, but big blue polka dots = bad choice, dude. He shook the hand of the Vice President of the United States wearing blue polka-dotted boxers, I kid you not.
Anyway--see combat, we did, and several times at that. But the talk going around was that many women saw it first. Not long after we graduated, took the massive blocks of leave that we'd all accumulated, and then went off to officer trainings in our various branches, the action in Panama broke out. Called Operation Just Cause by some, and by others Operation Just Because, the U.S. military went into Panama to rid the world of an evil dictator named Noriega. And to 'borrow' a few million dollars worth of Panama civilians' automobiles, but that didn't make as much of the news. Apparently while the good combat arms graduates of my class, including me, were still in training at branch-specific basic courses and at Ranger School (or failing out of Ranger School, in my own case), others including some women I know and respect were already serving the nation in defense of the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The battlefield ain't what it used to be with nice clean lines drawn on a map.
An example that hits closer to home was a short Survival course we took during our second summer in which we were given a class on preparing wild game and then we were given farm-raised chickens and rabbits to kill, cook, and eat. Hey, I didn't name the course. But each squad received two chickens and a rabbit, and the cadre, being cadre ('cadre' comes from the ancient Greek for 'spawn of Satan' or something like that), gave the rabbits to the girls on each squad while warning them that if they didn't make a clean kill the cute little bunnies would scream like human babies. As I recall, they handed the bunny and the stick to the shortest blonde-haired girl in our squad of eleven and stood back and watched.
She beheaded it. With a stick. Kinda scared me, that did. I took care not to piss her off through the remainder of our time at Hudson High, at least never when a stick-shaped object was available. But this was the same "little girl," as I recall, who later marched the seven miles back to Camp Buckner with a loaded rucksack and a stress-fractured foot.
Tell me again that women can't be strong?
So yeah, I write strong women, in part because I've known some. But it's not like I set out to do so. I didn't sit down to plot out Cataclysm to write about a strong woman. I sat down, actually, to write about the God of War. Who, incidentally, lives a very long time and only marries human women when they really, really impress him. The first time, that wife became the Goddess of Love. Crystal, meanwhile, is going to--no, no spoilers on the eve of Ascension's release. Sorry. (no, I'm really not, but it seemed like the thing to say) But she's tough, and she shows it several times in the book. She's got her foibles, to be certain, but at one point she even goes toe-to-toe against Thor. You know--THE Thor.
(Try saying "THE Thor" out loud a few times quickly. And by yourself. Trust me, it's fun.)
Once you're done with that incredibly useful exercise, then--yes, fictional women can be strong and tough and smart, no matter what Robert Jordan's work tries to tell us. But that's because real women can be strong and tough and smart. If I'm ever called to raise a rifle in defense of the nation again (God help us all...) then I really don't care whether the person standing beside me has breasts or not.