Archive for June, 2013

Writing something new

I have been. Honestly. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a story inspired by a one-hit wonder from the early 80s. No, I won’t tell you. You’ll have to read it and guess. It’s generally a romance, but it is not my usual romance; it’s about two women. I’ve  debated posting it under another name, and then I could ask you to guess which story it is. However, as much as I toy with such things, I come down on the side of not doing it, for a couple of reasons.

First, I’m not going to have duplicate accounts on multiple sites. It’s difficult enough to manage one Penn name (haha) across various sites, that I’m surely not going to make it any more difficult by having account one and account two at those sites. And if I decide to limit a second account to just one site, well then, what’s the point? If I post under “ThisName” at Lit and “PennLady” everywhere else, people will put it together.

Second, why should I? I realize that some people will see the name “PennLady” on the sites I post on, and read it because I wrote it, and that’s flattering. However, I also realize that some people will read it and when it’s apparent that it is not a hockey romance, nor a nonhuman story (yes, I did write a few of those 🙂 ), they will downgrade it in ratings at least on a couple of sites.

This is okay and it’s happened before. A few stories I’ve written, the stand-alones that focused a bit more on the sex, tend to rate lower than my longer stories (although it differs a bit from site to site). I’ve never really tried to figure this out, because it doesn’t seem worth it. So many people read stories, and surely they stop and start again so they may miss something I post, and so many people look for different things in a story that trying to analyze this kind of reaction is useless. That way madness lies.

I frequently warn other writers not to live and die by votes or comments on the internet sites, and I try hard to do that myself. So if people don’t like this, well, tough. I wrote something, polished it up to my specifications, and that’s all I can do.

The disappointing part is that people will downgrade a story on what it is not, as opposed to what it is. So sometimes I get the feeling that I might write a story and the end result is, for some readers, “This is okay but it’s not a hockey romance, which is what I wanted, so I will rate it X instead of Y.”

Some writers, at least on Literotica, do solve this to a point by having separate accounts, and they did that to give their “different” stories more of a fair hearing. Some have had them long enough that readers know it’s the same author. But someone might have a username for their romances, another for their BDSM stories, another for something else, because in the beginning, people did not want to read a BDSM story by a usual romance author, or the romance fans didn’t want to read something that wasn’t romance.

It may help the author, too, and that’s something else I’ve thought about. For example, Nora Roberts writes a romance/mystery/thriller series focused on a policewoman in New York City set in 2060, under the name JD Robb. Many copies of the books have this info plopped on the cover: “Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb.” So it seems it’s not a detriment to her to have this link known. But I wonder if perhaps she can slip into the JD Robb persona and that allows her to write the … In Death series in a somewhat different style than she does her romances.

Writers are often advised to a) write what you know and b) write for themselves. I’ll focus on b), which I agree with mostly. If I don’t enjoy the story I’m writing, or agree with where it’s going, I likely won’t finish it, let alone post or publish it. On the other hand, I don’t want to leave the reader completely at sea. You do a lot of things for the reader when you write — you describe characters, make sure events and relationships are clearly delineated, things like that. As the writer, you may have all that in your head, but you need to communicate it to the reader. To me, that’s a top rule of writing: Make it understandable to the reader.

Readers also get comfortable with writers writing certain types of stories, and it’s a bit of a chance for that writer to go out of the box. I was discussing this on a forum once, and someone posted and said that they liked a certain author because that author good lesbian stories. In fact, the author was a favorite because they wrote lesbian stories. If that author started writing straight romances, the reader said, they would no longer like the author.

I said wait, what, why? Why does one story in another category have to knock an author of your list entirely? (I may be misstating but I don’t think so, and there are some people who will think this way.) I mean, I love Neil Gaiman’s stories, which are almost all in the realm of fantasy or the fantastical. If he wrote a straight-up murder mystery, to be honest, I’d be all over that. I’d want to see what one of my favorite authors could do in another genre.

But that’s probably not the best comparison, because in my above example, the reader was lesbian and preferred lesbian fiction and did not care for straight fiction. No problem. I still don’t see why, though, one story out of the normal routine would be such a mark against an author.

