Friday, October 30, 2009

Missing Invisibles?

I'm in San Jose this weekend, for the World Fantasy Convention. The last time I attended a WFC, it was in Tempe and Gwyenth Jones was a Guest of Honor and Gwyneth, Eileen Gunn, and I had just spent ten days on tour together promoting Life, Stable Strategies and Others, and Love's Body, Dancing in Time. That was five years ago; it seems almost another time.

Just before I left home yesterday morning I saw Adrienne Martini's post over at the Locus Roundtable: Where Are the WOACAs? WOACAs is shorthand for Women of a Certain Age, which is an expression used to refer to women past childbearing age who are "not yet crones." (Which for me raises another issue: when do women become "crones"? When does a woman cease being "middle-aged" and become, simply, "old"? What is the magic year of doom?) But here's what she says in her post:

A recent Making Light post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden about her invisibility at Home Depot got me to thinking about women of a certain age,* one of which I am rapidly becoming. Not only are we difficult for Home Depot employees to see, we also seem to be largely invisible in science fiction as well. ** In fact, I'm not sure I can think of more than a half-dozen. And even a couple of those are fraught, like Maureen in To Sail Beyond the Sunset.

But what's more interesting to me is that the WOACAs who do show up, don't get to do all that much. I can list quite a few men in the same age range who are the SF story's main actor. But women like Bujold's Cordelia don't get to do all that much once they are done with having their young. Is it that they stop being interesting after that point?

I feel as if I'm missing quite a few of these characters, however. Who would be on your list? And what part in the story does she play?

I think she's missing quite a few, too. The first one to occur to me is Vandana Singh's eponymous "The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet." I invite you all to help make a list to bring some of these characters a bit more visibility.

9 comments:

claire said...

I would have said Chung Mae in Geoff Ryman's AIR, because she has a grown child, but she gets pregnant in the book, so she's not of THAT certain age, I guess.

Also, there was a discussion of Star Trek Universe's Captains Sisko and Janeway over on Tempest's blog a while ago, and it occurred to me that Captain Janeway might be so disliked because she was approaching middle age, not married or a mother, and neither sexualized nor motherish. She may be a little bit young for the "certain age" but I think she fits the bill.

Along the same lines, there's Admiral Cain in the new Battlestar Galactica, who is also approaching, or in early, middle age. She's an interesting character, but she's definitely evil.

Cat Rambo said...

Issa, in Lois McMaster Bujold's PALADIN OF SOULS, is definitely middle-aged (and a pretty kick-ass character to boot).

I don't remember the author, but someone has a paranormal series where the main character is a middle aged woman who is an assassin and who uses the fact that she's invisible because of her age as a tool to carry out jobs. Which I thought was a GREAT concept.

Since I'm reaching the invisible age, I'm very interested in this question. A possible Wiscon panel?

cynthia1960 said...

Bujold's Ista dy Chalion is one of my favorite Women of a Certain Age of all time. She was just a minor character in Curse of Chalion, but she takes on the title role of Paladin of Souls in the second book with real flair. I loved watching her find her real calling in life.

cynthia1960 said...

Second Cat's proposal for a Wiscon panel!

Ian Sales said...

Just yesterday I read Judith Moffett's Two That Came True (Author's Choice Monthly #19, from 1991) which contains a pair of novelettes - 'Surviving' and 'Not Without Honor'. The narrator/protagonist of 'Surviving' is a female psychologist in her forties; the narrator/protagonist of 'Not Without Honor' is 68-year-old woman on Mars.

Anonymous said...

The heroine of The New Moon's Arms (Hopkinson) comes to mind - made it easy to give the book as gifts, 'cos everyone was so happy to see a 50-something woman as protagonist. Also I seem to remember the heroine of Rimrunners (Cherryh) being older, as well as a castoff from spacer society. One of the first SF books I read where I went 'huh, real people.'

-CJD

Foxessa said...

There's a female protagonist of a certain age in Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet -- she's in the first and, if I'm recalling correctly, the second volumes ....

Love, C.

Adrienne Martini said...

I think it would be a great WisCon panel, btw...

I'm planning to do a WOACA in fantasy post at some point, which is where I think Ista would fit best. Hadn't thought about Janeway.

The hardest part is really defining that magical age between nubile and just plain old, especially in SF when technological can render chronological age so hard to gauge. What does it mean to be essentially invisible but not yet "wise? "

Liz Hand said...

Writers are the ones who make these decisions (though I've had editors — YOUNG editors — suggest that I keep my female characters under 40; I ignored them) , and I suspect as writers age, their protagonists may age with them. Those of us who are middle-aged or beyond have the great advantage of experience — we can write about teenagers AND older women. Younger writers don't have that perspective — but they will, and they might as well get used to the idea.