Today I’m pleased to host Hannah Hopkins, author of Space Academy as she talks about writing women in fiction. I think we can all agree that often women are not fully realised in fiction, and I’d be interested to know your thoughts.
Writing women in fiction. How to help the feminist cause.
It’s strange to think that not so long ago, women were not allowed to be writers. Our voice was stifled in so many ways, but the limitations on a woman’s career in the literary world was a huge disadvantage to feminism, with women forced to take up pen names that concealed their gender and focus on male ideals and values in their writing. Indeed, even J.K Rowling was advised to change her pen name from ‘Joanne’ in order to sell more Harry Potter books. Although she may not have specifically been told to hide the fact she is a woman in order to be successful, the undertones are certainly there!
Now that we are finally (slowly) being allowed to use our voices, how can we use fiction and literature to further feminism? How can we use the written word in the fight against oppression? I’ve thought long and hard about what a ‘helpful’ portrayal of a female character means. There is a still a huge amount of debate around this topic, and in this post, I wish to express my own opinions only on what I think it means to create good representations of women in literature.
The first topic is one that has caused many debates between me and my friends. The simple question of whether male authors should write about feminism, or is it better for them to leave it to female writers? And further than this, can male authors write female characters that we can identify with, removing subconscious stereotypes that might slip through the net? My personal opinion is that male authors should allow the more complex issues of feminism to female writers, who have experienced oppression and sexism first-hand.
Similar to the issue of racism, which, as white authors, I don’t believe we should try and speak on with authority (but should instead try to make space for people of colour to tell their own story) I believe male authors would better ally themselves with feminism if they actively made room for women to use our own voice. It would be irresponsible to say that white authors should not include people of colour in their novels at all because they have not experienced racism. Instead, it is advised that they should do research, and seek to consciously unpick stereotypes from their mind that influence their writing in ways they don’t realise. It should absolutely be done, because omitting race from a novel (as I have learnt) is making just as strong of a statement as actively including it. The issue of race does, however, need to be handled with care and consideration. We all make mistakes, but being receptive to criticism and being conscious of our failings helps us to do better next time. With the same logic, I think it is important that any non-female identifying author should educate themselves around the topic before bringing their ideas to the page.
A good place to start is to research different depictions of women and how well they were received. They then need to work at becoming self-aware, understanding how the patriarchy and society might shape their female characters in ways they do not intend, furthering stereotypes and misogyny without conscious intention.
I think it is possible for men to create relatable representations of women, and that it has been done on occasion, most likely as a result of research and sensitivity! One example that I personally enjoy is George R.R Martin’s representation of women in A Song Of Ice And Fire. In my opinion, his female characters are varied and complex, and are treated with the same intricacy as the male characters.
So, what do female readers want? What can authors do to create well-rounded characters that support feminism and produce good and varied representation? My personal belief is that we need to just let our female characters be human! Let them be complicated. Let them make mistakes without condemning them. Allow them to be sexual or prudish without shaming them. Allow them to be ambitious without portraying them as cold and unfeeling. Allow an older female character to be single without also making her bitter and resentful. Let women make the choice to be alone, instead of portraying it as a punishment for her flaws.
Give women agency over their own lives! Give them some interests that don’t revolve around relationships. Let them wear makeup AND be clever. Let them be fashionable and academic. Remove the boxes and the pigeon-holes. Remove the stereotypes for both cisgender and trans women, and anyone else who identifies as female, and allow them to grow and develop without constraint. If we begin to give our women such freedom in literature, it will begin to translate into real life. Fiction is a great tool for advocacy, and if we can start to imagine women living without shame or oppression, one day we hopefully wont have to imagine anymore!
In 2017, Hannah Hopkins released a self-published novel entitled ‘The Split’; the story of four teenagers navigating life after Earth as they journey through space to a new planet. Two years later, the book was picked up by ‘The Conrad Press’ and re-vamped as ‘Space Academy,’ with a new cover, new title and new additions to the story. ‘Space Academy’ was released in 2020, kickstarting Hannah’s career as a writer.
Hannah is currently busy writing a historical fiction novel with a feminist twist. She spends the rest of her time working at a University and caring for her two young children in the UK.
Space Academy by Hannah Hopkins
It’s the year 2100. Earth is dying. A young woman, Elsie, has risked everything to get her newborn son, Will, aboard ‘The Mayflower’ – a spaceship that will transport a select number of people to a new planet they can call home. Elsie’s luck takes a turn when she discovers the captain of ‘The Mayflower’ is an old friend. He allows her to board with her son, giving them a place on the luxurious Floor One, where they live amongst the most honoured of ‘The Mayflower’s’ passengers.
Thirteen years later, and Will is ready to start school at Space Academy, an institute specialising in subjects such as Alien Studies, Technology, and Rocket Control. While a pupil there, Will starts to uncover secrets about his father’s death, becoming wrapped in a mystery that he and his friends must solve if they are to have any hope of saving humanity from the threat that lies in wait.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Space Academy by Hannah Hopkins. Why not check out some of the blogs below for exclusive content and reviews?