It’s quite possible that my stand-alone stories are voted down because they are not as well done as my longer ones. That’s cool.  I hope not, but that’d be a fine reason. However, as a writer I need to try different things, just like musicians need to experiment with sounds an genres. Writing the same thing gets dull. There’s a comfort in the routine, admittedly, and I like to go back to my fluff sometimes, but sometimes I want to stretch and try something else. I just hope the readers will stretch, too.

 

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“Sleeping Beauty” considered

The other day I posted in defense of several of the Disney princesses. Hey, it surprised me, too. Part of that was I’m tired of people getting so worked up, and acting as though one viewing of those movies will do terrible things to their children and give them bad ideas of what women can expect in life. I found that for the most part, these criticisms were snarky and misdirected, if not wrong, except perhaps in the case of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. 

It so happens that on a recent visit my in-laws, we went to a yard sale and picked up a bunch of Disney movies, on VHS (yes, we have VHS players still), for fifty cents each. This included movies like Sleeping BeautyBeauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan as well as Fantasia and a couple of others. The other day, I sat down with my daughter, who is five, and watched Sleeping Beauty. If I’d seen it before, I don’t remember; I may not have seen it before, not all the way through At any rate, it was like watching it for the first time and may have been the first time. My daughter was occasionally interested but more intrigued by games on the iPad.

The “lesson” from Sleeping Beauty that some critics find is that a pretty girl must do nothing but wait to be saved by a handsome stranger. But Disney’s movie has some darker undertones, and I’d say being saved by the handsome stranger is a well-deserved treat for our heroine.

As I noted before, many of these movies are set in an implied Middle Ages-ish setting, probably necessary because so few countries today have royalty that have any real power. I’ve noted that when many of these fairy tales are modernized or otherwise updated (including my own Light and the Darkness, a vampire tale inspired by Beauty and the Beast), the “princess” theme is just discarded. It’s less necessary that the woman be royalty than that she be in certain circumstances.

Back to Sleeping Beauty — can we get some sympathy for the titular character? Let’s see — the girl, Aurora, is betrothed to a boy when she is less than week old. This will no doubt cut into her future dating life. Some woman in a funny hat, pissed that she’s not invited to the baby’s coming out, curses her. When she is sixteen, the witch says, the girl will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. A little harsh, if you ask me, not to mention totally uncalled for. It’s not like the child had a say in the invites.

The good fairies do what they can; unable to stop the spell, one of them alters it so that instead of dying, the princess will sleep. In an effort to prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, the King and Queen ban spinning wheels from the kingdom and burn the existing ones. (I’m assuming this means a serious increase in clothing imports; I hope this doesn’t cripple the area’s economy.) Realizing that the princess will still be visible and easily found by the witch (named Malificent; great name) for other possible bad things, the good fairies propose to take the girl into the forest and raise her themselves in hiding. Desperate and unhappy, the King and Queen agree.

The fairies change their appearance, resolve not to use magic in order to keep themselves and the child secret, and go off to a cabin in the woods (but thankfully not one Joss Whedon designed). The girl, renamed Briar Rose, lives with the fairies, is quite happy in her isolated life, and just before she’s to be returned to her parents, she meets a handsome man in the forest. Neither of them know that they have found their already-betrothed (small world, indeed) and many tears are shed. Once back, she of course pricks her finger and falls asleep.

So what we have here is quite possibly the most passive heroine in Disney history. She does nothing to advance her own story, but then she can’t unless it’s accidental, since she doesn’t know her own story. Aurora has had no control over her life; she was engaged before she could focus her eyes, she was cursed by a woman with (again credit to Joss Whedon) breath-taking anger management issues, is taken into exiled and then returned with a) no time to process that her life has been a lie and b) no chance to avoid the witch’s spell.

These, to me, are far more dangerous issues for adults to take out of this movie. But the problem is of course that children don’t watch movies like adults do (thank heavens). Much subtext is lost on them, although they likely absorb more than we think. They do not see that all of Aurora’s choices have been taken from her or made for her. These are things that we should teach our children to avoid — to make sure they do not cede control over themselves to anyone — never mind the fussy clothes.

