[Posted at The Exponent]
I read two fascinating novels this past month, both of them very different (The Fox Woman set in an ancient magical Japan and The Windup Girl set in a future dystopian Thailand) but they had a similar refrain in one aspect: they both contained female characters that had been constructed to please men.
In "The Fox Woman" Kitsune is a young fox who falls in love with a man, so she creates magic that will turn her into the woman she thinks he wants. (Which, apparently, is a girl barely into puberty.) In "The Windup girl" Emiko is a manufactured new person, created by geneticists to be a pleasing companion to men. (Later in the book, a scientist muses if Labrador genes were spliced into her DNA, imbuing her with an extraordinary urge to obey.)
It has me mining my own map of social gender relations. For a long time, I wasn't sure who I was, because all my effort went into being what others wanted me to be. And by "others" I mean mostly men. A long string of male authority figures, church leaders, bosses, family members, and peers who I was desperately trying to please. (I find myself wondering about how few female role models I had.)
It's embarrassing to write this. But admitting it is the first step, right?
I understood Kitsune's need for love, the hope that the illusion of beauty would win that love.
I understood Emiko's internal schisms when her training and genetic engineering cause her to be 'pleasing' in the face of insult, to accept humiliation and abuse.
It got me thinking.
And remembering creation stories that have woman being created out of a piece of man's bone so that he'd have a nice pleasing companion.
BTW, both Kitsune and Emiko had to go through excruciating, brutal (and bloody) transitions as part of their journey from 'created object' to self-hood. (Why must these things hurt so much?)
[An interesting aside; a friend of mine read this and made the observation that both of these books are examples of Westerners portraying Asian women as subservient. Different topic, but something to think about.]
Furthermore; I may pull out my old copies of Chicks in Chainmail, Parable of the Sower, Dealing with Dragons, etc, for more stories of women who know what they want, how to get it, with no striving to please or pining for approval.
On the flip side, I just started My Horizontal Life; a collection of one-night stands (a birthday gift from my sister). And wow: Author Chelsea Handler is a woman who knows what she wants, how to get it, and has no qualms about immediately jettisoning the offending party if it becomes apparent that he is NOT what she wants. (I am enjoying this book with a mix of admiration and horror.)
~any thoughts on the problems/solutions/complications of seeking for approval?
~read any good books lately?