Once again, I find a lot of sympathy for Aurora and am pleased that she was found by her prince. I could digress here — who’s this putz who’s ready to throw over this established alliance for a stranger? Does he not know what happens when promises like this are broken? Did he not see the Red Wedding?!?! But I think what we need to take away from the Prince’s experience is that he fell for his princess without knowing she was one; he fell for her and not all of her trappings. So that’s a plus.

And thankfully, no one played ‘The Rains of Castamere” at the wedding ceremony. Because we all know that’s just bad news.

Interview with me

NaughtyMiranda over at EroticStories.com was kind enough to interview me via some email questions. The interview is available at their site, but I believe  you need at least a free account there, so I can’t link directly to it. I can, however, reproduce it here. Hope you enjoy. 🙂

Q. What and when was the first story you published here?

A. The first story was called “Make a Wish,” a romance about a woman who comes into possession of a genie in a lamp, but she is reluctant to make a wish, which puts the genie in an odd position. I like to take common situations and try to find a slightly different take on them.

Q. How many stories have you published since then?

A. Not as many as I’d like; I guess I’d say between 10 and 15. I have written a number of stories, long and short, and for a while a few were available as e-books on Amazon. I had published with an e-publisher called Republica Press, but they had to shut down. Running an e-publishing house is more complicated than most people realize, I think.

I had a nonhuman romance trilogy about three weretiger sisters, another about a werewolf – which I have plans for sequels for – and a collection of romances centering on ice hockey that I published with another author. I’m a big hockey fan.

I still have two short stories available on Amazon via a little group called Yellow Silk Dreams. One is called “The Collection,” and I was aiming for a little of the Twilight Zone feel with that. The other is “Light and the Darkness,” about an artist and a vampire.

Q. What was your most recent one?

A. “Rhythm and the Blue Line” was my most recent novel-length story, about a female musician, Ryan Bancroft, who becomes involved with a hockey player named Brody Lang. One of the obstacles was that Ryan came from a sports-crazy family, was even named after sports figures, but she’s a musician who can’t stand sports.

“King’s Bay” was a stand-alone story written for a summer contest, and was heavier on the sex than many of my stories. I took some inspiration for that from “The Odyssey,” as well as a song called “Cannibal Surf Babe” by my favorite group, Marillion.

Q. To begin with, what can you tell us about yourself? Three or four points that will help your fans get to know you a little better

A. 1. If you’ve read my stories you’ve probably noticed a couple of recurring elements – I won’t say themes – like movies and ice hockey. I’m a big fan of both, and try to put some references in here and there. I admit they’re more for my own benefit than anything, but I hope the readers enjoy them, too. My favorite movie is Dark City, followed closely by Casablanca.

2. I like to laugh, and try to put some humor in my stories. We an all use a laugh here and there.

3. Although I have two kids and love them to bits, I dislike stories with “kids in danger” and don’t write such things. I don’t mind kids in the stories generally, say in a supporting role, but I hate kids being taken or otherwise in danger. I can’t help thinking of both how I’d feel if my child were in such a position, and how scared the child would be.

4. Although I haven’t written any, I’m a big sf/fantasy fan.

Q. What do you look for in a lover… and what do you look for in a one-night stand?

A. Truth is, I never had a one-night stand. I don’t think I could. I have nothing against them, it’s just not something I could do. I don’t think that sex means there must be a big relationship or commitment for the people involved, but it would for me personally.

Also, it took reading and writing some stories to find out what more there was to do and how to do it and things like that. So my husband and I have had some fun there. 😉

I think the most important thing for any lover is to be open and respectful of your partner. Or partners, if you’re into that. You have to communicate and you have to listen. I think a lot of people are too nervous to talk about what they like or don’t, and that makes things tough all around.

Q. Tell us some of your sexual preferences.

A. Once there was this rubber duck… um, never mind.

Q. Oh, you rotten tease! When you began writing erotic stories -and why?

A. My husband and I relocated when he got a new job, and I had a lot of time to myself at home. I had some telework to do, but still, a lot of time. So I searched for online romance and the first things that came up were some erotic websites which also had romance categories in them.

So I checked them out, and after my initial surprise and shock, started looking into different categories. I read some group sex, even non-con and things like that. I quickly found that I prefer romance in general, and had no real liking for categories like non-consent.

As I was reading, I thought, I could do this, and I decided to try. “Make a Wish” was my first effort. “Exiled,” the first of my were trilogy, was the next, I think. I’d written some stories before – not erotic – but finishing a story was a great thing. Once you know you can finish a story I think it makes starting the next one easier.

Q. What is it about writing erotica that you most enjoy?

A. I like coming up with new characters, and getting them together, and having them learn about each other. Trying to put in some real-life elements is fun, and as I said I like to work in my movie references and other things.

As for writing the sex, that’s often a challenge. Let’s face it, it all kind of ends up in the same way. What I’ve found is that the challenge is to make what leads up to the sex erotic and interesting; the sex itself is often secondary.

Q. Does your partner or any of your friends know that you write? What do they think?

A. My husband knows, and some friends. They enjoy it, as far as I know. With my husband I know I can write something out, let him read it and see how “hot” he thinks it is. Plus if I’m not sure I can always try it out.

Q. What is your favorite category to write in, and why?

A. Romance in general, I think, is my favorite, although I might have to go with the nonhuman sub-genre, if I can say that. I find that adding in fantastical elements can often give you some freedom you don’t have otherwise, and also it’s just fun. I liken it to the original Star Trek series. For instance, there was an episode where the Enterprise crew encounters a planet whose inhabitants have black and white faces, literally black on one side and white on the other. (Trivi:. the guy who played the Riddler in the old Batman series was in this one, Frank Gorshin.)

However, some people had black on the right side of the face, others on the left. This created a divide between them, not-so-subtly mirroring the divisions on race in the U.S. Don’t forget, this would have been around the time of the Civil Rights Act.

Could Trek have just done a black v. white episode? Maybe, but this is one thing sci-fi and fantasy lets people do and always has. You can address a real issue by making a parallel fictional one and sometimes that’s what you need to see so you can say, “Wow, that’s dumb.”

ST also had TV’s first interracial kiss, between Kirk and Uhura in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” if I recall. It was forced, because the titular people were playing the crew like puppets, but it still got done. The science fiction setting allowed things that a regular show wouldn’t have.

When I wrote Exiled, the central idea was that a woman weretiger had lost her ability to shift. As a result, she was banished from her family because her father, the clan leader, feared such a problem might call his fitness to lead into question. So I could look into what happens when a parent does that, and when it turns out to be a mistake? She lost the man she loved – how do you deal with that?

I obviously should have mentioned before that I am sort of a geek and know lots of goofy trivia.

Q. How much of yourself do you include in your stories?

A. I don’t know exactly. I certainly don’t set out and say, “This character will be like me.” For one thing, that’d get old fast. If I wanted to write me, I’d write an autobiography. But sure bits and pieces of me get in, or I realize I can’t use my reaction to something and so have to go the opposite way. I do include a lot of little things I’ve experienced.

In “Nothing Gets Through,” another hockey romance, the two leads meet at a coffee shop, after two people walk in and have a fight. I based that on an experience I had at a Burger King in the Netherlands. Also in that story, when Lani (the female lead) recounts the story of being at a nearly-perfect baseball game and that is from an experience I had attending a Baltimore Orioles’ game.

Sigh, Mike Mussina came within four outs of a perfect game.

Q. Is there anything that happens in your stories that you would really like to try in “real life”, but haven’t yet been able to?

A. I would love to turn into a tiger, but I’m still working on it.

Q. One thing that I love about ES is that you very quickly build up a community of fans, who enjoy writing to and hearing from their favorite authors. Have you ever gone further and started IMing, texting or even met any of your fans?


A. Yes. I’ve struck up a few online friendships, although they’re more with fellow authors than fans, but we’re each others’ fans, so it works out. I do have a Facebook page and a blog, and some fans will post there, and I appreciate that.

It’s really flattering when someone takes the time to write you an email or comment about your story. Obviously it’s more enjoyable when it’s complimentary, but still, even constructive criticism means that person was struck enough by something in the story to take the time to tell me about it.

Going on a bit of a tangent, I’ve also found that as I learn about writing, and write more, I enjoy doing some beta reading or editing for other writers. I’m no professional, so it’s all my opinion, which they are free to ignore, but it often leads to some good give and take. And I find that it often helps me to think about my own stories when I review someone else’s.

Q. How do you feel when you receive negative comments or very low votes from readers?

A. I’ve been very fortunate to have high votes, and receive few negative comments. Even most of the negative comments have been civil, so they don’t bother me.

More generally, I always advise people not to live and die by votes or comments on any story site. My refrain is usually “This is not peer review.” And how seriously can you take an anonymous comment that says, “This story sucks an u r a bad writur?” Why should I care what a stranger thinks, especially when they express it so badly?

If someone doesn’t like my story, well, that’s too bad but others do. So you concentrate on that.

Q. What do you think is the best story you have published here?

A. That’s a tough one, so I’ll waffle a little and break it down into different categories. I think “Rhythm and the Blue Line,” though not without flaws, is my best novel story to date. I think “King’s Bay” may be the sexiest story in terms of the actual sex. And “Who Cares What I Wear?” is one I like as well.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of this interview and your fans? Now is your chance…

A. This is always a tough question… Go Caps!

Thanks for reading this and any of my stories you’ve read, and for comments you’ve left. I do try to respond to comments, which is why it’s better if you leave one with a username as opposed to anonymously. Feedback really is tremendously appreciated.

I like to try new things, so if you start reading a story that doesn’t seem like my “usual,” please give it a chance. It’s as boring to write the same thing as it is to read it, I’m sure.

A final thing is an assurance that although it’s been a while, I have not stopped writing. I haven’t had much chance to do it – life gets in the way, much as we wish it didn’t. But I do have two kids and a husband and a house and all of that, and sometimes when I do get some time to write, I just can’t focus. I’m not sure this will improve as summer vacation looms, but I’m always trying.

Q. Finally, do you have a website or a blog, where your fans can visit and maybe learn more about you?

A. Yes. 😀

I have a blog at http://wordpress.evemcfadden.com. I wish I could say I updated it on a more regular basis, but that’d be dishonest, and not a good way to start a relationship. I do try, though.

I also have a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/eve.mcfadden. Again, I don’t update as often as some people, but then sometimes there’s just not much to say.

 

Disney v. Game of Thrones

I couldn’t quite believe when I first thought about this post that I would defend Disney. I do not loathe Disney the corporation (well not any more than any other multinational megaconglomerate), although I don’t like Mickey Mouse. I don’t like any of the main Disney characters, actually, but I freely admit I like their animated movies, from Snow White to more recent things like The Princess and the Frog, and of course the movies done by Pixar under the Disney umbrella.

You read quite a bit these days, among all the huff and puff about girls and sexism in society and all of that, about how bad the Disney Princesses are for girls. But are they?

I was never a terribly “girly girl,” as they say, and although I liked movies like Cinderella and Snow White, I never pretended to be either character. I never role-played such things, by myself or with friends. But that’s okay. I didn’t really hold anything against them, it just wasn’t my thing, as they say.

Surely you’ve seen the internet meme images. Like this one, which reduces the princesses to some basics. At this blog page, the author reproduces the text for discussion in her comments.

So let’s look at this. Are these comments accurate? Sure, to a degree. But can they be interpreted another way? Probably. And to be clear, although I know most of the fairy tales have been “Disneyfied,” I’m going with the Disney interpretation because that’s what’s usually causing the issues.

Sleeping Beauty: Pretty girls don’t even need to be alive to get some hot princely action.

This has to be filed a bit under “not her fault.” Someone else held a grudge against Sleeping Beauty’s parents, and as punishment, took it out on her. Few things are crueler to a parent that seeing a child suffer, and certainly suffer for something that isn’t their fault. As far as we know, SB does everything she’s supposed to do, and yet still, she is attacked. Is it her fault that the solution is in someone else’s hands? No; the witch designed it that way. So I give SB a bit of a pass.

Jasmine: As a woman, your political worth is reduced to your marriageability.

Hey, guess what? This was true for a very long time! And still is in many places today, even if politics aren’t involved. A woman’s youth and child-bearing ability were some of her chief assets until fairly recently and for many people, they still are. Some of that is biological, or at least I’m willing to go with that theory, but it doesn’t make it less true. Although it’d be nice to have some revisionist history-type stories, I don’t think we can fault Disney for historical accuracy. Also, as I recall, Jasmine does the best she can with the hand she’s dealt (been a while since I’ve seen this).

Snow White: At first it may seem terrible, being so beautiful that other women get jealous enough to try and kill you. But don’t worry, once your beauty attracts a man, he’ll protect you.

Again, I think a little sympathy is called for here. Snow White (even if you take the more recent version of the tale, Snow White and the Huntsman) is a victim of circumstance. Her mother died, her father remarried, and she got the short end of the stick there because of the old stand-by, jealousy.  How is this her fault? In this somewhat medieval tale — and more medieval in Huntsman — she gets away. In Disney, she is warned by the Queen’s hunter, but she listens (smart girl!) and tries to hide herself. It is the Queen who is so consumed by jealousy.

Plus, let’s be honest, physical attraction plays a part in nearly any relationship. So if a man (or woman) is attracted to someone else at first on looks, why do we condemn them?

Maybe some want to blame Snow for being stupid, for not seeing that the old hag with the apple is the Queen in disguise. Why should she suspect that? It’s a perfect disguise, really — the Queen who is so afraid of others’ beauty, of growing old, uses that knowledge to go after her prey. How many of us have been hurt or deceived by people when they did something we didn’t think they would, because it didn’t fit what we knew of them?

Snow White tried to keep to herself, to be helpful — and if you want to grumble that she went from being a poorly-treated maid to a well-treated one, that’s fine — and again, she is attacked. Someone helps her; why is this so awful?

Belle: Appearances don’t matter; what counts is what’s in your heart. Unless you’re the girl.

I just watched Beauty and the Beast the other day and couldn’t find much fault here. Yes, Belle was pretty. So what? I honestly don’t think that was the point. Also, It’s a movie! People like to watch pretty things in movies. And in truth, I don’t think Belle was quite as gorgeous, if you will, as Cinderella and others. She was certainly pretty, make no mistake, but there were more classically gorgeous women, if you will, in the town, namely the three Gaston groupies. They were much more in the traditional Disney mold of soft hair, big eyes, and tiny waists.

Let’s give Belle some credit. She loves her father, the dotty old inventor, and he loves her. (Like so many Disney movies, there is no biological mom; perhaps that needs more attention than the princesses.) He values her and doesn’t force her to marry for money or position or status. She is educated, and one gathers that he encourages it. When her father turns up missing, she goes and looks for him and offers herself as a hostage in exchange for him, despite his denials.

After some time trying to defy the Beast, to the point of escaping, Belle comes back.  In large part, this is because the Beast saved her after she ran away but I like to think that Belle, being an honorable woman, also realized she’d gone back on her word to stay and was trying to make amends for that.

Belle has faith and courage; after her initial encounter, she refuses to be cowed by the Beast. For his part, although I realize the Beast thinks she’s pretty, he doesn’t let that sway him completely. He’s been lonely enough, long enough that one cute girl isn’t going to suddenly make him swoon, and it is work for him to even be civil.

The Beast forces Belle to look beyond the surface; Belle forces the Beast to try to be a better person. Why is this so bad?

Cinderella: If you’re beautiful enough, you may be able to escape your terrible living conditions by getting a wealthy man to fall for you.

Let’s go back again to some likely rules of society in Cinderella’s world — women are not in power, or at least, very few are. Now here is a girl whose mother has died, father has remarried, and then the father died, presumably leaving anything of value to his wife (I’m guessing that’s how that stuff worked back then, although I could be wrong). She has no other relatives to take her in, at least it’s presented that way, and so she stays in the house she was raised in and is subject to what some might call abuse.

What does Cinderella do? She endures. Abuse is no laughing matter, and I am not trying to belittle it. But I think this is what happens here. She may not be physically abused by being beaten (although she was in Ever After), but she is at least ill-used.

Cinderella dreams, and who wouldn’t, of escaping such a place. Yes, she gets fantastical help — the fairy godmother, the animals, etc. And this is where I say again, it’s a movie! She is fortunate enough to meet and fall in love with a powerful, rich man. (Sigh. Come on, we all want to hit the lottery, right?) So I’ll grant you that here you’re getting into serious wish fulfillment territory, but I’d say that Cinderella is not sitting around waiting for this to happen.

Just what was she supposed to do, anyway? With no money, and no family, where could she go? She stays and endure some more, and then has a happy ending. I don’t begrudge her that.

Ariel: It’s okay to abandon your family, drastically change your body, and give up your strongest talent in order to get your man. Once he sees your pretty face, only a witch’s spell could draw his eyes away from you.

I’ll admit this is a tough one to defend, and I probably won’t try very hard. I will say that nearly everyone has probably undergone a time when they want to break free of family, free of any constraints they feel they are under, and chase someone or something they want, even if it’s dangerous or stupid.

But let’s remember a few things. Ariel was apparently never one to go with traditional mer-behavior. Her father destroyed all the treasures she had collected. Sure, he had a right to be angry — Ariel embarrassed him by not appearing at an event he’d presented in her honor — but what would you do if your mom or dad (and again, where’s Ariel’s mother?) did that to you? You’d be pissed, right? Maybe even run away from home.

Also, Ariel’s pretty face only went so far. When the prince found her, and she couldn’t talk or sing, he didn’t think she was the woman he’d hoped for. So his eyes were still searching. He treated her well, but that was all, until he got to know her. It might be important that he got to know her with as few trappings as possible. Then it wasn’t about her pretty face so much as her spirit.

Still, I can see the argument that basically, if you make stupid choices it will turn out all right. And that is not a good message because that is not true most of the time. It might turn out all right if you have support of family and friends (and Ariel did have friends, albeit the talking animal kind). Mostly, it’s going to be pretty crappy.

At perhaps the other end of the spectrum, we have HBO’s and George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones. This has also taken some flak for its portrayal of women, with and without clothing. But Martin has based his story (and it is epic) on many events that have transpired in European history, especially in the Middle Ages, and guess what — not so many big, powerful women there.

The strongest female character is likely Danaerys Targaryen, held by some to be the rightful ruler of Westeros, where the story is set. But the others are no pushovers. They may have less freedom than Dany, but then Dany is almost half a world away and has dragons. Dragons are some serious leverage for respect and influence.

Most of the women chafe at the restraints imposed upon them. Cersei Lannister, mother of the (awful) King Joffrey, laments more than once that she was born with the wrong plumbing. And she’s right; likely if she was a man, the qualities she was vilified for would be praised. Hey, that sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Arya Stark, a much more likable character than Cersei, has that much in common with her. Arya doesn’t want to wear pretty dresses and dance and flirt, as her sister Sansa does; yet Arya is still constrained, both by her age and gender.

Catelyn Stark unfortunately becomes the Cassandra of the show. She knows what her son, Robb Stark, is doing will have dire consequences, yet he will not listen. Neither will the other men. And to everyone’s great dismay (this is as much as I’ll give as a spoiler), she is right.

So perhaps the lesson is that when you have a story with any kind of princess, you are likely going to come up against the rules of behavior that were in place in so many areas for so much of history, and most of that meant that the men had the real power, and the women had to find other ways to exert influence.

Many of us want Sansa Stark, in GoT, to basically grow a spine. But spines are not always viewed as an asset for women in her world, and Sansa is surrounded by enemies, so I can’t blame her for being somewhat paralyzed in fear. It unfortunately makes her a bit of a dull character, but that may be remedied later. Never expect Mr. Martin to follow the rules, I think it’s safe to say.

And I wrote more than I intended, so thanks for reading.

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